Author's Note: There seem to be two schools of thought regarding "Chief Bast" (he was listed only as "Commander #1" in the credits for Star Wars, although most sources I've found state that his rank was actually the equivalent of a Major General). Some say he perished on the Death Star along with everyone else, while others claim that he had to have survived, as his character had a cameo in the Star Wars Holiday Special, which takes places a few months after the Battle of Yavin. Obviously I believe he survived, or there wouldn't be a story at all. As with pretty much everything else I write, I'm trying to stick to canon as much as possible, but when it's muddy (as it is here), I'm taking the ball and running with it.
"Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances."
With those words, General Bast knew Grand Moff Tarkin had sealed his death warrant -- and guaranteed the deaths of the other countless thousands on board the battle station. No use wasting time in pointless argument; Bast knew better. But just because Governor Tarkin had decided to plunge headlong into oblivion didn't mean that Bast had to do the same.
He inclined his head, and began to back his way out of the command chamber. The reports had been most disturbing -- a heretofore undiscovered flaw left the station vulnerable to a carefully targeted attack. Bast had no idea whether or not the Rebellion possessed any pilots good enough to hit the tiny two-meter target. However, the mere fact that they had decided to hit the Death Star with what should have been a laughably puny strike force made him think the Rebels believed they did.
Perhaps what he was contemplating would end in his court martial. On the other hand, if his instincts were correct, he might be the only one left alive to inform the Empire of what had gone wrong.
He couldn't allow fear to rush him. There was no way of knowing when -- or if -- the Rebels would succeed in their attack. On the other hand, what with the chaos in the corridors of the Death Star, with personnel rushing this way and that as they were shuffled from one post to another, his slightly hastened pace would no doubt go unnoticed. The shuttle was already prepared and awaited only a pilot to take it safely away. Although Bast had risen up through the army's officer corps, he'd made a point of knowing enough about flying small and medium-sized starships that he could pilot one in a pinch. Not as elegantly as an Academy-trained officer, of course, but in a life-or-death situation such as this one, elegance didn't count for very much.
Just one quick detour, and then he would be away….
The detention block he sought was only four levels down from the hangar where Grand Moff Tarkin's shuttled waited. Luckily, the turbolift was empty. Bast hoped it would be equally unoccupied during his return trip. Awkward questions would only slow him down.
As soon as the 'lift door opened, he strode out into the detention block, and a pair of black-uniformed guards swiveled their heads to see who the visitor was. Against the shining, dark helmets, their faces looked pale and strained. Although at this level the battle outside only revealed itself in telltale shivers of the floor beneath his feet, Bast could tell the guards knew the station was in jeopardy. He didn't see the officer in charge, which was just as well. His mission would be more easily accomplished if he had only a few enlisted men to intimidate.
"Prisoner transfer," he said shortly.
The two men exchanged a puzzled glance. "Now, sir?" asked the one on the left.
"Yes, now," Bast replied. "Business of the Grand Moff."
Those words had the desired effect. Both guards straightened, and the one who had spoken gulped and said, "Of course, sir. Cell number?"
He had committed the number to memory some days ago. "BZ-2622."
The second guard, the one who had not yet spoken, saluted and then hurried down the narrow corridor between the two facing banks of cells. Another, larger explosion rocked the station, and Bast barely managed to keep his balance. Damn. That was getting too close.
In a gratifyingly short period of time, however, the guard returned with the prisoner in tow, her slender hands locked before her in a set of binders. She looked from her current captor to Bast and then back at the guard, but she said nothing. Bast caught the quick flicker of a dark, speculative gaze before she lowered her head once more to give the floor at her feet a more thorough inspection.
"Thank you, sergeant," said Bast. He let his hand rest near the sidearm he wore at his belt and directed his next words to the prisoner. "To the 'lifts."
She remained silent but did as she was told, moving with a slight limp to the bank of turbolifts that fronted the guard station. Bast hit the switch and uttered a silent prayer that he wouldn't have to wait long for one. Whether anyone or anything was listening to those prayers he didn't know, but within a few seconds the door to the center 'lift opened, and he and the prisoner stepped inside. At once he pushed the buttons for the deck where the Grand Moff's shuttle was located.
