1: VADER'S TRAP
CHAPTERS 8 - 16
Story © Copyright M.Kuppe
"Admiral Dysan. Report your findings." The Imperial Commander glanced at the datapad in his hands.
"Yes, sir. We tracked the fighter as it descended planetside. We discovered the X-wing inoperable but intact, and the pilot barely alive. We transported her aboard via a repulsorlift pad. She is in the bacta tank now. She has been identified as one 'Ensign Kali Darklighter' of the Rebel Fleet. We also found this." He handed his Lord a photo of Kali and Luke.
"Is she expected to live?" The Dark Lord's mind was already developing a plan. He knew this pilot meant something to the young Skywalker. He could sense Luke's concern through the Force during the battle. That is why he had her ship followed. Now he knew the reason for those strong feelings.
"Yes sir. Even though her injuries are quite severe, I have been informed she will survive."
"Very good. When she is able, bring her to me. In the meantime, set a course for the Dantooine system. Now that we have eradicated them from this sector, the Emperor has instructed us to ensure that no Rebels remain there as well. Perhaps it will also provide us with a clue to their new hideout." With a sweep of his black cape, Darth Vader departed from the bridge.
The Admiral slumped with relief. Shaking, he remembered vividly what had happened to others who brought the Dark Lord of the Sith bad news. The escape of the Rebels was frustrating, but luckily for him, Lord Vader had something special in mind for this Rebel scum.
"Leia, I know she must still be alive. I can feel it. I need to make sure. We are settled here now, you don't need me -- I want to return to Saurat to see if I can find her."
Not even a visit from Han and Chewie could bring Luke out of his despair or change his mind.
"I really don't know what else we can do." Han told Leia. "Chewie and me have tried talking to him, but I've never seen Luke so devastated before."
Han was right. Now Luke had gone to the next stage of his grief; denial. Leia could not bear to see him in such a state. If it meant closure, she had half a mind to let him go. But not alone.
"Han, how about you and Chewie joining Luke, to keep an eye on him, so we'll be sure he returns in one piece?" She could also see that Han needed something to do. He was getting nervous just hanging around the Rebel base, and she was afraid he might feel the need to leave. Thanks to Jabba, he still had a price on his head and bounty hunters could track down anyone if they stayed in one place too long.
"You got it Your Highness. There's not much for us to do here anyway, and I hate just waiting for something to happen. We'll take the Falcon, and hopefully put an end to this once and for all."
"Thank you, Han." Leia looked genuinely concerned. Han didn't like his sudden feelings of jealousy. Luke was a good friend, and he would do anything for him, but those feelings conflicted with Han's attraction to Leia. If Luke didn't find his old girlfriend, would he bounce back to the Princess? Han wasn't so sure he liked the prospect of competition again.
Despite the cold outside, Leia was just beginning to warm up to him, and surprisingly, he liked that feeling.
To Luke, it seemed like forever before they arrived at their destination. "The last visual I had was over in this area." As soon as they returned to Saurat, Luke seemed anxious and his voice was strained, frightened of what he might, or might not, find. The expanse of jungle on this part of the planet was overwhelming.
"Take her down, Chewie. We'll do a low flyby and see if we can pick up anything on our sensors." Han was relieved that the area was clear of Imps. Obviously, after the Rebels had evacuated, they didn't feel there was anything left worth monitoring.
The beeping of the scanner's alarm made Luke jump. His heart raced at the prospect of picking up Kali's automatic distress signal. He looked out the viewport to see if he could spot anything, but they were up much too high for a visual sighting. Even though he knew this, he could not take his eyes off the jungle below.
"Okay, Chewie, let's take her down there." Han pointed to an area that seemed to have been burned. A long track of vegetation was scorched, and ended in a blackened gully further ahead.
"Well, the ship didn't break up, which is good, but there's no sign of Kali." Han offered as he walked around the crumpled X-wing, his mind uneasy. What happened here? Her Arfour unit was gone too. Had she walked away from the crash? It was unlikely she could have gotten far, seeing all the blood in the ship. And there was no trail of blood outside the X-wing which should lead us to where she wandered off. Her emergency survival pack was still here too.
Luke didn't know what to think. He was glad they hadn't found her body in the cockpit, but he was concerned that she was obviously badly hurt. And missing. He removed a picture fastened to the console. It was the one of he and Kali when they had been together on Saurat. They were so happy then, and it seemed like such a long time ago. He quickly shoved the picture in his pocket before Han or Chewie could see.
