Star Wars - Missed ChanceMichael A. Stackpole
Corran Horn smiled broadly as the R2 droid’s muted warble came to him from back in the darkened interior of the temporary hangar. “Yes, Whistler, you have done a good job of disguising this place.” In his absence the droid had busied himself by strewing all manner of debris inside the abandoned vehicle shed. Between that and the growth of the purple djorra vine across the front of the shed, no one would guess that the structure hid the only X-wing fighter on Garqi.
Corran swung under the ship’s sleek nose and squat-walked back to where the little green and white droid stood. Things had been moved around since he’d last visited Whistler and Corran suspected he was only seeing the latest in a long line of decorating schemes. “I’m sorry I haven’t visited sooner, but the whole city is going quite insane about Rebel activity. The way everyone is being watchful, you’d think some slicers grafting New Republic slogans and graphics onto computer screens and public data displays was the same as murder.”
The droid extended his I/O jack and plugged it into the port on a small datapad resting atop a can oozing an oily gray substance. The screen flicked to life and displayed the blade assembly for an X-wing’s centrifugal debris extractor. A chirp ran from low to high as the droid’s head swung from the image around to Corran.
The pilot blushed, then shook his head. “No, I haven’t figured out how to get the part out of the Imperial Guards’ possession. With the Rebel activity around here they’ve not slackened their security the way they normally would. Finding the spare parts and those proton torpedoes on the Star’s Delight was the biggest thing to happen to Imps on this backwater, and it got Prefect Barris all hot to root out the Rebels here. I don’t know who he thinks that will impress — the Emperor is dead and there’s enough infighting on Coruscant that we even get word of it out here.”
The droid’s whistle scolded Corran as the image of the debris extractor faded into the crest of the New Republic.
“No, it’s not a question of joining the Republic or not — and we’ve gone over this before. There is no Rebel activity here. The ‘Rebels’ they think they have are kids — students at Garqi Ag University. They couldn’t help me get those parts away from Imps if I gave them months of instruction. Moreover, they’d get killed in the attempt.” Corran shook his head adamantly. “Look, this is my problem. Captain Nootka brought those torpedoes because he thought he could sell them to me, or move them to his Rebel contacts elsewhere. They got him caught, got his crew arrested and his ship impounded. I might owe it to him to try to spring him, but doing that without having this ship up and flying is not going to work.”
As he spoke, Corran reached up and ran a hand along the side of the X-wing. It shared the green and white color scheme of the droid, though both of them could have used a few paint touch-ups. The fighter had been Corran’s during his time with the Corellian Security Force, and Whistler had been his co-pilot and partner In countless missions to stop smugglers and other troublemakers from disrupting life in the Corellian system.
Whistler let the datapad’s screen go dark, producing a mournful tone as he did so.
“I know, Whistler, I miss taking those night flights, too.” When Imperial entanglements made remaining in CorSec impossible, he took off with the ship and the droid. His purpose in coming to Garqi had been to lie low and avoid drawing Imperial attention to himself. Despite the fact that flying the X-wing put his life in jeopardy, he could no more refrain from flying than he could refrain from breathing — though he did make all of his flights at night to make it more difficult to locate him and his ship.
And dodging the local troops was simplicity itself. If I’d not sucked a rdava-bird into the starboard engine on that last flight, I’d still be flying and no one would think Garqi was a hotbed of Rebel activity. He sighed. “Now I’m stuck here because rich kids who have decided they want to shock their parents have started playing Rebel. It’s all a game to them.”
Again the droid scolded him with a sharp whistle.
“You’re right, Dynba Tesc probably doesn’t think of it as a game, but it’s her own fault that she got caught last night. The Imps around here are not exactly stormtrooper caliber, but she left a trail that even our old CorSec Imperial Liaison officer could have followed.” He reached out and patted the droid gently on the head. “She’ll spend some time in the local jail, then get kicked loose. Yes, she’ll be interrogated, but they’ll see she knows nothing and let her go. I’m sure of it.”
Whistler tooted another question.
“Yes, if she were in danger, I would do what I could — but not because she’s a Rebel. I’ve got nothing to do with the New Republic and just because the Empire hates the both of us doesn’t mean we’re allies.”
Corran frowned heavily. “The Rebels might have killed the Emperor, and they’re saying they have the last living Jedi on their side, but they’re still a far cry from having the Empire down and out. My priority is to lay low while they attract more attention than I do. The Rebellion, such as it is, has come to Garqi, and that means it’s time we’re out of here.”
He held a hand up. “No, no more protests. In fact, I don’t want to hear any more Rebellion squawk out of you, got it? I’ll be spending all my time working to maintain my cover and to keep my eye on the extractor. I’ll figure out a way to get it, then we’re on our way.”
Corran started to turn away, but the droid caught hold of his sleeve with his pincer attachment. “What is it, Whistler?”
The droid hooted derisively at him.
“Yeah, well maybe back on the job I wouldn’t have been so blase about Dynba Tesc’s problem, but now we’re running from the law, not working for the law.” He pulled his arm free, but looked back at the droid and hung his head. “Okay, no promises, but I will see what I can do. I look to take care of us first, though, right?”