"Are you going to question me some more?" the prisoner asked. Like him, her voice betrayed the rounded accents of someone from the Core worlds. The turbolift shuddered as the station took another apparently direct hit somewhere in their vicinity. "Hell of a time for it, I must say."
Bast didn't bother to reply, but instead shot her what he hoped was a quelling glance even as the 'lift shuddered to a stop. "Out," he instructed.
Was that a shrug she made? Hard to say, with the way the deck kept lurching beneath his feet. But at least she kept her mouth shut and limped in the direction he had indicated, toward Governor Tarkin's heavily modified Lambda-class ship. A harried-looking deck officer rushed toward them, but Bast raised a hand and forestalled the man's questions by saying, "Business of the Grand Moff."
And since Bast was well-known through the station as the Governor's adjutant, the deck officer really couldn't protest. He nodded. "You're cleared for takeoff, sir, but it's chaos out there. Are you sure the ship can handle it?"
"Of course, Commander," Bast replied. Inwardly, however, he felt a twinge of doubt. True, Tarkin's shuttle had vastly amplified shields along with a host of other improvements, but would all those modifications be enough to get them through the firefight raging outside?
A calculated risk, and better than sitting around and waiting for one of those Rebel pilots to hit the sweet spot. Without further comment he headed up the ramp into the shuttle, where the girl he had freed waited for him.
Once he was inside, he headed immediately to the cockpit, his prisoner trailing along only a pace or so behind. As he took his position in the pilot's seat, he heard her ask, "Are you going to take these off?"
Bast risked a quick glance to his right and saw her raise her hands, still encased in the binders the guard had placed on her. "No time now," he replied, and leaned over to snap her safety harness in place.
"Lovely," she muttered, but at least she didn't waste any effort on further argument, but instead settled herself against the back of her seat.
The shuttle had been left in standby mode, which meant Bast had only to engage the repulsors to lift its mass off the deck and then steer the ship through the hangar opening. Sensors told him the deck officer had already dropped the atmospheric shields to allow them to exit. Bast increased the throttle, feeling the powerful sublight engines kick in as they burst from the hangar bay and into chaos.
A pair of X-wings screamed by overhead, followed by two TIE fighters and a TIE bomber. Luckily they seemed to be so involved with their face-off that they ignored the shuttle as it sped away from the Death Star. Bast increased the power to the shields, but not so much that it would compromise their speed. The trajectory had already been plotted in, the one that would place them in the correct orientation to line up for the hyperspace jump to Coruscant. All they needed was a few more precious seconds, just a little more time to get free --
The rear viewports exploded in a wash of blinding white light. Bast flinched, while in the co-pilot's seat next to him the girl let out a shocked gasp. Stifling a curse, he urged more power from the straining engines, just enough to get them ahead of the shockwave.
It caught them anyway, and the little ship bucked and heaved like a bantha caught in a trap. Sparks flew, and one of the consoles overhead went dark. This time Bast didn't bother to hold back the curses that rose to his lips, but at the same time he worked frantically to shunt the power he needed from the shields into the backup navigation system. They'd already gone through the worst the shields would probably have to take, but they were dead if navigation failed them.
A reassuring row of lights flickered into being, signaling that the navigation systems were back online. At the same time, a strident beep let Bast know they had reached the hyperspace jump point. He reached forward and pulled the lever back, and the shuttle shot out of realspace, leaving the shattered pieces of the Death Star and Grand Moff Tarkin's dreams far behind.
Bast let himself fall back against the well-upholstered pilot's seat, then lifted up his cap and ran a relieved hand through his hair.
A discreet throat-clearing noise made him turn his head. The prisoner stared back at him, her mouth pursed, as she held out her hands in front of her.
Cool little thing, isn't she? he thought, and despite himself he almost smiled. Then he reached in the left pocket of his uniform, drew out his rank cylinder, and inserted it into the locking mechanism of the binders. The chip inside read his rank and personal data, and released the lock.
