Flying had always come exceptionally easy to Sam. There hadn’t been a vehicle on Tatooine that he hadn’t figured out how to pilot, and pilot well, very quickly, which drove Jo a little nuts because she was terribly competitive. She wanted to beat him or at least be as good as him and had never been. Still, she’d always enjoyed tearing around the canyons and dunes with Sam at the helm, as he effortlessly banked around corners that were too tight for others to attempt.
Sam took off from the hangar bay with dozens of other speeders and he found that these vehicles were no exception to the rule that he was a damn good pilot. He tore over the snow with ease, as if he’d been doing it all his life, and there were appreciative whistles over the comms from Ash and Benny, while Jo alternatively bragged and pouted about his abilities.
“Hell, boy, where’d you learn to do that?” said Ash.
“Beggar’s Canyon,” Sam grinned.
In the co-pilot seat at his back, Adam clucked with appreciation. “I’ve seen that place. You must be suicidal to play there.”
Sam laughed. “No, just bored.”
“You call that fun?”
“Clearly you haven’t spent much time on Tatooine!”
“Okay, boys, stow the chatter,” Jo ordered, her voice changing from casual Jo to Rebel Leader Jo in a second. “Heads up – here they come. Echo group, attack pattern Delta.”
Sure enough, massive Imperial walkers marched into view on the misty horizon. Sam felt a jolt in stomach at the sight – they were huge, imposing metal beasts. Seconds later, the walkers’ guns were blasting and the battle had begun.
The rebels took a beating in the initial barrage. There were explosions left and right. The speeder pilots did their best to get in the way of the walkers, slow them up, and take them down. The armor and shielding on the walkers proved to be stronger than the speeder’s blasterfire, however, which meant taking them down turned into a much more difficult task. All the while, Echo Base periodically reported transport ships full of personnel evacuating the planet one by one.
Another bolt from a walker glanced past Sam and Adam’s speeder, narrowly missing them, but slicing into a speeder to their left. It exploded in an orange fireball and smashed into the snow. Sam mumbled some choice words as he veered expertly around the great metal beast.
“We’re getting hammered out here,” said Adam as the speeder shook with the force of another near miss.
“We just have to keep them away from the shield generator for as long as we can,” Sam reminded him. He accelerated the speeder in a wide arc around the nearest walker, letting loose a round of blasterfire that dissipated harmlessly off the plodding metal legs.
“It’s not gonna be long at all if we can’t bring some down,” Adam said, his voice grim.
As Sam steered the speeder around another walker, he smiled with sudden inspiration. “Adam? Get the harpoon and tow cable ready.”
Adam hurried to do as he was told, catching on to Sam’s idea, and Sam swung the speeder around to aim for the legs of one of the walkers. The speeder bounced and weaved, taking a few direct hits to the forward energy shielding, but Sam coaxed it on through the flak. As they drew up close to the plodding walker, he instructed Adam to activate the harpoon. It slammed home, embedding deep in the leg of the walker.
“Perfect!” Sam grinned, and pushed the speeder in a tight circle around the walker. The cable attached to the harpoon flew out of the speeder, winding around the walker’s knees like thread on a finger.
“Almost there,” reported Adam. The cable spooled out rapidly as Sam looped around the walker.
Sam banked the speeder around the legs a third time, and just as he saw the red light indicate they were out of cable, Adam shouted, “Detaching cable!”
He slapped a switch and the cable snapped off. Sam peeled away from the walker. The tangle of heavy-calibre cable worked exactly as Sam hoped it would: the walker suddenly struggled to take another step, its legs rendered immobile. Its gears grinding, it toppled over with a colossal crash. Adam and Sam cheered their victory.
“Rogue group,” Sam said breathlessly into the comms. “Use your tow cables – trip the bastards up!”
“Copy, Rogue Three,” came Benny, followed by several others.
“Shall we bag us another?” Sam casually asked his co-pilot.
Adam laughed. “Hell yeah!”
Sam gunned the engine and tore off after the next closest walker, marching relentlessly towards the shield generator. He and Adam repeated the same procedure – approach fast and low, ready the harpoon, and –
An explosion rocked the speeder and it careened to the right. Sam fought for control. A heart-skittering moment later, he righted the speeder.
“That was close,” he coughed at the smoky residue from the blast, and belatedly realized there was cold air sucking in behind him. Sam’s gut twisted as he glanced over his shoulder. “Adam?”
His co-pilot’s head was bobbing lifelessly as the console before him smoked and sparked. Sam blinked back the sting in his eyes.
“Echo leader, I’ve lost my co-pilot,” Sam reported and forced himself to focus straight ahead. He could see the other pilots employing his strategy with the tow cables and smiled a little.
