“I may have a job for you, if you are willing.” Athara looked over to Madal, frowning beneath her deep hood. That wasn’t exactly what she had envisioned when he said he wished to speak with her.
“A job,” she repeated, not bothering to hide the skepticism from her voice. The Duro nodded.
“I’ve heard you’ve turned to smuggling with a hint of piracy on the side.” Athara’s frown deepened.
“Oh?” The Duro shot her an exasperated look. He wasn’t wrong. Since work on the Amaran Flame (formerly the Tantive IV) had been completed several months previous, she had gone freelance, doing smuggling runs, some small-time piracy and even pursued the odd bounty. She was proving quite successful at it too. “You’ve been gossiping with Reem again, haven’t you,” she teased lightly. If Duros could flush, she’d have been willing to bet he would have.
“He mentioned that you have taken the odd shipment of his and a few others. And I’ve heard rumour that it was your ship that hit two of Black Sun’s Shipping Transports.” Athara let out a rather unladylike snort. Madal shook his head. “Do you want the job or not?”
“Depends on the job…and the politics involved.” This time it was the Duro who made a derisive sound.
“Smugglers don’t get into politics. I was under the impression that you didn’t care about such things.”
“Impartiality is something I haven’t quite fully embraced.” She turned to face the Duro, who had settled himself quite comfortably in a shadowy booth she occupied at the back of the Cantina. “Who’s the job for?”
“It is simple; quite easy actually. It’s just running supplies.”
“That didn’t answer my question.” Madal sighed, eyeing her warily. Athara almost laughed. “You haven’t looked at me like that since I commissioned you to fix my ship. What is this all about?” She stared right back at him, mind whirring. After a moment, he spoke again, his hushed words coming close to confirming a suspicion taking shape in her mind.
“Where do you stand on the Empire?” Athara cocked her head, considering both him and his question.
Since she had been forced to flee her master’s ship, she had all but severed ties with the Empire. There was a great deal she did not approve of within the Empire, and she certainly didn’t like the Emperor. That was nothing new, though. She had never really been a supporter of the Sith Master, even when she had still been in some semblance of favour. Yet she harboured no particular sympathy for the Rebellion either. She had essentially become apolitical, something Madal had been somewhat right about. However, for all intents and purposes, she refused jobs for the Empire, though that was as much about avoiding Imperial notice as anything else. As he watched her think, though, she mused that, if it came down to it, she’d rather help the Rebellion than the Empire.
The instant the thought crossed her mind she frowned. A mere year earlier, she never would’ve considered choosing the Rebel Alliance over the Empire. She had changed since the Death Star’s destruction. She had come to realize just what the Empire meant to a huge portion of the Galaxy. She’d had faint notions before of the depravity and corruption, but it had never really made an impact on her. In some ways, she had been far more sheltered that she could have ever guessed. She took a deep breath.
“Nowhere in particular. But I can’t say I’m overly fond of it either.” Her answer had been a gamble, though one where she was been fairly confident of the outcome. She could sense the relief that coursed through the Duro even though it made no appearance in his expression.
“You will have to work with Bek.” This time Athara was surprised.
“Reem? He’s involved with…them?” The Duro nodded.
“Regularly. Supplies mostly, food and medical equipment. Though, I understand he has also done an arms shipment or two.”
“Really. I never would’ve guessed.” Madal leaned forward, a harsh look suddenly on his face.
“And it will stay that way.” Athara raised her eyebrows as skepticism washed through her. Madal, threaten her? He had certainly known her long enough to know she was dangerous, just as she knew he could be when crossed. He was a friend, yes; he had even given her her first job beyond the Empire, though it was only a cargo run then. He even offered her a storage unit at his shipyard for a discounted price to store the items she had wished to keep from the Tantive IV. Since then he had been her contact on many other jobs. Surely he knew better than to think she’d betray his confidence on this, or to threaten her, for that matter.
“You have nothing to fear, Madal.” The Duro grunted, sitting back again. Athara sighed. “Where?” In response, he slid her a datachip. After that, the conversation was over.
The next morning she was ready to leave the instant Bek stepped foot on The Flame. As usual, she could sense him easily as he approached the cockpit, firing up the sublight engines before she had even seen him.
“Are you ever taken by surprise?” She turned as the Gran spoke, grinning a little.
“‘Course not. Come on, we’re ready for take-off.” She gestured to the Co-pilot’s seat, focusing once again on the console in front of her. “Main reactor is online. N3, watch those converters, they’ve been acting up again.” Behind her, the little droid whirred an affirmative before beginning a conversation with N4. The young Sith took the ship up, leaving the Landing Bay behind before turning back to Reem.
