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Return of the Aurors
Chapter 11: Destiny
By Anne B. Walsh
Ron sent the Hawk shooting up the shaft towards the spot Neenie and Luna had highlighted on the Death Star’s schematic as Drake’s current location. It was a tight fit, but Hairy’s hands were steady on the controls beside his own, and with a savvy pilot and two droids monitoring the ship’s systems from the lounge, the Hawk had never flown better. Chinna watched in fascination, apparently memorizing everything on the control panel.
"Something’s happening," Neenie said from the dorsal gunner’s turret as a tiny dot near the top of the shaft grew larger. "Can’t we go any faster?"
"Working on it, Princess." Ron nodded to Hairy, who snapped three or four switches, then moaned aloud. "Great," Ron translated half to himself. "We’re gonna throw the engines out of alignment for weeks with this..."
"Were they ever in alignment?" Luna inquired.
"You stay out of this. Punch it, Hairy."
Chinna’s hand beat Hairy’s to the button.
The Hawk leapt forward as if stung.
"Guns!" Ron called as the dot he’d seen before resolved itself rapidly into a platform of metal mesh. "Clear that!"
"Will do, General," said Luna, and three bolts of red streaked out from below the cockpit to strike the platform dead center. Ron thought he’d seen a darker blot on it just before it vaporized, but couldn’t be sure.
The Hawk shot clear of the shaft, striking the remains of the platform with tiny thumps and pings. Ron pulled back hard on the yoke, bringing his ship to a hover, and stared out at the scene below.
Two men faced one another beside the pit the Hawk had just come from. The one on his feet with his face to the Hawk wore a dark hooded robe, the one kneeling before him gleaming black armor, and a sudden panic seized Ron. Had that been Drake on the platform? Had they killed the person they’d come to save?
Feet clattered behind him, and Grien, Threelo, and Emtoo burst into the cockpit. "General Solo," Threelo said worriedly, "might I point out we’re on a rather tight schedule? If we’re going to save Master Drake before the Death Star explodes, we’d best do it quickly."
<That’d work better if we knew where he was,> Grien pointed out. <All I see is the Emperor and what’s his name, Darth Malius...>
"That’s not Malius," Neenie interrupted sharply.
"Not Malius?" Ron said doubtfully. "Are you sure about that, Your Worship?"
The Emperor’s head came up, and red eyes fixed on Ron’s through the cockpit’s viewport. "Has no one taught you how rude it is to question a lady?" he asked, his voice as loud as though he stood in the cockpit with them. "Rise, my friend. Show yourself to those who doubt."
The figure kneeling at the Emperor’s feet rose smoothly and turned around to face the Hawk.
"No," Neenie whispered. "No."
"My friends," said Drake, smiling up at them from beneath Malius’ helmet (he wore no mask). "Welcome. Please, have a seat." He spread his arms, hands palm down, and lowered them, and the Hawk descended to the deck, its engines shutting off automatically. "Come and join us. We should talk."
"I think I’ll stay here, thanks," said Ron distrustfully. "Drake, what the hellâ€”"
"But I insist." Drake lifted one hand. A ball of blue-white energy collected in it, then at a flick of his fingers shot forward. Hairy yanked Chinna backwards just in time as the bolt shattered the viewport and impacted squarely on Grien’s chest.
The little alien yelped once and disappeared, only a wisp of smoke marking the place where he had stood. Emtoo let loose a mechanical scream.
"Now," said Drake, pulling all eyes back to him. "If you would be so kind as to join us." His hand came up again, glowing faintly. "Or should I demonstrate once again that I can make you?"
"We’re coming out," Neenie said, her voice trembling. "Just... don’t kill anyone else. We’re coming."
"Thought this was my ship," Ron muttered. "Come on, everyone, let’s go."
Emtoo was still shivering as she rolled down the corridor towards the ramp. Threelo, walking beside her, had both hands against her dome and was absently patting her, making a tink-tink-tink noise which would have driven Ron insane under any other circumstances. Under these, he thought he could ignore it.
Neenie had her best "royalty-under-fire" look in place as she stepped off the ladder, and Luna emerged from her turret wearing a distant frown, as though she were trying to catch a disquieting thought. Behind him, Ron could hear the rumble of Hairy growling low in his throat and the soft, half-understandable murmurs of Chinna trying to calm him.
What’s to be calm about? One of my best friends just turned his coat. And if we’re not out of here in... Ron checked his wrist chrono. ...five minutes at best, we’re all going to die. At least we’ll all go up together, and take them with us...
"Drake Skywalker, what do you think you’re doing?" Neenie demanded as she stepped off the ramp onto the Death Star’s decking, which flexed ever so slightly under her weight. "Have you lost your mind?"
