CRUISER WRECKAGE; YAVIN 4
Zak was on his feet later in the day. His arm hurt a little less, and actually felt less stiff. He didn’t know if he was imagining it or if his phantom keeper had provided him with some kind of medical treatment when he wasn’t conscious. Whatever it was, he was thankful for it.
He hadn’t sensed the stranger’s presence nearby for the past couple of hours. Knowing full well that it could simply be because his Force senses were still majorly underdeveloped, he assumed that the strange entity was either at the far end of what he had recently learned was a very large, very ruined cruiser, or they were out in the jungle again looking for food or supplies or checking the perimeter.
Whoever it was that he had chased through the jungle last night, whoever his keeper was, they were most likely the same person. Of that he felt supremely certain. They were definitely human, but with his limited skill with the Force thus far, he couldn’t tell if they were male or female, young or old, friend or foe. All he knew was that he had chased them, had gotten hurt, and that they had brought him here and treated his arm as best they could.
How could he argue with that? It seemed like a friendly thing to do. But an enemy could do it as well if they intended to attempt to extract information out of him at some point.
It wasn’t like he had anything of value to tell them, though.
Since the other’s departure in the later hours of the morning, Zak had amused himself with a brief tour of the ship. While he couldn’t access any of the systems on the bridge without a toolset and a small portable generator to power them, he did work out three things himself.
Firstly, he was on a ship that had once belonged to the Rebel Alliance. He recognised its interior layout from schematics he had been provided by Luke Skywalker. That and he came across a storage locker with several fighter pilot flight suits with the insignia of the Rebel Alliance printed upon the helmets, not the New Republic standard which he had grown familiar with aboard Calrissian’s GemDiver station.
Secondly, there hadn’t been much in the way of a crew aboard. Most of the quarters—on decks he could access—had been converted into sensor or communications stations. Their exact purpose, without the aid of the ship’s logs, eluded him. The medical bay was completely destroyed and like most of the ship was most likely grown in with vines and fungi from the jungle.
Thirdly, they had been boarded.
After almost an hour of prying at the blast doors separating it from the rest of the deck it was on, Zak had gained access to the primary hangar to find a couple of dismantled unlaunched X-wing snubfighters, a destroyed rebel transport ship, an Imperial Sentinel-class assault transport and a decimated Lambda-class shuttle on the far side. The deck had been strewn with the bodies of what Zak could only guess by their uniforms had been the Rebel crew trying to fight off the boarding party, and failing—their corpses forgotten and decayed in the decades since.
There was evidence of the stormtroopers all over. He found a small group of three, only recognisable by the armour covering their skeletons, outside the infirmary, and another group of about seven nearer to the operations centre near the middle of the ship.
Systems around the ship had been gutted to worthlessness, some shorted or singed by blaster fire from either the troopers as sabotage or the Rebels defending their ships with poor aim.
The only consolation Zak got from the knowledge that the Imperials boarded the ship was that few, if any, of them made it off. He couldn’t be sure of the carrying limit of a Sentinel but the Lambda was limited to twenty passengers and he had found roughly forty bodies amongst the ruins.
But for all of that, he still could not find a way back out into the jungle.
He wanted to get back to the academy. He wanted to let Tash know he was alright. He knew she would have discovered his disappearance by now, and knew further that she wouldn’t stop until she found him.
It had become a habit on the run.
Now back on the bridge of the ship, he stood in front of the forward-most control boards, gazing out through the muck covered viewing port at the jungle.
When the ship had crashed, it had slammed into a thick growth of Massassi trees, some of which had cracked and splintered under the impact and fallen upon the hull.
Others were still standing upright, but the extent of any damage they had received from the impact was unseen from where Zak was standing. He would have to get to the jungle floor to inspect them. But until he found a way down there, there was nothing he could do for now.
Movement suddenly caught his eye and he looked down through the viewport corner to see a rustling in the undergrowth; something moving towards the ship. For a fleeting moment, he allowed himself to believe that Tash, and possibly Luke, had found him and were rescuing him.
As he watched, someone stepped out of the underbrush, a large, leather sack tied off with rope at the neck and gripped tightly in the approaching person’s right hand.
His keeper was a woman; a young woman. He couldn’t make out many features through the muck on the outside of the viewport but from what he could see—the long, dark hair, the distinctly feminine figure and gait—it was clearly a woman.
She turned her head upward to look at him before looking back down and disappearing out of sight.
The strange woman entered the bridge from somewhere behind Zak a couple of minutes later, the sack hanging over her shoulder now. She swung the bundle off her shoulder and dumped it on the deck next to her feet.
