Never, in a million years, had Athara ever dreamed that she would become involved with the Rebellion. It truly was an absurd idea. She was Darth Vader’s apprentice; the Right Hand of the Emperor’s Right Hand. She was feared across the Galaxy and highly respected among the Troops she once commanded. She had led countless offensives, many of which were against the Rebels themselves. She was an enemy, a threat.
But she had also vanished, so far as both the Empire and the Rebellion were concerned. That had certainly resulted in an interesting situation.
Since Vader ordered her to disappear for her own safety, she had changed. She held no illusions to the contrary. She had gone from an order-dependent Imperial Agent to an apolitical independent freelancer, to a Rebel Smuggler in less than two years. She had been able to start with a clean slate; no one she had yet encountered since the Battle of Yavin had any suspicions of her true identity that she was aware of, and she preferred it that way. She was no longer quite as proud of her accomplishments as she had been in the past. That didn’t mean she had no respect for her past; she was still rather proud of her own tenacity and quick thinking on past occasions, as well as her prowess with the Force. She was also still dimly proud of her military achievements, though the opponents she had triumphed against were now essentially her allies; the more she thought of it, she was proud of her capabilities, rather than her actual actions.
Still, part of her missed her old position. She was a fair leader, and she missed the satisfaction that used to come with running a tight ship. After worming her way into the Alliance, she realized with time that it was a spike of jealousy that shot through her whenever she witnessed military initiatives and events happening around her.
She also missed Vader. There was an old saying that said something about not realizing how much something or someone meant to you until they were gone. Well, Vader wasn’t gone, per se, but Athara had been separated from her Master for far longer than she ever had before, and she missed him. Almost everything she was, save what she had learned in the past two years, she was because of his tutelage. She found that she could sympathize with Luke when he spoke of missing Ben because of the ache she felt at being separated from her own Master. She missed his guidance, and as strange as it might sound to anyone else, she missed his reassuring presence. He was her Master, and as she had revealed to the Princess in the detention block of the Devastator, he had raised her. His methods might have been blunt and even harsh, but he cared for her in his own way, and she was pretty sure he valued her presence as much if not more than she valued his. Rumour had it that since her ‘departure’, he was executing officers at an alarming rate simply because they displeased him if there even was any reason at all. It was a rumour that disturbed her greatly, for though she knew he was horribly cruel in the eyes of the Galaxy, it was still unlike him to be so wholly and irrationally reckless with his punishments. Yes, he had always been unforgiving and ruthless with his own brand of justice, but there was always some sense of reason behind it, even if it was a reason that belonged only to him. Never in all the time she had known the Dark Lord had he ever regularly behaved in such a way as current rumours suggested.
It was no longer her immediate concern though, it simply couldn’t be. Her loyalties were her own now, and not conditional on those of her Master. Now, a great many of her loyalties belonged to the Rebellion, and one Rebel in particular. She was still largely apolitical, for she didn’t directly belong to the Alliance, nor did she support the Empire anymore. The supply running aspect of her life was simply a job. She was involved with the Alliance for one reason.
Once she became involved with running shipments for the Rebellion, she had begun working with the sandy-haired Farmboy, teaching him the basics of the Force that she had known since childhood. It hadn’t been long before she was running supplies directly to the Rebel’s newest bases, so she was often able to steal away for several hours at a time to work with Luke.
She was immensely pleased with his progress, and he was a quick study, eagerly absorbing everything she taught him. Despite his enthusiasm, though, he still hit stumbling blocks, and when he did, frustration ruled him. She felt for him, she really did; he was trying to learn a lifetime of lessons in as short a time as possible. Athara had been learning everything she knew since childhood; Luke hadn’t even known of the Force’s existence until just over two years earlier. Yes, he was learning in leaps and bounds, but he was still progressing slower than he wanted to. It was irritating him to no end, adding to the recesses of anger she felt growing in him. It was that anger that worried her. Being a student of the dark side herself, she recognized the seeds that, if allowed to grow, would take over, drowning out the light in him. Even as a sith apprentice, she hesitated to encourage Luke to draw on that anger. The thought of doing so felt wrong, sending a chill down her spine whenever she even considered the possibility. She wasn’t sure what to make of the feeling, but had decided to trust it.