He looked over to Chewbacca when he heard the Wookiee growl for their attention. Chewie was gesturing for Han and Luke to see something he had found not far from the crash site.
Han crouched down to examine the ground. "Looks like a second ship landed here Luke. Thanks to furball's nose, he found the garbage they left behind. From that and the shape of these flattened patches of grass I'd guess they were caused by twin-gear landing pads -- it looks like there was an Imperial Lambda class shuttle here not too long ago."
The Wookiee whined in agreement. Luke lifted his eyes from the depressions in the ground and stared at his friends. They had at least part of their answer. Kali may still be alive, but the clues were pointing to the fact that she was in the Empire's hands now.
"It is not you I want." Darth hissed as he pointed a black-gloved finger at her. "It is a friend of yours. Surely bait as tempting as you will bring him to me. I just wanted to ensure you are well enough for my use."
Luke! He was trying to capture Luke! She couldn't keep the alarm from her face. The Dark Lord seemed to enjoy her look of panic. He knew this was a perfect method to trap young Skywalker.
"Thank you, Ensign Darklighter. You have confirmed my assumptions. You still have strong feelings for Skywalker. Excellent. Guards, take her away! I will send for her when I am ready."
The Troopers seemed to take pleasure in shoving her forward with their blasters. As she limped back to her cell, her mind reeled. What can I do to warn Luke?
C-3PO hated Hoth. His joints were continually freezing up and the surface of the floors left him with a less than dignified walk. His feet were not manufactured for icy surfaces - unless he was careful, he would find himself sliding around out of control. Yet he prided himself with the fact that he had important communications to relay to the highest officials in the Rebellion; like the one he was asked to deliver now. "Princess Leia, there is a message for you in the Command Center."
"Thank you Threepio. I'll be right there." She threw on her warm vest and hurried down the corridor. The snow crunched beneath her boots and in her haste she nearly slipped turning the corner to the main Control Room. She knew she was anxious for news from Han, but she had to remain calm. Fears of the worst kept creeping into her mind ever since they had left.
She leaned over to the microphone on the communication console and switched it to transmit mode. "Han! What did you find? Are you all right?"
"Yeah, Princess, we're okay, but our little trip here has raised more questions than it answered." Han filled her in on their discovery as best he could.
"Luke wants to go running off after her, but since we have no leads of where she went, Chewie and me have convinced him to return to Hoth to make a formal plan. We're on our way back." The reception was breaking up, and it was hard for Leia to hear the transmission clearly.
"Good, Han. Tell Luke I'm sorry, but we'll do whatever we can to find out what happened. Get back quick, I need your help with something."
"You got it, your Highness." Han clicked off the holonet. "Okay, Chewie, let's go - and get out the warm clothes again. We're gonna need them!"
Chewie chuckled. At least he didn't mind getting back; his fur handled the cold just fine.
In the forward cargo hold, Luke absent-mindedly played his fingers over the holographic gameboard. An image flashed before his eyes. Vader! He has Kali, I just know it! He could feel her pain and Vader's contrite smugness. Luke would have to figure out how to find the Executor, and fast.
"He suddenly has a burst of energy I haven't seen in a long time. He's possessed like he's on a mission or something. As soon as we landed, he went straight to the Command Center and started asking a million questions of the radar crew there. I don't know what he's up to, but it's good to see him active again."
Leia wasn't so sure about that. She made a mental note to track him down and find out what he was up to.
"Han, I believe we may have a spy in our midst. How else can we explain the Empire's sudden attack on Saurat?"
"I think you may be right. Chewie and I have been discussing the same thing, but I didn't want to worry you until we had something ferrocrete to go on. Do you remember that droid on Yavin IV, after the awards ceremony? I had a bad feeling about it's sudden appearance, and the way it was always following us around. I know there were dozens of maintenance droids being used back then, but I also noticed this particular one using the communication scomp links when we moved to Saurat. It seemed 'out of character' - if you can apply that term to droids - to a maintenance unit.
I took it upon myself to investigate further, but it disappeared as suddenly as it appeared, shortly before the attack. It's markings were unlike any other Rebel droid on the base. I would guess that either it was an Imperial remote droid, or someone here was using it to gain access to our confidential files. It may be gone, but our spy could still be lingering around."
