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Return of the Aurors
Chapter 8: Doubt
By Anne B. Walsh
At one end of the great hall, Threelo held forth with the story of the great adventures he’d had with Captain Solo, Princess Neenie, Master Drake, Hairywolf, and Emtoo, the Ewoks listening in fascination. At the other, Emtoo herself had her scanner out and was passing it across Hairy and the Ewok chieftainess Chinna. This was made easier by the fact that Chinna was sitting in Hairy’s lap.
Emtoo beeped, sounding worried.
"We understand you’re not a medical droid," Drake said soothingly, patting the little droid on her domed head. "We just need field results."
"Close enough for government work’s fine by me," Ron added.
After a moment, Emtoo whistled triumphantly and projected an image into the air above her head.
"Well, that looks pretty conclusive," Neenie said, leaning in. "Over 95% probability."
Hairy grumbled. "Probability of what?"
"Probability that Wookiees and Ewoks are related, you walking carpet," Neenie said, looking up and grinning at the huge furry creature. "Though she’s an awful lot cuter than you are."
Chinna laughed squeakily and patted Hairy’s shoulder, or as close to it as she could reach from his lap.
Emtoo pulled in her scanner and started towards the other end of the hut, beeping loudly at a portion of Threelo’s narrative. "Yes, Emtoo, I was just getting to that," the golden droid said prissily.
Chinna snapped her fingers peremptorily, and Hairy stood up, lifting her easily with one big paw and starting towards Threelo’s end of the room as well. The three humans, left to themselves, shared a moment’s quiet chuckle, then followed their friends.
Drake lingered behind the others for a moment, so they wouldn’t see his shiver.
Malius. I knew he’d come. Now he’s here.
He didn’t notice Neenie’s sympathetic shiver, or her glance over her shoulder to confirm it had come from him.
Chinna was speaking to her fellow Ewoks from her perch on Hairy’s shoulder. "What’s going on?" Ron asked as drums began to sound.
"I don’t know," Neenie said, frowning.
"Wonderful!" exclaimed Threelo, looking up. "We are now part of the tribe!"
A small mob of Ewoks slammed into Ron’s legs. "Just what I always wanted," he grunted, recovering his balance only with Neenie’s help.
Hairy moaned. Chinna smacked his ear.
"Yeah, well, short help is better than no help at all, Hairy," Ron said, laughing. "Thank you, okay," he said to the Ewoks taking possession of his feet.
"Chieftainess Chinna says her best scouts are going to show us the shortest way to the field generator," Threelo proclaimed proudly.
"Good," Ron said. "How far is it?"
Threelo looked at him in puzzlement.
"Ask her," Ron said impatiently, pointing at the reddish Ewok.
Threelo opened his metal mouthâ€”
Ron grabbed Threelo’s shoulder, pulling him back. "We need some fresh supplies, too."
Threelo turned to the chieftainessâ€”
Ron grabbed Threelo’s shoulder again. "And try and get our weapons back."
Threelo looked from Ron to Chinna, totally bewildered.
"And hurry up, will ya?" said Ron, scowling at Threelo. "I haven’t got all day."
Neenie and Drake, he noticed peripherally, seemed to have vanished.
Outside, Drake stared up at the Death Star. Part of his mind insisted it was the greatest threat to his life and his friends’, another part told him Malius and the Emperor were more dangerous than the Death Star would ever be, and yet another part ridiculed both threats and insisted his real life lay elsewhere than this, and he had no idea which part he should pay more attention to...
"Drake, what’s wrong?"
Neenie’s voice shattered the competing mindsets. Drake turned to look at her. The sister he’d been born with but never known until a year agoâ€”or was it that they’d been born far apart to different families, but had grown as close as born twins over years together?
"Neenie, do you remember your mother?" he asked both incarnations of the woman beside him. "Your real mother?"
"Just a little bit." Neenie came to lean on the railing beside him. "She died when I was very young."
"What do you remember?"
"Just images, really. Feelings."
"Tell me." Drake silenced the babbling voice saying Neenie would have been too young to remember anything, that none of this made sense, that it was all a silly joke, a play...
"She was very beautiful," Neenie said slowly. "Kind, but...sad." Her eyes met his. "Why are you asking me all this?"
Because I don’t even have that much. "I have no memory of my mother," Drake said, looking away. "I never knew her."