As a result, Athara kept trying to impress on him that it would take time and practice before he was able to use the Force with the same ease she could, but he wasn’t receptive to her assurances. It was blatantly clear that he had massive potential, but Athara refused to move beyond the most basic of lessons; meditation, reaching out to sense one’s surroundings, shielding one’s presence, reaching out to touch the Force. It was proving to be rather difficult, not only because of his impatience, but because of her own fear of tainting the Light in him with the Dark Side, as well as the pervading fear she had of discovery. Being as old as he was, Luke was set in his ways, and those were often ways that rode contrary to truths about the Force. He relied fully on his physical senses, especially his eyes, and would often disregard his feelings. He couldn’t place his trust wholly in the Force. It was starting to drive Athara crazy.
“Well then you do it!” came one particular outburst from the young Rebel. Athara looked at the blue-eyed rebel with an expression bordering on disdain.
“I can do it. It is you who need to learn how.” Luke scoffed at her carefully measured tone.
“Well maybe I can’t, how about that.” Athara’s expression melted into one of skepticism. Yeah right. When it came to things like lightsabre skills or more physical training, he was making remarkable progress that proved undeniably that the Force was strong with him, and when he flew he was instinctively using the Force, enhancing his already impressive natural piloting abilities.
“How do you know? You aren’t trying hard enough.” He shot her a dark look before reluctantly conceding to her point. “Now, relax, clear your mind; take a deep breath. Reach out, but don’t think, feel,” Luke followed her instructions, letting out a long, slow breath before extending his hand, trying to use the Force to call his lightsabre to him.
The silver weapon didn’t even budge.
“That’s enough for today.” Luke’s shoulders slumped at her pronouncement. She reached out, placing a hand on his arm. But she had no reassurances at the moment. She knew very well that he had the ability, but he didn’t trust the Force to guide him. “Come on.”
She didn’t wait to see if he was following her, but strode out of the Flame’s Cargo Bay without him, wanting nothing more than to work out her own frustrations. She couldn’t quite do that here though. Since beginning to work with Luke, she had put away her own ruby sabre and had begun to use Kenobi’s lightsabre when she and Luke focused on lightsabre training. She couldn’t risk any parallels being drawn to her former life, and though Luke had never even heard of Obscura before, she couldn’t risk a slip on his part should someone else make a comment that set off his suspicion. More than that, she had taken to holding back when they sparred, knowing full well that she was still miles ahead of him when it came to her lightsabre training, which also didn’t help her any. So she hadn’t had a good chance to work off her frustrations with a lightsabre in ages. Besides, she had yet to let on that she had more than a cursory knowledge of the Force to the young Rebel.
Struggling to restrain her own frustration, she made her way to the cockpit, all but flinging herself into the pilot’s chair. Holding her forehead in her hands, she tried to follow her own instruction and calm her mind. The ambiguous presence was back, offering reassurance as always, having become a familiar companion of sorts when she tried to tutor Luke. After several moments, her thoughts began to calm and her mind cleared. N3 rolled up beside her, beeping reassuringly. A faint smile on her face, she laid a hand on the droid’s green dome. The little droid and his counterpart had become an indispensible presence in her life. They were her companions on long trips, and had become quite well acquainted with the Flame.
After another moment N3 whirred quietly in greeting as Luke entered the cockpit, a meek expression on his face.
“I’m sorry, Tamara. I’m not making things easy, am I.” Athara tried to suppress a grin. It didn’t work very well.
“Not really. But it’s not all your fault either.” Luke sank into the co-pilot’s chair. They sat in silence for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts.
“I was taught what you are trying to learn when I was a child, and it took years. Plus, the one who taught me was a far harder taskmaster than I am. I lived and breathed this until I had mastered these skills.” Luke looked up at her, sensing the hint of sadness in her voice through the Force.
“You miss your teacher, don’t you.” She met his measuring gaze, a small corner of her mind pleased that he had sensed her longing. She nodded.
“You’re improving. And yes, I miss him and his guidance. He—” she cut herself off, reminding herself that she was in danger of revealing too much. Luke saw, more than sensed, her hesitation. But before he could say anything, his Comlink beeped. Frowning, he retrieved it from his belt.
