Chapter 7 – The Secret Keepers
If Luke thought their "rescue team" would be hailed as heroes for bringing an end to the treachery and plotting of the Sons of the Sith, he was sorely mistaken.
"You have the right to remain silent!" barked an officer, shoving Luke against the side of a police cruiser and clapping cuffs over his wrists.
"Hey!" Luke cried in protest. "I'm not a Sith!"
The air filled with steam as the fire fighters turned their massive hoses onto the blaze. The lodge was a loss, but the least they could do was ensure that the flames didn't spread to the surrounding forest. As dry as this summer had been so far, a forest fire could prove disastrous to the town. Meanwhile, paramedics began treating gunshot wounds, burns, knife gashes, and other injuries. Ramirez was strapped, still unconscious, to a backboard and whisked out of sight. Other members of the cult, including the still-raging Polowski, were being handcuffed and piled into police cars and vans. There was no sign of Quinzain – but Luke had the feeling they would uncover his bones when they searched the rubble of the lodge tomorrow.
"Hands against the car," ordered another officer, pushing Vader against the hood of the cruiser. "Jones, Derby, pat him down."
Had circumstances been different, Luke might have been highly amused at the sight of a nonplussed Vader leaning against the hood of an Earth automobile, two police officers frisking him. But at the moment Luke's only thought was that they were about to be uncovered as interstellar shipwreck victims… and a panic would start on this remote world.
"I found something hard!" one officer announced, his hand pausing over Vader's ribs as he touched one of his cybernetic components.
"Strip him down, we can't take chances," his superior advised.
"Don't you get it?" shouted Luke. "We're not Sons of the Sith!"
"Then explain what you were doing at their headquarters," ordered the cop behind him.
"It's a long story…" Luke began.
"And we'll have plenty of time to hear it at the station," the officer replied.
"They're alien visitors!" bellowed Polowski, wrestling against the grips of the cops who were trying to shove him into a police car. "That's Luke Skywalker! And that's Darth Vader!"
"Keep suicide watch on that one at the jail, he's going to be a doozy when withdrawal hits," Luke's captor said with a roll of his eyes. "Hate dealing with these sky-high weirdos…"
"I'm not on drugs!" he screamed hysterically. "I saw him slay our master with the dark side of the Force! He's a Lord of the Sith! And you dare try to strip-search a Lord of the Sith?"
"I don't care if he's Lord of the Sith, Lord of the Rings, or Lord of the Dance!" came the irritated reply. "He's not getting special treatment!"
"He's Darth Vader!" Polowski howled. "He'll be the death of you! He's the Chosen One, he's the greatest Force user that ever lived…"
"And YOU are violating your parole carrying this, Mr. Troy Polowski," a female officer noted dryly, pulling a Magnum from his belt. "Get in the car, buddy."
Vader broke into another spasm of coughing, his massive frame shaking with every hack. Luke watched, concerned. He knew his father's lungs had been badly damaged – though by what he wasn't entirely sure – and inhaling so much smoke in the lodge couldn't be good for him. He needed a doctor's attention, and fast. Though how they could manage that without also blowing their cover was beyond him…
People shouted in dismay as a mini-van drove straight through the police-tape barrier and pulled to a halt in the center of the maelstrom. A few officers ran forward to halt the passengers, but Austin, the Churches, and the Osmonds simply pushed past and ran forward to confront the three men.
"What's going on here?" demanded Conrad.
"Where's Rachel?" pleaded Diana.
"Where have you been all day, Fett?" complained Patrick.
"And for Sifo-Dyas' sake, what are you doing with our neighbor's cat?" shrieked Jason.
Austin alone was silent. He took in the scene before him with a half-amused, half-perplexed expression – Luke Skywalker handcuffed and shoved up against the side of a cop car; Boba Fett with both hands still in the air, one clutching a bedraggled, annoyed-looking cat by the loose skin over its neck; and Darth Vader with both hands on the hood of the cruiser, being frisked by a couple of completely clueless police officers.
"Oh goody," Austin said at last, every syllable soaked with sarcasm. "I can hardly wait to hear THIS one explained."
