Imperial assholes, he thought angrily. He swiped at the blood running down his cheek from a shallow cut beside his eye.
Alarms pounded against his ears as he joined a fellow crew member in the adjoining corridor. The ship shook with the impact of another blast; it was old and not built to take this kind of heavy fire.
“We’re not outrunning them this time!” Pete shouted over the din. “They’re trying to take us out!”
“No, they’re just trying to slow us down,” Dean corrected, then snapped, “But why the hell don’t they board us already?”
He’d spent enough time over the years tangling with the Imperials to know their protocol. They were here for him. He had a copy of stolen blueprints for the Empire’s newest and deadliest toy, the Death Star, in his possession and they wanted it back.
Somewhere overhead, the ship was pelted with another round of fire from the Imperial cruiser bearing down on them. The impact threw Dean sideways. He shook the sparks from his vision as Pete wrenched him to his feet.
There was a loud groan of metal, followed by heavy clanking. The color drained from Pete’s face.
“Be careful what you wish for, mate,” he said and swallowed thickly.
Dean swore under his breath. He hadn’t lost six months and several good men to have these plans taken away before the Rebel Alliance could make proper use of them. There was no way in hell he was letting the Imperials have them.
“What should we do?” asked Pete.
Dean frowned. “Slow them down.”
He took off at hard run, leaving Pete behind to run to battle stations with the rest of the crew who’d survived the initial barrage.
Dean flew down corridor after corridor, thinking fast. If the Imperials found the plans, he was dead – everyone on the ship would be dead. The last six months of operations and infiltration missions would mean nothing. The Rebels would lose the one and only advantage they had finally gained against the oppressive Empire.
He had to hide them. But hiding them on the ship seemed just as bad as keeping them on his person. The ship would be thoroughly searched, the plans found, and Dean was back to where he started: dead as an Urusai’s lunch.
He rounded a corner and stumbled over debris, coming face to face with the escape pod area. Gulping air, Dean swept his eyes around the room. They landed on the remaining capsule. He could climb in, get away… but once again, he knew how those damn Imperials operated: any boat with a life form in it escaping the ship would be destroyed immediately. They wouldn’t risk survivors and witnesses – they had to be captured, or killed. Controlled.
Dean slipped the precious disk out of his vest with shaking hands.
But what if the pod is empty? he thought. Or seems to be?
The last thing he wanted to do was trust the fate of the Rebel Alliance to whoever discovered the pod, the disc, and the message contained on it. But what choice did he have? Keeping the disc was suicide; getting into the pod was suicide. If he kept it, everything would be lost. At least this way there was a chance.
Frankly, he’d gambled on less in the past.
In the distance, he heard a massive crash followed by blaster shots and screams. The Imperials had arrived. Dean was out of time.
He kissed the disc and climbed into the pod, stashing it tight between some panels. He slid out and shut the hatch. He closed his eyes, sent up a prayer to anyone who was listening, and slapped the button to commence the ejection sequence.
Sam Harvelle readjusted his thick Vrex’ti-hide gloves before he tossed another chunk of scrap metal into the bin nearby. Tatooine’s twin suns beat down against Sam’s back as he worked another piece free from the sand. He was sweating heavily, more from the physical exertion of unearthing scrap all day rather than the heat itself. After twenty-six years, he was pretty used to it.
The bin attached to his land speeder was only half full, but it was a solid haul. Most days he didn’t recover anything to take back to the homestead he shared with his adoptive mother, Ellen. Between the Jawas, sand people, and their “neighbor” Roy on the homestead fifty-six kilometers east, finding junk that hadn’t already been scooped up was a tough job indeed.
Whatever Sam did manage to find, however, he would bring back to the shop where he and Ellen would clean it up and sell it for whatever they could get. Running the shop helped offset some of the cost that came from the small moisture farm they also worked.
Sam closed the hatch on the bin and hopped into the driver’s seat of his speeder. He careened over the sand with practiced ease, driving far faster than Ellen liked (but he couldn’t help it – he liked the speed, and besides, he knew every inch of this dusty, hot rock. He could drive it with his eyes shut. Had once, with his sister Jo, just for kicks to see if he could, though neither of them had ever told Ellen about it).
He pulled up outside the modest homestead, sandstorm beaten to a rough beige color. To the left of the home stood the shop, a separate building attached to the dome-shaped house, with a large fenced off area full of miscellaneous scraps and parts. He spotted Ellen sorting through yesterday’s haul under the canvas tent and made his way over.
“Find anything good?” she asked as he ducked under the tent’s roof to join her in the shade.
“More old satellite pieces mostly,” Sam reported with a sigh.
Ellen frowned and shook her head. “The Empire should start paying us to keep unearthing all their damn fallen satellites. With the amount of space junk that falls around here, you’d think they would by now.”
