Luke Skywalker looked out at the picture of pain and misery through the command center's viewport. He had seen devastation before. Not like this. Most of the destruction he had seen in his years were caused by the living. He had seen X-Wings and TIE fighters blow up and disappear into space, reducing it's parts and their pilots to particles of dust floating in the vacuum. He had never actually seen a whole planet become obliterated by super laser fire, but he did fly through the asteroid field that was the remains of Alderaan. That kind of destruction was immediate. The victims did not have enough time to even think about their own demise. Luke often wondered whether it was better to face death within seconds of knowing it was coming, or to suffer the knowledge over several days underneath rock and mud.
Yes, the destruction on Bothawui was different.
It was natural. There were no laser blasts that caused it. There were no political ulterior motives among the Bothan spy network. This was purely nature acting on its own.
Luke had been to Lktim before. It was one of the places he considered for his Jedi Academy years ago. The terrain of forest, river beds, and mountains would have been perfect for his students. It was the politics of the community that prevented Luke from choosing the site. It was always politics on Bothawui. What will politics do for the Bothans now? He could no longer recognize the buildings in Lktim Square, including the huge domed Capital building. The landslide had buried most of the city. Lktim was no longer a city. It was a wasteland of mud and rock.
How many lives were buried under there? Countless.
Luke turned away on purpose. If he spent any more time watching the spectacle he would surely not be able to hold his emotions in.
And why should I hold them in? There were no more Sith Lords to hide them from. Luke considered that he had grown too accustomed to holding his emotions in over the years. Yet, this catastrophe made his emotions hover above the surface somehow. The spectacle was eerily familiar. Luke just couldn't understand why.
The door to the command center swished open and in walked his sister, Leia. Following her was Han and Chewbacca. Luke went to her immediately, noticing her tear-stained cheeks moments before they hugged.
"This is so devastating," she sobbed.
"I know. How are you holding up?"
Leia sniffed as she faced her brother. "Not well. This is tragedy on such a grand scale that I'm speechless."
Luke nodded and turned to Han. "Any word on the latest numbers?"
Han blew out a long breath and replied, "Latest figures are in the hundreds of thousands. Maybe five-hundred thousand. Maybe more."
Luke said, "Maybe we'll find survivors."
Han scoffed. "Kid, you haven't been down there, yet. It's a wall of rock and mud that's several kilos long. Rescue attempts are going to change to recovery missions pretty quick. There's dead bodies everywhere. And not just Bothans. There was a human outpost in Lktim ever since the Empire left it. I can't even imagine if this happened on Drev'starn's side of the mountains."
"How is Fey'lya doing?"
"How do you think, Luke?" snapped Leia. "He's beside himself."
"Does he still have family here?"
Leia nodded. "A cousin in his own clan. There's no word. Yet."
"We'll find them," said Luke, only half believing his own words.
Han gave a grim reply. "Odds aren't good, kid."
Luke eyed the ex-smuggler. "I thought you didn't like hearing the odds."
Han gave his famous crooked smile. "That's only for piloting stunts. I always beat those odds."
Chewbacca started a few grunts and roars.
Han added, "Of course, that's with your help, buddy. We both beat those odds together." He looked out at the scene in the viewport. "The odds of surviving that are not good."
Luke pleaded, "But I can still feel them, Han. In the Force."
"How do we get to them, kid? We can't blast our way through to them. That would kill them."
The Wookie yelped a series of barks and growls that sounded like a question.
Han replied to him, "That's an idea, Chewie, but excavation would take too long."
Luke cut in to say, "That may be our only answer, Han."
"By the time we dig through under all that mess, kid, the survivors would be dead from lack of food and water."
"Maybe not for some. They might be trapped."
"It may be too late, kid."
"We won't know that until we try and find out, will we?"
The sound of the doors opening again interrupted Luke and Han's argument. Coming inside the command center were two Bothans. One was Chief Of State Borsk Fey'lya and the other was dressed in a white lab uniform. Fey'lya walked over to the viewport and greeted no one as he was uncharacteristically silent. The Bothan in uniform approached Luke and addressed him.
He spoke in fairly well Basic. "You must be Jedi Master Luke Skywalker."
"I was told you would be up here. I am Science Officer Pel'aya. I am in charge of the rescue effort. I must say it is an honor to meet all of you."
"How is the rescue going so far?" Leia asked.
"We have already found survivors. In truth, they found us."
"How's that?" asked Luke.
"On the far edge of the landslide we found a few survivors coming out of the rocks and mud. They spent hours digging their way through from the Capital building. The dome collapsed from the weight of the rock but not fully. It created a pocket of space that allowed many Bothans to survive once the landslide hit."
Han gasped, "And they've been under that since it happened?"
Pel'aya nodded. "Apparently so."
Leia calculated and exclaimed, "That's over three of your days without food or water."
"Yes, many are dehydrated and there are injuries, but they're alive. There's more survivors inside the Capital who are being helped out as we speak. We think there may be others along the way trapped inside other buildings."