“So, where are we going?” Across the cockpit, the Gran was programming the Navcomputer, plotting a hyperdrive course.
“Ansion. We are picking up a shipment of foodstuffs.” Athara looked at him critically for a moment, something he didn’t fail to notice. “You have something to say?”
“Why aren’t you doing this alone? Why do you need me? Your ship is larger, and can carry more cargo than mine.” The Gran looked sheepish. Athara sent him a questioning glance, barely managing to keep her face clear of the amusement she felt. It was bound to be a good story considering how embarrassed he looked.
“One of my technicians was changing the engine fluid while seeing to some maintenance on one of the starboard engine hubs. I, uh, tried to fire up the reactor before he was done,” Athara struggled to suppress her laughter, “I still don’t think he’s cleaned up all the oil, or gotten it all off himself either.”
“Well done.” The Gran shot her a withering look, but she couldn’t quite help herself, “Who was it?”
“Might we change the subject?” Athara laughed as N4 whistled behind her, indicating they had reached the appropriate vectors for the jump to lightspeed. Double-checking the calculations and some of the major systems, as was her habit, Athara pulled the lever, and beneath them the ship leapt into hyperspace.
Once she was satisfied they were adequately on the way, Athara spun to face her temporary partner.
“Are you going to fill me in on how this is all going to work?” Reem nodded, standing.
“Drink first.” Athara withheld an exasperated sigh before following the Gran to the common area of the ship. The Gran had only one destructive vice—besides smuggling and piracy…and helping the Rebellion apparently—and that was his dependence on alcohol. Smuggler’s prerogative, Pirate’s duty, he’d always joke. No matter her pushing or cajoling, he abjectly refused to lighten up on his considerable intake, and though she still tried, she no longer refused to have a small supply aboard the Flame. By the time she caught up to him, he was already settling into one of the chairs around the perimeter of the room. Sitting in one of the seats beside his, she leaned back, stretching her legs out in front of her as he sipped away at the Rodian Whiskey she stocked. After a few moments of companionable silence he turned to face Athara, fixing his three eyes on her.
“Madal told you who we’re running supplies for?” Athara steadily met his gaze, fixing a smooth expression on her face.
“Indirectly, but yes.” The Gran nodded, taking another drink.
“We’re the middle man. We pick up the food, deliver it to a small party of rebels and leave the rest to them. Nothing more.” Athara nodded.
“Fair enough. So we pick up the cargo on Ansion…then where to?” The Gran hesitated for a moment. She didn’t need the Force to tell her it wasn’t due to a lack of trust, but that he simply wasn’t used to sharing this type of information.
“Dantooine?” She couldn’t help but be a little skeptical, something that Bek didn’t miss. She knew there was once a base there, Princess Leia had tried to use it to save Alderaan, but it had long been abandoned. Sensing suspicion growing in her friend, she covered quickly, keeping her expression carefully neutral and unassuming. “There isn’t much there.” The Gran watched her for another moment before looking back to his glass.
“That’s the idea.” She nodded in understanding, still watching him as Reem stood to refill his glass. “Apparently, we’re meeting them not far from their former base; they will transmit precise coordinates when we arrive.”
“Any idea who we’re meeting?” He sat back down again.
“Never quite sure until I get there; they like to keep things to themselves.”
“Understandable, I suppose.”
“I think, though, that this time it’s going to be supervised by one of their X-Wing Squadron pilots, either Antilles or Skywalker.” Athara frowned, though this time Reem wasn’t paying attention.
“Those names sound familiar,” she mused out loud. Bek snorted.
“They should. They are both making a name for themselves against the Empire. Antilles is Corellian, and while no one is entirely sure where Skywalker’s from, there’s some talk that he’s from Tatooine. He just showed up one day, out of the blue, along with Princess Organa and Han Solo. Though no one has confirmed it officially, word is Skywalker’s the one who blew up the Death Star. He’s becoming a bit of a legend.” Athara was hard pressed to keep her face free of the curiosity that was suddenly eating her up from the inside. Antilles likely sounded familiar since the last Captain of the Tantive IV was an Antilles, though she suspected there was no relation as one was from Corellia and the other from Alderaan. Skywalker sounded familiar for a whole different reason.
“Skywalker, I know that name from somewhere. Wasn’t there a famous Jedi named Skywalker during the Clone Wars?” She forced her voice to sound casual, but then, no one spoke casually about the Jedi in this day and age. Reem fixed her with a stern but questioning look.
