Part 3 of my Star Wars crossover for Stories. This takes place several years after chapter two, after the destruction of the first Death Star. As Astrid struggles to find her purpose in a Galaxy gone mad, she finds herself captured by the increasingly desperate Rebel Alliance. Who she finds with them is the last person she expects too, and the realization leaves her whole universe in shambles.
A long Time Ago, in a Galaxy far, far away…
Haidoral was a miserable world. The people were angry, the weather was horrible and the food was almost inedible. SF2187 had spent three months here with her platoon, dispatched from Coruscant to reinforce the Mid Rim. She hated it here, hated the constant fighting with the Rebels, hated the arrogance of her commanders and hated being away from the arms of her lover. She had seen enough action on the Perilous to last a life time, she had no desire to fall into conflict again. Maybe that made her lazy or undedicated, maybe she didn't care? All Astrid really knew, was that she hated Haidoral Prime.
The destruction of the Death Star had been a major turning point for both the Empire and the Rebellion. Most of the senior command staff had been aboard the battle station when it had been destroyed. The entire infrastructure of the Empire had been irrevocably altered. New leaders had to be promoted long before they were ready to fill the vacuum…leading to Commanders like Lieutenant Pruitt.
If there was one thing in all the Galaxy that Astrid hated more than Haidoral Prime it was Lieutenant Pruitt. He was younger than Astrid by almost two years and had the most entitled sense of superiority she had ever experienced in a higher life form. He had virtually no experience, had no sense of tactics and the word "strategy" probably hit him like a tone of Bantha shit. When he spoke it sounded oily and whining, quick to make excuses and blame everyone and everything for his own failings. Pruitt was of average height with a thin build and greasy, slicked back blond hair. A weak jaw and a long, hooked nose gave him the distinct semblance a rodent, something small and spineless and weak that cowered in the dark underground. He was insufferable…and in charge.
"The Rebels have been sighted in the ruined buildings of the Eastern Block. You men are to go and deal with them, take them alive if possible. If not," he shrugged, "just as good."
Astrid was glad for the helmet, she had just automatically and quiet without her consent, rolled her eyes at her commander. He had not actually given them any orders, not even given them a battle plan. Pruitt had just pointed his toys at the enemy and told them to 'go.' It was going to get loyal Stormtroopers killed, and he didn't seem to care. If only Lord Vader were here.
"Well, what are you waiting for? Go!" The platoon about faced and marched off towards the staging area, not a word spoken in objection. Just like they had been trained.
The engagement was less of a battle and more of a bar room brawl. The tired, fatigued and undermanned Twilight Company was using every dirty trick in the book to hammer the fresh by comparison Stormtroopers into the dirt. With no real battle plan and ineffectual leadership, the white armored troopers were dropping like Womp Rats on Tattooine under the hail of blaster fire from the Gorilla fighters.
Stormtroopers were not one to give up easily, however, and were throwing the full might of Imperial munitions right back at the entrenched and well covered Twilight Company commandos. Thermal detonators, shoulder mounted rocket launchers, heavy blaster cannons and more were used to level the ruined buildings, often times bringing them down right on top of the Rebel commandoes hiding in the hollowed out husks.
It was chaos, with no real battle lines and no way to stay with the platoon. A single, devastating strike from Twilight Company shattered the ranks of the Stormtrooper platoon and sent the troopers scattering in small groups to avoid heavy fire from the roof tops. SF2187 found herself alone and pinned down in a shallow crater by what felt like a full squad of Twilight veterans. Astrid could hardly lift her head over the rim of the impact crater to get a bead on where the fire was coming from, let alone shoot back. She was trapped, crimson death raining down around her, exploding pebbles and debris into charred ashes.
The Rebels would have to reload some time, and there was too much fire coming down on her for them to overlap their volleys, at least she hoped. As predicted, there was a lull in the fire and Astrid did not hesitate. With coiled muscles she launched herself forward, firing blindly in the general direction of the incoming blaster bolts. She was rewarded with the audible grunt of a Commando being struck in the chest by a skillfully placed, or at least lucky, shot.
Her legs churned over the rubble, propelling her toward a fallen building where she could take shelter and return fire with more cover. She was a scant four steps away when an errant blaster bolt caught her on the left shoulder and sent her sprawling to her right. She cried out in pain as the molten plasma ate through her armor and seared the flesh underneath. If she hadn't been wearing the plastic composite armor, the bolt would have severed her arm from her shoulder.
Astrid vaguely remembered falling, the force of the energy bolt impacting her armor lifted her off of her feet and pushed her to her right a full 3 meters before she hit the ground. She rolled, totally out of control, down a steep incline of what appeared to be the remnants of a building face into a deep crater. She remembered rolling end over end…but had no memory of reaching the bottom.