"No, Neenie." Drake made a beckoning motion with his right hand, and an unlit lightsaber soared from the depths of the shaft beside them to land in his palm. "I’ve found my destiny. This is where I belong. Where my father belonged." His thumb depressed a button, and the glowing red blade hummed to life. "And where my sister belongs."
"Sister?" Ron repeated, at a loss. "What..." His eyes fell on Neenie’s stricken face, and all at once he knew. "Now wait just one damn minute here!"
"Guards," the Emperor called aloud. "Attend us."
The doors on the opposite column whooshed open, and a team of six red-armored guardsmen marched out.
"Keep these rabble under control," the Emperor ordered, waving a hand at Ron, Luna, Hairy, Chinna, Threelo, and Emtoo. "Let them keep their weapons for the time being. But if any of them make a move to use those weapons, kill them."
"Yes, sir," said the first guard in line crisply, and waved his fellows into a circle around the Rebels.
"You don’t belong here," Neenie was saying to Drake, her face anguished. "You’re not evil, you’re good. This isn’t what you want. If you’ve made a mistake, let us help you fix it! It doesn’t have to be this way!"
"You underestimate the power of the dark side," Drake said, studying the red lightsaber in his hand. "How easy, how right it feels. It’s the same mistake I made." His eyes came back to Neenie, and he smiled, a thin and cold smile utterly unlike his usual carefree grin. "If you can call it a mistake, since it’s led me here. To where I always ought to have been."
"You see, little Princess, he is mine," said the Emperor, stepping forward and laying a hand on Drake’s shoulder. "He could not deny his blood, and neither can you. The same power runs in your veins. I can feel it in you now. Your fury, your hatred... embrace them, and become what you were always meant to be!"
Behind Ron, Hairy rumbled two sentences in his lowest tones. Ron nodded his head slowly and began to slide a hand along his side.
"Halt!" one guard ordered, poking him with a blaster rifle. "Leave your hands where we can see them!"
"I’m scratching," Ron said irritably. "Got an itch. Ease up, will you?"
"Yes..." breathed the Emperor, still watching Neenie. The Princess’ eyes were shut, her breath coming in short gasps. "Very good. You feel it now. The purest power in the universe, the dark side of the Force... let it fill you, let it make you strong, and then come and stand at my left as your twin stands at my right!"
Chinna twitched her head to one side, as though trying to shoo away a bug. Threelo shuffled towards the edge of their little group, and Emtoo followed, rocking slightly on her wheels. Luna licked her lips, all her attention apparently on the drama unfolding in front of the Hawk, her fingers interlaced in front of her.
Neenie’s eyes opened, a strange light filling them. She looked at the Emperor and spoke one word.
Her hand flew up in a pose the mirror of Drake’s, and a second lightsaber arced upwards from the pit into her grasp. The green blade erupted, and she brought it up to the high guard position.
"I’ll never turn to the dark side," she repeated. "You’ve failed, Your Highness. I am an Auror." Her eyes flickered to Drake, then back again. "Like my brother before me."
The Emperor’s red eyes narrowed in rage. "So be it," he said. "Auror."
He held out his hand peremptorily. Drake laid the lightsaber in it, then backed away a few paces.
"NOW!" Ron shouted, and jumped for the nearest guard, just as the Emperor whirled and drove the lightsaberâ€”
Into the deck beneath his feet.
The Death Star trembled. Neenie staggered but kept her balance, as did Drake. The Emperor’s hands were tight around the lightsaber’s hilt, his face white with fury, his thin lips moving in silent wordsâ€”
The guard writhed under Ron’s hands, trying to fight free. Ron jabbed a hand into the pressure point at the man’s shoulder and snatched the blaster rifle from suddenly lax hands. Setting the switch to stun, he pumped one blue round into the guard, then spun and shot the guard who was staggering away from Threelo, clutching his head. Emtoo was just retracting her little welding arc with a smug air as her opponent collapsed, twitching uncontrollablyâ€”Hairy and Chinna were pounding fists over the bloodied bodies of their foesâ€”
Where’s Luna got to?
Another stun blast went off behind the Hawk, and Luna reappeared around the side of the ship, straightening her gold blouse. Ron decided not to ask. Instead, he flipped the rifle back to kill and came forward, aiming it at the Emperor.
"Time to give it up, Your Highness," he said, as sarcastically as he ever had to Neenie. He could hear the others fanning out behind him, Hairy and Luna on his left, Chinna and the droids on his right. "We’ve got you outnumbered and outgunned, and your Death Star’s about to blow. You want to stay here and keep fighting with the floor, that’s your option, but if you ask real nice we might take you along. You and your new little friend." He glared at Drake, who returned his look serenely.
