1: VADER'S TRAP
CHAPTERS 1 - 7
Story © Copyright M.Kuppe
Over the ringing in her ears, strange sounds coalesced, forming as if far away, through a tunnel. A clanking of metal. A click. The sound of the ship's canopy opening with a hiss. She felt a gust of cool air on her face.
"She's still alive, sir."
"Good; we're in luck. Bring her with us, as ordered."
And then she dared to open her eyes. Dizzily, Kali forced herself to focus on the figure unstrapping her restraints. White armor, black soulless eyes -- before she passed out from the pain of being moved, Kali knew she was in much more trouble than any nightmare could offer...
"Biggs, please! Take me with you!" Kali bounced up and down in front of him, attempting to cut off his path into the speeder bay.
"Not this time! Why can't I go out without you always tagging along?" He dodged around her, but she persisted and ran after him as he hopped into the family landspeeder.
"Please? I'll be good ... I won't bother you or your friends. I just need to get a few things at the Trader's."
"All right! All right!" Biggs sighed, as he surrendered yet again to his little sister's plea. "But let's go ... now!"
As they raced away from the homestead, Kali couldn't take her eyes off her big brother as he effortlessly handled the speeder through the valleys and canyons of the Jundland Wastes. She was afraid if she looked away, he would already be gone. Biggs had always been there when she needed him -- but all too soon he would be going away, far from her and far from their home. She couldn't bear to think about that yet. He was her only sibling, her best friend, her confidant, and he was still with her now.
Biggs could feel her gaze on him, and knew what she was thinking. Even though he wouldn't admit it to her face, he really did enjoy all the time they spent together. He smirked to himself as he remembered how, much to their parents' dismay, he would take her flying at a very young age, speeding along and showing off in their old dilapidated skyhopper. Kali squealed with delight as the wind whipped her dark hair wildly around her face. They both shared the thrill of careening down Beggar's Canyon, streaking through the Stone Needle, experiencing the exhilaration that only flying could provide. Now Kali had turned out to be a good pilot as well. Good? Heck, she was turning out to be as good a pilot as any of his buddies!
They reached Anchorhead in no time at all. Biggs turned down familiar streets, and parked in front of the local hangout on the far side of town. There they were, waiting for him. 'The gang'.
"It's about time, guy!" Deak yelled as Biggs lept out of the hovering speeder.
"I know, I know. Kali, go get your stuff at the Trader's. We'll meet you in the vidcenter." He turned and joined his friends.
"Okay." She got out and surveyed the group carefully. Great! Luke's here too. She blushed at his broad smile and darted into the store.
"Why do you have to keep dragging her around everywhere you go lately?" Windy asked.
"It's okay." Luke interjected. "She's a good kid. I think she's just trying to get in as much time with her big brother as possible before he leaves." Biggs thanked Luke with a glance. He knew most of his friends didn't have siblings, or if they did, they probably weren't as close as Kali and he had become. He was going to miss her. A lot. So he didn't mind her rapt attention, but he also knew he wasn't the only reason she wanted to come along to Anchorhead. She had a crush on his best friend. Everyone but Luke could see that. Biggs had to admit his little sister was growing up fast. Too fast.
"So Luke, have you put in your application yet?" Biggs inquired, trying to change the subject.
"No .... but I'm going to tell Uncle Owen tomorrow that I'm applying for the Academy this year ... finally!"
"I sure hope he takes the news better than last year!" Biggs teased.
Luke would never forget the look on his uncle's face when he told him of his future plans. How upset he got! It was as if Owen was scared to let go of him ...
"Well," added Biggs, "I'm all set. My entrance form is on the holonet, and I'm just waiting for the word. This is the best time to go Luke -- with the Rebellion gaining strength."
"Blast it Biggs! I know, I know!" Luke was exasperated. He really wanted to follow his best friend into the Academy. He had to think of a way to convince his aunt and uncle to let him go.
Deak called to them. "Come on, you guys! We're going down into the vid for a cool one! Do you want to stay out here under the hot suns all day?"
Biggs started to join them, but turned and stopped to wait for Luke.
"You go ahead, Biggs." Luke prompted. "I'll meet you there in a bit. I've got some thinking to do."
Luke needed to come up with a plan, and he couldn't do that in a noisy vidcenter, full of loud music and electronic games bleeping. Absentmindedly, he found himself walking up to the Point, overlooking the Jundland Wastes. He looked skyward, and felt more depressed than ever. How he yearned to fly in the Academy, side-by-side with his best friend. So much adventure and excitement to experience! But then his gaze turned downward. Down at the dust, the sand and the gravel that was Tatooine. No! I'll be stuck here forever if I leave it up to Uncle Owen! I've just got to come up with a way to convince him to let me go!
"Are you okay?" Kali whispered.
Luke started and spun around. He didn't even hear her come up. I really must have been daydreaming. "Huh? Oh, yeah, I'm okay. Just thinking, that's all. Thinking about how I'll never get off this sandpit of a planet!"
