CHAPTERS 21 - 30

An original short story by Maureen Kuppe
Featuring characters from the Star Wars Trilogy by George Lucas

Story © Copyright M.Kuppe
October, 1998




      "Well, Luke, the only other suggestion I can make is we check out the Smuggler's Run. They seem to keep up to date on the illegal goings-on in this sector. Maybe someone there knows where we can find The Hound's Tooth. We're quickly running out of options here. We need some new leads." Han flipped the comm switch and stared out the Falcon's viewscreen. Luke's X-wing remained close to the starboard side, as it had since they started their hunt.

      "Sounds like it's our only choice, Han. You lead the way." Luke felt helpless. Even with his Jedi senses, the trail to Bossk's ship had quickly gone cold.

      Han shook his head; his lack of progress was annoying. He had been out of commission for so long, most of his old snitches were either dead or 'out of the business' and had gone straight -- like him. He used to be part of the loop; now he was more like a threat to his old contacts. They kept running into dead-ends. His receiver buzzed again; but this message was coming through from Corsucant.

      "Can't last a day without me, eh Princess?" Han's lopsided grin and wisecracking attitude made Chewie chuckle. He liked the way Leia uncovered a smile from under the gruff exterior the Corellian tried so hard to sustain.

      "Cut it out laser-brain. I'm calling for my brother. Is he still with you?" The Wookiee's guffaws were cut short by the Han's stern glance. "Yeah, I'll patch you over to his ship. Hold on." Something in her voice told Han this wasn't a social call after all.

      "Luke. We've received something that may have to do with your search there. I'm transmitting it now; exactly as it was sent to us." No other explanation was needed. The X-Wing's comm screen scrolled the message:

      <To Senator Leia Organa of the Rebel Alliance.>

      <This message is to be relayed immediately to Commander Luke Skywalker.>

      <Dear Commander: Perhaps you have heard the sad news that a friend of yours, Kali Darklighter was recently killed in an unfortunate accident on your home planet. Regrettably, this left her only child an orphan, and I have graciously been looking after her well-being since her mother's untimely death. I'm sure you will want to visit the poor child. She will be returned unharmed to your Alliance only upon your arrival and surrender to me. Further instructions will be forthcoming.>

      <Chion, Commander of the Imperial vessel Omega.>

      Luke stared at the screen and re-read the message over and over, trying to figure it all out. Once before he had been told that Kali was dead, only to find it was a lie to entice him into Vader' trap. This had to be a lie as well. But it fit. The bounty hunter must have been hired by this Imperial to kidnap Kali and Rigel. Why? Just to get to me? Then it wasn't because of Seton after all ... they're in this mess because of me! Where have I heard that name before?

      Han and Chewie waited for some kind of response from Luke. The three-way transmission was quiet until the snubfighter's signal came through. "Han, Chewie, what can you find out about this ship, the Omega?"

      "Leia, can you do a check on the name Chion? Is he for real? What sort of threat does he pose?"

      Leia too had delayed any comments until Luke could absorb the news. "We'll get right to it. Don't believe the message Luke. Kali may still be on that ship and I'm sure Rigel is fine. I'll have Threepio do some searching in the Imperial personnel datafiles we discovered here."

      "Good...." Luke quietly murmured as he tried to determine what his next move should be. Artoo cooed his concern as the droid disconnected the transmission.

      Back in the cockpit of the Falcon, Han turned to Chewie. "Well, we said we needed a lead. I guess this qualifies all right."

      "I promise I'll do what I can to find her, Kali." Seton had never seen his friend like this before. Kali was usually so full of determination and vigor. Now she lay in bed, back to him, drained physically and mentally from her ordeal. "I'm leaving tonight. I will contact you when I know something." Seton left the room quietly when she didn't respond.

      Kali was numb. Exhaustion had overtaken her; she felt helpless and confused, for the most important, most cherished person in her life had been snatched away. Why? She couldn't bear to think about Rigel - it was agonizing trying to figure out what happened to her. She couldn't eat or sleep; Kali just wished that it was a week ago when Rigel was here by her side. She couldn't face going home; seeing all of Rigel's things would drive her over the edge. So Kali just lay there, staring at the bedroom wall for hours.