The loosened binders fell into her lap. She picked them up and flung them into a corner of the cabin, then undid the harness from her seat and turned so she could face Bast directly. A pair of large dark eyes fastened on him and gave him a direct stare. "So," she said, "are you going to tell me what this is all about?"
Good question. Bast only wished he had an equally good answer to give her. His day had started normally and crash-landed somewhere in the nether regions of apocalypse. The fact that his intuition had proved him right once again was cold comfort at the moment. Then again, at least he did have the pertinent data regarding the Rebel attack stored in his personal datapad. Any charges of insubordination that might be leveled at him because of his precipitous escape could be fought with the information he alone held.
The girl was a different matter. He had only known of her existence because she had been apprehended awhile back by an overzealous but somewhat myopic Intelligence subchief on Commenor who had sworn he'd caught the heretofore unimpeachable Princess Leia engaging in Rebel activities. His captive had been sent to the Death Star, which had been traveling through the sector at the time, but it soon was found that the young woman in question was not in fact Princess Leia but a Rebel sympathizer who on occasion acted as a decoy for the princess. A much smaller fish than the one they'd hoped to catch, but a Rebel was a Rebel, and so into a prison cell she'd gone.
From his thoughts she'd gone as well, even though at the time he'd thought it quite a waste of someone so young and lovely. He'd only spent a few thoughts on her before being consumed by his duties once again. After all, Bast had had more than enough to occupy his mind than to expend useless energy on someone who had bought her own imprisonment with her foolish Rebel sympathies.
But then had come the attack on the station, and the cold fear that had gripped his gut as he realized what the Rebels' attack pattern could mean. Death for everyone on the station, from Grand Moff Tarkin down to the lowliest deck hand. Oh, a few TIE pilots who were out flying sorties would probably escape, but for everyone else it would be a fiery -- albeit quick -- death.
The thought surfaced then, even as he tried to keep the panic at bay:She should not die. Bast would never be able to explain to himself where such an alien notion had sprung from, nor how he found himself acting on the impulse once he realized he was going to take Tarkin's shuttle and save his own skin. The moments his foolhardy rescue mission had required could have spelled both their dooms, but despite everything he had somehow managed to get himself and the young Rebel woman away.
He stared back at her, even as an unfamiliar uncertainty took hold of him. From the dubious expression on her face, it appeared she expected the worst.
"Does it matter?" he said at last. "You're alive. Why is immaterial."
"Typical Imperial reply," she responded, and shook her head. "What was that explosion?"
"The end of Grand Moff Tarkin's battle station." It didn't feel quite as bad when he put it that way. All along Bast had been less than impressed with the Death Star; like General Tagge, Bast had always felt the Empire should concentrate more on efficient deployments of its military forces and less on the latest superweapon. Tarkin of course had not agreed, and Bast had kept his mouth shut on the subject despite his personal feelings. The quickest way to end one's career in the Imperial military was to disagree with a higher-ranking officer.
"So we did it," she murmured.
Her use of "we" was not lost on Bast. No chance she had been falsely imprisoned for her Rebel sympathies, then.
"A momentary setback, I assure you," Bast said, more because he felt such a response was necessary than because he actually believed it. After all, Tarkin and Motti and the rest of that cabal had felt the Death Star was impregnable, and look where that false belief had gotten them.
A quick ironic glance told him what she thought of that statement. "I'm not important enough to be worth saving. Any report from one of my interrogation sessions could have told you that. So why?"
It appeared she had learned something from her interrogators about the power of persistence. Still, Bast had no ready answer to give her, and at any rate, he wasn't about to let some silly Rebel girl get the better of him.
"Why not?" he asked, in arch tones.
Instead of taking offense, she burst out into a peal of unexpected laughter. "You are a case, aren't you? Well, then, if you won't tell me why I'm here, perhaps you'd be good enough to tell me where we're going."
That seemed safe enough. "To Coruscant. It is incumbent upon me, as perhaps the only surviving officer from the Death Star, to take the information learned of the Rebel attack directly to the Emperor."
