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Return of the Aurors
Chapter 9: Deviation
By Anne B. Walsh
Garlee the Ewok chittered quietly to his chieftainess Chinna, then to Ron Solo, and pointed at the small door to the bunker below and the four armored stormtroopers talking amongst themselves.
"Back door, huh?" Ron said, peering down through the underbrush. "Good idea. It’s only a few guards. This shouldn’t be too much trouble."
"Well, it only takes one to sound the alarm," said Neenie pragmatically.
Ron grinned at her with the air of complete confidence he knew she hated. "Then we’ll do it real quiet-like."
"Oh!" Threelo suddenly burst out. "Oh, my! Oh, Princess Neenie!"
"Quiet!" Neenie hissed at him.
Threelo lowered his voice, but the worry in his tone didn’t change. "I’m afraid our furry companion has gone and done something rather rash."
Ron followed Threelo’s pointing finger with his eyes and suppressed a curse.
"Oh, no," Neenie said, watching Garlee scampering down the slope towards the stormtroopers.
The little Ewok grabbed one of the brooms resting against a nearby tree, straddled it, and howled in excitement as he was borne aloft. Hairy barked in distress as the stormtroopers pointed and shouted.
"There goes our surprise attack," Ron said, letting a frustrated sigh fill in for the swearwords in his mind.
Garlee shot away through the trees, andâ€”
I don’t believe this.
"Get him!" "Over there!" "Hurry!" Three of the stormtroopers grabbed the remaining brooms and shot off in pursuit of him. The fourth took a few steps after them, then looked back at the door and sighed before returning to his post.
Ron grinned at Neenie, and for once, she was grinning back. "Not bad for a little furball. There’s only one left." He flexed his arms. "You stay here. We’ll take care of this."
Neenie rolled her eyes at his attitude, but didn’t comment. Ron waved at Hairy, and they set off down the hill, Ron keeping an eye out for twigs.
He had to suppress a snicker as he heard Threelo’s lofty declaration. "I have decided that we shall stay here."
Reaching around the guard, tapping him on the opposite shoulder, and leading him into the arms of the strike team was as easy as losing at sabacc.
But I knew it’d work that way... just like I know Garlee grabbed a vine and swung his way off that broom...
Ron shook his head as he tapped the opening sequence into the bunker door. Imagining things again, Solo. Pay attention to your mission.
There’s people depending on you.
Drake breathed deeply as he stepped into the cavernous room. The presence of the Emperor loomed before him, though he couldn’t see the man...
Can I even call him a man, though? He’s gone so far to the Dark. Farther than even... Darth Malius. It was still hard to think of him as "father", though he’d acknowledged the relationship aloud, and Malius walked at his side now. Are either of them still men?
He shook the thoughts from his head and concentrated on the calm, the peace that filled an Auror even at the hardest of times. It would keep him strong through this time of trial.
And I know Malius, at least, is still a man within. He will show that manhood at the end.
Or will he? muttered a small, traitorous voice. Role-playing only goes so far. And we’ve gone a bit beyond that already. Especially with who you know is waiting in that chair...
"Welcome, young Skywalker," said that silken voice. "I have been expecting you."
Drake lifted his chin as the Emperor turned to look at him. Don’t even try it. I will not bow to you.
"You no longer need those," the Emperor said, flicking a finger at the binders on Drake’s wrists. They flew free and clattered against the floor. Drake felt a sudden temptation to leap forward and throttle the Emperor, kill him now while he was still distractedâ€”
No. No Dark here. I am an Auror, a warrior of the Light.
"Guards, leave us," the Emperor ordered, then turned his attention back to Drake. "I’m looking forward to completing your training. In time, you will call me Master."
"You’re gravely mistaken," Drake said without heat, without (he prayed) feeling of any kind. "You won’t convert me as you did my father."
The Emperor rose to his feet and walked towards them, or rather glided. No steps were visible, no pauses or rising and falling of shoulders and arms. Drake suppressed a shudder as the Emperor’s noseless, snakelike face became visible.
This could get very bad.
"Oh, no, my young Auror," said the Emperor, infusing the last word with sardonic amusement and doubt. "You will find that it is you who are mistaken." He leaned forward, his red eyes locked on Drake’s grey. "About a great... many... things."
Drake stiffened as images shot through his mind. His comrades, friends, family, the same yet differentâ€”names, appearances, subtly changed, different lives, but the same peopleâ€”
Their real selves. The thought came from a distance. This isn’t real. You’re playing at it.
Except now it’s not just a game anymore. Now we have a real enemy here.
The Emperor smiled, and Drake felt his heart contract.