“Aren’t you a little young to know anything like that?” She kept her gaze fixed mildly on the Gran. He sighed, but continued. “You are right though, come to think of it. I think there was a Jedi hero during the Clone Wars named Skywalker. I remember watching broadcasts about the Wars when it was going on. Gimme a second to think…Yeah, ‘The Hero with no Fear’ I think they called him. Yeah. That’s it.” As soon as he said it, she remembered where she had first seen the name; Anakin Skywalker was the Padawan of the Jedi Kenobi. She remembered reading about the two of them. “Who knows, maybe they are related. It’s an unusual enough name; cousins, maybe.” Reem chuckled sardonically, taking a swig of his whiskey.
Athara was deep in thought, mulling over what Bek had said. If he was right, and this Skywalker was responsible for the destruction of the Empire’s battlestation, that meant he was Force sensitive. She briefly mused that they might be one and the same, the Jedi and the Pilot, yet a Jedi Hero from the Clone Wars would most certainly know enough to mask his Force signature. Plus, he had first appeared in the Princess’s company, which could mean that he was possibly among those to have broken the Princess out of the Death Star’s Detention Block. That would also mean that he came with Kenobi.
She remembered almost every detail of the day the Death Star was destroyed clearly, especially the burst of untrained Force-potential from the pilot who had fired the fateful shot. She was sure that was the source of Vader’s confusion after the battle upon his arrival on the Devastator. But would a Clone War Jedi Veteran give off such an unfocused and untrained Force signature? That implied someone young and untrained, so it was more likely that he was a younger relative, rather than the Jedi himself. Regardless, whoever this Skywalker was, and whomever he might be related to, he was certainly a person of interest.
Their time on Ansion was productive but short. Bek took care of everything, directing Athara as needed and doing all the talking. They arrived at the depot, picked up their cargo and were off again in almost no time at all. Bek obviously had this down to a science, and wasn’t even off-balance because of the change in ship.
The second hyperspace jump was far quieter than the first, with Bek retreating to one of the handful of Crew Quarters that Athara had kept during the remodel. She was left alone to her thoughts, and retreated to her own quarters to meditate. It was not quite so easy as usual, as the curiosity Bek had sparked wasn’t giving her a moment’s peace.
Eventually, they came up on Dantooine, dropping out of Hyperspace a fair ways from the planet to give the Rebels meeting them ample warning. After several minutes, they picked up an encoded radio transmission. Settling himself down at the Comm Station, Bek input the code he had ready to decipher the signal. Athara didn’t pay all that much attention to the exchange that followed as Reem exchanged passwords and coded phrases with the Rebels already on the planet. She was too busy scanning the planet with the Force, striving to maintain a balance between shielding her presence and reaching out far enough to sense who might be waiting for them. She was pulled back to the Flame when Reem settled himself back into the Co-pilot’s chair and relayed the co-ordinates to her.
Changing her vector, Athara guided the ship down to the Planet’s surface. Behind her N3 and N4 both chortled reassuringly as they always did when all systems were functioning properly, keeping her apprised in case anything went wrong. Thankfully, there were no such problems this time as the Flame came up to rendezvous point.
Ahead of them was a cargo ship slightly smaller than the Flame, with several small figures standing before it waiting for their visitors to land.
With a shudder and a mild jolt, the Flame settled on the plain with ease several hundred feet from the Rebel’s ship. Leaving the droids to keep an eye on the ship’s systems, Athara followed Bek to the primary hatch, releasing the locking mechanism and lowering the ramp. Bek was the first to disembark, striding toward the small group of Rebels without hesitation. Athara was a little slower to follow, reaching out with her senses to take stock of the Rebels. She struggled to suppress a sly grin as she was met with the Force signature of an untrained Force-user among the small group making their way over to her ship.
“Gentlemen, this is my associate, Captain Tamara,” Athara bowed her head in greeting as Bek gave the Rebels the alias she had given him nearly a year previous. There were only a handful of people in the Galaxy who knew her by her real name and not just Obscura, but she hadn’t been about to take any risks, especially as she had taken to regularly going without a hood to hide her face as she was today. The Gran turned back to Athara, gesturing to the Rebels behind him.
“This is Malden, Greer and Skywalker.” With a brisk nod, Bek motioned for the Rebels to follow him to the cargo bay so they could begin transferring the supplies from the Flame to their own ship. Athara took up the rear, silently surveying the group. Malden and Greer were typical Rebels, full of conviction and fire against the injustice of the Empire, but they were also jaded by years of Civil War.