"Coruscant?" She shook her head. When she had first been taken captive, her dark hair had been worn in some elaborate style probably meant to mimic one of Princess Leia's, but now the girl had it dragged back into a messy braid that was beginning to unravel. "I hope the information you're carrying is good enough to make them overlook the fact you turned tail and ran."
Well, of all the -- "I did not run," Bast ground out. "I made a judicious escape once it was determined the Rebel attack had a high chance of succeeding."
"You go on telling yourself that."
Really, for a prisoner she certainly had an uncommon amount of cheek. "Might I remind you that you would be dead if it weren't for me?"
"Well, that's true." A bit of the sparkle went out of her eyes then, and she pulled her legs up against her chest and hugged them to her. Her bare arms looked very thin and pale against the dark gray prison garb, which consisted of a sleeveless tunic and a matching pair of baggy pants. In fact, Bast thought he could see the chill-bumps standing out against her skin. No wonder -- the cabins of all Imperial ships were kept at a temperature more or less comfortable for those wearing the heavy woolen uniforms. Her lightweight prison clothing was little protection against the cold air.
Now that they were in hyperspace, Bast didn't need to keep quite so close a watch on the cockpit. It was a long way to Coruscant, after all. He rose from his seat and made his way back down the corridor to the Grand Moff's cabin, where he found several spare uniforms hanging in the wardrobe. Taking the jacket from one of these, he draped it over his arm and then returned to the pilot's cabin. The girl looked up at him with mystified eyes as he handed the garment to her.
"It will help keep you warm," he explained.
For a moment she was silent, and then she shrugged her way into the heavy jacket. The Grand Moff had been so skeletally thin that it wasn't overly large on her, although the sleeves did extend far down over her fingers. She pushed the sleeves up as best she could and then said, "Thank you. If you keep on being this decent, I may have to revise my opinion of the Imperial military."
Bast didn't know whether to tell her she was welcome or to take her to task for her ridiculous Rebel sympathies. Feeling a bit strangled, he settled for giving her a disapproving shake of the head before he returned to his seat.
"And how are you going to explain me?" she inquired. "It seems a bit odd that you'd save me from the Death Star just so you could hand me over to a new set of prison officials on Coruscant."
Well, she had a point there. To be honest, he really hadn't thought that far. It did seem rather foolish to have jeopardized his own life to rescue her if all he ended up accomplishing was to transfer her to a different prison. "I suppose I could make an unscheduled stop," he said, after thinking it over. "Where are you from?"
"Commenor," she replied. "But I doubt my reception there would be exactly warm. The officials on my homeworld aren't especially keen on Rebel sympathizers."
No, they wouldn't be. Some planets, such as lost Alderaan and long-civilized Chandrila, were well known for their Rebel leanings. Others, such as Commenor, still held fast to the New Order. How this girl had managed to become such a subversive in that environment, Bast didn't know. Then again, even in his short acquaintance with her it had become quite apparent that she had a mind of her own.
"Our options are somewhat limited," he said. "I can bring us out of hyperspace at some point, but I cannot deviate too much from my course. That is, of course, if I decide to let you go at all."
"Oh?" She crossed her arms, pushing once again at her over-long sleeves. "I thought we'd already established that handing me back over to the authorities was a bad idea."
Bast began to wonder if the best thing really wasn't for him to yank the ship out of hyperspace and drop her off at the nearest half-civilized world. That decision was taken neatly out of his hands, however, when the nav-computer began a frantic beeping. At roughly the same instant, the ship shuddered once, and Bast was almost thrown out of his seat as the shuttle ground its way back into realspace. The girl wasn't quite so lucky; taken off-guard, she slid out of the co-pilot's chair and ended up in a messy heap on the ground. Her fall was accompanied by a most unladylike curse.
"What the hell was that?" she demanded, as she pulled herself back up into her seat.
Damned if he knew. They had been pulled out of hyperspace so abruptly that at first he suspected the intervention of an Interdictor-class starship, but preliminary scans showed no other ships in the area. He began running a series of diagnostics, all the while hoping it was something simple and fearing it was not.