"That would be just fine with me" she admitted. Luke was ready to argue the point, but suddenly, standing there alone together, looking into her large brown eyes, Luke realized that Kali wasn't a small kid anymore. Somehow, when he wasn't paying attention, she had turned into a lovely young woman.
"Okay you two." Biggs called. He wasn't surprised to find Kali out here alone with Luke, but he was still her big brother, and Kali was his responsibility while they were out. "Are you coming in or what?"
"Coming!" answered Kali. She flashed Luke a smile and scampered down the hill to join her brother.
Luke remained for a moment, left standing and staring at his best friend's sister. He had completely forgotten what he had come out here to think about. Shaking his head to clear it, he sauntered inside after her.
He looked up at the sound of a soft knock on the door. "There's someone here who wants to see you." Leia gently announced.
"Not now, Leia, please. I just want to be alone for awhile." Luke needed to summon all his fledgling Jedi powers to hold his emotions in check today.
"Not even to see me?"
Luke looked up. He hardly recognized her. Kali was in a formal flight uniform. Her long brown hair was braided neatly down the left side of her face. Dressed like that, she seemed older, wiser, but with the same look of pain he felt himself.
"Kali! What are you doing here? What a stupid question. I'm sorry, of course I know why you're here. How are you?" He stood and welcomed her in. He could tell she had been crying, but he could still see what an attractive woman she'd become. She walked into his arms with a shuddering sob. Luke was glad she had come; now they could get through this together.
"Well, you're here now, and that's all that matters. I'm looking forward to catching up with you. How about joining me at the tapcafe tonight? We can talk some more and get re-acquainted again." Kali couldn't believe her ears. It was too good to be true. After all this time, she knew she still cared for Luke very much.
"I see it, I see it! Seven, are you there?" Luke was getting anxious now. He rocked his snubfighter from side to side trying to avoid a direct hit.
"Seven here, Five. I've got him." Kali zeroed in her targeting computer and sprayed the eyeball with the quad laser cannons. The interceptor's ion engines exploded, and in a second, it was gone.
"Thanks, Seven. I owe you one." Luke let out the breath he hadn't realized he had been holding.
"You owe more than that, Five. Or haven't you been keeping track? You're lucky this is just a flightsim." Kali loved to tease Luke, and the other squad members understood. Nowadays, if you saw Luke, you saw Kali right beside him. But the Blue Squadron Commander didn't understand. Nor did he wish this to go on any further.
"It is just not regulation! I will not jeopardize my squad because of an emotional link two of my best pilots have for one another!" Commander Rehgis had finally had enough and was adamant. He paced the stone floor back and forth in front of Leia. Even though they were fortunate enough to find these deserted buildings among the jungles of Saurat, this latest Rebel hideout lacked a formal Command Center. Leia desperately wanted to discuss this matter in private, but the Commander had tracked her down and cornered her just outside her quarters. He was ranting now. "Ensign Darklighter will have to be transferred to another squadron immediately, before we have to depend on those fighters out there for real."
Leia knew he was right. But that didn't make it any easier for her to break the news to Luke. She would have to do it carefully, or else he may think that jealousy played a part in her, no their, decision. She sighed. Perhaps I'm not up to this new leadership role thrust upon me after all.
"I understand your concern, Leia, but Kali and I fly well together." Luke said. "Just because we share more than our work is not a reason to separate us." However, deep down, Luke worried too. He found that more and more, he was looking to see where Kali's X-wing was, to see how she was handling herself in these practice skirmishes with simulated TIES. He didn't know how he would react if something happened to her for real. After hearing Leia out, Luke resigned himself to the fact that they had to follow their orders from Command. "Just let me be the one to tell her" he asked.
"All right, Luke, but Commander Rehgis wants this effective right away. We are responsible for establishing this base on Saurat, and she will be re-assigned to patrol duty with the External Fleet. Even though the destruction of the Death Star was a setback, the Empire still has a tight grip on many of the worlds in this system. We need you both where it counts the most and where you'll do your best."
Luke felt a knot in the pit of his stomach. Everything had been going too well lately. He was improving his piloting skills, his Jedi powers were just beginning to bloom and his new found friendships with Leia, Han and Chewie helped to replace the friends and family he had so suddenly lost. He and Kali had become very close and were even starting to talk about their future together. Now those plans would have to wait and he didn't know for how long.
"Is this what you want Luke?" Tears welled up in her eyes. Kali knew she was being over-emotional, but she seemed to have little control over her feelings lately. They had talked about making their partnership 'official' soon, so she thought he would be thrilled with the news she the medic droid just gave her. She feared she would never see him again. How can I tell him now?
"It probably will be for the best." Luke offered. "We can wait until things settle down a bit, and still get together when we're on leave. Who knows what's in store for us next? There's word that we may be moving to Hoth soon. Do you really want to be stuck on that ice cube when you could be piloting around the galaxy? I know I'd rather have your assignment." He was trying to make the best of a bad situation. Luke really did want her to be safe, and he knew he just couldn't keep his mind on his job and her at the same time. Not now, with the Empire chasing them still. Maybe in the future. Soon.