Whistler’s head spun around as he crowed triumphantly.
“Yes, saving her and her friends would look good in my datafile.” Corran nodded to the droid as he headed back out of the hangar. Unless the Empire is the one to put the notation in it, but they’d have to catch me first. With that extractor, I can avoid them — and that is the notation in my datafile I most want to see.
Prefect Mosh Barris sat back in the overstuffed chair that he decided was almost as deep and as black as the depression in which he found himself. He felt old and tired, as if he were at a point in the universe from which any other direction was up. The only thing Garqi had to recommend it as a post had been its utter isolation and insulation from the Empire, and even that shield had worn thin in his year’s tenure as the military prefect under the current — and seemingly ever-absent — Imperial governor.
“You see, Eamon,” he began. “I had not expected her to make it easy for us, but this Tesc woman’s ability to resist narcointerrogation is incredible. She steadfastly claims she knows nothing of the Rebellion and claims no connection with Lai Nootka or his Star’s Delight. Even so, she seems to have an encyclopedic understanding of the phantom X-wing’s flights — which she claims is because studying it was a hobby for her — and full knowledge of her crime. Of this ‘Xeno’ she claims is the ringleader of her slicer circus we have no record, and her speculation that he is a member of the Delight’s crew that eluded capture is one more black mark against us.”
Eamon Yzalli nodded slightly as he slid the silver tray with the refilled snifter of Cassandran choholi. “Regrettable, sir. On the whole, one could be led to believe by all this that she knows nothing beyond what she has already revealed.”
Barris took the glass and warmed it in his hands for a moment. “Looks can be deceiving, Eamon. Looking at her I see a woman who is more a child than adult — but that is standard among the adults
here. This damned world is so fertile that the great agri-combines need nothing more than droids to tend the crops and accountants to tend the profits. The people of Garqi are pampered and unrealistic, hardly fodder for the Rebellion.”
He drank in just enough of the Cassandran liquor to fill the hollow of his tongue, and let it pool there for as long as it took for the fragrant, fruity vapors to fill his sinuses. “Of course, that is what she wants us to believe.”
“What is, sir?”
“That she is too innocent to be part of the Rebellion.” Barris looked up at his green-eyed aide. “I cannot and will not be tricked by her. A long time ago I did nothing in a situation that called for action. I was deceived and I have paid for it since. It was a long time ago … but I have told you of it before, yes?”
The blond man returned to the sideboard and replaced the tray before turning and nodding to his master. “I do recall having been told something of the alien incident, sir.”
“Yes, the alien incident.” Barris stared darkly into the depths of the amber liquor. An alien — both humanoid and intelligent — had run him and his men around in circles on a planet that was — if it were possible—even more of a backwater than Garqi. This alien had killed his men, had brought down a TIE fighter and had even slain two stormtroopers using technology he stole from the Imperials in combination with native plants and animals. I advocated a planetary bombardment to rid us of this menace, but Captain Parck invited this murderous creature to join the Empire. The Emperor chose that time to forego his normal xenophobia. He advanced Parck’s career, gave this Thrawn a career, and started me on the long road from one humiliating post to another.
Barris had hoped the Emperor’s hatred for him would die with the man, but the Imperial institutional memory seemed to cherish the idea of taking him lower and lower. The man who had ousted Barris from his last post had been disciplined for having allowed the last Jedi Knight to escape Tatooine and murder the Emperor. That man’s punishment had pushed Barris even further from the Galactic Core to the mottled red and purple world that was Garqi.
“I swore, Eamon, I swore that I would never let an opportunity to act decisively and forcefully slip away without redeeming myself. Uncovering and smashing the Rebels here on Garqi would allow me to do that.”
“If I may be permitted, sir, you have an abundance of time in which to learn from Dynba Tesc what you need to accomplish this end. You have only had her for two days. She will break.”
Barris tossed back the choholl and grit his teeth against the fiery feeling it ignited in his throat and gut. “Would that what you say was true. I just received a priority message via a courier droid that indicated Kirtan Loor, an Intelligence agent, is being sent here by Coruscant to investigate. He will brief me on his arrival as to what his mission is, but we both know he is coming here to investigate me. He will find me deficient in some way and I will be sent to some other world that is even more wretched than this.”
“I understand your alarm, sir.”
“I think you do, Eamon, for we are alike, aren’t we?”
“How so, sir?”
“We are both unhomed. I am hounded from post to post, with no claim to any world. You, on the other hand, are an Alderaanian, and without a world to call your own.”
Eamon stiffened a moment, then nodded. “As you say, sir, neither of us has a home.”
Barris’ eyes sharpened for a moment. “I have a question I have to ask you, and I intend no disrespect. I’ve often thought of it, but I have said nothing because you have been so valuable to me. Had my predecessor not left you behind, and had you not made my arrival here so easy, I should have despaired of making any headway. Now that I will probably be gone from here soon, I think I have little to risk in asking it.”
“The Empire destroyed your world. How is it that you are content laboring for the servants of the Empire?”