Zak turned to face her.
She couldn’t be much older than he was, with dirty blonde hair—actually dirty, now that he was close enough to notice it, not brown—and green eyes shining like gems from behind the dirt and muck on her face. She was wearing what looked like the remains of a once-orange flight uniform that could have belonged to a member of the ship’s original crew. Her fingernails had either been bitten back to the quick or broken off and bleeding as if some of the damage was recent. Her green eyes looked at him wildly, both curious and confused by him.
“Hello?” Zak said carefully. He had to take the chance that this woman, whoever she was, was friendly. Perhaps she would even let him go back to the academy now that he was up and moving around on his own.
She jumped in fright, but did not shy away from him as he took a step towards her. She did, however, whip a blaster pistol from the sack on the floor and brought it to bear on his chest.
Instantly, he stopped, and frowned. Even if she was friendly, he’d had enough blasters pointed at him over the years. He contained the anger that threatened to bubble over inside him, and reminded himself that the stranger was probably just defending herself from what she perceived as a threat.
“I won’t hurt you,” he said, throwing his good hand up in surrender. She blinked and jerked the gun to the left, not saying a word. He followed the hint and sidestepped the control board. She jerked the gun tip down and Zak sat down on the floor without further insistence.
“Who are you?” he asked her.
Making sounds? Why are you making sounds? Zak heard the words in his mind. He frowned again, confused. To the best of his knowledge, the two of them were alone in here. There was no need to be silent, so why would she not reply to him in words? What are words?
No more sounds!
Zak shrugged, defeated. He knew that with his pitiful Force abilities he might not be able to communicate with her using just his mind. He considered the possibility that perhaps she could read his thoughts anyway.
Words are sounds; he thought, hoping that she would sense his intent and trying to find the best way to word his explanation. Most people communicate using words. There aren’t many people who can think a conversation to someone else.
Waste of time. Ineffectual. Waste of time.
Maybe, but not everyone can do what we are doing now, Zak said. He could feel the strain of maintaining the telepathy, and decided to try his luck again. “Do you understand me?”
The girl’s eyes went wide with disapproval, but she nodded in reply, never lowering the blaster. “Then let me speak instead of think. I’m … not too skilled with the Force, so I can’t really maintain a telepathic connection. I’m still getting used to the fact that I have abilities beyond what other people have. I’m used to communicating in words.”
Very well. Who are you?
“I asked first,” Zak replied challengingly.
I have a weapon, she replied, jabbing the blaster in his direction to punctuate her point. Will use.
“My name is Zak,” he said quickly to dissuade her. “Zak Arranda.”
Where do you come from?
Zak hesitated. Was she asking him what planet he had come from, or was she asking how he had come to be in the jungle? He couldn’t tell, and he desperately hoped for the latter. The former wasn’t something he liked to be reminded of.
Found you in the jungle. Where are you from? Ah, so it was the latter.
“The Jedi Praxeum,” Zak said. The girl’s confused expression grew impatient, as if she didn’t understand. “A school,” he clarified. “You were watching me, so I followed you into the jungle.”
Know nothing of any school, the girl replied. First time I saw you was in the jungle, when I found you in the night.
Zak started, stunned for words.
If this girl wasn’t who he had chased into the jungle the previous night, then it was obviously someone else. Who else could it have been though? Were there other people out there living like hermits? Could this girl have friends out there? Could she have enemies?
“People who want to hurt you,” Zak explained.
You! You want to hurt! You came here to hurt. The tone in her thoughts was accusatory, angry, and at the same time scared. I’ve not seen anyone else in jungle until you. You’re an enemy.
So, if she had no friends or enemies, who was it that Zak had chased into the jungle last night—another hermit?
He hoped Tash would hurry up and find him. He could do with some answers. If the academy had sensors, and those sensors had picked him up last night, then they had probably picked up whoever it was he had been chasing. Maybe the sensors had more data on that other person than Zak did.
He sifted through his thoughts from the previous night. He still didn’t remember it all. But bits and pieces had floated to the surface over the course of the day. He remembered dashing into the jungle, and he remembered some parts of the chase through the trees. He still couldn’t remember what had happened to his arm though.
The girl was still watching him carefully, the blaster still aimed at him. It was lower now, but still dangerous. Perhaps she trusted him just that little bit more. Or perhaps she just perceived him as less of a threat than she had earlier.
“My sister will find me,” Zak said, trying not to make it sound like a threat.
“Sis … ter?” the girl responded. She sounded like she had an Alderaanian accent, but Zak considered that it might have been because she had mimicked him saying the word.