Correction. This can no longer get bad. It already is that way. And getting worse by the second.
"His lightsaber," said Malius, holding it out to the Emperor.
"Ah, yes." The Emperor accepted the lightsaber and weighed it in one hand. "An Auror’s weapon. Much like your father’s." His smile widened. "By now you must know your father can never be turned from the Dark side. So will it be with you."
"You’re wrong," Drake said, following the script half-numbly as cold fear wormed deeper into his chest. "Soon I’ll be dead, and you with me."
Dying is actually one of the better ways this night could end up.
The Emperor laughed, a high-pitched sound that managed to keep from being either a cackle or shrill. "Perhaps you refer to the imminent attack of your Rebel fleet."
Of course he knows. He knows it all. Drake didn’t bother to look up.
"Yes, I assure you," the Emperor went on, smug gloating filling his voice, "we are quite safe from your friends here." Another laugh. "Safer by far than our originals were."
Waitâ€”he doesn’t know quite everything...
Drake did look up now. "Your overconfidence is your weakness," he said, driving all the meaning he could into the line, and simultaneously reaching into the back of his mind. Neenie?
"Your faith in your friends is yours," the Emperor retorted, staring at Drake.
Drake kept his eyes away. Neenie? Please answer...
A startled burst of cream behind his eyelids. Whatâ€”howâ€”are you using the Force?
You could say that. We’ve got problems.
Like what? We’re in the bunker, we’re about to start rigging it up...
"It is pointless to resist, my son," Malius said quietly beside him.
"Everything that has transpired," added the Emperor, "has done so according to my plan. Your friends up there on the Sanctuary Moon are walking into a trap. As is your Rebel fleet!"
Neenie’s sense in Drake’s head stiffened, as Drake was sure the real Neenie had on Hogwor. Oh. Those kinds of problems.
"It was I who allowed the Alliance to know the location of the shield generator," the Emperor went on, gesturing with Drake’s unlit lightsaber. "It is quite safe from your pitiful little band. An entire legion of my best troops awaits them."
Got it. We’ll modify the plan as needed.
Wait, Drake protested. What about deviation?
Neenie snorted. I think having our real-life enemy invade the story counts as significant deviation already. Not to mention this particular conversation...
Drake glanced at Malius out the corner of his eye. I’m more worried about the way the story seems to snap back to its original lines.
We’ll win in that case, won’t we? Neenie shot him a hug-feeling. Hang on. We’ll blow the bunker and be up to help you as soon as we can.
The Emperor turned to look out the window, stroking the lightsaber with his free hand. "Oh, I’m afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive..."
Drake swallowed surreptitiously. One thing.
"All right, break off," Ron ordered some of the strike team as soon as Neenie had panted out her message. "Side passages, rooms, any cover you can find. After they take us, you take them. Clear?"
"Crystal, sir," replied Boot, saluting him.
Ron shook his head as Boot peeled off to enter the side passage as ordered. "Can’t get used to that," he muttered to Neenie.
"You’d better." Neenie punched him lightly on the arm. "Come on. We have bait to be."
They slammed into the generator room, making as much noise as they would have if their whole team was there. "All right, up!" Ron ordered, waving his blaster at the startled techs. "Move!"
The techs edged to the side of the room, staring wide-eyed at the Rebels in their camouflage gear.
"Come on, quickly!" Ron snapped the fingers of his free hand. "Quickly, Hairy."
Hairy fumbled with the bag he was carrying. Don’t yell at me, he snarled. I’ve got big fingers.
"Ron, hurry!" Neenie was looking at one of the screens. "The fleet will be here any minute!"
"Charges!" Ron shouted. "Come on, come on!"
Now to pretend I don’t know what’s coming, and be ready for it anyway...
He slipped one of the explosives into his sleeve before slapping another one on the ceiling.
Stormtroopers rushed into the bunker from the outside.
"Oh my," Threelo said mildly. "They’ll be captured."
Emtoo let out an electronic snicker and started rolling away with Chinna.
"Wait, come back," said Threelo in a bored tone, keeping pace with them easily. "Emtoo, stay with me."
Emtoo blew a raspberry at Threelo.
Ron jumped as a force of Imperials burst into the room. I knew they were coming, why’d they scare me?
"Freeze, you Rebel scum!" snapped out their commander, pointing his blaster at Ron.
...right. They’ve got guns.
But we have bombs. And something better, too...
Boot stepped into the room and poked the commander in the back of the head with his laser rifle. "You freeze," he said.
Ron couldn’t help but grin. Perfect.
"You won’t get away with this," the commander blustered as the hidden Rebels collected their guns and returned their comrades’. "We’re not alone. We have a lot more outside!"