Skywalker was far more interesting. He was indeed the one with Force-potential, and was most certainly the one who blew up the Death Star; she would recognize his Force-signature anywhere. He was like-minded to the other Rebels, however he was not so jaded, but rather far more innocent, naïve even. Making sure her own Force-signature was well guarded and her face a smooth mask was tricky, as she could barely contain her interest.
The only Force-users she knew of for sure were Vader and the Emperor. She suspected she knew who some of the Emperor’s Hands were, but they were quite good at hiding their own Force signatures. Meeting another Force-user was a novelty to the young Sith. She needed to speak with him.
The two other Rebels and Bek were already well into unloading the cargo from the rear bay of the Flame when Athara caught up. She was still trying to come up with a means to inconspicuously strike up a conversation with the youngest of the Rebels when he beat her to the punch.
“I take it you’re new to this?” She turned to the sandy-haired youth from the stack of crates she was beside, not bothering to hide the questioning look that appeared on her face. He hesitated for an instant, adding sheepishly, “to doing this, with the Rebellion, I mean.” She could’ve almost laughed at the earnestness of his face, but turned her gaze back to the crates she needed to get out of the bay. Silently, she wished she was free to use the Force to move the cargo; it would’ve been so much faster.
“In a way. You’re fairly new yourself, aren’t you?” A serious look came over his face, his brow furrowing into a frown. She deftly hid her smile.
“Not that new. I’ve done quite a lot for the Rebellion in the last year.”
“Like supervising supply drops?” He looked almost petulant at her teasing tone.
“No. I’m a pilot. Pretty good one too, if I do say so myself.”
“Ah, a pilot. How distinguished.” He caught onto her sarcasm, but missed the playful teasing.
“You don’t believe me?” Athara looked up from the case she was loading onto the repulsorlift. He had very blue eyes, she noticed with a start.
“I haven’t seen you fly, but I suppose I can believe you.”
“You should, this is the kid who blew up the Death Star. He’s one of the best we got,” Greer piped up as he passed the two of them, guiding a repulsorlift of his own out of the Cargo Hold. Athara, though she already knew this, feigned a look of impressed astonishment, causing the young Rebel to glow with pride, standing a little straighter.
“Hmm. Well, that certainly is impressive.” She turned back to the crates she was loading, picking one up before dumping it Skywalker’s arms, startling him for a moment. She chuckled as she went to grab another box. “How does one manage to do a thing such as that?” Luke was about to speak, but hesitated for a moment, a sudden wariness coming over his face. Athara sensed this and turned back to him, watching as he soberly placed the crate on the repulsorlift. He wasn’t very good at shielding his thoughts. He had almost no training whatsoever, she realized suddenly, but he had an introduction. Someone had started to train him. Could it have been Kenobi? She leaned against the stack of crates beside her as he continued to move crates and boxes. Like she had been musing earlier, Kenobi had been part of the group that had rescued the Princess, and Bek had distinctly told her this Rebel had first shown up with the Princess. It was still a logical conclusion to draw…
“You said you’ve been with the Rebellion for a year, how’d you manage to get caught up in all this?” He frowned again, looking over to her.
“It just kind of happened actually. One day I’m helping my Uncle on his Moisture Farm and the next I’m in a snub-fighter about to attack the biggest battlestation the Galaxy has seen. It all happened really fast, actually.”
“Moisture Farming? You’re not from Tatooine then, are you? Or Ord Mandell? Aren’t many places dry enough for that.” He nodded, a distinct expression of sadness on his face. He was very open with his emotions, with no restraint at all.
“Yeah, Tatooine. I was raised by my Aunt and Uncle there. It wasn’t until I went to see Ben that I…” he stopped speaking, looking nervous, before looking hesitantly over to her. The young sith just watched him mildly, aware that the sympathy she suddenly felt was visible on her face. He was really just a Farmboy, thrown head first into a Civil War that would likely consume his life.
“Life has a funny way of running away with you, doesn’t it,” she said quietly, turning back to her work, falling silent as the other Rebels passed them again.
“No kidding. I wanted to leave that rock for so long, but…” he sighed heavily, “I wish it had been in a different way.” She stopped in front of him, pausing before lifting another crate. She wanted to say something, but she didn’t know what. He took the crate from her, leaving her standing there as he placed it on the repulsorlift.
“What do they think of all this, your Aunt and Uncle? Are they still on Tatooine?” He was silent for a long moment.
“No. They were killed, by the Empire.” Athara was stopped in her tracks.
“Me too.” She looked up at him, hearing and sensing the guilt in his tone.
