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Return of the Aurors
Chapter 5: Approach
By Anne B. Walsh
Sirius scowled at his reflection in the mirror.
"What’s wrong?" Remus asked from across the room.
"I'm a fish."
"You wanted to be part of it," Aletha pointed out, adjusting her white gown.
"I'm a FISH!"
Remus traded looks with Aletha. "I'll switch if you want," he said.
Sirius perked up, which looked distinctly odd on a tentacled face. "Really?"
"Hmmm..." Sirius tilted his head to one side. "Fish or cool guy who blows things up... what a hard decision."
Remus tapped Danger’s mind to let her know she was needed. "The fish gets to blow things up too."
"Not by himself."
"Point." Sirius brightened as Danger, back in her proper form, stepped into their small dressing room. "Ah-ha, just the person we need to see! Moony and I are swapping roles."
"So I heard." Danger raised her hands, pointed one at each man, and closed them, then swiftly crossed her fists. Remus shivered as his "costume" was yanked off him and Sirius’ put on.
Strange. I’d always wondered what it would be like to see out the sides of my head...wait, no, I haven’t actually.
He felt Danger helping him, nudging the Mon Calamari’s eyes a little forward so that he could see like a human. Thanks.
You’re welcome. Shall we go surprise the cubs?
I’m here. I might as well take another speaking role.
If you want to. Remus chuckled deep in his throat. This is actually quite a lot of fun.
You sound surprised...
"Well, look at you," Ron said, grinning at Luna. "A general, huh?"
"Oh, well, someone must have told them about my maneuver at the Battle of Taashill," Luna said, stroking her new insignia.
Ron shook his head. "Don’t look at me, lady. I just said you were a fair pilot. I didn't know they were lookin' for somebody to lead this crazy attack."
Luna smiled. "I’m surprised they didn’t ask you to do it," she said.
"Well, who says they didn’t. But I ain’t crazy." Ron ignored Neenie’s snort beside him. "You’re the respectable one, remember?"
The room fell silent. Luna made a small noise of appreciation and seated herself. Ron looked up to see a tall, serene, dark-skinned woman in white preparing to address the room.
Well, that’s different.
"The Emperor has made a critical error," said Mon Letha, "and the time for our attack has come." She activated a small projector beside her, bringing to life a projection of the moon Hogwor, the Death Star orbiting it, and the deflector shield around it. "The data brought to us by the Bothan spies pinpoints the exact location of the Emperor's new battle station. We also know that the weapon systems of this Death Star are not yet operational. With the Imperial Fleet spread throughout the galaxy in a vain effort to engage us, it is relatively unprotected. But most important of all, we've learned that the Emperor himself is personally overseeing the final stages of the construction of this Death Star."
The room erupted into talk, and Hairy barked in amazement. Ron looked from Neenie to Luna, seeing the same surprise and opportunism on both women’s faces, and even on the metal face of Threelo beyond Neenie. He agreed with it wholeheartedly. We’d be stupid to let this pass.
Mon Letha’s serenity flickered for a moment, tempered by sorrow. "Many Bothans died," she said softly, "to bring us this information."
Doubly stupid, in that case.
"Admiral Lupar, please." Mon Letha stepped back, and the Mon Calamari admiral took the floor.
"You can see here the Death Star orbiting the forest moon of Hogwor," he began, pointing out the important areas of the projection.
"Is that who I think it is?" Ron asked out of the corner of his mouth as Lupar explained the energy shield which protected the Death Star, and how it could be knocked out by removing the generator station on the moon.
"Yep." Neenie was grinning. "They all wanted to play too."
"Once the shield is down," Lupar was saying, "our cruisers will create a perimeter, while the fighters fly into the superstructure and attempt to knock out the main reactor. General Calrissian has volunteered to lead the fighter attack."
Ron looked over at Luna. "Good luck," he said.
Luna inclined her head in thanks.
"You’re gonna need it," Ron added under his breath.
Neenie shoved his arm affectionately. "She’s very brave, I think," she said.
"General Dadine," Admiral Lupar handed off the floor.
The female general shook back her short, bushy hair. "We have stolen a small Imperial shuttle," she said. "Disguised as a cargo ship, and using a secret Imperial code, a strike team will land on the moon and deactivate the shield generator."
"Sounds dangerous," said Threelo worriedly. "No wonder she’s telling us about it."
"I wonder who they found to pull that off?" Neenie said, in a tone that suggested she was losing her battle with laughter.
General Dadine shot Neenie a look. "General Solo, is your strike team assembled?" she said loudly.
Neenie stopped laughing and stared at Ron, her surprise changing into admiration. Ron felt his face starting to heat up. "Uh, my team’s ready," he said quickly. "I don’t have a command crew for the shuttle."