Sam only had another second to wonder what good he was now that the controls to the harpoon were fried and his co-pilot was dead, when another heavy blaster hit tore into the speeder. Sam cried out as his ship went careening towards the ice and snow below.
Dean was on his feet, running between consoles, calling instructions into his headset, and coordinating the base’s evacuation.
“Send all troops in sector twelve to the south slope,” he shouted.
The room was rocked by an explosion overhead, sending chunks of snow and ice tumbling down from cracks in the roof. Dean ducked to the side, covering his head with his arm.
“To the south slope,” he repeated over the noise. “To protect the fighters. Repeat, send all troops in sector twelve to the south slope!”
He helped up a woman who’d fallen out of her chair. The whole command center was in chaos – snow and ice crumbled in with each new blast. Half the control boards were sparking and damaged, and Dean was down to one working board in the far corner and three rebels who had yet to evacuate.
As he listened to the radio chatter and reports of the ongoing battle, his eyes shot up in surprise when Bela appeared in the doorway. She began picking her way across the debris-filled room.
He popped the headset off. “What the hell are you still doing here?” he demanded. He was sure she’d have been long gone by now, and especially once the attack got underway – she was never one to stay in a hot spot; her self-preservation instincts were far too strong.
“We were trying to – we’re still in the middle of repairing the damn ship! Heard the command center had been hit,” she explained, climbing around piles of ice and broken chairs. “It is rather a mess, isn’t it?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Dean moaned. Was this her way of saying she was worried about him or something? He scrubbed at his eyes with the palm of his hand and turned his back on Bela – he so did not have time to deal with her right now – and pulled the headset back on.
“Copy, evacuation code for ground staff,” he said, leaning down to tap several keys at the monitor before him. “Kay-one-zero, retreat…”
He spouted off a dozen instructions for the soldiers and remaining base staff. It took him a minute to realize Bela was addressing him again.
“What?” He whirled on her. “Seriously, why are you still here?”
“I said we can’t leave until the ship is properly fixed and – ”
“You’re telling me this now? Damn it, Bela!”
Bela threw up her hands in exasperation. “How was I supposed to know the Imperials were going to attack!”
Dean ignored her, facing his console to relay the final retreat orders for the Rebels and for the last transports to prepare for take-off. He yanked the headset off and tossed it amongst the debris. The remaining rebels in the room jumped up and made for the door.
“Come on,” Dean growled, grabbing Bela’s arm.
Behind them, the radio crackled loudly. “Imperial troops have entered the base – repeat, Imperials troops have entered…”
Bela blanched. “What – ?”
“Come on,” Dean urged through his teeth and hauled her out of the room.
If the Imperials were coming in from the east as expected, then the collapsed corridors down that way were going to slow them down. He realized he was cutting it awfully close by still being in the base at this point, but someone had had to stay behind to the last second to ensure the final transports made it off the ground.
Together Dean and Bela ran down the crumbling halls, dodging falling ice. They bolted into the main hangar bay where the Impala was docked. Ree waved her arms, frantically clicking and squealing at the ship and the ice dropping in chunks from the high hangar ceiling.
This place is coming down! They said the Imperials are inside! Bela, where the hell –
“I know, I know,” Dean snarled, cutting her off. He snatched his commlink from his belt. “Transport, this is Winchester. Take off – I’m with Bela Talbot on the Impala. Copy.” He shoved it into his pocket and sprinted up the Impala’s ramp, Ree and Bela hot on his heels.
Ree took off for the cockpit while Bela yelled that they were completely screwed. Dean ignored her and barreled into the engine room.
What the hell has she done to you, Baby? he thought, his eyes scanning the familiar engine parts. It wasn’t all torn apart as it’d been the other night, but sections had clearly been hastily put back together. He both heard and felt the ship start up around him and glanced back at Bela.
“What’s the problem?” he barked. He ran his hands over the panels, popping a few of them off and peering at the metal, wires, and gears within.
“She starts up…” Bela trailed off as the ship’s engine puttered and wound down with a pained moan. “And then she does that. We weren’t finished the repairs from our daring rescue.”
The Imperials were going to be pouring into the hangar bay at any second. At least he had a pretty good idea what the problem was, based on the noises his Baby was making. She’d done it to him a few years ago when he’d retrofitted some of the main engine.
“Damn it, Bela, you didn’t tighten the alluvial dampers all the way!” He reached past her to snatch up a set of tools and got to work as fast he could. “She can’t fire up like that.”
“I’m not a bloody brilliant mechanic!” she replied hotly. “I’m doing the best I – ”
Ree’s agitated voice came over the intercom, drowning out Bela’s protests. Whatever you’re doing in there, do it faster – they’re here!