"So typical," said the Emperor without looking up. "You think this is about guns. About ships. You completely fail to understand."
Ron freed a hand from the rifle to wave Chinna and the droids towards the ship. "You plan to explain?" he asked. "We don’t have long, but I’d love to listen."
"You are right about one thing." The Emperor looked up at last, his eyes alight with glee. "You do not have long. In fact, you have no more time at all."
The Death Star trembled again, this time more noticeably. Alarms started to go off in the distance.
"And with what I have done here," the Emperor continued, patting the lightsaber’s hilt, "it will be far more satisfying to experience your deaths as the Force protects me. Now, Princess." He rose to his feet, looking at Neenie, whose pose had not alteredâ€”she could have been a statue of some famous Auror Knight of old. "If you will not be turned..." His hands came up to chest level. "You will be destroyed."
Blue lightning flew from his fingertips. Neenie deflected the bolts with her lightsaber, but Ron could see the strain in her face as she fought to hold the sword level. He raised the rifleâ€”
"Ron, don’t!" Neenie screamed. "He’ll only kill you too! Get to the Hawk, get ready to fly, save the others!"
Ron gritted his teeth. He could hear engines beginning to whine; Chinna and Emtoo must have started the ship. Hairy was leaning forward onto his toes, growling at the Emperor as if ready to wrestle him, and Luna was still looking fixedly at Drake, who wasâ€”
Quickly, Ron snapped his eyes away from Drake. "I love you," he mouthed to Neenie.
"I know," Neenie whispered back.
Ron spun and ran for the Hawk, his feet ringing solidly on deck and ramp. Down the hall, into the cockpit, into his chairâ€”engines, repulsorlifts, lasers, shieldsâ€”
A stronger bolt than before knocked Neenie onto the deck, her lightsaber spinning away. "Drake, please!" she screamed. "Help me!"
The Emperor laughed aloud. "Now, little Princess," he taunted, "you will die."
His hands came up again for the final strikeâ€”
And Drake seized him from behind, twisting his arms away from Neenie.
The Emperor snarled and sent his lightning lashing over Drake, but Drake only held him all the tighter, though his face twisted in agony. "Hairy!" he shouted. "Catch!"
A shove sent the Emperor reeling across the deck into the arms of a very angry Wookiee. Luna dashed to Drake’s side and bent over him where he knelt, gasping. Neenie had pushed herself back upright, she was running towards the Hawkâ€”Threelo and Chinna had a sheet of metal in place over the shattered viewport while Emtoo welded it hastily into placeâ€”the telltales reported engines almost hot enough to fly, fifteen more seconds and they’d be on their wayâ€”
One great Wookiee hand closed around the Emperor’s neck and held him out over the shaft, and Hairy roared his triumph. The Emperor’s thin fingers clawed at Hairy’s huge ones but could not dislodge them. Ron could see the panic starting to build in the white face under the hood and grinned to himself.
This is what you get for messing with Rebels...
Luna pulled Drake to his feet. Together, they staggered towards the ramp and safety.
The Emperor’s face twisted ferociously as he saw them, and he snapped a hand down to point. Hairy snatched the wrist and yanked, but it was already too late.
One bolt of lightning surged across the room towards Drake and Luna.
"Watch out!" Ron shouted, or thought he shouted. The world seemed to have gone into slow motion. As in a bad dream, he saw Luna’s head whip around, saw her shove Drake ahead of her towards the Hawk, saw her back arch and her face convulse as the lightning caught her full in the chest.
With a furious bellow, Hairy flung the two pieces of the Emperor into the pit, charging across the deck to catch Luna before she could fall. He scooped Drake off the deck with his other hand and lumbered up the ramp, and Ron had the Hawk in the air before the door had closed behind them.
"Everybody hang on," he said grimly, brought up the shields, and aimed the Hawk at the great viewports behind the Emperor’s throne. "Guns?"
"Dorsal gun ready," said Neenie’s half-choked voice.
"Fire," Ron ordered.
Six precisely placed blasts shattered the windows, and Ron gunned the engines as the escaping air hurled the Millennium Hawk into space. Behind them, the Death Star shuddered again, explosions marching across its surface.
We did it. Ron leaned back in his chair, getting a full breath for the first time in what felt like an hour. We did it. Emperor’s dead, Death Star’s on its way out, as long as we can get Luna to a bacta tank in time we’ll all be fine...
So why do I still have a bad feeling about this?
There's clues in the chapter to answer that. Good luck!