"Dad, it was totally wicked!" exclaimed Trapper, breaking off his argument with a cop to run to his dad. "You should've seen it, it was better than the movies…"
"We'll need to take your son down to the station for questioning," the officer he'd been fighting with cut in. "We need to get all this straightened out as soon as possible."
Austin shook his head. "What's to straighten out? I had a friend of the family staying over, they decided to go out and go stargazing, they got kidnapped by the local goons… at least, that's what it looks like to me." He motioned to the cop holding Luke against the cruiser. "Why don't you uncuff Nick and I'll take him home?"
The officer's eyes narrowed. "Don't pull a fast one on me, Mr. Powers."
"C'mon, Sergeant Wilcox, we play poker together," Austin replied easily. "You know I can't bluff to save my life. Those three are friends." He pointed at Luke, Vader, and Fett. "I don't see why you need to take them to the station when they were just innocent bystanders…"
"Mr. Powers, you're a respected person in this town," Sergeant Wilcox replied. "I'm liable to trust you in most matters. But this is bigger than your friends getting mixed up with the local goons – this could result in some serious charges for trespassing, arson, assault, and possession of drugs and illegal firearms, to scratch the surface. We need all the information we can get, and your friends have probably seen enough in there to put the Sons of the Sith in prison for a long time."
A cream-colored Cadillac sedan pulled up next to the Church's van, and Mrs. Albany opened the door, looking less like somebody's grandmother and more like a determined soldier.
"What are you doing here?" demanded Jason as Patrick ran over to help their neighbor out of her car.
"I thought I saw Vincent on the news!" she snapped, storming toward Sergeant Wilcox.
"Mrs. Albany!" shouted Polowski, once again fighting his way out of the police cruiser. "This is a false arrest! Help me out here! If you pay my bail…"
"I'm absolutely disgusted by your behavior tonight, Troy!" shrieked Mrs. Albany, and she began whaling on him with her handbag. From the sounds it made as it collided with his thick skull, it was full of squeaky cat toys.
"Ow! Get offa me, crazy lady!"
"I taught you better than this, young man!"
"Mrs. Albany!" shouted Sergeant Wilcox, pulling her away from the car. "I have to ask you to leave the premises…"
"I'm not leaving these premises, Johnny!" she retorted. "Not when you're falsely arresting my son!" She pointed at Vader. "Honestly, you weren't the brightest boy in my class, but can't you tell an innocent man from a criminal?"
Vader paused in the middle of coughing to stare, shocked, at this complete stranger that had just blatantly lied to a government employee to save his hide.
"That's your son?" Sergeant Wilcox asked, suddenly looking very sheepish.
"My son," she beamed proudly. "He's a good boy. He has no part in this. Now be a dear and let him go, Johnny. Or do I have to remind your fellow officers about some of the shenagins you used to pull when you were in fifth grade?"
Wilcox went slightly pale, and the female officer at his side snickered a little.
Nick, who had somehow managed to avoid the entire situation up until now, stepped forward and began signing. Sergeant Wilcox motioned for a younger officer to come forward and translate.
"He says the six of them – him, these three gentlemen, and the kids – decided to catch a meteor shower tonight and ended up getting lost. They saw lights at the lodge and went there to ask for directions. The Sons of the Sith went nuts and tried to kill them, but they escaped. He doesn't know how the fire started, but he thinks someone might have started it on purpose to cover up whatever they were doing in there."
Sergeant Wilcox looked at Austin, then at his former teacher, then at Nick. He sighed heavily.
"Okay, your stories all jive. I'll release these men into your custody. But the courts'll probably subpoena them for a trial somewhere down the road, so don't get them too comfortable."
Luke's cuffs loosened and came off. He rubbed his wrists gingerly. That had been way too close for comfort. Though it might have been amusing to see what might have happened if the police realized just who they'd taken into custody, particularly if they tried to take mug shots and demanded the masks be removed…
"Hey man, you all right?" Austin asked, going over to Vader, who was still leaning on the police car for support.
"Can't… breathe…" he wheezed. "I need… oxygen…"
"Get him in an ambulance," ordered Sergeant Wilcox.