Leia hated to think that one of her team would be the infiltrator. She had yet another item to add to her mental 'to do' list - review the backgrounds of all her staff to see if anything unusual came up. But she could not possibly do that alone. "I think I'll have Threepio check the databanks" she said.
"Good, keep Goldenrod busy and out of our hair. I'm going to join Chewie on the Falcon to do some post-flight checks." Han stood and turned to leave. "I'll check in with you later to see if anything turns up."
"Thanks." Luke said as he was halfway down the corridor in a rush to find Leia.
"I'm going to Dantooine." It wasn't a request, just a simple statement of fact. Leia didn't know how to react. She felt he was risking his own life to potentially chase after a ghost, but perhaps she would do the same thing if it were her.
"Luke, why don't you wait for Han? Maybe he and Chewie can go with you …"
"No, Leia, not this time. I have a better chance of slipping in if I go alone with Artoo and my X-wing. The Falcon is too well known now, and I wouldn't ask Han or Chewie to put their necks out like that for me."
"What are you going to do when you get there? Luke, you know this could be a trap."
"I'm positive it's a trap, Leia. But I would never forgive myself if I didn't go. I know you'd do the same for Han or me."
Leia blushed at the mention of Han's name. Are my feelings for him that obvious? I'll have to be more professional in the future - especially around others. "All right, Luke, but please be careful. May the Force be with you."
"I will, and thanks."
Luke surveyed his work. The cockpit could now hold two people, albeit a tight fit. It was all he could do, other than take a slower, bulkier transport. After loading his ship's two proton torpedo launchers, he checked his personal sidearms. His lightsaber was clipped to his belt and his blaster was charged. He was as prepared as he would ever be.
"Okay, I think we're ready now. Start her up Artoo. Let's go."
Her wish was granted sooner than she thought. She bolted upright from her bed as her door suddenly creaked open. Two Stormtroopers entered her cell, motioning her towards them. One shackled her wrists with binders and the other shoved her out of the cell. Silently they led her down the stark corridors of the Imperial ship, blasters at the ready. After two turbolift rides and numerous turns that had her completely lost, they arrived at a shuttle hanger. She could see a ship being prepared for liftoff. What now? she thought to herself. Something familiar caught her eye on the far side of the hanger bay. Arfour! They had brought him here too! Upon recognition of his former master, the droid dropped the maintenance tools he had been assigned and began to slowly advance to her.
The Troopers reported to their Commander at the foot of the shuttle's ramp.
"Your prisoner sir."
"Good. Unshackle her. I don't think this pretty little one can do us much harm here." Commander Chion leered at Kali with beady eyes as the Troopers removed the binders. She did her best not to give a smart retort. Instead, she played along to keep his attention away from her advancing droid. Arfour easily slid up the ramp and into the shuttle behind him.
"Perhaps when Lord Vader is done with you, I will request your services here with me. I am in need of a 'companion' and I'm sure you would serve nicely." His cold hand brushed Kali's cheek as he inspected her from head to foot.
Repulsed, she spat at him. "I'd rather die first!" She wrenched herself away from his touch.
"That can be arranged!" The embarrassed Commander struck Kali with the back of his hand to her chin. She toppled to the ground on her hands and knees and looked up in horror at Chion. His eyes were blazing, filled with hate, a look that he would indeed enjoy watching her die. "Get this rebel scum on board!"
As Kali was lifted to her feet and led up the ship's ramp, she overheard two guards discussing their 'lucky' compatriot who was assigned as an Imperial spy among the Rebels. She motioned to R4 to begin recording their conversation. This could prove to be helpful - if I make it out of here.
She was dropped into the copilot's seat of the shuttle's cockpit. Kali rubbed her chin noting that it was beginning to swell and throb. She tried moving her jaw back and forth when suddenly the sound of mechanical breathing reached her ringing ears. She could hear Darth Vader himself instructing the guards to remain while he took her to Dantooine below. Her sore jaw was forgotten as her heart pounded. Keep calm!
Ensign. I am so pleased you can join me on this little journey. I'm
sure you'll find it most entertaining." As Vader piloted the shuttle
out of the central launch bay, Kali was certain she would never see
the light of another day again.
Story © Copyright
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