Astrid couldn't move. Her breath was loud in her ears, pulse strong and steady if the throbbing in her temples was any indication. Her whole body screamed in pain, it felt like every joint, every muscle, every bone had suffered some kind of damage. Ironically, it was the searing, throbbing flesh of her shoulder wound that allowed her to focus. The blaster injury acted as a single, painful nexus, allowing her to bring the rest of the universe into clarity.
Slowly, painfully, Astrid managed to open her eyes. She was still wearing her helmet, but her wrists were bound behind her back, her legs likewise secured at the ankles. She heard muffled voices talking lowly nearby, but couldn't make out the words through the ruined speakers of her helmet. It must have been damaged in the fall, she could hardly hear or see anything, serving both as an effective blindfold and gag.
"Let's just shoot him and move on" said a voice close by. Too close.
"What's the point, the Empire would just put two more on the line. We're better off interrogating him to see what he knows. We can always shoot him later."
They were talking about her, at least as far as she guessed. Astrid strained against her bonds but whatever the commandoes had used to shackle her wrists and ankles with was solid and inflexible. She would not be able to break them nor would she be wiggling free. With a sharp jerk to her chin, her helmet was pulled from her skull, letting her mess of blonde hair tumble down around her face. Torn from the tight braid she had kept it in, her hair hung loose and blood streaked around her angular face.
Apparently she had hit her head in the fall, if the dried and coagulated blond on her face and in her hair was an indication. Like white hot daggers, the bright light of an interrogation lamp stabbed into her eyes, temporarily blinding her behind a wall of bright, white light.
"Oh, a woman. Oh and she's a pretty one" said a gruff, ragged voice. She didn't like the sneer in it. Blinking, trying to clear her vision of the blinding white light, she looked at her captors but saw only black outlines in the white light. She squinted, trying to shield her one good eye from the intense glare, but failed. Two men stood before her, though she couldn't make out their features through the interrogation lamp. One was tall and skinny, the other short, stocky and brutish.
The short man whistled, "Whew, look at that scar. Seems the pretty Bucket Head has seen a little action." He leaned in close to her face to look at her destroyed eye and Astrid considered lashing out with her teeth to try and tear out his throat. It was a tempting idea, but she rejected it and just spat in his face when he got too close.
The man grunted and drew back then struck her, hard, across the chin. Astrid just smirked and spat out a glob of blood from her split lip. The short man growled and drew his hand back again but the strike never came. The second man, who had been quiet so far, turned the blinding light away to reveal their features.
And Astrid's universe crumbled into ashes.
Her whole body was numb. After hours of interrogation, after hours of staring into his face, after hours of the truth staring back into her eyes, she still couldn't accept it. Hiccup was a Rebel. Had always been a Rebel. He had tricked her from the moment they had met all those years ago and she had fallen for it so totally that he had even said it to her face, and she hadn't believed him. By all the stars in the all the skies across the whole Empire, she had shared a bed with him! Frequently!
And she had been utterly blind to the truth of it all. Was she a traitor now, had she somehow accidently given him secret information that had led to the deaths of hundreds, thousands, of her fellow imperials?
That gave her pause. Exactly how many of the atrocities she had seen on the Holonet had been directly because of her? Because of a mumbled word in her sleep or quiet stories told in the dark on soft pillows? And beneath it all the raw, cutting realization that Hiccup had used her. Used her body for sex, her mind for secrets and her grief for leverage. It made her stomach lurch and her skin crawl.
She had enjoyed letting that monster touch her.
After her interrogation, she had been thrown into a dark, wet cell. Where, exactly, she didn't really know. Judging by the metal floors and wall she guessed it was the hold of a small ship, maybe a Rebel transport or shuttle. Not that it really mattered, Astrid had no real desire to escape. Of course, she had no real desire to stay either. In fact, she had no real desire to do anything at all anymore. So she just sat in the dark, and waited.
Her mind wandered, questioning how it had all come to this, where it had all gone wrong, why these people hated the Empire so much. How they could justify killing thousands of Imperials at a time and rejoice in the slaughter?
As a soldier Astrid had done some hard things, things that no moral person would ever choose to do. But it had been for the greater good and she had never been okay with it. Besides, the Empire brought order, stability, and law to the galaxy. Its people were safe, secure. Its shipping lanes and worlds protected by naval might the galaxy had never seen before. So why? Why did so many hate them so much? Hate them enough to target them off duty, to bomb the businesses of their families, gun them down in the street, and blow up their crew transports and murderer noncombatant engineers. Brilliant young people, murdered just for doing their jobs.
Remembering Heather was difficult. The two hadn't really been friends. They had shared a single meal once, chatted and made small talk. Astrid barely even knew anything about her, had to dig into the records to find her family. No parents, just an estranged brother she had never been able to track down. The poor girl hadn't had anyone to morn for her, so Astrid had done all the morning instead. And yet, even though she had barely known her, every time she closed her eyes all Astrid could see was the vacant, terrified stare of Heather's sightless eyes looking up at her. Her face frozen, staring in horror and confusion at her murderer.