      "Honey, you've got to eat. Please. We're all doing what we can to find Rigel. Between Seton and Luke, I know we will see her again. Now please eat, you need to get your strength back." Her mother sat on the edge of the bed, holding out a bowl of nerf stew.

      "What do you mean, Luke? Where is he? He came after all?" Kali sat up in bed, feeling like she would cry; but she didn't know if it was due to sadness or hope.

      "Yes, dear, he was here. He was the one who found your speeder and came to tell us about your accident. He was very worried. After much deliberation, your father decided to tell him about Rigel."

      Kali's face turned a deep red, and she shook her head slightly.

      "Don't worry, Kali; we only told him what he needed to know at the moment -- that you had a daughter and she was with you in the speeder. You need to be the one to tell him who she really is." Her mother smiled. So, thought Kali, she knew all the time...I should have given my mother more credit. It must be so obvious.

      Kali was beginning to feel better; hungry in fact. I should be ashamed of myself, wanting to give up on my only daughter. I've got to do something! I've got to get her back myself! She took the bowl of hot stew and ate. It burned down her raw throat, but she forced herself to get well. I will get Rigel back; and then, I'll see that whoever is responsible, is punished!

      That night, her plan was made. It was not perfect, but she had no choice. As she watched Seton board the hired speeder, Kali ran to the back of the farmhouse and quietly pushed her old skyhopper out of the garage. Under the cover of the night, she took it far enough out so that her parents would not know she was gone until it was too late. If they knew of her plans, they would surely try to stop her, so instead she left them a note explaining what she had to do. As she started up the thrusters, she reviewed each step in her mind. The first stop: home to pick up a change of clothes, credit vouchers and supplies. Next, make it to the docking bays in Mos Eisley. But she would have to hurry to do all that before Seton took the transport off planet. He wouldn't know about this stowaway determined to join him on his trip.

      This is it... Captain Moa thought. The final step to my plan is finally underway. Now that they had arrived in the Churba system, he could announce his "guest". He buzzed at the Commander's cabin door.

      "Enter." The room was dark, save for the small light over the desk Commander Chion had been hunched over. It was obvious he was going through some datatapes, but he tried to shuffle them aside so Moa could not read his work.

      "Commander. The ID profile from the approaching vessel's transponder has confirmed it as The Hound's Tooth. Its X10-D computer is relaying an automatic distress signal as well, however the nature of their distress is not specified. Communication back to the ship has been unsuccessful, and our scanners have yet to identify any physical damage to the ship or its drives. The signal could be a deception, but we have no way of knowing its legitimacy until we can contact the pilot."

      "Strange. The Hound's Tooth you you know its owner?"

      "Yes, sir. The Trandoshan, Bossk is listed as the Captain and owner."

      Chion's face looked shocked. "Bossk? Here? What kind of idiot is he to risk knowledge of our collaboration? Was he not paid for his services?"

      "I believe so, sir." Moa lied. "I will continue to try and hail her, Commander, and contact you if anything turns up."

      "You do that." Chion dismissed Moa with a glance, but didn't resume his work until the door slid shut. Interesting....Maltek Cvar. Very interesting indeed. Chion was not as stupid as his Second in Command thought. Upon review of the Omega transmissions, Chion knew full well the deceit that was going on. Further investigation had uncovered the true identity of Captain Moa, and his notorious background. Moa was up to something. Chion expected Bossk to arrive, and half wondered why it took him so long. The hunter was here for his hide, or the girl. Or both. Well, we'll just see about that. Nothing was going to get in the way of his plans for revenge on Skywalker again. Especially not some two-credit pirate and an incompetent alien bounty hunter.

      And now back to my second message to Skywalker.

      As Seton stepped off the exit ramp from The Lady of Mindor, he breathed in the Corellian air his lungs were so used to. It was good to be back home, even if it was for only a short time. Soon he would be back in the skies, piloting his own ship. The commercial starships were fine for ferrying passengers on excursions, but he now needed the speed and freedom having his own transportation would give him. He headed straight for the repair dock where his personal yacht, the GoldStar was temporarily stowed.

