Disclaimer: Star Wars and all it's characters belong to George Lucas - I just borrow them for a little while for fun, not profit. Oh... but Rhovan and the Network are mine!
Dark Times - Chapter One:
"Five from above! Watch yourself, Wedge."
"I see them, Luke."
"Copy, Red Two," Luke Skywalker answered easily, though his heart was hammering with adrenaline. He pulled his X-Wing into a tight roll evading the enemy fire and returning his own on the TIE he was chasing. The Imperial burst into a brief ball of flame.
"Target's obscured," Narra announced over the com. "Shielding must be interfering with the scanners. We'll have to go below. Red Five, take Reds Two, Four and Seven. Stay here and watch our backs."
"Copy, Red Leader!" Luke watched as Narra and the others peeled away, heading planet side to take the target from the air.
"All fighters, on my lead," Narra's cool tones commanded
"Cut left, Red Five, three of them coming in point six," Wedge Antilles warned "Red Four where are you?"
"Eject, Eject!" Luke looked wildly around, trying to see Red Four. The X-Wing exploded. "Ah, shit."
"Red Four's gone, Boss," Wedge told him. "More TIEs coming your way!"
"Got 'im!" Red Seven declared as he nailed Red Four's killer.
"I see it," Red Leader's voice from below. "Target acquired."
"Thanks!" Luke replied to Wedge's warning. "Break right!"
"Whoa! Target has been destroyed!" Narra exclaimed. "Heading your way Luke!"
"I copy, Red Leader! We have a swarm of TIEs up here! Watch yourselves!" he looped around, zigzagged in tight turns, evading enemy fire.
"Flight, break contact! We're finished here," Narra ordered, tightly.
"More fighters!" Wedge was beginning to sound a little panicked.
"We've stirred them up this time," Luke observed, smiling tightly. The mission objective had been met and the Imperial weapons development programme on Escaal was terminated.
"Break, Break...all fighters..."
"I need help here, I can't..."
"Red Six? Red Six call in!"
"She can't, Boss," Red Seven's voice was grim.
"Time to go, Red Flight," Narra told them.
"I'm with you, Red Leader."
"Luke! Two more closing in on you," Wedge cautioned.
"I can't see them. Where..."
"Coming in point..."
"I've got them...Might need a little help here, Red Two?" Luke asked.
"Need me to save your ass again, Red Five?"
"We've lost Red Seven!"
"Star destroyer!" Wedge gasped.
"Red Two, Red Five! Five more heading your way," Red Six warned.
Luke twisted in his seat, checked his scanners. He saw the five fighters closing in, laser cannon's opening up. His fighter rocked as his shields took a barrage. "Shit!" He pulled back, bringing the X-Wing into a steep climb. Behind him Artoo squealed. He looped around, bringing his own guns to life. "Wedge, we need to get clear for the jump!"
"I know! I know!" Wedge exclaimed, trying to cut a path through to Luke.
"Make the Jump, Red Flight!" Narra commanded.
"We're with you, Boss."
"On my mark."
There was a blast of light, the X-Wing rocked throwing Luke around in his chair, straining the straps holding him down. "Ah! I'm hit!" His eyes swept frantically over his instrumentation as Artoo screeched from behind.
Sparks flared from the control boards. "It's getting a little hot in here! Artoo see if you can't..."
"Bang out, Luke!" Wedge broke in.
"No, not here!"
"Eject, dammit! You've lost a foil!"
"I know!" Luke burst, angrily, feeling frenzied, fighting to gain control of his panicking feelings. Trying to think straight against the trouble he was in. "Not here! They'll pick me up... Artoo, see if you can get me some control back..."
"Luke, Flight's leaving. They don't know..."
"Go with them, Wedge. I'm heading down. I'll have a better chance on the surface." He was calmer, having come to his decision.
"Negative, Red Two. Artoo, cut fuel to port engines. I don't want to explode when I hit the atmosphere."