"Drake, tell me," Neenie said in a quiet, insistent voice. "What’s troubling you?"
"Malius is here. Now, on this moon."
He heard her quick intake of breath. "How do you know?"
"I felt his presence. He’s come for me." Some cowardly part of Drake wished he was lying. He pushed it aside. "He can feel when I’m near. That’s why I have to go." He turned to look at Neenie. "As long as I stay, I’m endangering the group and our mission here." A deep breath. "I have to face him."
Don’t tell her, babbled his fears, don’t tell her, she’ll never understand, she’ll be afraid, she won’t know what to do...
"He’s my father," Drake said quietly, and accepted the truth within the words in a way he never had before.
"Your father?" Neenie was only questioning, not rejecting. Only surprised, not frightened.
"There’s more." This would be the easier part. This truth he did not fear, had never feared, except for what it meant to someone he cared about. "It won’t be easy for you to hear, but you must. If I don’t make it back, you’re the only hope for the Alliance."
"Drake, don’t talk that way," Neenie said, shaking her head. "You have a power I don’t understand and could never have."
"You’re wrong, Neenie," said Drake flatly, to hide the pain it cost him to say. You have that power too. In time you’ll learn to use it as I have." He looked at her again, willing her to see truth in his eyes. "The Force is strong in my family. My father has it...I have it...and...my sister has it."
He laid his hand, palm up, on the railing, and after a long moment, Neenie laid hers on top of his, never looking away from his eyes.
"Yes," Drake said, feeling her hand close around his. "It’s you, Neenie."
"I know." Neenie tightened her grip. "Somehow, I’ve always known."
Drake looked away from her, towards the looming darkness of Malius. "Then you know why I have to face him."
"No!" Neenie pulled his attention back to her, and he could see both awarenesses in her eyes: one, the orphaned Princess of Maraudaar and leader of the Rebel Alliance; the other, the dreamweaver whose power intertwined with his own kept this world alive around them. "Drake, run away, far awayâ€”if he can feel your presence, then leave this place." She pressed his hand again. "I wish I could go with you."
"No, you don’t," Drake said, a quiet denial. "You’ve always been strong."
"But why must you confront him?" The demand was more the weaver than the Princess.
"Because..." Drake faltered. The words laid out for him refused to be spoken. "Because I must believe there is good in him," he said finally. "I must believe that he won’t turn me over to the Emperor. That I can save him. That I can turn him back to the good side. I have to try."
"No, you don’t!" Neenie snatched the opportunity Drake had given her by changing his lines that little bit and ran with it. "Drake, just because he’s your father doesn’t mean you’re exactly alike! Just because he chose the dark sideâ€”and you know he chose, he chose freely, he was not tricked or forced into itâ€”doesn’t mean that you will choose that path as well! Don’t destroy yourself trying to prove the impossible!"
Drake hesitated. For that one moment, he was tempted.
You can’t. It would destroy the story. Both stories.
Your path is laid out. Deviation will not be tolerated.
"I have to try," he repeated.
Brother and sister held each other for one long moment. Then Drake stepped away and started towards the walkway that would take him out of the Ewok village.
He did not look back.
Ron stepped outside and caught sight of Neenie, standing in the moonlight (or maybe that ought to be planetlight, since we’re on a moon already), watching a human-sized figure disappear into the darkness.
Drake. Had to be him.
"Hey, what’s goin’ on?" he asked.
"Nothing," Neenie said, quickly, the catch in her voice that meant she’d been crying. "Iâ€”just want to be alone for a little while."
"Nothing?" You know I hate it when you tell me it’s nothing and it’s obviously not nothing, Your Worship. "Come on, tell me. What’s goin’ on?"
"I..." Neenie shook her head. "I can’t tell you."
"Could you tell Drake?" Ron snapped, pointing in the direction his friend had gone. "Is that who you could tell?"
Neenie shuddered. "I..."
Ron growled under his breath and started to walk away. Then he stopped.
I promised myself, if I ever got out of the damned carbonite, I wouldn’t be such an idiot. Time to live up to that.
He walked back to the woman he loved. "I’m sorry," he said.
"Hold me," Neenie whispered, her eyes glistening in the light.
Ron pulled her into his arms and held her.