Leia stated, "It's a credit to your race that they had the endurance to stay alive."
"Yes, I am very proud of that."
Chewbacca yelped a comment.
Han chuckled. "No, I don't think the Bothans have any Wookie blood in them, Chewie."
Pel'aya remarked, "No Wookie blood that I know of, but I'll take that as a compliment."
Luke changed the subject to one that Pel'aya was more comfortable with. "Any ideas on how this could have happened?"
Pel'aya let out a breath through his large jaws and stated with confidence, "There are indications that the heavy rains they've been having on this side of the Kurual'grast Mountains were a contributing factor. They have had landslides before but nothing of this magnitude. Preliminary reports speculate that the lack of lidium on this side of the Kurual'grast combined with the heavy rains could have triggered–"
"You're going to blame the miners for this tragedy?" boomed the voice of Fey'lya. He spoke so suddenly that Pel'aya jumped.
"No, sir. I didn't mean to indicate it was their fault directly."
"Directly? You mean it's their fault by accident? Remember, Officer Pel'aya, I was in charge of mining at that end of the mountains at one time. I hope you're not implying my involvement in this tragedy."
"No! Sir, no. That's not what I meant."
"Then what did you mean?"
"I only meant that the lidium had been depleted on this side of the Kurual'grast. On Drev'starn's side, many kilometers away, the amount of lidium is more rich."
"And?" Fey'lya demanded.
"Well, the sedimentary rock without lidium can't take the pressure of a standard week's worth of heavy rain. Lidium is so dense that it's almost what holds the mountain together."
"Don't play me for a fool, Pel'aya. I was involved in many mining practices when I was here and I've never heard of such an explanation of lidium."
Pel'aya gulped and replied carefully, "Because, sir, we haven't had this much rain in this region in decades. The combination of the rains and the lack of lidium could be the reason for the enormous landslide."
"Because of the mining we did in the days of the Empire," reiterated Fey'lya.
"I haven't proven anything yet, but I would theorize that could be one of the reasons.
"So, we're back to where I started. You are blaming approximately five-hundred thousand Bothan deaths on my own mining practices."
Leia cut in. "That's not what he's saying, Counselor. He's giving his reasons for how this tragedy happened naturally."
"Naturally?" Fey'lya barked. "Yes, of course this was a natural disaster. Do you think that matters to the galaxy?"
Leia sighed heavily as she always did with Fey'lya. "What are you talking about?"
"You haven't heard the gossip on the HoloNet?"
Before she answered, she noticed Han look away. He knew the gossip. And for Han Solo to be silent about gossip meant that it was bad. She replied to Fey'lya, "No, I haven't had the time."
Fey'lya emitted a grunt and said, "They're saying that this is the Bothans' just reward for their involvement in the Caamas destruction. Look at the timing. It's only been two standard months since the Caamas Document was found which proved that Bothans were involved. Bothans were already being judged even before then and now the galaxy knows it for a fact. Don't you realize? This catastrophe was a sign of our penance."
Leia snapped, "That's preposterous, Counselor."
"Is it? Ask your brother, the Great Jedi. Ask him what the Force has to say about the price Bothans had to pay for our mistake. The Force is supposed to bind us together, right Jedi? What if it also balances what it considers good and evil acts."
Luke did not know how to answer Fey'lya's accusation. The Force did not act out against a whole race. Could it? Would the Force send several thousand tons of rock and mud on a city for revenge? A true Jedi did not seek revenge. Did that include the Force itself? Luke wanted to speak about this to Fey'lya. For some reason, he couldn't. As it turned out, he didn't have to. Han beat him to it.
"You're not seriously blaming the Force for all those deaths out there?"
"Why not?" Fey'lya shot back. "The Force was there when Caamas was destroyed. The Force was there when your wife's precious Alderaan was obliterated. Why wouldn't the Force be here when it brought down a mountain on the city of Lktim?"
You're right, Counselor Fey'lya. The Force was present in all of those instances that you mentioned. The difference is that it wasn't the cause of any of them. The Empire instigated the destruction of Caamas. The few Bothans who were involved only gave the Empire the data to do so. And Grand Moff Tarkin chose Alderaan to be the Death Star's first live target. He made that decision independent from the Emperor. And a rare combination of natural events caused this landslide. The Force does bind our galaxy together. It can speak to those who can listen to it. But the Force is not sentient. It's not made up of gods who make decisions on who lives and dies. It doesn't have the sense to seek out revenge. This catastrophe just happened. There was no reason for why it did. It's all according to plan...
That's what Luke wished he could have said to Fey'lya. Instead, he was silent. He didn't know why.
It's all according to plan.
Yet...he did know.
Luke's lack of response played into Fey'lya's hands. "What? No words of wisdom from the great Jedi Master? Did your almighty Force tell you not to answer me?" He sniffed. "And to think I put you in charge of the rescue mission. Some hero you are."