"Go home, Wedge. That's an order."
"Don't pull rank on me! Shit, they're cutting me off! Luke..."
"Make the jump, Wedge. Before they take us both."
There was hesitation and then: "Copy...Red Five... Good Luck."
"Yeah, you too. I need power to the shielding, Artoo. This is going to be rough."
The X-Wing pitched and rolled as it entered the outer atmosphere of the planet. Luke gritted his teeth, fighting to bring the X-wing under some sort of control, hoping the heat shielding would hold against the friction and that he wouldn't just burn up. The fighter shuddered as he brought it lower. Flames flared briefly from his port side then died, having no fuel with which to burn. The fighter shook in the sheering winds and metal screamed as pieces were torn loose.
"Artoo! We need to stabilise the..." Flames flashed from the controls before him and he drew his hands away. "Ah, I can't hold her!"
The little droid shrieked as the Wing went into free fall, tumbling toward the planet's surface.
"Artoo...I..." He was bucked about, thrown around the acceleration chair. Determined not to let panic get the better of him, he kept his gaze firmly within the cockpit, knowing that his senses would be lost to the twisting view beyond. "Cut power from the starboard engine, see if we can slow up this spin."
More flares erupted from the control panel, an alarm klaxxoned. "Artoo! Oxygen leak! Eject. Eject!"
Luke was aware of the canopy lifting away, aware of a tremendous force upon his body as he was blasted upwards and away from the X-Wing which continued its downward plunge without him. Still strapped into his chair, with his head down and eyes closed behind his helmet visor, Luke did not see Artoo, still in the droid pod, eject from the fighter seconds after him.
The straps holding Luke into his seat automatically released him and the chair fell away as his parachute canopy opened. He opened his eyes. Far below him, his X-Wing exploded, taking with it the remaining proton torpedoes. The force of the detonations tore the ship apart and threw out shards of fuselage along with brief flames and searing heat. Hot air swept past him, catching his canopy and trailing him along and Luke was grateful he had not been nearer as the ship blew - he would have been sliced apart by shrapnel.
He glanced around, saw another parachute in the distance and, with some relief, knew Artoo was safe. Due to the time lapse of the ejection sequence, though, they would be separated by several kilometres. He looked down at the terrain below him. From his lofty position, it looked like moor land. Undulating grassy hills, punctuated by sparse rocks, pools of water and very little else apart from small burning pieces of X-Wing. There were no trees, no obvious hiding places, and it stretched for as far as he could see.
"Shit," he cursed. The landscape gave very little scope for being able to hide.
Then, over the noise of the wind blowing around him and the rustle of his canopy, he was aware of another sound. It was growing louder, coming from behind, a keen sharp sound that sliced through the air surrounding him. He twisted around in his harness, trying to see as the TIE flew past him, pulling him into its slipstream. Terrified that his canopy would collapse, he held on tightly to the straps as he was tossed around. The canopy held, but the TIE was banking back around, and Luke was acutely aware of his vulnerability. He groped at his gun belt, caught hold of his blaster and brought it up, opening fire on the approaching fighter, knowing a handgun was poor protection against the TIE's cannons.
It passed him again without firing a shot. Luke glanced down, trying to judge his distance to the ground. Too far, still too far to go and the Imperial was coming back!
"Shit!" Luke swore again, voicing his frustration, his fear. It wasn't firing on him, because they wanted him alive! It was circling, giving co-ordinates, keeping him in sight. "Shit!"
He placed his gun back in its holster as an idea occurred to him. It was crazy, insane, but it might be his only chance of getting a head start on the troopers who were probably already on their way to pick him up. He hit the release mechanism on his harness and the main chute was disconnected. Luke dropped as his canopy flapped away.