The computer beeped again, sounding as exhausted as Bast felt. A string of numbers trailed across the readout. He stared down at them, and thought of a few curses or fifty he'd like to say himself.
"That good?" the girl asked, apparently guessing from his continuing silence that their sudden entry into realspace had not been planned.
"The hyperdrive is off-line. Possibly the blast that caught as we left the Yavin system caused some damage. It's difficult to know for sure."
At least their sublight engines seemed to be working. Bast typed in a series of commands, silently willing their navigation system to still be online. If it had been fried as well, then they were as good as dead. But it responded quickly, although the information it had to give him was far from welcome.
"Can you fix it?"
"Of course I can't fix it," he snapped. "Do I look like an engine tech to you? I'm not even a true pilot -- I just know enough to get us up and down."
The first flash of fear he'd seen crossed her features. "So we're stuck?"
"Not completely." He tapped a few buttons, and an image of the system where they'd found themselves stranded appeared on the flat video monitor built into the console. The place was sparse and desolate-looking; only three planets orbited a pale-yellow sun. He pointed at the middle planet. "That's Odos. Not much there, but it has been colonized by humans, and the Empire maintains a small garrison in the capital city. The sublight engines should get us there in about two hours."
She nodded, a bit of the tension seeming to leave her shoulders. "Do you think we can find someone on Odos to repair the ship?"
Bast felt none too sanguine about their prospects, but he replied, "I don't see why not. Even a small colony has to have a few starship mechanics around." I just have to hope they're good enough to handle this ship, he thought. It's not quite the same as working on a YT-class freighter or a skyhopper.
He did not bother to voice his concerns, however, but merely had the nav-computer lay in the most direct course to Odos. The ship turned gracefully and began moving toward the planet, which from this distance was barely visible. At least the sublight engines hadn't failed them. Yet.
For a moment she said nothing, but merely stared out into the blackness that surrounded them. Then she asked without looking at him, "What's your name, anyway?"
The question surprised him a little -- surely a Rebel such as she would prefer to regard him as just a member of the faceless, nameless Imperial horde -- but he saw no point in refusing her an answer. "General Bast."
"General?" Her eyebrows lifted. "I suppose I should feel honored you took time out of your busy planet-subjugating schedule to rescue me, then."
For whatever reason, she seemed determined to irk him. Perhaps goading him into lashing out in anger was her way of coping with their current situation. Whatever the case, Bast certainly didn't intend for her to get her way. "I left the planet subjugation to the Grand Moff."
Contrary to his theory that she wanted to see him upset, his mild tone only made her let out a low chuckle. "Wise of you, I suppose. So do you have a first name, General Bast? Seeing as we're going to be all cozy here for at least the next few hours."
He sighed. "Moradmin."
Her chuckle morphed into an outright laugh. "Oh, that's dreadful!"
"Thank you," Bast said, with only the slightest edge to his voice.
"Well, don't feel too bad," the girl went on. "Mine's Dhani Wardilow. That's short for Dhanella. I don't know what my parents were thinking."
Bast began to wonder what she was thinking. From her tone and the look of amusement that still brightened her face, one would have thought they were trading pleasantries at a dinner party or a tap-café. Surely she didn't have the appearance of someone who had just been rescued from a prison in the bowels of the Death Star, or of a young woman who was now stranded in a backwater with one of her former oppressors.
Well, women and Rebels were both equally incomprehensible, so he supposed a combination of the two could be deadly. Thinking to steer the conversation into less personal topics, he said, "There are some rations and water packs back in the refrigeration unit, if you have need of them."
For a few seconds she didn't reply, but gave him a quick, sidelong look from beneath her eyelashes. Then he saw the slender shoulders lift under the heavy uniform jacket. "I am a bit thirsty," she admitted, and eased herself out of the co-pilot's chair. As she exited the cockpit, she added, "Although right now I think I'd rather have a shot of stiff Gyndine brandy," just before she sailed off down the corridor.
You're not the only one, he thought. With a mental sigh, he turned back to the nav-computer readouts.