“Commander Skywalker, Captain Solo is waiting for you at the Command Centre.” An immediate change came over the Farmboy, turning him into the Commander he had recently been promoted to. Athara restrained herself from grinning. She knew she had changed in the last year, but Luke had changed even more. Periodically, especially during his lessons with her, the naïve boy from Tatooine surfaced, but for the most part, he had grown into his role as an important figure to the Rebellion.
“Thank you Lieutenant, tell him I’ll be there shortly.” He stood, replacing his Comlink as he began to head for the cockpit door.
“Mission?” She queried.
“Yeah.” He paused before turning to face her, a considering look on his face. “Come with me.” Athara couldn’t hide her surprise.
“Come with me, and Han. We’re off to Nubia to see about a possible supplier of ship parts. We could use you.” She looked at him skeptically.
“I’m not sure about that.”
“Come on, I’ve seen you haggle with dealers before, you’re good. We need all the help we can get.” Athara considered for a long moment. If she tagged along she could work with him some more; perhaps some practical training would do him good. Plus she’d finally get to meet this Captain Solo. Despite having dealings with the Alliance for over a year, she had contact with very few of the Rebels, and Luke was always raving about his companions, regaling her with tales of their exploits. The thought also struck her that for the last few years she had been debating whether or not to make the trip to Nubia. Why not now? Surely she could manage to have a bit of time to herself, right?
“Very well. It could be interesting.” Luke smiled widely, grabbing her hand and all but dragging her along behind him.
They were challenged as they approached the heart of the Rebel Base, as Athara didn’t have clearance, but a few hushed words from Luke and she was allowed to continue on with him.
“That’s not going to get you into trouble, is it?” she questioned him worriedly. Luke shrugged.
“No idea,” he paused, glancing at her for a moment, “but I trust you. That should be good enough for them.” The admission nearly caused Athara to stumble.
Once in the Command Centre, Luke slowed down, greeting the other Rebels with the friendly ease that came naturally to him. Eventually though, the sandy-haired rebel spotted his friend on the other side of the room. Following along close behind, she paused when he groaned.
“Not again,” he muttered wearily. Athara frowned, following his gaze. When she saw who he was looking at, she nearly choked. Arguing animatedly with a rather tall and somewhat dashing Corellian she assumed to be Captain Solo was a rather irritated Princess Leia.
Athara had been lucky thus far in that she hadn’t encountered the former Consular. In theory, Leia wouldn’t recognize her, as she hadn’t seen the sith apprentice’s face onboard the Devastator or the Death Star. Though she no longer wore her hood or even her cloak on a regular basis anymore, Athara wasn’t at all eager to test that theory. There were still a lot of things that the Princess could recognize: her voice, her bearing, her mannerisms, anything. Before she could say anything or even think up some sort of excuse, Luke was already approaching the pair. Suppressing her own groan, Athara reluctantly followed.
“Well excuse me, your worshipfulness, but I have no intention of getting involved in anything of the sort.”
“That is not the point, Han, and you know it.” Leia was so irritated that she was practically snarling, but the smuggler in front of her wasn’t backing down either.
“Do you really need to fight like this?” Luke interrupted the bickering pair, distracting the two from their argument. Han huffed, crossing his arms petulantly. Athara was hard pressed to keep her sudden flash of amusement hidden beneath her familiar mask of indifference.
“If he would just see sense, we wouldn’t have to argue,” Leia snipped, shooting Solo a cutting glare. Luke sighed. Han was about to make a snappy comeback, but Luke interrupted him.
“Han, is our mission still on?” The Captain shut his mouth, looking from the fuming princess to the Farmboy beside him. After a moment of fighting to keep his retort to himself, he frowned. Leia waved her hand in exasperation, turning back to the row of consoles behind her.
“Yeah, Luke, we’re still going.” Shooting the Princess his own cutting glare, Han turned to leave, hesitating when he noticed Athara standing behind Luke. “Who’s this?” Athara fought to keep her expression neutral as not only Han and Luke’s eyes turned to her, but Leia’s as well.
“This is one of our Supply Runners, Captain Tamara of the Amaran Flame. She’s coming with us.” Athara fought to keep from looking at the Princess as she met Solo’s appraising gaze.