He fell, spinning toward the ground, air rushing past him, pulling at his flight suit as he covered the distance to the ground in a fraction of the time. With effort he brought his hand up, caught the cord for his reserve chute and pulled. His body was snapped backward as the chute instantly dragged him up slowing his descent. He yelled aloud as a keen pain ran spasms through his back. Gulping in air, fighting the hurt, he glanced around looking for the TIE and, saw it screaming toward him. Just when he expected to be torn apart by cannon fire it swooped upwards and away, and he was left with quiet once more.
He hit the ground feet first, crying out as pain jarred through his body. He fell, rolled, getting entangled in the chutes lines and came to rest lying face up in the grass. The last thing he saw before he blacked out was the TIE passing overhead, dark against the blue.
He wasn't sure what woke him. It might have been the soft breeze which tickled, coolly across his face as the temperature dipped with the setting sun. Or it may have been the pain finally biting through the darkness of his unconsciousness bringing him back to sharp focus. He tried to sit up, and was rewarded by a lancing pain across his chest, grinding upwards to his left shoulder. He lay back down and the pain subsided a little. He'd burst some ribs, he was sure, and from the feel of it, dislocated his shoulder. There was also a discomfort from his back, his hips hurt, and his legs tingled strangely, but his left ankle seemed to burn. However, he couldn't lie here and just let them come for him. If he didn't get up and move then he would be another Rebel statistic spending a short spell in an Imperial cell, before a quick execution. The whole idea of coming planet side in the first place had been to evade capture.
He rolled onto his right side, stifling his suffering, swallowing the pain, and managed to sit up. He was sure his hip was merely bruised, his back jolted by banging out and landing. His left ankle though, throbbed with heat and hurt and even though it was encased within his boot, he could see it was angled wrong. He would be unable to walk on it, and he had nothing that he could use as a makeshift crutch.
He worked himself carefully out of the snarl of chute lines, having to rest every now and then and let the pain subside enough from him to continue. He unbuckled his helmet, drew it off, and heaved in a steadying breath as he paused to take stock of his situation, trying to think, trying to remain calm and not give in to the panic nibbling at his frayed nerves. He had to get the harness and flight suit off. There would be no hiding it against this terrain, and if he stayed in it there would be no hiding him. Cursing the Rebel who decided orange should be the colour they flew in, he decided that it would be best to strip to his fatigues underneath. Carefully, he undid the harness and drew it off, hissing in pain at the movement. "You can do this, Luke," he told himself, tightly.
He unbuckled his gun belt, let it drop and gingerly unzipped the flight suit, struggling to get it off his shoulders. His shoulder ground sharply and, crying out, he fell back, panting, frustrated. He had no way of telling how long he had been there, no way of knowing how long he had been unconscious to start with, or how far away the Imps were. He couldn't waste any more time. He glanced around taking in the features of the land. There was a rocky outcropping some metres away silhouetted against the darkening sky. It might afford him some hiding place or shelter.
Holding his left arm close to his body and clutching the gun belt, which held his blaster and lightsaber, he began to crawl from his landing site using his right arm and leg to pull and push.
He hadn't gotten far when he heard the first sounds of approaching vehicles echo over the moor.
"Shit..." he breathed, adrenaline blasting through him as he tried to crawl faster; tried to ignore the flaring pain, the further damage he may be doing to himself; simply trying to focus on the rocks ahead and not on the futility of his actions.
Luke reached the boulders as the first vehicle appeared behind him, over the nearest rise, headlights and searchlights strafing the area and finally settling on the parachute and harness. He crawled slowly around the rocks to the opposite side, pulled himself into a sitting position and drew his blaster. The stone was cool and hard against his back, unyielding. He gripped the gun tightly knowing he was unlikely to be able to take on all the soldiers he now heard spilling out of the troop carrier on the far side of the rocks. He was sore, and tired and utterly desperate. He stiffened as he heard boots scrapping on rock behind and above him. He heard the soft click of a safety being disengaged.
"Throw your weapon away, scum!"