"This is a Rebel that surrendered to us," said the pudgy commander of the landing pad to Darth Malius, indicating the boy standing between two stormtroopers with his hands bound before him. "Although he denies it, I believe there may be more of them, and I request permission to conduct a further search of the area. He was armedâ€”" The commander held up a lightsaber. "Only with this."
Malius looked searchingly for a moment at Drake, then took the lightsaber from the man’s hand. "Good work, Commander," he said. "Leave us. Conduct your search and bring his companions to me."
"Yes, my Lord." The commander saluted and withdrew.
Malius looked at his son, standing unafraid in his presence, and felt an odd mixture of pride and anger. Pride in the boy’s uprightness, and anger that such a pose should make him proud. His only pride should be in his son’s usefulness to his Master. "The Emperor has been expecting you," he said to defuse the feelings.
"I know, father," the boy said calmly.
"So you have accepted the truth."
Drake’s eyes did not move from Malius’ masked face. "I’ve accepted the truth that you were once Lucas Skywalker, my father."
Malius would have laughed, had the role called for it. "That name no longer has any meaning for me."
"I’m not surprised," Drake said quietly. "I would like to believe that your true self is still good. That the Emperor couldn’t drive it from you fully, and that it was why you couldn’t destroy me. And why you won’t bring me before him now."
"You say you would like to believe that," Malius said, feeling no great surprise at the ease in which he could respond in character to this deviation. "What do you believe?"
"I don’t know yet what I believe," Drake answered. "I’m still deciding."
"I see you have constructed a new lightsaber," Malius said rather than respond to this, igniting the blade. "Your skills are complete. Indeed, you are powerful." He shut the blade down. "As the Emperor has foreseen."
Drake took a step closer. "Come with me."
Malius looked away. "Albu-wan once thought as you do." His voice was unexpectedly rough. He strove for calm, for the surety of the way he had embraced as a young man. "You don’t know the power of the dark side. I must obey my master." For therein lies my glory and my strength.
"I will not turn," Drake said, his voice like a hushed trumpet call. "And you’ll be forced to kill me."
I would rather that than see you one more day in the hands of my enemies. "If that is your destiny."
"Search your feelings, father," Drake pleaded, but Malius could hear that the boy expected nothing to come of his words. "You can’t do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate."
"It is too late for me, son." Malius hesitated a moment, then added a line to his pre-chosen words. "Nor would I wish it otherwise." Drake inhaled sharply, but Malius was not done. "The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force. He is your master now."
The boy’s head came up, and Malius had the uncanny sensation of twin storm clouds sending bolts of lightning into his own eyes.
"Then," said Drake Skywalker, "my father is truly dead."
The small contingent of Rebels, larger now by an equal number of Ewoks, peered over the top of a hill at an armored bunker with a large flat paved surface in front of it, bulwarked by towers.
"The main entrance to the control bunker’s on the other side of that landing platform," Neenie said in a worried murmur. "This isn’t gonna be easy."
"Hey, don’t worry," Ron said confidently. "Hairy and I got into a lot of places more heavily guarded than this."
Garlee, one of Chinna’s Ewok guards, was chattering with Threelo, pointing at the bunker, then off to one side of it.
"What’s he saying?" Neenie asked.
Threelo looked up. "He says there’s a secret entrance on the other side of that ridge!"
At Surrust, Luna Calrissian maneuvered the Millennium Hawk into position at the head of the squadrons. Grien Prunb, her small alien co-pilot, flipped on the com.
"Admiral, we’re in position," Luna reported. "All fighters accounted for."
"Proceed with the countdown," Admiral Lupar’s voice echoed through the comlink. "All groups assume attack coordinates."
Grien snapped off the com and looked oddly at Luna. "Don’t worry," Luna said with confidence. "My friends are down there. They’ll have that shield down on time." She stared out the viewscreen, wishing she could see that far. "Or this’ll be the shortest offensive of all time," she said softly.
Grien mumbled a comment in his own language and twisted the knob that told the computer to finish its hyperspace calculations, turning the com back on with his other hand.
"All craft, prepare to jump to hyperspace on my mark," Lupar’s voice rang out.
"All right," Luna said at Grien’s nod. "Stand by."
She pulled the lever, and the Millennium Hawk shot forward into hyperspace, first of the Rebel fleet to do so.
They were on their way to Hogwor to destroy a Death Star and defeat an Empire, once and for all.