      Mauura had better be finished those repairs she was working on when I left. Knowing her, she's probably taken my ship apart into a million pieces by now. Seton's mechanic, a Nikto whom he had befriended during the war, had decided to stay on Corellia after their tour of duty was completed. She was a respected maintenance Tech in the Rebel Alliance, and had easily obtained work at the planetary shipyards. But in her spare time, Mauura loved to tinker with Seton's ship, refining and improving its performance with a sense of pride. Before he even turned the corner into the repair bay, he could hear the familiar argument going on again.

      "Exate, I told you it goes the other way! The last thing I need is a droid constantly second-guessing me!"

      Seton heard his astromech droid rudely 'blaat' back at her, and he had to suppress a chuckle. As he approached his ship, he could see that his friend was agitated - her normally olive-colored skin had turned a deep green, contrasting even more with the small horns encircling her reptilian face.

      "Now what are you two arguing about?" Seton put on his best smile to relieve some of the tension in the air. He wisely stopped beside R3-X8, out of swinging range of the fierce Nikto.

      "Oh, so you're back already? Where's your lady-friend you were chasing? Got away from you again, did she?" Mauura didn't try to hide the jealousy she felt, and as usual, Seton tried to ignore it.

      "Yup, slipped through my fingers alright. Now, back to the subject at hand - what's the problem this time?"

      "If not for this droid, Seton, I would have completed your upgrade long ago. If you don't dismiss him immediately, I will be forced to remove the pest myself - directly into the trash compactor!" She growled her most menacing snarl, baring her sharp teeth, trying to scare the little droid off. Exate processed the message quickly and backed away, rolling to a safe spot behind Seton's legs.

      "Now, now, Mauura ... X8's just following my orders. I need him to keep track of all revisions to my ship since he's my only co-pilot. The day you decide to get into the cockpit off the ground, is the day you can toss him out."

      "Seton, you know as well as anyone I despise flight. I'll keep safe on solid terra, thank you very much. But you should program that thing to keep its distance from me. I won't be held accountable the next time he gets in my way!" Mauura stormed off, throwing down her blaster cutter with a loud clang.

      "Well, that went better than before, didn't it Exate?" The droid bleeped woefully. It recalled the previous incident in its memory banks with complete clarity. The last time she had lost her temper with him, the powerful Nikto had hung him by his third leg upside down from a conduit support hook. She left him swinging there for hours, until Seton happened by and rescued him.

      "How long will it take to get her back together, Exate?" Seton examined the pile of servomotors, gears and plating strewn about the floor. If she wasn't such a talented mech, Seton wouldn't be able to forgive her terrible tantrums. He knew that after she had cooled down she would be back, acting as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.

      The droid calculated that the yacht could be reassembled in four point three standard hours.

      "Good. In the meantime, I'll go to the refresher and stock up on some supplies. I'll track down Mauura and give her the rest of the day off - with pay. We're taking the GoldStar out as soon as you're done."

      As Seton left the service hangar, he didn't notice the shadowy figure hiding behind the fuel slug tanks. Kali had to make sure he or his droid didn't see her board his space yacht. They would be well on their way before she'd reveal herself to him; by that time, it would be too late to bring her back.

      Artoo confirmed receipt of the data from Threepio's transmission with a short 'beep' and displayed it in Basic on Luke's screen.

      "Right ... now I remember who Chion is. Kali told me about her encounter with him just before our meeting with Vader on Dantooine. It looks like he was reprimanded ... commissioned to a second-rate command just after that I see. Well, it ended up being lucky for him he wasn't with their central fleet at Endor after all; but he's still determined to make trouble for us it seems."

      Supplied with this information and the reception of the ransom instructions from the Omega in the Churba system, Han was more than anxious to get going. "C'mon Luke. What are we waiting for? Let's go get 'em!"

      "Han, we still don't know what we're going to do once we encounter them. We just can't blast our way in you know." Luke wanted to make absolutely certain that he wasn't jeopardizing their lives. He still had a bad feeling about this.