Bela scrubbed her hands through her hair. She mumbled out a string of words that weren’t Basic, but he didn’t miss their meaning.
“Next time you decide to take apart my ship,” Dean growled. “Put her back together properly, so we don’t find ourselves about to get shot up by Imperials!” he finished with a shout, slamming the cover back over the corrected dampers.
“I was trying to fix it,” Bela argued. “After getting it all shot to hell, rescuing your ass!”
He whacked the intercom button with his fist and instructed Ree, “Try it now!”
The engine hummed to life around them, and this time it continued revving until it was at full power. It still sounded a little shaky, but she was running. Dean had just a half second to grin in relief before the ship was rocked by an explosion. Dean and Bela tore down the corridors to the cockpit where Ree was flipping switches and pressing buttons as fast her long fingers allowed her. Outside in the hangar bay, Dean could see a half-dozen Imperial troops setting up two massive blaster cannons.
Dean jumped into the pilot’s chair and joined Ree in the flight preparations.
“What do you think you’re doing?” demanded Bela.
“Getting us the hell out of here,” Dean replied. “And don’t you dare give me any bullshit about whose ship this is, or I swear I will knock you out and throw you in – ”
“I would absolutely like to see you try, darling, now get out of – ”
“Look, sweetheart, I’m the better pilot – ”
“Oh, like hell – ”
Shut up! Ree squealed. You can fight later when we are not about to die!
Bela opened her mouth to argue some more but a new volley from the Imperials and their now operation guns buffeted the ship. She wisely sat down instead and buckled up. Dean jammed the ignition and couldn’t help the satisfied smile that stole across his lips as the Impala blasted out of the hangar.
God, it felt good to fly her again.
“This is all well and good, but how do you expect to get us past the blockade, hmm?” Bela huffed from behind Dean.
“Watch and learn, sweetheart. Watch and learn.”
By the time Sam was able to extricate himself from his downed speeder, the Rebels were in full retreat. They knew they wouldn’t be able to defeat the Imperials in this skirmish; the intent had only ever been to slow them down.
Sam re-tied his scarf around his face and took off at a hard run across the snow, toward the west, leaving the smoking wreckage of his speeder behind. He was a bit banged and bruised from his crash, but otherwise all right. He gently moved his sore arm and was glad he hadn’t made it worse.
The Imperial walkers had gone farther ahead to the south, focused on the main shield generator rather than the darting bodies below. The wind cut at his exposed skin, but the sun was bright and its warmth countered the cold a little.
Sam scrambled over a snowy ridge, across a wide icy plateau, and down the other side of a second ridge to a clearing where a number of the Rebels were gathering in the battle aftermath. He caught sight of Jo’s familiar blonde braid amongst all the jackets and goggles, and hurried over to her.
“Hey, you’re okay,” she breathed with relief, pulling him into a quick hug.
Sam gave her a squeeze before leaning back and yanking his scarf off his mouth. “Adam’s gone,” he said grimly.
Jo nodded and slipped her own scarf down onto her chin. “I heard that much on the comms but then they lost you. I was worried.” She shot him a tight smile then ducked her head.
His hand didn’t leave her shoulder for a moment. “You all right?”
“Cost of war,” she sighed and rubbed at her temple with a gloved hand. Jo shook her head with another sigh and instantly the emotion was buried and gone. It broke Sam’s heart to see how used to this kind of loss Jo was, how she simply didn’t have time to dwell on it.
“Well?” she said, forcing another smile on her face and blinking up at him in the sunlight. “I’ve got things to do, brother of mine, so what’s it to be? To Cas or not to Cas?”
Sam couldn’t help chuckling. He bit his lip then asked, “So you think I should go?”
Jo fixed him with one of her Sam-you-are-an-adorable-idiot looks. “I think we already had this conversation.” She gestured across the snow to a bank of X-Wings that were getting fuelled up for the remaining pilots. “Look at it like you’re going on an adventure.”
Sam’s stomach flipped over with a mix of fear and nerves at the idea of taking off to Dagobah. “I’m not what he thinks I am, Jo. I don’t know what you’re expecting to come out of this.”
“You never know. That’s what makes it an adventure.” Jo gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “I’ll see you later, Sam.”
He smiled and watched her walk away, readjusting her scarf, tossing out orders and organizing troops. Another minute after, Sam gathered his courage and made for the line of X-Wings his sister had indicated. Benny selected one that was ready to go and helped Sam into it.
Sam blasted out of Hoth’s atmosphere, bound for the Dagobah system. He took a shaky breath as stars streaked past, hoping he was doing the right thing.