“The Amaran Flame, huh? I’ve heard good things. Never lost a shipment, never been boarded. I even heard rumor that you’ve hit Black Sun ships before. Though, I must say, you’re younger than I expected.” Athara nodded once, forcing herself to smile a little.
“Well, some rumours do have a basis in fact, Captain Solo. I’ve heard quite a few about you too, and not all of them from Luke, here.” The Captain shot her a crooked smile that was oddly charming. She soon found herself genuinely returning it.
“All of them good, I hope.” She wouldn’t have been surprised at all if he had winked at her. She refrained from rolling her eyes though. Beside her, Luke was trying desperately not to laugh. Leia looked incensed.
“A few of them,” Athara quipped back. Han shot the Princess a brief glance, so quick Athara almost missed it. An idea twigged in the back of her mind; it would certainly make sense. She couldn’t dwell on it long though, because at that moment Leia decided to examine her.
“I feel like I know you. Have we met before?” Athara feigned thoughtfulness for a moment. It was a good thing the young sith was a fair liar, because it was going to take all of her skill to mislead the Princess, and if Leia wasn’t convinced, she would probably figure it out eventually simply to satisfy the nagging feeling. Athara needed to banish that feeling.
“I don’t believe so. I highly doubt our paths have ever crossed, your Highness.” Leia considered her for a moment, a distant look on her face.
“There is something—familiar about you.” Athara was about to speak when Luke cut in.
“She’s been running supplies for the Alliance for over a year now, you must have seen her at some point.” After a moment, the Princess nodded slowly, resignation flitting across her features.
“Perhaps. You all had better go.” She whirled on Solo, a threatening finger pointed directly at his nose. He flinched visibly, earning a slight smirk from the Princess. “I expect word that you’ve made contact with the Nubian Underground Movement. That’s an order from the General, not from me, so you had better not skip contacting them.” She effectively ended the discussion by thrusting a datapad against Solo’s chest, leaving him to catch it awkwardly. The Captain looked like he could’ve growled at her. Giving Luke a quick hug, the Princess left the three of them, heading off to the other side of the command centre. Han shook his head, his eyes never leaving the Princess.
“Can you believe her?” He muttered to himself. This time Luke was the one to roll his eyes, beating Athara to it. She nearly chuckled as the smuggler turned, catching sight of Luke’s exasperated expression. “What?” Luke sighed, ignoring the Captain’s annoyed tone.
“Come on,” he said with a trace of impatience. Gesturing for Athara to follow him, he headed toward the Landing Bays, not bothering to check that Han was following them. The Smuggler was close behind, though, easily catching up to the pair of them with his long strides.
“So, Captain Tamara. Luke said you’re coming with us.”
“So it would seem. I kind of got dragged along,” Athara quipped. Luke shot her an exasperated look.
“I did not drag you along,” he said. Athara grinned.
“Alright, I agreed to come. I’m a fair negotiator when it comes to dealers, plus I have—personal reasons.” The two men turned at her hesitation. Luke paused, leveling a questioning look at his tutor.
“Personal reasons?” Athara met his gaze.
“Yeah. I have—family on Nubia,” she said, attempting to say it lightly. It sort of worked. The young pilot’s eyebrow’s rose at her revelation.
“You never told me that.”
“Never came up.” A slightly suspicious looks crossed his face. Han broke the silence, placing an arm around each of them.
“Well, we’re on a bit of a tight schedule, shall we?” They continued to the Landing Bay. Athara didn’t have to be told which ship they were headed to; she recognized the freighter easily, and not just because she had once seen it in the hanger of the Death Star….
“So, that is the famous Millennium Falcon,” she could practically feel Han’s ego growing as she surveyed the ship, “supposedly the ‘Fastest Hunk of Junk in the Galaxy’,” and she could almost feel it deflate. She tried to suppress a smile as Solo scoffed.
“Supposedly? Have you even heard of the Kessel run?” The three of them boarded the ship, meeting up with Han’s co-pilot, Chewbacca, and Luke’s astrodroid before settling in to prepare for take-off.
Athara usually found that rumour didn’t often live up to fact, but in the case of the Falcon, the rumours were indeed true. She was fast, especially at lightspeed. It didn’t take long at all before they were well on the way to Nubia. As soon as the ship was hurtling through hyperspace, Athara stood, leaving the cockpit for the common area. Sliding behind the Game Table, she pulled her legs up in front her, leaning her chin on her knees.