      Han knew Luke was right. "Well, I'm sure I'll think of something on the way; I always do. Chewie, set course for New Cov."

      The Wookiee grumbled questionably.

      "I don't know! But I've never let you down in the past, have I?" Before Chewie had time to begin reciting a lengthy list of incidences that immediately sprang to mind, Han punched the Falcon's controls and jumped to lightspeed.

      Luke watched in dismay as the freighter winked from sight. "Han - wait! Blast! Artoo! Are the coordinates set?"

      The droid whistled in the affirmative.

      "Well then, we'd better go and make sure he doesn't do anything we're going to regret later." With that, R2-D2 sent the X-Wing into the flash of hyperspace.

      Seton touched down on Skip One with ease, as he had done so often before. Now that he was doing so well again, his old associates on the Smuggler's Run were more than willing to help him out - for due compensation, of course. It had cost him a bundle, but it was worth it. He had the information he needed, and now he could be on his way again. As Seton entered the GoldStar, it suddenly dawned on him that he was motivated by something more than his own personal gain for once. Perhaps his time with the Alliance had made him see more clearly that you had to stand up for what was right, whether it benefited you directly or not. The old Seton would have seen this only as an opportunity to make points with Kali; now all he cared about was seeing Rigel safely returned and punishing the slime that did this. In his eyes, anyone who would use a small child as bait had gone too far. Sure, he was not exactly a law-abiding citizen, but there was a line over which even he would not step over. Many of his colleagues felt the same and that is why he was successful here. Now, armed with the location of The Hound's Tooth, Seton programmed his course into the nav computer. As he prepared for takeoff, a strange "thump" in the cargo hold made him spin around in his seat.

      "Exate? Is that you?" There was no reply. Blast! I should have double-sealed the ship when I left - no telling who's gotten on board. More than once he'd heard of ships stripped to the shell in minutes while the unsuspecting owner left it parked on The Run. Seton grabbed the largest hydrospanner he could find and headed to the back of the ship. The cargo bay door was slightly ajar, but the cabin remained dark. Raising the spanner high above his head, Seton pushed the door open wider with his boot and peered in, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dark. "Exate?" A shadow shifted to his right and Seton responded with a swift swing of the tool, smashing into a tower of crates and toppling them with a loud crash.

      "Hey! Watch it! Is that any way to treat your passengers?" Kali had ducked just in time, and now was peeking out over the remaining crates in front of her.

      "Who's there?" Seton activated the lights and saw Kali, hands shielding her eyes, squinting in the sudden brightness. "What is blazes are you doing here? Are you crazy? I could have killed you!" Seton's heart was racing.

      "Yeah, you might have at that..." Kali surveyed the mess of broken crates at her feet. "If your aim wasn't so lousy!"

      Well, this isn't the way I wanted to surprise him, but I guess it's too late now. "Actually, I'm glad you did that, it was getting awfully cramped back here you know."

      Captain Moa entered Commander Chion's quarters using the codes he had deciphered long ago. No one saw him enter the room, and he quickly determined that Chion was not present. Good - time to see what it was that the nitwit had tried to hide from me. Nothing of interest was on top of the he began to check inside each compartment in the room. Just as he thought his search would be fruitless, the hum from the personal comm station caught his ear. Inside the unit Moa could see a datadisk was in transmit mode. He flipped the viewscreen on and was startled to see the name Maltek Cvar scrolling up, along with an ID holo from his personnel file. I've been found out! So, the Commander was not such an incompetent after all. Now my plans will have to be put into action immediately. Just as he was about to eject the disk, he heard the Commander slide the cabin door shut behind him.

      "Commander. I... I... just came by to inform you that there is still no response from The Hound's Tooth." Moa stammered.

      "Oh, you can dispense with the formalities, Maltek. That is your real name, isn't it? Or do you prefer to go by yet another today?" Chion raised his blaster at the intruder's chest, and held up a second datadisk in his left hand when he saw Maltek stare at it. "Don't worry. This one's not about you....I sent off my invitation to Commander Skywalker just a short time ago. I trust he should be here soon. In the meantime, I'm sure you'll want to have a seat and wait for the Security Trooper to arrive. This will be a profitable day indeed! Not only will I deliver the most famous Rebel into Imperial Command hands, but they'll receive the bonus of a two-credit pirate as well. This should unquestionably secure a position of authority for me now."