"Oh yeah?" said Hairy in Wookiee.
"Well, it’s gonna be rough, pal," Ron reminded him. "I didn’t want to speak for you."
"Try and keep me away."
Ron looked back at General Dadine. "That’s one," he said.
"Er, General," Neenie said, half-teasing with her use of his title. "Count me in."
"I’m with you, too!" called a voice from the back of the room. Rebels parted, and there stood Drake, Emtoo by his side.
Neenie was on her feet in a second, and hugged Drake happily as soon as he was in reach. He seemed to be holding on a little longer than he had before, Ron noted...
Hairy snickered and made an improper comment in Wookiee. Ron returned it by way of hand signals.
Drake pulled away enough to look into Neenie’s eyes. She looked back, puzzled. "What is it?"
"Ask me again sometime," Drake said, letting her go and hugging Luna instead. Ron sighed and joined the line to greet his friend.
Behind Ron, Emtoo beeped happily at Threelo.
"â€˜Exciting’ is hardly the word I would use," said the taller droid fussily.
Hairy settled into the copilot’s seat and moaned a protest. It was too short, too narrow, and too low, but it was going to have to do. Trying to put it out of his mind, he started investigating the controls.
Out the front viewscreen, he could see Ron arguing with Luna, pointing at the Millennium Hawk. Their conversation played in his mind as he flipped switches and waited for their telltales to light green.
"Look, I want you to take her," Ron said. "I mean it. Take her. You need all the help you can get. She’s the fastest ship in the fleet."
"All right," Luna said. "But I know what she means to you. I’ll take good care of her. She won’t get a scratch. All right?"
"Right." Ron turned to enter the shuttle, then turned back. "I got your promise, now. Not a scratch."
Luna laughed. "Would you get going, you pirate?"
Ron saluted her, and she returned it. "Good luck," she said, not as a wish but as a promise.
"You, too," Ron said, and started up the ramp.
Hairy brought his mind back to the cockpit. Drake, behind him, had obviously been working to some purpose, as Hairy could hear engines lighting. He turned his attention to the piloting controls again. All right, this is thrust, this is roll, that must be yaw...
"You got her warmed?" Ron asked as he came in.
"Yeah, she’s coming up," Drake answered.
"I hate this seat," Hairy said in a long grumbling groan.
"Yeah, I don’t think the Empire had Wookiees in mind when they designed her, Hairy," Ron agreed, taking the other pilot’s chair.
Drake flicked his fingers at the seat, and Hairy sighed in relief as he felt it mold to his body. "Thanks," he barked, slapping the switches for startup of the main engines.
Neenie entered the cabin and sat down beside Drake, then leaned forward to follow Ron’s line of sight towards the Millennium Hawk. "Hey, are you awake?" she asked softly.
"Yeah." Ron didn’t turn to acknowledge her, but his eyes flicked her way for a moment before returning to his ship. "I just got a funny feeling. Like I’m not going to see her again."
Hairy rolled his eyes, but let them rest longingly on the Hawk as well. What would it be like if this was real? he wondered. If we were space explorers, moving from planet to planet, living by our wits and fighting the evil Empire...
"Come on, General, let’s move," Neenie said.
"Right." Ron shook off his daze. "Hairy, let’s see what this pile of junk can do."
Hairy started the main thrusters to lift them off the floor of the docking bay. Really, though, we are, he mused. We have to move from place to place so we don’t get tracked down, we’re fighting an evil person and his followers, and he’s pretty well entrenched by this point. Might as well be the Empire.
"Ready, everybody?" Ron asked.
"All set," said Drake.
"Here we go again," said Threelo in an inappropriately chipper voice.
Emtoo whistled her agreement.
"All right, hang on," said Ron, and spun the shuttle end for end in preparation for launch.
Drake let his eyes drift shut as the shuttle traveled through hyperspace, even though he was pretty sure what he’d see.
The spacious throne room on the Death Star held only a few people, Imperial functionaries and the like. The Emperor’s throne was turned away from them, facing the windows which looked out on the vast Empire he ruled. Darth Malius was approaching the chair cautiously.
So his place isn’t quite as secure as he likes to make us think it is. Good to know.
Malius remained upright until the Emperor was facing him completely, then bowed. "What is thy bidding, my Master?" he asked.
"Send the fleet to the far side of Hogwor. There it will stay until called for."
"What of the Rebel fleet massing near Surrust?"
"It is of no concern." The Emperor smiled. "Soon the Rebellion will be crushed and young Skywalker will be one of us." His eyes moved away from Malius’ helmet-shielded face and met Drake’s, and his smile widened slightly. "Your work here is finished, my friend," he said without looking away from Drake. "Go out to the command ship and await my orders."
"Yes, my Master."
Drake pulled out of the dream with a gasp. They had already left hyperspace and were cruising towards the forest moon.