It was there that Luke found her. Sliding in beside her, he leaned on the table. Athara didn’t move a muscle. It was several long moments before either of them spoke, but eventually, it was Athara who broke the silence, her voice quiet amid the constant thrum of the ship.
“It’s been a very long time since I’ve been back. I’ve been meaning to go to Nubia for a while now, but I’ve never convinced myself to go.” Luke watched her quietly, fingers drumming on the table.
“At least you still have family,” he finally replied, a somber tone to his voice. Athara looked over at him a faint smile on her face.
“They aren’t really my family. My parents are dead. The Jengals took care of me until—well,” she hesitated. She didn’t know how to say what came next right now. Darth Vader came and took her back, training her as his apprentice? That might not give the right impression. She didn’t know what to tell him. She hated lying to the blue-eyed rebel. He was so open and honest that guilt gnawed at her when she even considered it. Lying to the Princess or Reem or even Madal didn’t prompt the same reaction that lying to Luke did.
“Do you want some company?” Athara smiled, looking over at him.
“No. This is something I must do alone. Besides, you and Han need to make contact with the Nubian Underground Resistance. I’d only get in the way for that.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right.” In a moment of spontaneity, Luke reached over and took her hand. The gesture startled Athara, but she managed to keep it mostly to herself. Luke didn’t seem to notice. “You’ll do fine. I’m sure they’ll be happy to see you.” Athara nearly scoffed.
“I’m not sure how pleased they’ll be with my—chosen profession.” He laughed at her sarcasm. He didn’t know the half of it.
“You’re probably right about that.” He thought for a moment before shrugging, “just don’t tell them.”
“You mean lie.” He shrugged again. Before he could say anything though, Han and Chewbacca emerged from the cockpit. Luke pulled his hand away the instant he heard the cocky smuggler approach, leaving Athara with a brief surge of disappointment that surprised her more than the initial gesture.
“Well, we are well on the way to Nubia. Should be a fun trip.” Solo looked at them in turn before letting his gaze linger on Athara.
“You thought I’d be older?” Athara couldn’t resist baiting the smuggler, and he predictably rose to the occasion.
“Come on, of course. You’re still practically a kid. Only an pirate with years of experience could take on a Black Sun ship.” She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Oh really.” Solo hesitated a moment as the wookiee beside him huffed in amusement. Athara lowered her legs, leaning forward to level a measuring look at the Falcon’s Captain. “Well, it seems we are both to be disappointed…I thought you’d be younger.” A brief flare of irritation flickered in his eyes.
“Well, with age comes experience.” He was slick, but Athara could barely keep from laughing.
“Ah, but you don’t need to be old to be experienced.” He leaned back in his seat, an expression of mock outrage on his face.
“I am not old.”
“That’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?” Han gaped, “You’re what thirty-something? Forty?” Luke choked.
“I am not!” Han was starting to sound petulant again. Chewbacca and Luke were trying desperately not to laugh. She slid out from behind the table, leaning against it without breaking eye contact. “Since you’re so caught up on my age, how old do you think I am?” Han held her grey-blue gaze, staring at her critically. After a moment his crooked smile returned as he leaned back, folding his hands behind his head.
“Twenty-three.” Athara let loose a laugh. Han’s slick smile faded.
“You’re off a bit. Four years too many, actually.” Han leaned forward, his skepticism easy to see.
“You’re nineteen?” Athara looked at him smugly. After a moment the disbelief disappeared to be replaced with an impressed look.
“You are good.” Luke let loose an outraged exclamation.
“Hey, I was that old when I blew up the Death Star.” Han shrugged.
“No offence, Kid, but it’s a little harder to make a go at smuggling and pirating than taking a lucky shot.” Luke looked like he was going to start pouting any moment. Athara just smiled sweetly.
“Be nice, Captain. If he’d had the opportunity, I’d be willing to bet he’d kick your cocky butt, especially at flying this hunk of junk.” The impressed look vanished. Athara grinned, returning to her seat beside Luke. Chewbacca made a snarky comment about taking a bet like that, ignoring the cutting glare that Han shot him.