      As Chion turned to hail Security on the wall transmitter, Maltek leapt at him, throwing them both to the floor, scuffling for the blaster that had tumbled out of Chion's hand. Cvar got to it first, and used the butt of the weapon against the Commander's head, knocking him out cold.

      Maltek Cvar shoved the blaster under his uniform jacket. He ejected the disk from the comm station and straightened himself out. Glancing into the corridor to confirm that no one was around, he hoisted Chion over his shoulders and proceeded to the launch bays.

      The shudder from the docking tube was felt throughout the ship, but the greatest effect occurred on the bridge. Officer Eckan immediately regretted being given the Comm. He looked around desperately for Commander Chion or Captain Moa; they would know what to do. The sparse crew turned to him for direction and leadership, while he cursed under his breath: where in the stars could they be? But before he could take any action, a blast through the inner airlock door threw him backwards. Smoke filled the cabin as Bossk strode through, his translator barking out demands in a rasping Basic. "Give me the girl prisoner and your Commander. Now."

      The crew remained frozen at their stations until the bounty hunter produced an activated thermal detonator. Panic swept over the room as they abandoned their posts scrambling to the exit corridor, trying to get as far from the detonator as possible. Bossk let them go. Fearful humans! Not one worth a bounty. He slid the device inside an access panel.

      Maltek Cvar arrived on the bridge. "Wonderful job, my friend! Your performance had the crew scurrying to the launch bay, clambering over one another to escape in our drop ship. You have served me well - so here is your payment, as agreed." Cvar pulled Rigel out from behind the doorway, and pushed her toward the Transdoshan.

      Rigel looked at the reptile and shrank away from his touch. No! Not him again!

      Bossk grabbed her with his scaly claws. "The Commander" was all the lizard had to say.

      "Oh, I am sorry, but unfortunately, he too is in the drop ship. I only realized the coward was there after I launched them to the planet below." Maltek pointed out the Omega's front viewscreen.

      Sure enough, the small dropship was plummeting down to the surface of New Cov, its short-burst drives barely controlling their swift decent.

      The Transdoshan hissed.

      "Don't worry - he won't escape, for I ensured that they will be taken care of once they are safely away from my ship."

      Bossk left, dragging a stunned Rigel behind him. Cvar smiled as he secured the outer hull hatch. Yes, MY ship. It was good to say that again!

      R3-X8 disconnected from the nav computer outlet and spun his shiny silver dome one hundred and eighty degrees towards Seton, bleeping and whistling a stream of data. Try as she might, Kali couldn't grasp the droid's vocabulary. It must be me, she thought. Luke can communicate with Artoo fluently - I could never get the hang of it.

      "What did he say?" Kali was resting comfortably in the co-pilot's seat, which was much better than the hard floor. She even had nodded off for a bit.

      "Exate's just letting me know to prepare to cut into sub-light engines - it looks like we're here."

      "Kali sat upright, wide awake now. Her nerves suddenly began to make her shake. She was scared; frightened that Rigel may not be here after all.

      As the starlines shortened into points of light, they found what they were looking for. Not too far off lay the rusty-colored hull of The Hound's Tooth.

      "Sabaac!" yelled Seton. "I knew those guys at the Run wouldn't let me down - their coordinates were right on the mark!"

      "Where exactly are we?" Kali didn't recognize the sector at all.

      "We're in the Churba star system; you see that planet below? That's New Cov, the third planet. Mostly jungles down there. The fourth planet, also called Churba, has all the large cities. The rest of the worlds here are either too hot or too cold to support any sort of life." Seton flicked off the nav screen he had been pointing to. "Now let's see if we can find that daughter of yours."

      As they approached the modified Corellian freighter, it's shape became more clear. The long, rectangular body was offset by a huge "V" shaped wing that wrapped itself around the lower half of the ship. The front cockpit was separated from the body by another two wings, one on the starboard and another on the port side.