Sam chuckled at the bitterness in her tone. “They don’t care about us out here in the Rim.”
Ellen tossed a fried panel cover onto the melt pile with unnecessary force. “That is obvious.”
Sam bit his lip, then said, “You know, we could do something about it. I could.”
“Sam, don’t start,” his mother warned.
“I’m just saying…”
“I know what you’re saying, and I’m not talking about this right now.”
“Sam,” Ellen began, but before she continued with her usual lecture about not getting involved – which was rich coming from her, a war vet, Sam thought – there was a far-off boom. The pair of them hurried from the tent, macrobinoculars in hand.
In the distance was a trail of smoke leading down behind the sandy horizon. Sam focused his binoculars but the dunes obscured whatever had landed.
“Probably another damn satellite,” Ellen remarked.
“I got it,” said Sam and headed for his speeder.
“Leave this one, Sam,” Ellen shook her head. “God knows we have enough satellite parts to build our own army of ‘em at this point.”
“We can always use more guidance consoles and wiring, though,” Sam countered. “Besides, if I don’t beat the Jawas, there’ll be nothing useful left.”
Ellen pressed her lips together in a thin line before giving her son a nod. “Watch your back for the Tuskens. It’s getting on in the day, and they’ve been getting bolder.”
“I will,” Sam assured her and geared up his speeder.
Dean didn’t bother to struggle against the binding cuffs that held his wrists fast. He was surrounded on all sides by Stormtroopers dragging him to the front of the ship. He was a little surprised that they hadn’t killed him on sight. Especially after he’d emptied his blaster into several of them – he hadn’t planned on being captured, but supposed it was an acceptable alternative to being target practice for the troops.
As they marched, Dean forced his eyes to stay on the shining white armor of the uniformed man in front of him and not on the dead bodies of his crew members lining the corridor. He ignored the tightness in his chest.
The Imperial troops herded their prisoner into the ship’s main control room. The consoles were still sparking and smoking from the attack. Standing in the center of the room was a man dressed all in black. He turned when the soldier at the front of the pack reported they’d located a living passenger.
“Of course it’s you,” the man grinned.
It was the type of unsettling grin that sent unpleasant chills spiralling down Dean’s spine. Worse were the man’s eyes: piercing, eerie yellow eyes. Dean had been thrown when he’d first encountered the man several years ago – he’d seen far weirder things, far more alien, but there was just something about those eyes that threw every instinct Dean had into overdrive.
“Azazel,” Dean greeted flatly.
The man’s lip curled with irritation. “Darth Azazel.”
Dean smirked. “Right. The whole Sith thing. I always forget.”
Darth Azazel straightened, smoothly erasing any signs of annoyance. Dean tried not to feel too satisfied – after so many years of run-ins with the Imperial lord, he’d learned how to get under his skin, if only a tiny bit.
“Where are my plans?” the Sith asked blandly and stepped forward.
“What plans?” Dean countered without missing a beat.
“Let’s not do this dance today, Winchester, I don’t have time for it. The plans your little friends stole, the plans they beamed here, the plans you have clearly hidden. I want them back.”
Dean shrugged. “I don’t have any plans.” He stared Azazel down, right in those unsettling yellow eyes. For once, he was actually telling the truth: he didn’t have the plans.
Darth Azazel held Dean’s gaze for a moment, angry and challenging, before nodding. “If that’s the way you want to play it.”
He held out his hand towards Dean, almost as if offering to shake. Then Dean felt a horrible tightness close around his throat, cutting his air supply. He struggled against the unseen force crushing his windpipe, bringing his cuffed hands to his neck though he knew from experience there was nothing he could do. Darth Azazel’s lips widened into a sadistic smile and he curled his fingers in. The pressure on Dean’s throat increased. He opened and closed his mouth pathetically, clawing uselessly at his neck, as black spots began to cloud his vision –
So this is how I die, he thought. It wasn’t unexpected.
Then the pressure was gone, and Dean collapsed to his knees, gasps harsh and ragged.
“Remember where they are now?” Darth Azazel growled.
The rebel glared up at the other man. “I’m… on a diplomatic mission,” he panted. “I don’t… know what you’re talking about.”
“That’s not gonna fly this time, you little shit,” Darth Azazel said savagely. “You can’t hide behind the Senate, and you can’t hide behind Mommy and Daddy either. Seeing as how they’re dead and all.”
Dean leapt to his feet, desperate to shred Azazel apart, but the troopers held him back. Azazel laughed, loud and scraping like gravel shifting under foot. The Sith lord knew what pressure points to push on Dean too, especially when he was the one responsible for the attack that had killed Dean’s parents.
“Oh, I am going to have so much fun with you,” Darth Azazel shook his head, an amused and taunting smile turning up his lips. He gave a sharp nod to the troops. “Take him away.”