“Yes, sister,” Zak said. “A sister is a girl whose mother and father are the same people as my mother and father. Her name is Tash, and she’ll be very upset right now.”
“Why?” The girl nodded vigorously. Zak pitied that she wasn’t very good at verbal speech. “Because I’m not where I’m supposed to be; I’m supposed to be at the … at the school. But I’m here instead. And she doesn’t know that.”
“Because I didn’t expect to be here,” Zak said grimly. A thought occurred to him. “Will you let me go back?”
“Why not?” he asked.
Cannot trust you. You want to hurt me. You’ll bring more hurting here. You’ll bring others to hurt. Cannot …
“No one wants to hurt you,” Zak said, shuffling forward only a fraction. The blaster came back up for a moment before she lowered it again. Zak shuffled forward another fraction. “Honestly. No one here wants to hurt you,” he said. “The school I go to is very nice. Everyone there likes everyone else.”
“Can’t trust who?” Zak implored. “Who can you trust if not a Jedi?”
It was not a question of curiosity, but one of surprise. Zak knew from her response she had heard the word before; mostly by the look in her eyes and the rigidness of her shoulders. She dropped the blaster entirely and Zak lurched forward and shoved it as far away from them as he could.
“See?” he said. “If I wanted to hurt you I could have taken the weapon and used it.”
The look in her face was impatient again, a little bored. It was a look that plainly said “prove it if you can”.
“Je … di,” she said again, struggling to wrap her tongue around the syllables. Zak wondered how long it had been since she had last used spoken language, rather than telepathic. How long had she been alone—how many years? Where were her parents?
“Yes,” Zak said. “The school I go to is for young Jedi to learn. To acquire new skills and abilities.”
Parents often spoke of the Jedi, the girl said. Spoke of one called Skywall.
“I think you mean Skywalker,” Zak said with a small smile.
You know him?
“He’s my teacher. He’s at the school now.”
The girl stopped frantically shifting her eyes all over the place and looked at him—really looked at him—for a moment. And for that moment, it appeared that he was getting through, that he had made her understand that he meant no harm.
But it was only for a moment. Her defences went back up in an instant and she wrapped her arms around her legs and drew them against her chest, rocking slightly on the deck.
“What is your name?” Zak asked her.
“What are you called?” Zak clarified, pressing for information. “What did your parents call you?”
She didn’t answer at first. But she did push herself up and pace back and forth across the deck in front of her, scratching at the back of her hands absently, as if distracted. Could she sense something he could not? Quite possibly. But why would she not tell him, if it was danger that she sensed? Or was she agitated because of his questioning? Zak wished his ability with the Force was refined enough to find out. Tash might have been able to sense it; she’d known a good while longer than he that she could touch the Force.
Rebekah, she responded, not looking at him. Parents called me Rebekah.
Zak watched her intently. She went from scratching at her hands with non-existent nails to tugging at the sleeves of the borrowed uniform. At one point, he thought he saw the flash of a chronometer around her wrist, but doubted that it would work. Every piece of equipment on board was way beyond functionality. Maybe it had some value to her, or perhaps she was just unaware that it wasn’t functioning.
He made to stand up but Rebekah turned and shot him a challenging glare meant to discourage him. Instead, he settled for crossing his legs and turning slightly so that he could lean back against the underside of the control boards.
“How long have you been alone?” he asked.
“How …” she started. Zak’s Force-senses granted him a small favour, and he found that he could sense the feelings coming from her; emotions, a sense of time … a long time. A long time, she replied, echoing his thoughts. Many days … many, many, many days.
“Then all the more reason to come back to the school with me,” Zak pointed out. “You’ll never be alone there. You’ll have friends, and classmates to talk to all the time. And I could help you integrate, if you wanted.”
Too many voices, she said, pressing her hands to the sides of her head, pacing ever still. There are always too many voices. Many more, you ask—many more. Won’t do it. Can’t make me. Can’t hurt me. Stronger than you.
Zak frowned. He resented that last statement, but the truth of the matter was that she was obviously more connected to the Force than he was. It was evident by the fact that she could maintain such communication with him telepathically, whereas he had to resort to verbal speech to communicate with her. He didn’t have the concentration, the discipline, the training.
Her parents had probably recognised her potential years ago and encouraged her to explore it as much as they could. Maybe they had also been Force users; not Jedi in every sense of the word but Force users nonetheless.
Zak had always attributed the luck he, his sister and their uncle had seen during their run from the Empire to just that … just dumb blind luck. They’d faced insurmountable odds time and time again, and yet they’d walked away from most of those experiences unhindered, unscathed, virtually intact. The decisions that they had made had been based on what they thought was instinct at the time.