"You all right?" Neenie asked quietly.
"Fine." Drake breathed deeply, trying to feel the Force, to let it calm his racing heart. The Emperor wasn’t going to win. He knew that already.
But do you? his doubts whispered. You’ve changed things. You plan to change more. Are you really willing to bet your life, and everyone else’s here, that your fatherâ€”your father, not Luke Skywalker’sâ€”will suddenly turn good?
Drake shook his head and concentrated on the Force, sending it flowing through him, in and out, giving him all the power he could ever need. As from a great distance, he heard Ron’s voice. "...doesn’t work, we’re gonna need to get outta here pretty quick, Hairy."
Hairy’s agreement was fairly profane. He likes being able to say what he wants without anyone else understanding him, Drake thought, starting to smile. Except, of course, that we all can.
Emtoo beeped querulously. "I am certainly not translating that for you," said Threelo primly. "It would short out half your circuits, and Mon Letha would never forgive me."
Well, almost all. Drake opened his eyes and caught Neenie smiling at him, and he had to smile back. There. Better.
"We have you on our screen now," said a voice garbled by comlink. "Please identify."
"Shuttle Nontritetrum, requesting deactivation of the deflector shield," Ron said glibly.
"Shuttle Nontritetrum, transmit the clearance code for shield passage."
"Transmission commencing," said Ron, and flipped a switch. The warble of a high-speed transmission began.
"Now we find out if that code is worth the price we paid for it," Neenie muttered.
"It’ll work," said Ron with confidence. "It’ll work."
"I hate it when you say that," Harry whined.
Drake looked out the viewscreen at the passing Imperial trafficâ€”TIEs, mid-sized cruisers, Star Destroyers, and one enormous Super Star Destroyer. Still open to the Force, he absorbed the feelings and thoughts of those on board themâ€”
And pulled back abruptly as he encountered an all-too-familiar presence. "Malius’s on that ship," he said, his eyes on the Super Star Destroyer.
"Now don’t get jittery, Drake. There are a lot of command ships." But Ron too was eyeing the ship nervously. "Keep your distance, though, Hairy. But don’t look like you’re trying to keep your distance."
"How the hell do I do that?" Hairy demanded with some justice.
"I don’t know! Fly casual!"
"I’m endangering the mission," Drake muttered, realizing Malius must feel his presence just as he, Drake, felt the older man’s. "I shouldn’t have come."
"It’s your imagination, kid," Ron said firmly. "Come on. Let’s keep a little optimism here."
"I’d prefer certainty, myself," Hairy barked, edging the shuttle a little farther from the Super Star Destroyer.
As Drake closed his eyes, he felt a hand close around his, and another set of eyes besides his own watched Darth Malius slowly turn, then stride with ringing steps down the row of controllers to the one who had spoken with Ron. "Where is that shuttle going?" Malius demanded.
"Shuttle Nontritetrum, what is your cargo and destination?" the controller asked.
Drake blinked. That’s notâ€”
Why, yes, it is, Neenie said brightly. How nice of you to notice.
Mentally, Drake rolled his eyes.
"Parts and technical crew for the forest moon," Ron’s voice answered through the comlink.
"Do they have a code clearance?" Malius asked.
"It’s an older code, sir, but it checks out. I was about to clear them."
Malius turned to look at where Drake felt himself to be standing. Quickly, he moved to shield Neenie, praying that the man would only sense the one presence he expected.
"Shall I hold them, sir?" the controller asked.
"No," Malius said, turning back. "Leave them to me. I will deal with them myself."
"As you wish, my lord."
Drake dived for his body as Malius came towards him, feeling Neenie do the same. I wish they’d stop saying that, he grumbled, opening his eyes.
It doesn’t hurt you, and it’s not as if they did it on purpose. Get over it. Neenie’s hand withdrew.
Ron’s hands were poised above the flight controls. "They’re not going for it, Hairy..."
"Shuttle Nontritetrum," the controller’s voice crackled over the comlink, "deactivation of the shield will commence immediately. Follow your present course."
Everyone let out a breath at once in the cabin, even Drake, though the knot of worry in his stomach didn’t leave. They’re letting us get there. They’re going to find us and stop us on the moon itself. And then he’ll come for me...
"What were you saying?" Hairy inquired.
"Okay, I told you it was going to work!" Ron said cheerily. "No problem!"
Drake thought the shuttle might have shifted a little from the weight of everyone rolling their eyes at once.
In case you can't tell, I think this story's got a pretty good hold on me. I'll try to keep it going until it's gone, so to speak... and yes, the ending will be changing pretty significantly... thanks to all who sent ideas!
Oh, and super bonus points to anyone who can track down the origin of the shuttle's name! It's Potterian, I'll tell you that much...