"He's my son, and he's coming to my house!" snapped Mrs. Albany. "Get him in the car!"
It was past midnight by now, and Vader couldn't help but wonder at the absurdity of the entire situation. The Churches, Powers, Osmonds, Nick Staples, Luke, Fett, Mrs. Albany, and himself were all gathered in the old woman's living room, discussing the events of the day and trying to fit all the pieces together. Nick and Mrs. Albany were most intrigued, having come into the entire story smack in the middle.
Feeling much improved, he finally removed the oxygen mask from his air intake vent. Mrs. Albany's husband had used an oxygen tank up until his death three years ago, but she had never bothered to discard the device. Some might call it a coincidence, but he knew better. When the Force was involved, few things were coincidence.
"Now I know why I couldn't get rid of that contraption," she said amusedly, smiling at him. "I thought it was just that I couldn't bear to get rid of something that had been part of Jerry's life, but maybe it was actually a higher power."
Patrick was shaking his head in a corner. "I still can't believe this entire mess started with a missing cat."
Said cat was lounging in his mistress's lap, purring loudly, eyes closed in bliss as the old woman stroked his fur and scratched him under the chin.
"Yeah, what's up with that, Boba?" Jason asked. "I mean, an old lady's cat? Are you that desperate to go bounty hunting?"
"Drop dead," Fett snarled.
Nick handed a sheet of paper to Luke, who obliged by reading out loud: "'Well, it all worked out for the best, didn't it? The Sons of the Sith have been broken up. And they're all going to prison, I'm sure.'"
"Not necessarily," Austin countered, making sure he was facing Nick as he spoke. "Until they actually find the gemstones, they can't lay today's jewel robbery on them. They didn't exactly kidnap anybody – after all, you all went in that building of your own free will. And I guarantee half of them will be out of jail by tomorrow night – either out on a technicality or having posted bail."
"Their leader's dead; that should count for something," Conrad offered.
"You haven't been here as long as I have, Conrad," Austin replied. "The Sons of the Sith have been through four or five leaders in the past few years. Sure, Quinzain stuck it out the longest, but I guarantee the Sons'll choose a new boss and be regrouped by the time the ashes of the lodge have cooled."
"Don't tell me it was all for nothing," complained Luke.
"It was not for nothing," Vader replied. "We broke them up, Luke. We attacked their stronghold and shook their confidence. Even if they reorganize themselves in the near future, they will never be the same cohesive force again. And without a true Sith at their helm, they'll never again be a great danger to Star City or the galaxy."
"Great, but next time you go saving the city, leave Rachel at home," Diana advised, putting a protective arm around her daughter. "Heaven knows how much this has traumatized her."
"Mommy, it wasn't that scary," Rachel said matter-of-factly. "The fire scared me at first, but I knew Darth Vader was gonna keep me safe. I wasn't scared after that."
Luke gave his father a look that plainly asked "Are you going to tell them?" He shook his head slightly. No need to worry her parents over something Rachel could no longer even recall. If questions arose about her Force sensitivity, then perhaps he'd relate the vision. Until then, there was no use in worrying the Churches even more.
"We can count on you two keeping quiet about this?" asked Austin. "I don't think anyone's going to believe the Sons – they have a reputation for being crazy, stoned, or both – but I don't think we can afford anyone else learning about this."
Nick nodded as if laughing. /I'm very good at keeping secrets/ he wrote in large print on his clipboard before lifting it for everyone to see.
Austin smiled slightly. "Luke mentioned you wanted a job with the 'Herald,'" he noted. "If you're still interested, I can have a chat with the editor… I think we still have an empty position in the entertainment section…"
Nick nodded enthusiastically. /That would be GREAT/ he wrote. /I can start immediately/
"Great." He turned to Mrs. Albany. "What about you, ma'am?"
"You can trust me too," she said, setting Vincent down on the carpet. "I owe you boys for finding my Vincent. All this Star Wars stuff is over my head anyhow, so if I told anyone, they'd just think I had no idea what I was talking about."
Fett nodded. "The return of your cat in exchange for your silence and your aid tonight," he decided. "That is payment enough."