Eamon’s head came up and his hands disappeared at the small of his back. “Sir, Alderaan was a peaceful world. We were unarmed and our people believed in pacifism. Our leaders chose to rebel. I, and I was not alone, revered order as much as I revered peace and left the planet. As this Rebellion robbed my people of peace, it also robbed them of life. Even so, I am at peace and I still revere order. You, my lord, represent order on this world, therefore I am content and honored to be in your service.”
“Well said, Eamon. I understand your feelings completely.” Barris sat forward and rested his hands on the edge of his black lacquered desk. “The time has come for me to take action. To the Empire, failure to do something is seen as inability to do anything. I cannot afford that, not with Loor on his way. Though reminiscent of what the Death Star did to your world, I find myself forced to make an example of Dynba Tesc and publicly execute her. Once I do that her companions will scatter in terror. They will know I would have only killed her if she was of no more use to me, which means she gave me their names. We will learn who they are when they flee.”
The military prefect smiled coldly. “Let Coruscant deny that is decisive action!”
“Indeed, sir, it is decisive, however … ” Standing over by the sideboard, Eamon looked somewhat perplexed.
Barris reined his smile back in. Eamon Yzalli’s perspective on Garqi had often proven useful and, not a few times, had steered Barris away from various faux pas that would have made his tenure more difficult. “You have an idea?”
“I do, sir, but only because of the question you asked before. It strikes me that if the local Rebels do have a way to defeat narcointerrogation — as the lack of success with Miss Tesc indicates — they may be sophisticated enough to wait out your action. More importantly, sir, I think it would be preferential to draw her confederates together, instead of scattering them, as making a martyr out of her would certainly do.”
“Yes, I see that, but how, Eamon?”
“Make your declaration about her execution public, my lord. Schedule it for a week from now. This will agitate the Rebels. I will visit her covertly and tell her that I cannot abide seeing her die. I will arrange for her escape.”
Barris’ black brows collided in the depths of his frown. “You work for me. She will not believe you.”
“But she will, sir, for even the most cynical of the Rebels would believe that I, an Alderaanian, have had a change of heart and wish to make amends for not acting against the Empire sooner. In addition, as they say, sir, actions will speak louder than words. I will arrange for her escape and prepare the way for her and her confederates to free the crew of the Star’s Delight. We will even return to them their cargo of X-wing parts and munitions. The Rebels will all get together in the ship and prepare to leave. Your four TIEs will go after them and end the Rebel threat to Garqi in one dramatic fireball.”
The military prefect tipped his snifter up and let the last drop of the choholl drip into his tongue as he considered the plan. “Are you sure my pilots can bring the ship down?”
“They will be able to if we render the shield generator inoperable.” The ghost of a smile drifted across Eamon’s bearded face as he started to pour more liquor into the empty glass.
“We will disable their blaster cannon, too.”
“They need to be operable to provide verisimilitude, sir.” Eamon inserted the cut-crystal stopper in the decanter. “If one of your TIEs were shot down, its loss would prove the danger the fleeing Rebels represented to Garqi. Of course, the fact that the Rebels were running away and were destroyed will be a lesson here to any who would seek to emulate them.”
“I see.” Barris admired the way the light shifted and glowed within the choholl. “Then should we not keep the X-wing munitions to prove the Star’s Delight was smuggling things in the first place, or is this more verisimilitude?”
“We have the initial scans to show the smuggling, sir, and piecing together debris from the destroyed freighter will give this Loor character a great deal to d
o, occupying his time fully.” Eamon smiled weakly. “Finally, sir, I will use delivery of the contraband to secure my passage aboard the ship. This way I will know when it is to leave, so our fighters can be prepared to sweep it from the sky.”
“But you will not be on it?”
“No, sir. You will plant a report in our computer system here for one of their codeslicers to ferret out. It will indicate you had me executed for crimes against the Empire — unspecified, of course, but they will take it to mean I was found out. They will leave the moment that message is accessed, so they will tell us when they are leaving.”
“And I alert our fighters to go.”
“Exactly, sir.” Eamon’s face darkened for a moment. “The only difficulty with all this is that we cannot have any trace of what we are doing entered into our computer system here.”
“Yes.” Barris nodded solemnly and sipped the choholl. “Since their slicers can put stuff into our databases, we know they can pull it out again. Were they to find any indication of our operation, all would be lost.”
“Precisely, sir. I shall make the arrangements, sir, if you have no objections.”
“Objections? No. I will want reports, however.”
“Of course, my lord.” Eamon smiled briefly. “For your ears only, until it is time to reveal what you have accomplished in service to the Empire.”
Dynba Tesc felt cold and achy, or at least she thought she did. Curled up on the steel cot, with her back pressed against the rough stones of the cell wall, she knew she should feel uncomfortable. Her body definitely was giving her all the sensory input to tell her she was, in fact, not feeling very good at all.
The problem is that with all the stuff they’ve pumped into me to pump information out of me, I’m not certain what I know and what I don’t know, what is real and unreal. She coiled a blond lock around her right index finger, then sucked on the ends of the hair. A sense of security washed over her briefly, then she angrily flicked the hair way. I am not a child, I can’t retreat into childhood things to find comfort.