Luke hesitated momentarily. Another troop carrier was approaching from in front of him. Its lights threw him harshly into relief against the grey rocks.
Luke threw his gun to the side, watching it settle impotently into the grass. He pulled his lightsaber from his belt, placed it at his back, and worked it under the lip of the rock. Hoping from where he stood the Imperial couldn't see his movements. They could have his blaster, but not his saber. He may never get it back, but at least they couldn't use it to identify him.
"Stand and walk forward, away from the rocks."
"I can't," Luke replied softly, as more soldiers poured into the area, running toward him. "I'm injured."
The stormtrooper behind him stepped down and came around the rocks, keeping his blaster aimed at his prisoner. Luke held up his right hand, keeping his left close to his body minimising the pain to his shoulder and ribs. The soldier motioned his blaster upwards. "Raise both hands."
"I can't," he said again. He had begun to shiver uncontrollably, and knew that shock was creeping in.
The trooper bent down abruptly, grabbed Luke by his flight suit and dragged him up. "You'll do as I say, you piece of trash!"
He hauled Luke toward the waiting troop carrier, ignoring his protests, and threw him against the vehicle's bodywork. Luke fell, and was pulled upright once more. Another soldier stepped in and held him as the flight suit was stripped from his shoulders, pulled down his body as far as they could get it and his fatigues roughly searched. They found nothing on him.
The soldier produced a pair of durasteel binders; wrist cuffs joined together by a short, but solid, metal bar. "On your knees."
Luke obeyed, guided a little more gently by the second trooper, but as his hands were firmly fastened behind his back he retched, gagging dryly, feeling cool sweat run from his forehead. He almost passed out.
A grey uniformed officer approached, followed by another stormtrooper. He nodded to the trooper by Luke's side. "Stand him up!" he ordered sharply.
Luke moaned as he was pulled to his feet. With the aid of the trooper by his side he balanced on one foot, but he was light-headed, sick and wished they would make up their minds about where they wanted him. He stared down at his boots, frowning at the blood on the orange of his left leg just above his boot, barely aware of the Imperial officer speaking.
"The insignia on your flight suit identifies you as a Lieutenant-Commander with the Rebel Alliance," the officer told him, briskly. "You are under arrest and will be held during His Majesty's pleasure for questioning. As a Rebel, you have no rights to legal representation, no rights to a trial..." He smiled coldly, "And no rights with regards to your treatment while being held. Am I understood?"
Luke's legs buckled from under him and he would have fallen had the trooper not kept a hold of him.
"I'll take that as a 'yes'," the officer laughed. He turned to the first trooper. "Take him in."
"Yes, sir!" the soldier snapped. He took a grip of Luke's arm and he was carried between the two soldiers into the transport and dumped onto a bench. He yelled as pain stabbed through his lower back. One of the troopers beside him laughed. The vehicle filled with more infantry, lined on either side of the cab, and as the officer took his seat it began to move.
Luke kept his head down, staring at the floor, focused on the metal grating to keep from blacking out. Blood from his ankle seeped through his boot fastenings. The carrier lurched over the terrain and Luke was thrown forward, the trooper by his side catching him before he could fall.
"Thank you," Luke acknowledged, gratefully, knowing that if he had hit the floor he would not have been in any position to lift himself back up, and he had no wish to provide further entertainment for these troopers.
"Shut it, scum!" the soldier opposite him growled, and Luke was sure it was the one who had found him.
It was then that the Imperial by his side, the one who had helped him, raised his blaster and shot the officer. The soldier slumped wordlessly to the deck. There were more rapid shots, loud and bright in the small cab and four more soldiers fell to the floor. Luke stared in astonishment at the dead men. Still in shock from his injuries and his capture, he was unable to comprehend what was happening. He watched the remaining troopers drag the bodies to the back of the carrier. Then he then glanced at the infantryman beside him.
"Welcome to the Network, Lieutenant-Commander."