      Upon closer inspection of the strange vessel, Seton noticed some movement behind it. "Well, I'll be .. there's another ship back there." Sure enough, when he changed course and approached at a different angle, the Imperial assault shuttle came into full view. A docking umbilical was being retracted into The Hound's Tooth. Seton hailed the shuttle, which his transponder identified as the Omega.

      "Captain of the Omega, this is the starship GoldStar. We are here to see the bounty hunter named Bossk. Is he on board your ship?"

      Static crackled on the speaker until a familiar voice came on.

      "GoldStar. This is the Omega. You will find that Bossk has returned to ship. What is the nature of your business?"

      Boy, this guy acts like the Empire is still in charge - but Seton didn't think it would do any harm letting him know about Rigel.

      "We are looking for a small child the hunter is known to have kidnapped. We have his ransom." There, that should get his attention.

      "Ransom? Is Commander Skywalker with you?" Maltek wasn't sure it Chion had demanded an actual monetary ransom for the girl or not.

      "Luke? What does HE have to do with this?" Kali could not help but blurt out in her concern and confusion.

      Seton was still trying to place that voice. I know this guy ... I'm positive! Wait! That's it! This is the same Imperial Officer that boarded and raided my ship all those years ago - I'm sure of it -- I'll never forget that voice! His anger rose from deep inside. Time for MY revenge, you .... you..

      "Who IS this!" Seton demanded.

      Maltek could tell that his luck was running out. Best to divert them while I make a hasty retreat. I'm not going to chance anyone ruining my plans now.

      "The girl you speak of was just saved from that bounty hunter, thanks to me. I let her escape in my drop ship before that lizard arrived! You can pick her up from the surface below." Just as Cvar powered up, setting the coordinates for a short hyperspace jump, the Falcon and Luke's snubfighter rose up around the Omega, cutting off his path of escape.

      "Leaving so soon? The party's just beginning." Han trained his lasers on the small craft while Chewie set the shields to full. They had been monitoring the conversation ever since they arrived in-system, shortly after the GoldStar.

      Luke was speechless. I knew Kali was alive! But he couldn't shout his joy, especially with Seton there with her. Instead, he concentrated on the task at hand. "GoldStar, this is Luke Skywalker. Han will keep the Omega from leaving while I go down to the surface to check on the drop ship."

      "Luke! Thank you, but this is something I have to do. Come on, Seton, let's go get Rigel!" Kali couldn't believe her nightmare was finally over. Seton wanted to stay and face the Captain of the Omega himself, but he knew her needs took precedence first.

      Luke kept The Hound's Tooth in his sights as the GoldStar dropped through the atmosphere below.

      Bossk watched in silence; like a game of holo-chess, his turn had finally come. My move.... he thought, as he raised his shields and followed the yacht to the planet. The Scorekeeper will be most pleased when I take care of that deceitful Commander myself. At any rate, I've got to get my ship clear soon ... it's nearly time...

      Thinking that The Hound's Tooth was setting up to attack the GoldStar, Luke trained his quad lasers on the bounty hunter's ship. But before he fired, Luke probed with his Jedi senses into Bossk's ship. He could not feel any desire of the occupants to harm Kali or Seton, just the need to get to the surface as well.

      "Han, Chewie ... I'm going down to make sure they're okay."

      "No problem, Luke, we'll stay locked on this one." Go ahead, give me a reason to fire on you, Han smirked at the bridge of the Omega.

      As if he heard Han's dare, Maltek powered up again to escape. The odds are even now, so I'd better go while I can. As he did the final checks in the nav system, Cvar noticed the blinking lights shining through the cracks of the access panel. Bending down to examine them closer, he realized only too late what they were.

      "Chewie, how about if we force this guy down..." was all Han was able to say before they were both thrown out of their seats. The force of the Omega's explosion hurled the Falcon backward, setting off deafening alarms and flashing red emergency lights. "What the?" Han scrambled back to his seat to regain control of the ship. Chewie barked that they had sustained only minor damage to the hull from the flying shrapnel; all that remained of the Omega. Han deactivated the alarms. "That ship blew up! What in blazes is going ON here?"