Harry howled with a Wookiee laugh. What a coincidence, he said. So do we.
"Let’s blow this place," Ron said, catching the blaster Boot tossed him. "And then get upstairs. A friend needs our help."
No sooner had the Millennium Hawk reverted to realspace than Luna triggered her com. "All wings, report in," she said as snubfighter icons dotted her screen.
"Red Leader standing by," reported Sirius’ voice.
"Gray Leader standing by," said another familiar voice, which made her blink. General Dadine? Well, I suppose she wanted to get into the action.
"Green Leader standing by," said a third voice she knew, a voice she’d last heard coming from the serene leader of the Rebellion, a woman who would certainly never be found in the cockpit of a fighter.
I think people are having too much fun with part-hopping. But I can’t blame them for wanting to be in at the kill. Besides, I never thought there were enough female parts in this movie.
"Lock S-foils in attack positions," Sirius ordered. "Leaving out the stupidity of having moving parts on spaceships," he added in an undertone.
"Less chatter, Red Leader," Luna admonished.
"May the Force be with us," said Admiral Lupar’s voice over the com.
Grien chittered at Luna and pointed at one of the screens.
Luna shook her head. "We’ve got to be able to get some kind of reading on that shield, up or down."
Grien chittered again, more urgently.
"Well, how could they be jamming us if they don’t know if we’re coming...?" Luna trailed off, blinked, and looked at the Death Star, then slammed her hand onto the com button again. "Break off the attack! The shield is still up!"
"I get no reading," Sirius’ voice said doubtfully. "Are you sure?"
"Pull up!" Luna shouted, following her own advice. "All craft, pull up!"
Admiral Lupar grabbed the armrest of his chair as the Home One shuddered violently, the inertial compensators almost overloaded by the sudden maneuvering. "Take evasive action!" he ordered. "Green Group, stick close to holding sector DV-4!"
"Admiral!" shouted a tech from nearby, the red markings on his head showing up more clearly in his agitation. "We have enemy ships in sector 24!"
Time to state the obvious. Lupar keyed his com. "It’s a trap!"
"Fighters coming in," Luna called, swinging the Hawk to avoid the TIEs zooming all around.
"There’s too many of them!" cried a panicked voice, young and female. Grien chittered worriedly at the sound of it.
"Accelerate to attack speed," Luna instructed, keeping her own voice calm. "Draw their fire away from the cruisers."
"Copy, Gold Leader," Sirius’ voice rang out, just as calm and twice as confident. His X-wing wove in and around the Hawk, and after a moment, the Y-wing which had sent out the panic call followed him. Grien relaxed slightly.
Luna sideslipped to avoid laser fire and glanced at the Death Star. Something about it was pulling her attention...
"Come, boy, see for yourself," the Emperor taunted, beckoning Drake to the window. "From here, you will witness the final destruction of the Alliance, and the end of your insignificant Rebellion."
Drake shuddered, glancing from the flashes outside to his lightsaber, sitting so temptingly beside the Emperor. It would be so easy... just finish it here and now... we don’t have to worry about deviation now...
"You want this, don’t you?" The Emperor smiled, touching the lightsaber. "The hate is swelling in you now." He removed his hand. "Take your Auror weapon. Use it." Arms spread wide, he offered his chest to Drake. "I am unarmed. Strike me down with it." A death’s-head grin spread over his face. "Give in to your anger."
Drake took a deliberate step back, reining himself in. Can’t do it. Not here. Not now. It won’t work. Two of them to one of me...
The Emperor nodded slowly, his smile changing to one of satisfaction. "With each passing moment, you make yourself more my servant," he proclaimed.
"No!" The shout was spontaneous, from both Drake and Draco, and broke the half-trance he’d fallen into. Get a grip. You need help, and you know how to get it. Look out that window, and call...
"It is unavoidable," the Emperor was saying. "It is your destiny..."
Drake turned to look out the window again, tuning him out. Luna, he called silently.
We have a big problem, love. Some serious deviation is needed. Drake found his link to Neenie and pulled the current status of the strike team from her mind, sliding it across to Luna. Think you can land and pick up a few passengers when the shield goes down?
Luna’s mind whirled through all the new information, and Drake felt her warm chuckle reverberate across the link. Oh, I think so. Just hold on. We’ll be there as soon as we can.
I know you will. Drake broke the link and turned back to the Emperor, painting an expression of mingled defiance and fear on his face.
"You," the Emperor declared as Darth Malius’ breathing grew harsher, "like your father, are now mine!"
Drake kept his face straight with an effort worthy of a true Auror Knight.
For you, like your original, are now screwed.