Chewbacca yelled at the same time Han lunged at the Chief of State. "Hey! I know you're upset about your relatives. You can't go on blaming anyone or anything because there is no blame here. What happened here happened. Period. No reason. Part of nature. If you want to direct your anger at anyone, me and my family will be ready." He stood closer to the Bothan and coldly uttered, "But if you ever question Luke Skywalker's heroism in front of me again, I will pull out your fur so fast you won't have time to feel cold."
Chewbacca called out in agreement.
Han gestured a thumb at the Wookie. "And then you'll have him to deal with."
Fey'lya's fur ruffled in anger. "You can bark out all the threats at me that you want, Solo. Just remember that I have the power to send you and your co-pilot away for a long time. Ackbar's detainment was child's play compared to what I can do with you."
Han inched even closer to the Bothan's snout and dared to say, "Try me."
"Stop this! Both of you!" Leia shouted. "We have more important things to do here than a kriffin' pissing contest! It doesn't matter how it happened. What matters is that there are still survivors under that landslide. The longer we keep arguing here, the shorter their lives will be." She turned to her husband and his co-pilot. "Han. Chewie. Go down and help with the rescue mission."
"Go now, Han."
He nodded for Chewie to follow him and they left the room.
Leia glared at Fey'lya. "Can you look into getting more transports here?"
"What for?" the Bothan innocently asked.
She didn't have time to argue with him. "For survivors. If there's that many trapped under the Capital then there may be more elsewhere. We'll need to get them medical supplies as well as food and water."
Fey'lya said grimly, "And who is going to pay for all of that? The New Republic funds are scarce as it is."
It was Leia's turn to come up to Fey'lya's face and growl, "Don't you dare tell me you are going to let your own people die because of the lack of funds. What is one Bothan life worth these days?"
"You know as well as I do that the Senate won't approve funds in time."
"Then find them somewhere else. Ask for donations across the galaxy. Put up a site for an Emergency Bothan Relief fund on the HoloNet."
Fey'lya scoffed. "Most of the galaxy won't hand us money."
"But some will, Counselor. That will still be money we didn't have before. The galaxy may still surprise you. Your cousin may be one of the survivors we save. What would he say if he knew you almost ignored him because you were worried about the money to keep him alive?"
Fey'lya nodded. "You are right, Princess. I will set it up. And I'll see about getting those transports with medical supplies here. I'm sure Drev'starn can spare some."
He hesitated as he started to say, "Leia." She stopped cold to listen seriously because the Bothan had never addressed her so casually before. "I am sorry about my outburst. This disaster is too overwhelming."
Meaning my husband was right, she wanted to translate. But Borsk Fey'lya would never fully admit his mistakes. Yet, it was something even if he merely implied his guilt. She looked back at her brother who was once again staring out at the spectacle. She went back to face Fey'lya. "That's understandable, Counselor. It's just that I'm not the one you should apologize to."
She caught his faint regret along with his quick glance at Luke before he said, "I know. I should get going." He turned and left the room.
She addressed Pel'aya. "I want you to be honest. I don't judge like some do. Is excavation the only way we can get to those survivors?"
Pel'aya slowly nodded. "It's the safest method to remove the rock and mud. Although, I do suggest we use water to hose it down. It will soften the mud and we can wash it away. All we'll need is some heavy duty pumps. I don't know how we'd be able to remove the larger pieces of rock."
"I can get some of the Jedi to help out there. We know the Force didn't cause this but we sure can use it to our advantage. Can you see about getting those pumps?"
"Yes, of course." He paused and said, "Thank you for being here, Leia Organa Solo. I know it was your choice to come here after this tragedy."
"It wasn't a question of choice, Pel'aya. I had to come. The actions of a few Bothans are not enough for me to ignore the lives of other Bothans. Don't forget that if it were not for another group of Bothans, the Empire would still be in power today. And I seriously doubt you would be getting the same help here if they were in charge."
Pel'aya grinned so widely that he bared his teeth and said, "I'll get those pumps and hoses in here at once. Thank you again." He nodded his farewell and turned to leave.
Brother and sister were left alone in the room.
She walked up from behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. He just kept staring out of the viewport. "Are you all right? It's not like you to stay silent when someone questions the Force."
"I don't know what happened. I wanted to answer him. I wanted to defend the Force. Something stopped me."
"You froze up. It happens to the best of us. Even me sometimes. Guess that proves you're human after all."
"I've never claimed to be anything else."
"Some may have."
Luke blew out a long breath. "What if Han is right? What if we can't find survivors down there?"
"Of all the people you can listen to and you are going to choose the cynical Han Solo? You heard Pel'aya. There's a good chance there are more Bothans under that Capital building and maybe other buildings. There's always hope. You taught me that, brother."
"Yes, I know. This time, I think hope is too much to ask for."
Leia smiled and whispered in his ear, "Do you know what you need to do right now?"
"Go find your fiancee."