      At the helm of The Hound's Tooth, Bossk smiled at the destruction of Maltek Cvar, FORMER smuggler. Another hunt, successfully carried out. Jabba's bounty, held in trust since his murder, would now be mine....

      Kali and Seton marched through the thick jungle undergrowth using his tracker to triangulate the drop ship's signal. They both turned their faces skyward at the flash of the explosion. Kali felt a rising sense of panic; she'd better be down here... and safe.

      As they approached the downed ship, they found the hatch still locked. Seton turned the handgrip and felt a gust of warm air escape as Kali prepared to step inside. Instead, she backed away, eyes huge, her face drained of color in terror.

      "You! You're supposed to be dead!" Chion spat at her as he emerged. He and his crew had been trying in vain to get out of the ship since their plunge from the sky.

      "Not as dead as you'll soon be." Bossk's translator rasped. The hunter had his blaster rifle trained on the Imperial. His ship had landed nearby, partially hidden by the intense foliage. Kali became desperate. "Where IS she! Where is Rigel!" she screamed.

      "Mommee!" Rigel cried as she ran through the bush; but Bossk grabbed the youngster before she could reach her mother.

      Kali couldn't believe it. Thank the stars... oh thank you....

      "The Commander for your child." Bossk offered.

      "No!" cried Chion.

      "Done!" yelled Seton. "The rest of you, get out of here!" The crew didn't need any more prompting; they ran and kept going without hesitation. "Rigel, go to your mother."

      As the little girl dashed across the clearing into Kali's arms, Chion pulled a small pistol hidden in his sleeve and aimed at them.

      "You've ruined everything! I'll finally get my revenge for what you've done to me!"

      "NO!" Luke screamed as he burst out of the bush, lightsaber glowing in his hands. But before he could strike, Chion's gun was yanked out of his hand, flew through the air and landed with a thud at Kali's feet. Rigel stood stiff beside her, eyes squeezed shut, shaking from rage and concentration.

      Luke stopped stunned, staring at the small child as the full realization of what she did overtook him. He absentmindedly shut down his saber and clipped it back on his belt as he watched Rigel burst into tears, hugging her mother fiercely.

      Bossk recovered from the spectacle first. He assumed it was the Jedi knight that had performed this feat. He didn't care, he just wanted his prey. The Transdoshan lunged at Chion and dragged him off to The Hound's Tooth. The Commander's screams were cut off as the hatch sealed and the ship rose on its thrusters.

      Han and Chewie joined the group in the clearing, just in time to see the hunter leave. "Hey! He's getting away!"

      "No, Han! Let him go - he returned my little girl!" Kali had never hugged her daughter so tightly. Luke walked over to them, silent. Kali opened one arm and he joined them in their embrace. Their eyes met, and his questioning look was answered with her affirmative nod.

      "I'm sorry, Luke. I meant to tell you sooner ..."

      "No ... don't be. I should have known. Maybe I did, deep down. But that doesn't matter now."

      Seton watched the family reunite. I knew it. With a touch of regret, he gave them the privacy they needed right now, so he kept near the drop ship while they walked away to talk.

      Han gave Chewie an "I don't know" shrug and set off for the Falcon.

      Kali wrapped Rigel in her warm jacket and sat her down to rest by the trunk of a large tree. Luke and Kali stayed near, wanting so much to explain to each other. "Kali, I ..."

      But Luke's next words were abruptly cut off. The ground shook with intensity of a blast from the clearing. Luke instinctively threw himself on top of Rigel, huddling close to the ground with Kali, ducking to avoid the metal shards slicing through the jungle.

      "Seton!" Kali jumped up and tried to run to where the drop ship had once been.

      "Kali! Wait! There's nothing you can do!" Luke grabbed her, pulling her back into his arms to avert her sight from the carnage. Over her trembling shoulder, Luke looked to where Seton had been standing. All that remained was twisted fuselage, spewing thick black smoke into the sky.