"Oh no, I promised you a reward, son," she replied, reaching into her handbag.
"That's not necessary…"
"I insist, Mr. Fett." Throwing aside several catnip mice and a sack of kitty treats, she pulled out a change purse and handed over a bill.
"Ma'am, the agreed-upon price was twenty," Fett protested. "You're on a fixed income…"
"Oh, keep the hundred, for land's sakes!" she ordered with a smile. "You worked hard for it. You deserve it. I got about five hundred dollars worth of fun out of tonight anyhow."
Luke laughed. "I have to admit, it was pretty satisfying to see you smack that Sons member around tonight."
"Hey everybody, the cat's gonna pounce!" Trapper said eagerly.
Vincent was staring fixedly at a fly that had just landed about half a meter from his nose, crouching like a nexu and eyeing his prey. Everyone went quiet and watched, their curiosity piqued at the sight of the cat stalking his target. Stealthily Vincent arched his back, flicked his tail, laid his ears back, tensed… and coughed up a hairball.
"Ewww!" squealed Rachel. "Yucky!"
"Nasty!" echoed Trapper.
"Goodness!" Mrs. Albany exclaimed, standing and going to the kitchen for some paper towels.
"Well, I'm certainly glad we took a time-out to watch THAT," Conrad said, making a face.
Jason stood and yawned loudly. "Hate to break up the party, but I have to work early tomorrow," he said thickly. "Fett, let's go."
Fett pocketed the bill. "I suggest you two clean up the house after work tomorrow," he advised. "We'll be having religious guests."
Jason gaped at him. "You told Brigham the MISSIONARIES could come to our house!"
"I had to get information out of him somehow," he replied.
Austin laughed heartily. "You can get a lot out of Brigham by simply agreeing to read his literature or let him sic the missionaries on you."
"We'd better skedaddle too," Conrad said. "Rachel's not used to being up this late."
"Neither's Trapper," Austin replied. "Mini-V, to the van!"
"Whatever, Dad," Trapper grumbled.
"Why the foul mood, Trapper?" inquired Vader.
He huffed. "I'm having the coolest summer ever, and my teacher's never going to believe my 'how-was-my-summer-vacation' essay!"
Everyone, even Nick, shared a hearty laugh at that frank statement.
When I first wrote "Eye of the Storm," I had no idea it was going to be as popular as it is, nor that I would grow so attached to its characters. But now that the story has spawned a sequel and two spinoffs, I have to concede that it has taken on a life of its own, much like Star Wars itself. And just like Star Wars itself, the characters of "Eye of the Storm" have developed their own back stories. The follow-up stories have allowed me to develop them more as characters and explore new facets of their personalities and their relationships with our galactic friends.
I must confess that, of all the characters, Liberty, Rachel, Brigham, and Cody are my favorites, which is why they tend to get a little more of the "screen time." Liberty and Brigham embrace different aspects of my own life – Brigham my religion and crazy family, Liberty my love of fantasy, music, and everyone's favorite cyborg. Cody is modeled partly after my brother (quirky sense of humor, swift wit) and partly after my uncle (prankster, diabetic but doesn't let it get in the way of a good time). Rachel doesn't resemble anyone I know, but she's an endearing character in much the same way characters like Artoo and Yoda are.
Sons of the Sith member Troy Polowski is not a new character – he has run-ins with Admiral Piett in "Eye of the Storm" and Anakin Skywalker in "Armor of Vader." This is, however, the first time he's had the honor of being addressed by his first name. Darth Ramirez was also first introduced in "Eye of the Storm," and Mrs. Albany and poor long-suffering Vincent garner mentions in "Armor of Vader," though the cat was nameless at the time.
Yes, Quinzain's a real name. I have no idea what it means or where it comes from. And yes, I actually know of someone who goes by it.
Nick Staples is a totally new character, and though my experience with the hearing-impaired is rather limited, it was a fun challenge to put myself in his shoes. I can't say if he'll make it into a future story, but it's always a possibility…
I don't know when (if ever) the next "Eye of the Storm" tale will come out, but I enjoy my jaunts into this alternate universe, and I hope my readers do as well.