Astrid had heard that every member of the terrorist team that had attacked the Perilous had died either that day or in the days after. That Darth Vader himself had executed those directly responsible for the destruction of his ship. But that brought Astrid little comfort. Killing the terrorists, as just as it was, wouldn't bring all those people back.
Astrid was a solder, she had signed up to fight and to probably die for the Empire. It had been her duty and something she had been proud to commit to, still was. Heather hadn't. She'd wanted to be an engineer, to use her mind to solve problems instead of blasters. Oh sure, every space posting held inherent danger, and a posting on a warship always brought the threat of death. But to be gunned down on your own ship, a fortress in its own right? Heather hadn't asked for that, hadn't wanted that. And the worst part of it all was, the poor girl hadn't hurt a fly. The Rebels hadn't cared. Guilty by association. In their eyes all Imperials were the enemy, all Imperials were evil, and they were all fair game.
The door to her cell slid open, casting blinding light across the trooper's good eye. She squinted into the glare as a person stepped in. When the door slid shut she scowled at her visitor, all auburn hair and blazing green eyes. Astrid cursed herself, even now he was gorgeous. Silence passed between them for an uncomfortably long time and when it was apparent that her one time lover was too cowardly to speak, she decided to start the conversation.
"You'll have to excuse me if I'm not so quick to spread my legs for you this time, Commander." The rank dripped from her tongue like acid. She saw him wince and smirked, content with the scored blow. He didn't say anything, just stood there looking awkward. "So, come to gloat? Or just stand there looking weak and pathetic?"
"I wanted to make sure they weren't mistreating you," he said in a quiet, even tone. Astrid scoffed.
"Well I haven't had two put in the back of my head, yet. So I guess I can't complain."
He frowned at her again, hurt. Hurt! As if he had any right to be hurt after what he had done to her! He was smart enough to keep his mouth shut, at least for a while.
"Are they feeding you enough, giving you water?" he asked. She snarled at him in the dark.
"Just stop." She spat, teeth bared. "Stop pretending that you care, that you ever cared. It was dumb luck that I got stuck in here. You would have been happy to gun me down like a dog in the street before your friend took my helmet." His eyes caught fire at her accusation and he surged forward, pressing his face against the bars of her cell.
"And what about you?" he spat back, finally angry. Good. "If you had known who I was from the start you would have gutted me on the spot!"
"You're damned right I would have" she shot back, letting her own anger loose. "I would have ripped your bleeding heart out with my bare hands and made you eat it! And you know what? I would have been a hero for it. The Galaxy would have been better off with one less Rebel degenerate in it!"
"If I'm such a monster than what the hell does that make you?" he roared back. "You're Empire enslaves thousands so they might strip their own worlds bare, then leaves them with nothing but scrapped rock to call home. The Empire annihilated an entire planet, Astrid! A peaceful world filled with artists and philosophers and philanthropists." His voice was growing shrill and she wondered if maybe he had had friends or family on Alderaan when the Empire destroyed it. "The Empire slaughtered millions of innocent people, Astrid! And for what? To make a statement? To show the rest of the Galaxy that it could? Do you honestly not see how sick that is?"
Astrid had never agreed with the destruction of Alderaan, but she had faith in her Empire's motives and tactics. The reasoning was sound, destroy one world to keep a thousand from rising against the empire. Kill a million people here to keep a billion people there alive. Cold, hard math that just made sense, no matter how hard it was.
"The Empire does what it needs to do" she defended coolly. "To insure peace, and safety." She felt her chest tighten at unwanted memories, her left eye burning with tears that her right could never again produce. "To keep the pirate filth and slavers at bay. To insure that another Separatist Confederation never threatens the Galaxy's citizens ever again. To make sure that no little girl, ever, has to wonder why her parent's didn't come home!"
Her voice was harsh, rasping and wet, filled with the emotion of a ruined childhood. Of a small girl ripped mercilessly from the arms of her mother by the cold, heartless hands of a battle droid. Of a small child that had to watch her home burn because the government that was supposed to protect her, had failed.
"Don't you understand Astrid?" He asked, almost pleading with her, begging her to see it from his point of view. "The Empire has done the same thing to countless other beings all across the Galaxy."
Astrid had the dignity to not deny that, to falsely claim he lied. She knew, knew what the Empire had done. Hell, she had stood right alongside them and helped. She was a patriot, not a fool. She sniffed harshly, regaining control of herself and her emotions.
"Are we done?" she asked, curling up into a ball.
"Yes Astrid" he said with a heavy sigh. "We're done." He left the cell, left her to sit there in the dark. Yes, they were done. Finally, after almost four years, they were finally done. And she hated that it hurt, so, much.
Well, that took entirely too long to get out didn't it. Sorry for the wait. You'll be happy to know you'll all not have to wait anymore, I am giving up writing. I don't have the time or inclination to do it anymore.