Gazing into the Abyss

Star Wars: The Bergeron Chronicles, Part 3

a fanfic by Sisiutil

Chapter 1

Axel Bergeron was seated comfortably in the pilot's chair on board his ship, the Nomad, running through a maintenance checklist. He had a rare few days of downtime in between jobs, so he had returned to his home base, the spaceport city of Carnaxa on the planet of Sessram Prime, to keep his aging YT-1300fp light space freighter in good working order. It was tempting, of course, to just keep flying and earning income, especially for a one-man, one-ship operation. But anything with moving parts required maintenance, and the Nomad was no exception.

From behind him, he heard a short series of beeps and whistles from R4-E6, his agromech droid. He could hear barrel-shaped droid's wheels quietly humming down the corridor towards the cockpit; no doubt its conical-shaped head was swivelling expressively atop its white and black striped body.

"Well, who is it?" Axel responded to the droid's message without looking up from the checklist on his datapad. He heard a brief warbling sound in response to his query. "'An old friend'? I wonder who that could be... well, fine, show him aboard."

A moment later, Axel heard a single set of footfalls in the corridor behind him. He turned in his chair to glance at his visitor... then sprang to his feet.

"General Solo...!" Axel said, his blue eyes opening wide as he stared at the tall, handsome former leader of the Rebel Alliance standing only a couple of meters away. In his white shirt and dark vest and pants, Solo didn't look the part of a military general. But then again, he'd always been unconventional, and that's probably why he'd been so successful during the rebellion against the Empire, and why its leaders had valued him so highly.

"It's just citizen Solo now, kid," the former smuggler told him. "Though you are being a lot more respectful than you were the last time we met."

Axel had to cast his mind back--way back--to recall that occasion. Back to when he'd still been a boy. His father had been competing with Solo for a job, and the client had asked to meet with both of them aboard the Nomad to make his decision. Solo had walked aboard like he owned the place, all young and cocky, and had bestowed that arrogant smile of his on Axel. The younger Bergeron had looked up at him and called him a dirty rotten underhanded pirate. And Solo's cocky grin had broadened, and he'd asked Axel if that was what his father had said about him, and when Axel had said it was, Solo had leaned down and told him his dad was right. Then he'd laughed and ruffled Axel's hair, and Axel had hated him, and hated him even more when he'd won the job away from them. It was funny, Axel reflected, how time and circumstance had changed things. A few years after that, Solo had no longer been a competitor--he was a hero of the rebellion, and Axel's childish disdain had gradually changed to respect, even admiration.

Which was why Axel now shook his head and laughed abashedly. "I was just a kid," he said with a shrug.

"You weren't too far off the mark, at the time," Solo said as a shadow of his old, cocky smile appeared on his face. Then he grew more serious. "I was sorry to hear about your dad. He was a good man."

"Thanks," Axel replied, nodding sadly. It had been over a standard year since his father's death, but the wound still felt fresh whenever someone brushed against it, no matter how well-intentioned they were.

Solo directed his gaze behind Axel. "I see you left the cockpit on the wrong side," he remarked.

Axel shrugged and held up his left hand. "Runs in the family," he said, to which Solo responded by raising his eyebrows and nodding. "You know, I'm glad you're here," Axel went on. "I've been trying to enhance her hyperdrive efficiency, like you did with the Falcon. I saved up and put in a larger unit like you have, and it helped, but it's still not quite there. I think it has something to do with the efficiency of the alluvial dampers, but I'm not completely sure...?"

He watched Solo expectantly. The veteran smuggler looked back at him with the same expression that Axel suspected he used during high-stakes sabbac games.

"Yeah, well, good luck with that," Solo said.

Axel suddenly burst out laughing, and Solo also smiled and started to chuckle.

"Once a freighter jockey, always a freighter jockey, eh?" Axel remarked. Solo nodded, indicating he hadn't at all forgotten his days in this hyper-competitive business where shaving off a few hours' delivery time here or a saving a few credits on fuel there meant a big difference in profits and opportunities for future business. And any secrets to achieve either one weren't readily shared.

"So what brings you here?" Axel asked him a moment later.

"Well," Solo said nonchalantly, "I was in the neighborhood on New Republic business--chauffeuring the wife on another one of her diplomatic missions--and a friend of mine asked me to drop in on you."

"What friend would that be?"

"Luke Skywalker," Solo answered.

That name certainly caught Axel's attention, and not just because Luke Skywalker--Jedi Master, hero of Yavin, Hoth, Endor, and countless other battles--was something of a living legend. He was also, for all intents and purposes, the boss of Axel's lover, Jedi Knight Kilu Branon. Not that anyone was supposed to know that he and Kilu were intimate. Jedi weren't supposed to form permanent attachments, after all. And now Skywalker had sent one of his oldest and most trusted comrades to just say a friendly hello to the proprietor of a single-ship space freight operation? No, this had something to do with Kilu. Axel was sure of it as soon as he heard Skywalker's name mentioned. Nevertheless, he adopted the same studiously neutral expression Solo had displayed just a couple of minutes ago.

"Really?" Axel responded, brows raising slightly. "Any particular reason...?"

"Luke asked me to extend an invitation for you to visit the Jedi Praxeum on Yavin 4," Solo told him. Axel opened his mouth to ask several questions, but Solo held his open hand up to stop him. "He didn't tell me anything more than that, sorry. But just between us, knowing Luke like I do... I'd say the invitation is of the 'as soon as possible' variety."

"As in, drop everything you're doing and get your butt over here forthwith?" Axel said.

"Something like that, yeah," Solo confirmed.

From down the corridor came the distinctive sound of a Wookiee's plaintive cry. Solo turned his head in response to it.

"Sounds like your better half is calling you," Axel joked, but his smile and his voice were both tight.

Solo smiled and laughed briefly, then turned to go. "Good seeing you again, kid," he called back over his shoulder. "Take care."

Axel did not respond. His mind was already elsewhere, even as he activated his ship's command console and began to tap in the pre-flight sequence. Skywalker's invitation could be entirely innocent, but Axel doubted it. As the Nomad roared out of the hangar and into the atmosphere, he ruefully thought that he should just have a preset for the navicomputer labelled "trouble". Because as much as he loved her, Kilu Branon had a definite talent for getting herself to that location in record speed, and for dragging Axel into it after her.