Kali was trying to understand, but she could not get past the fact that the timing was just couldn't be worse. If only this could have waited another few months or so ...
"Right on it. What are the details?" he asked as he wiped the grease from his hands.
"We have just intercepted transmissions from a Star Destroyer in this sector. They may not know we're here, but we can't take any chances sitting around like nerfs. Your squad is to take position over Saurat and prepare to provide cover in case we're discovered. We may need to evacuate to Hoth earlier than we had hoped."
Luke didn't like the sound of that. At least here on Saurat, they were well camouflaged under the jungle cover. He wasn't looking forward to spending time on a world of snow and ice, especially when Kali wasn't around to keep him warm. Luke thought of her often lately, daily, in fact, and he promised himself that he would try to reach her on the holonet if they made any move.
"On our way. I'll get the squad together." Luke locked the housing on his ship and hopped aboard. Artoo was already his droid socket, checking the motivator drive unit. "Blue Squad - report to stations!" he broadcasted into the commlink. "Well Artoo, here we go again" he announced as he strapped himself in and prepared for liftoff.
"Luke, I have a confirmation bearing 721 on the scanner." This was no simulation today. The squad locked S-foils and pulled into formation high above the planet.
"I've got it too, Wedge. Looks like a Star Destroyer all right. Keep your distance, we don't want them spotting us too soon." What are they doing here? Was it just luck, or do they really know the Rebel base is down below?
The answer to his question came all too soon. From planetside ahead of them, the Super-Star Destroyer Executor rose into visual range. Immediately, legions of TIES swept down upon the small X-wing squad.
Vader! "It's a full attack! Blue Five to Command. Evacuate! Repeat - evacuate at once!" Luke tried to keep cool, but with these overwhelming odds, it was difficult to do.
The first duty Leia performed was to send out a distress signal to the Fleet as the other Commanders at the base went into action. Within seconds, sirens blared as plans made for this contingency were put into motion. Transports were filled with supplies and crew in an all-too familiar routine they had performed many times before.
Luke and his squadron tried their best to make a path for the transports' escape, but they were outnumbered. If only we had more firepower, he thought. And, as if in answer to his wish, out of hyperspace the rest of the Rebel Fleet appeared. X-wings, Y-wings and B-wings led the Fleet into the fray. Battles were being fought all around him, while Luke tried his best to take out as many TIES as possible.
A voice from the past made him jump.
"Luke, you've got one bearing down on you! I'll try to take him out ..." Kali got the TIE in her sights and fired. But at the same moment it returned green lasers into Luke's X-wing. Artoo squealed as the ship was hit. The shields held, but barely. Another strike like that, and I'm done for. The Imp exploded from Kali's shot as she zipped past him.
"Are you all right Lu..?" Her communication was cut short, as an interceptor bore down on her fighter and struck her side on. She couldn't understand for a moment, it happened so fast. Sparks flew as nearly all her controls shorted out. Transmissions went down and sublight engine power was dropping quickly.
"Blast!" she cried, trying to recover. "Luke, I'm hit! I don't think I can regain control!" But Luke couldn't hear her -- he could only watch. He dreaded this moment; feeling sick, angry and confused all at the same time. How can I help her? Before he knew it, he saw her X-wing dive into the planet's shadow. Her ship was crashing, and he could do nothing to prevent it.
"Kali!" Luke watched helplessly as the ship fell out of view into the atmosphere below. A blinding flash of TIE laserfire outside his viewscreen brought his attention back to the battle. He was on autopilot now, not caring if he lived or died and began firing like a wildman, hitting anything in sight. Soon the TIES began to break off, to retreat, and he didn't realize at first why. The Star Destroyer was calling them back to it's launch bays, gathering them in to chase the Rebel transports evacuating Saurat.
"All fighters. Prepare for hyperspace with the rest of the Fleet!" The squad was being ordered to formation, but there was no response from Blue Five. Wedge saw what had happened to Kali and was also calling Luke, trying to bring him back to reality. "Come on Luke! There's nothing you can do now! Let's go!"
Artoo confirmed their hyperspeed drives were still in working order. But Luke wasn't responding. The astromech droid took over the controls and brought him in line with the Fleet. The stars around him began to lengthen and with a flash, they were gone.
Luke barely noticed.
Black space and stars gave way quickly to blue sky and clouds. The ship shuddered and rocked violently, and Kali was sure it was going to tear apart. There was no response to her frantic attempts to maneuver; the power convertors were now dead. All she could do was keep the wings as level as possible. Her mind raced. She glanced at the two holoprints of her and Luke tacked to the flight console. Why didn't I tell Luke when I had the chance? It was too late now. Too late to tell him the most important news he could ever hear ...
The ship plummeted through the atmosphere and in a flash she was at treetop level, the nose cone slicing through the dense green foliage. Her ears were filled with deafening scraping and tearing, as she sank lower into the thick jungle growth. Then it was dark ... and suddenly, everything stopped.