Perhaps Dhani had accurately ascertained his mood, or perhaps the reality of her situation had finally begun to hit her. Whatever the case, she was uncharacteristically subdued as the shuttle made its way to Odos, allowing Bast to concentrate on piloting the ship instead of deflecting her continued verbal volleys. It wasn't until after they had finally made contact with the authorities at Odos' one and only spaceport and had received instructions to land that she spoke again.
"So what are you going to tell them?" she asked.
"The truth -- or at least as much of it as they need to know," Bast replied. He made a small adjustment to the engine's power levels in order to give the ship increased fuel efficiency during the descent to the planet's surface. "That I'm on a mission of utmost urgency, and that it's imperative the ship be repaired immediately. If they know what's good for them, they won't ask questions."
"And what about me? I doubt anyone's going to believe I'm your second-in-command or something."
With that statement Bast had to reluctantly agree. Even if Dhani went ahead and donned the rest of Tarkin's uniform, it would be all too apparent it wasn't hers. Never mind the fact that women were such a minority in the Imperial armed forces as to be almost nonexistent.
"I'll think of something."
An eloquent lift of her eyebrow told Bast exactly what she thought of his powers of imagination. He couldn't even argue with her silent assessment. He was a strategist and an administrator, and although he'd had to think fast on his feet more than once in his career, he certainly was not known for being the galaxy-class flinger of poodoo their current situation seemed to require.
The shuttle sliced through Odos' upper atmosphere, its wings trailing streams of water vapor. At once the forward viewscreen darkened slightly to accommodate the bright daylight outside. In Otel, the only settlement of significance on the planet's one continent, it appeared to be late morning. From the air the town looked like a dusty brown splotch on the mottled green of the surrounding landscape, and Bast felt his spirits sink at its unprepossessing appearance. Of all the backwaters to end up in….
But he said nothing as the shuttle sailed majestically into docking Bay X-22, as directed. From inside the shabby spaceport administrative offices, a small group of equally shabby-looking humans emerged -- no doubt Odos' version of a formal welcoming committee. Accompanying them were a squad of stormtroopers, who took up flanking positions to either side of the dignitaries. The entire group waited at the edge of the permacrete oval that formed the docking bay's floor while Bast went through the necessary steps of securing the landing gear and shutting down the sublight engines. In the co-pilot's seat next to him, Dhani watched in silence as he worked, but a dancing light in her dark eyes seemed to signal she was plotting something. Exactly what, he couldn't begin to guess. "Wait in here until I come to get you," he told her, in tones he could only hope would be obeyed. "Let me speak with them first."
"I live for your orders, General," she said sweetly. The impish gleam never left her dark eyes.
Oh, of all the -- He turned from her and stalked down the corridor, pulling at the lower edge of his uniform jacket as he did so. No sense looking rumpled in front of the provincials, after all.
He emerged into sunlight that felt blinding after the dim confines of the shuttle. With the sunlight came a sense of oppressive heat. The humidity levels on this planet were well above what he -- or the Imperial enviro-engineers -- considered comfortable.
The best-dressed of the contingent stepped forward. "Greetings, sir. You honor our humble planet with your visit. I am Sub-Governor Janning."
Bast gave the slightest inclination of his head. "General Bast," he responded. "I require your assistance, as my ship has malfunctioned and I carry urgent dispatches for Coruscant. If we -- "
He broke off as he realized that Sub-Governor Janning's attention had abruptly shifted to a spot somewhere farther up the shuttle's ramp. Turning the slightest bit to see what had distracted the other man, Bast scowled as his gaze fell on Dhani Wardilow.
She hesitated on the ramp as she surveyed the scene before her. Then her chin went up and her shoulders squared, and it was as if he looked on a different woman. Despite the ill-fitting uniform jacket and the baggy prison trousers, she looked as much a princess as Leia Organa ever had.
Dhani descended the ramp and went straight to Sub-Governor Janning, who stared at her, apparently mesmerized. "My thanks, Governor," she said, and even her voice was subtly altered, the Core accent strengthened, its pitch lower somehow. "On behalf of the Imperial government, I would like to thank you." As the sub-governor blinked up into her face, she went on, "I am Breha Tarkin, daughter of the Grand Moff."