      "Mommee!" Rigel was terrified and dashed up to her parents, squeezing their legs protectively.

      Kali didn't think she could cry any more tears today, but her eyes filled with despair she turned to stare at the ruptured ship that had, without warning, taken one of her best friends.

      Only Luke's strong grip kept Kali on her feet. She felt lightheaded and let his firm support envelope her until her head cleared from the shock. She bent to take Rigel into her arms. Through tears streaking down her face, her smile reassured the child.

      "It's okay, hon..... we're okay ..."

      While Han and Chewie returned to Coruscant in the Falcon, Luke flew wing beside Kali and Rigel as they took the GoldStar back to Tatooine. During the long hyperspace jump home, Exate printed out a message Seton had instructed him to give her, if, for any reason, he should not return. Kali would have preferred to wait, but Exate was insistent, so she laid Rigel down for a nap while she returned to the cockpit.

      Exate beeped his readiness and began the pre-programmed hologram, projecting Seton's translucent form over the dark grating of the cabin's floor. It was as if he was still there, and Kali had to stop herself from speaking back to the image. This was his will, and Seton had bequeathed nearly everything to her, his ship, the droid and his possessions. Exate would give her all the details and assistance she would need. Seton explained that since he had no close blood relatives, she was the closest thing to family he had ever had, or was hoping to have. Kali could not help but break down at his parting words, saying a final farewell to his only love. She pulled herself together and addressed the astromech droid as he stood there, waiting for her instructions.

      "Well, I guess I'm going to have to learn to understand you now." Kali sorrowfully said to the droid. Exate cooed back softly.

      Luke joined them at the memorial on Corellia. Along with the local aqaintances, Seton's friends from The Run and pilots from their old unit were there to pay their respects. Kali met Mauura, whom Seton had told her so much about during their last trip together. She took the Nikto aside after the service.

      "Seton asked me to give you this; I know you will miss him very much too." Kali remembered Mauura's jealous tone in the repair bay when Seton went off after Kali. She knew he meant a lot to Mauura. Perhaps he knew as well, for he left her the deed to the repair shop, and a gift of so many credits from his estate that she could start her own business, to "tinker with all the ships she wanted".

      On the trip back to Tatooine, Luke and Kali were finally able to talk at length about their future. "Kali, I'd like to ask you a very important question."

      Kali felt as if she could drown in Luke's clear blue eyes, and hated herself for what she was about to do. She pressed two fingers against his lips, stopping him from continuing.

      "Luke, you know the words you're about to say are ones I have been waiting my whole life to hear. But we have to go slowly, and think about what's best for us all, including Rigel. This whole kidnapping brings to light just how dangerous being associated with the most notable Jedi in the galaxy can be. I've had to come to the grim realization that it would be in Rigel's best interest if her parentage were kept our little secret for now. Perhaps when she gets older, you can train her to be a powerful Jedi as well, able to protect herself from the evil that still waits to attack. Until then, we have to be very careful. In spirit, we'll always be a family - no one can change that."

      Luke shook his head with understanding. It seemed that at times being a Jedi was a curse rather than a blessing. He knew she was right, though; he had been trying not to think the same thing. They both had someone else's life to consider now. He smiled at the memory of how Rigel had used her powers to save her mother; he felt so proud of her already. These new feelings were like nothing he had felt before. He would find a way to be there for them both, but in a manner that wouldn't jeopardize their safety. "You're right. I know that. But it doesn't make our situation any easier. If you'll let me, I will still be there for you both. Always. And when Rigel is older, I'd love the privilege of training her in the ways of the Jedi."

      As Kali was preparing to leave, Luke swallowed hard. "Kali?"

      "Yes, Luke?"

      "I never got the chance to say this before... but .... thank you. Thank you for my child; the most wonderful gift anyone could ever receive. I love you."

      "I know." Kali turned and smiled back at him.

      "I love you too Luke Skywalker."



Coming up next.....Book 3: Rigel's Test



 Click on the datapad to sign 
the Passenger Manifest
Guestbook by Lpage
or click HERE to just view it.



uggs cyber monday