“You feel guilty. Why?” Now he looked up at her.
“I wasn’t there.” This conversation was taking a dark turn indeed. She certainly didn’t need the Force to sense the remorse and shame pouring off him. She fixed him with a stern look.
“If you had been, I suspect you would be dead too. And the Death Star would still be around.” He dropped his gaze a bit, a thoughtful look on his face. She turned away. “Many things would be different,” she added soberly.
“I suppose you’re right.” He was obviously anxious to change the subject, and Athara couldn’t blame him. She didn’t think she knew anyone who wasn’t at least a little touchy about the past right now. The Empire had a lot to pay for. Guilt flooded through her too; she had been a part of that. There was a great deal of blood on her hands as well.
“How does one get involved with the Rebellion?” Her voice was quiet, but he looked up, bewilderment replacing the sadness that had suffused his features a moment before.
“You want to join the Rebellion?” She shot him another stern look.
“Did I say that?”
“No, but—” He hesitated again, looking at her critically. “We are always looking for more supply runners.” She smiled faintly, placing a final crate on the repulsorlift. She looked around briefly for the controller, spotting it on a pile of crates several feet away. She had a sudden idea, or rather, a reckless impulse. She quickly reached out with her senses, assuring herself that the others were all on the other ship. Absently, she lifted her hand slightly, using the Force to call the controller to her.
The young Rebel’s eyes looked like they were about to pop out of his skull.
Keeping an unconcerned expression on her face, she fired up the repulsorlift, steering it toward the Cargo Bay doors. She turned to Skywalker.
“Are you coming?” He started to speak, but stopped, before taking a deliberate step toward her.
“How did you do that?” he hissed, astonishment colouring his voice. She gazed at him mildly.
“Do what?” He gestured to the controller in her hand.
“That. How did you do that?” She considered him for a moment. He yearned for knowledge; he was almost desperate to learn the ways of the Force. He had felt her use it, but didn’t understand how to harness it himself. She was debating just what to say. She supposed she could help him learn the basics of the Force, things that were neither light nor dark, and perhaps he could tell her about Kenobi, a man she still was bizarrely and inexplicably invested in finding out about.
“The Force.” She said simply, quietly. The Farmboy looked awed.
“The Force,” he whispered almost reverently, “You know the ways of the Force?” She shrugged absently, knowing very well he was likely to take the bait.
“Will you—could you—” he hesitated, unsure what to say next. She knew exactly what he wanted to say, amused by his impulsiveness. She was right when she pegged him as naïve before. For all he knew, she was an enemy, and he had basically just broadcasted that he was a grossly inexperienced Force-user. She decided to probe a little bit.
“What do you know of the Force?” she asked. He looked mildly embarrassed.
“Not much. Ben was trying to teach me, but—”
“He was killed.” A flash of fear appeared on his face when she spoke, startling her for an instant.
“How did you—”
“I can feel your sorrow when you speak of him, Skywalker.” She had only told a half-lie, for she really could feel his grief from the Jedi’s passing, but she still paused a moment to ensure that he bought it. “The Force can allow us to do many things.” His bright blue eyes were suddenly full of determination.
“Can you teach me?” His voice had none of the hesitation that it had before. Once again, Athara considered him, but she found her decision had already been made. For the first time in over a year, the mysterious presence returned suddenly as though to encourage her. This sandy-haired rebel was important, and her feelings, and the presence, urged her to help him as best she could. The more logical side of her mind was not so easily convinced. Vader had told her to lay low, and teaching this rebel about the Force would likely make that charge more difficult to accomplish. She sighed deeply.
“I may regret it, but if I can, I will.” He grinned widely, but she put a stop to that quickly with a finger pointed threateningly at him. “This arrangement will stay between us. Only a handful of people in the Galaxy know of my abilities. What I know is dangerous, Farmboy. The Emperor does not look kindly on Force-users.” He nodded vehemently, the earnest expression back on his face. Content that he understood how serious she was, she turned back to the repulsorlift full of supplies she was steering.
“Come on, Skywalker. We have work to do.”
“Luke,” She turned back to him for a moment.
“It’s Luke; my name’s Luke.” He looked at her sheepishly for a moment. “I figure it’s better than calling me Skywalker all the time.” She gave him a mock considering look, hiding her amusement.
“I think I prefer Farmboy, to be honest.” It took him a split second to catch on that she was teasing, but when he did, he looked down to his boots, a bashful smile on his face. Athara almost did laugh this time. Next he was going to be blushing.She realized as he fell into step beside her, chatting amiably, that she was going to enjoy teaching him.