Wes dragged his eyes open, wincing as fragments of sunlight danced across his face. He was confused for a moment, trying to focus. Tilting his head to one side, out of the dazzling light, he looked straight up and into a ceiling of green.
Branches, covered with an assortment of leaves, swayed gently above him in a slight breeze, the sun glinting through gaps between them from time to time. The blue sky beyond was brilliant, evident even with the dense canopy of trees overhead. Such a peaceful place, tranquil, but there was something more, something wrong.
Oh yeah. Ow.
Wes's shaking hand hovered over his belly. The pain, blossoming into full-flowered agony, was sufficient enough to force a strangled moan from him. He had crashed, hard, on this nameless, rather featureless planet, forced out of hyperspace by a malfunction electrical system. He'd aimed for this nearest planet--not even sure which planet it was--his engines beginning to flare out on him. With little other choice, he'd headed for ground, hoping to make repairs. But even that much hadn't gone as he'd hoped. There hadn't even been time to eject once he'd lost complete control, already far too close to the tree tops. Lucky for him those same trees swaying above him had slowed down his X-wing before it could plow nose first into the ground.
Resilient trees, he thought as his mind wandered a little. Funny how they look so fragile from above, but were strong enough to probably save my life. He chuckled weakly, then cried out as the movement pulled at his wounds.
You may not be dead yet, a miserable voice interrupted in his own mind, but don't bet on making it out of here alive.
"Oh, shut up," Wes wheezed aloud. "You're...as bad...as Hobbie."
He rolled slowly onto this side, grunting, sweat beginning to bead on his forehead and upper lip with just that small effort. Tilting his head downwards a little, he could see the wreckage of his X-wing, only ten or so meters beyond his booted feet. That was the distance he had managed to crawl after pulling himself out of the destroyed cockpit, before he had collapsed in his current location and condition.
From what he had seen, the fighter was a write-off, bent in the middle and wrapped around a huge tree. The wings were either missing or shattered, the fuselage a twisted jumble of metal, electronics hanging out of gaps in the hull and cockpit. A lazy column of smoke drifted into the canopy of green above it.
The craft would obviously never fly again, and certainly would never be able to send out a distress call for someone to come and rescue him--he'd tried that first. Perhaps his droid would have been able to send a signal, but he'd noted earlier that his R-5 was missing, violently ejected at some point in the crash. Even if Wes could find enough energy to look for him, he doubted the little droid would be functional. He was truly on his own this time, with no Rogues, no anyone, to come to his rescue.
This could be it after all, Janson. Not really a heroic end, is it? He sighed quietly. Great, now I really sound like Hobbie. He closed his eyes as another angry cramp of pain radiated out from the wound to his belly, forcing him to curl into an approximation of a ball. After a few moments, it eased, and he straightened a little. He flopped more than turned onto his back again, but no position was comfortable anymore; nothing gave him relief.
That forced another sigh as he studied his surroundings once more, his thoughts straying slightly. From where he lay, Wes could watch the leaves and sunlight as they danced together above him. He was amazed at how pretty it was. Funny how he had never found the time to enjoy nature before, but now that his life was coming to an end, he could appreciate it.
So this is where I'll die... Could be worse, I suppose.
He knew that as a pilot, there was always a good possibility that he wouldn't reach his thirtieth birthday. But he'd managed to celebrate it after all, even though it now looked as if he wouldn't see much past it. After all, death caught up with all active Rogues eventually, only a matter of time. Although he wasn't going the traditional route, he realized slowly, out in a blaze of glory. He wasn't going to die in space, or in a battle, not even instantly, as he'd kind of hoped he would. He'd always thought that one moment he'd be there, in his cockpit, making a difference, fighting, and then the next moment he'd be gone. Simple, clean, painless.
This was far from painless, though, and certainly not instantaneous. It was meaningless, it was fraught with anguish and regret; not how he wanted to go out at all. He was alone; he had too much time to think back on his life and all he had been unable to accomplish. And would his friends ever know what had happened to him? Or would they be left wondering about his fate.
No sense in worrying about things you can't change, he berated himself. Your friends are strong, so they'll grieve and move on, as they've done before.
Wes settled a little more comfortably, shifting slightly to his left so that a rock wouldn't press into his back. Not that the discomfort of a rock was significant compared to the fire radiating out from his belly, but if he was going to die, at least he could be as comfortable as possible while he did it. And if he had to pick a place to do it, besides his cockpit, this was as good as any, he supposed. He was surrounded by nature, by life. The only sounds were the leaves rustling, some small insects scratching amongst the vegetation to his left. They emitted a sound, almost like a quiet wail. Wes smiled as his eyes drifted closed. Perhaps they were crying for him, knowing that he was about to die.