Tash had been able to read most people like a book. It wasn’t until their trip to Nespis 8 that they had discovered that she had a connection to the Force, the potential to be a Jedi. They’d suspected it for a while, but it hadn’t been for sure until then. Zak had been very jealous of that. She had something he wanted.
But then they had met a Jedi Master from the old order, and he had told them that they both had it. Everything they had been through and escaped had not been due to luck, but due to an innate instinct imbued in all Force-users that many attributed to luck.
Looking back up at the frantic girl, he saw that she was still pacing the deck, still pressing her hands against her temples as if trying to numb some kind of psychic pain.
Zak quietly sprang to his feet and took a couple of steps over to her.
Rebekah stopped, glared at him, threw out her hands in his direction. And before he could stop it or realise what it was she was doing, he flew backwards and slammed into the inactive control boards, losing consciousness again.
When Zak came to, it was dark and Rebekah was squatting next to him, pressing a cool rag against his forehead. He felt bad. His arm was throbbing again, and so was his head this time, and he couldn’t move his legs. He could feel them, though, so that meant he wasn’t paralysed—a good sign.
When Rebekah noticed his eyes open, she took her hand away and scooted back to what she thought was a safe distance. Zak could only manage to look sympathetic for the amount of distrust she had for him.
True, he had shown up in the jungle at or near wherever it was that she was hiding, but he had done her no harm thus far. In fact he hadn’t even tried to harm her.
He replayed his last memory to recall why there was a pain in his back and sighed.
“It’s alright,” Zak said apologetically. “I should have known better than to come at you like that. It won’t happen again, I promise.”
Is there much pain?
Zak chuckled. “Yes, a lot of it,” he said. Even without the Force, he would have seen from her face that another apology was on its way, and he waved his hand at her dismissively before she could voice it. “I said it’s okay,” he insisted. “The pain will fade.”
Rebekah nodded and shuffled forward to remove the cloth from his face. She dipped it into a small, shallow storage container filled with a clear liquid. Zak’s nose recognised it immediately as rain water, fresh off the canopy of the jungle. It hadn’t rained last night, to his waking knowledge, so he assumed that it had later in the morning, or she had a supply somewhere.
Water is good, Rebekah’s thoughts assured him. Cool. Good. Makes your head smaller.
Zak had to stifle a chuckle at the last comment as she wrung the cloth of excess water. She looked at him curiously as he put a hand to his forehead to feel the large lump forming from where his head had caught the corner of the control board. There was a small gash on the lump too. It would need to be treated. He removed his hand and Rebekah replaced it with the cloth.
Be back soon.
“Where are you going?” Zak said, trying to push himself up on one elbow. She shot him a dirty look and he ceased the attempt right away. “Where are you going?” he repeated.
Check outside. Jungle is not safe. You were chasing someone. They must be bad. They hurt you. I can feel others in the jungle, coming to us. Make sure they don’t find us. Not good people. Can’t let them.
Zak tried again to prop himself up and hissed at the fresh surge of pain that shot through his arm and down his spine at the same time. He lay back down again, intent not to repeat the futile gesture another time.
She spoke of two different people; someone he had chased who had hurt him somehow, and someone coming their way. Could the ones coming their way be Luke, or one of the Solos, or Tash? If they were looking for him this far out in the jungle, then the sensors definitely extended out this far, or close enough to have mapped a likely trajectory. And because Rebekah didn’t know them, she would think that they were bad. She had thought he was bad. And despite her attitude to the contrary, Zak sensed that she had reassessed that assumption. After all, in the state he was in, what kind of harm could he bring to her?
“It’s probably the others looking for me,” he groaned. He closed his eyes and focussed on ignoring the dull throb in his back and arm.
Do they know where we are?
“The school has … electronic eyes … that can tell them what’s in the jungle around them. They might have been able to use those to follow us here.” OK, so “electronic eyes” wasn’t really an accurate description of sensors. But he had no idea if she would have understood “sensors” or “scanners”. Zak cracked an eye and looked at her. Her eyes were frantic again, darting all around the bridge.
Zak finally recognised the reason for it. She was assessing dangers, escape routes, access to weapons.
“They won’t hurt you,” he assured her. “They are only looking for me.”
“Because I go to the school. The Jedi don’t leave their friends behind if they can help it. They would want to know what happened to me.”
Must not let them find.
Take me to them, Zak thought to her. She locked her gaze onto his, surprised that he wasthinking and not speaking. Take me to them. In the jungle. They won’t have to know that you are here.
Dangerous. No. Stay here. Rest. I will return soon.
And with that, she was gone.