He wasn't really afraid to die--that much at least he was sure of--but his thoughts were beginning to turn in a direction that they hadn't in a long time, not since he had left home to become a pilot. He hadn't been particularly religious before leaving Tanaab, but he'd often wondered about what happened after a person died. Especially since he was a pilot, an occupation with a rather low life expectancy. When he finally checked out, would that be it? Was there nothing after that? Or would his soul, the essence of his being, join with the great spirit of the galaxy? He knew of many beliefs stemming from countless cultures and worlds, covering every facet of what happened in death, their versions of the afterlife. Was there one belief that fit for all? Did they all end up reaching the same conclusions in the end?
As the sky slowly began to darken above him, Wes considered the afterlife. Would he meet all the pilots and friends who had gone before him? Would Porkins and Dack and Ton and all the others be waiting for him? Was there a great spirit that would be waiting for him too, welcoming him? Wes closed his eyes, his hand once again steeling to his stomach. Blood had oozed through the pressure bandage he had hastily applied, but a numbness had settled over him. The pain that had nibbled away at his consciousness had abated significantly, letting him think a little more rationally.
Well, as rational as one can be before death. Can't be long now...
As he went over the same arguments again and again, one question seemingly rose above all others. Was there a greater being that looked out over the galaxy, that took in all those souls that were set free in death? The faith of his parents spoke about such a being, an all-powerful entity that had gathered together the various elements of the galaxy and created life as it was today. He had been taught all there was to know about that being, but had he ever truly believed?
A little late now, isn't it?
Wes turned his head when he thought he heard something moving in the brush to his right. His vision, as well as daylight, was failing, and he couldn't see anything.
Oh well, doesn't matter now. I'll be dead soon anyway.
So was there life after this brief existence? He certainly hoped so. Would really be a disappointment if this was the end of his practical joking career. But would he be welcome in the afterlife? The faith of his ancestors taught that only through acceptance of the great entity would he be permitted to join in his glory. Was it too late? Was acceptance when you had no choice to do so truly acceptance? Or was it a hollow faith in the face of death, in the face of the alternative? Eternity in oblivion...
Wes shuddered, partly from cold, partly from the thought of the alternative to the glorious afterlife. If he had to be honest with himself, he thought he had led a relatively good life. He had put that life on the line for others for more years than he could remember. Wasn't that the ultimate sacrifice, willing to give up your own life so that others might live their life to the fullest? He thought so. And that had to at least count for something in the grand scheme of things. And those times when he had lost friends and loved ones, had he not turned to the almighty spirit and ask that they be taken care of? That was a kind of faith in something bigger than himself, he concluded. But was it enough?
No, that wasn't enough, at least not now. Turning to his faith when he needed it, and only then, wasn't nearly enough. That was a hollow faith, a faith of convenience. So where would that leave him? Would he spend all of eternity in limbo? Would he end up somewhere worse? Wasn't much he could do about it now, since he would never have the chance make amends, to show that he believed in something--something greater than himself.
"I'm sorry," he grunted towards the treetops. "I sh-should have known better. I'll do better, I promise." He sighed again.
Noise in the brush, much closer this time, dragged his thoughts away from their current line. He lolled his head to one side, and looked at a pair of rough-made boots. His eyes dragged upwards, seeing knees, thighs, a long coat. A villager of some kind, with more approaching behind him, all dressed similarly.
"Uh...hi," he managed. The man knelt beside him, peering closely into his eyes. Wes swallowed, then tried to ignore the overwhelming nausea that seemed to have replaced the pain in his stomach. "What's a villager like you...ungh...doing in a place like this?" he joked weakly.
The man spoke in a tongue Wes wasn't familiar with, and the rest of his group moved forward to surround him. Wes blinked slowly, studying them. If they were a primitive culture, then they'd perhaps be able to save him, but he'd still be stuck on this planet. Not an entirely disagreeable thought, but just as he'd resigned himself to village life, his eyes were distracted by a brief flash of light. The setting sun glanced through some branches, and the light reflected off something metallic on the first man's belt. A comlink! And in good repair, not just an article of decoration, as if he'd found it somewhere.
Wes let his eyes close as careful fingers pulled back the bandage on his stomach. These villagers weren't as primitive as they looked, just rugged. They'd more than likely be able to heal him, then probably have the capability to send a message that could get back to the New Republic. His comrades would send a ship for him; they'd take him off this world and back to his friends, his family, his life.
He was lifted from the ground, countless hands supporting his weight as he was slowly transported who-knows-where. He felt his consciousness slip away somewhere during the journey, but even then he had to smile just a little. He had been saved after all. And perhaps, in more ways than one.