Another vignette on the outside looking in, but with a bit more humour this time. Just a bit of fun.
'Would I like to write a little piece about the Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker?'
It was very politely worded, and came from an official comm from an mainstream HoloNet distributor which wouldn't normally approach the likes of me – a bit too left-field for their type of publication – but basically, that's what it boiled down to.
'We know that you knew him for a long time, and you are a reporter, even though we don't normally take your kind of stuff, so…how about an exclusive?'
Well, I'm easily flattered. Plus I like to write about friends, famous friends even more so. I bathe in their reflected glow, since it's about the nearest I'm ever going to get.
I should also qualify this by stating that aside from his closest friends and family, nobody really knows Luke Skywalker. Those who claim they do, know him even less than those who claim only a passing friendship.
I've met him around a dozen or so times, though I remember them all – most people do. I don't suppose that classes me as a friend; in my book, that puts me firmly into the passing acquaintance list, and I'm pretty sure Luke Skywalker has a large number of those, especially these days.
He's a very private man who tends to hide the fact behind an affable, approachable, genuinely friendly exterior, so that most people tend not to notice that they're the ones doing most of the talking if they meet. In truth, most people who claim friendship know only what they've read or seen on the HoloNet channels, and most of that is fiction anyway.
So here we go. Ten credits a word, so please forgive me if I repeat myself occasionally; I have rent to pay.
My name is Catia Olange. Female, human, nondescript. Used to have quite a nice figure in my youth, but I'm afraid it's gone south now. Obviously Olange isn't my real surname either- I just made that up by pressing all the keys on my keyboard at once and seeing which ones stuck. I am, as you may have guessed from my galaxy-weary bitterness (and the fact that I already wrote it down), a reporter. In truth, I'm really very optimistic once you get to know me – I only get like this when beings pay me to write.
In my defence, I'm only getting ten credits a word – happy is extra.
So…When did I meet?
Well, that would be about twenty years ago.
We were both young and idealistic, neither of us having been battered about the head by the realities of war too much at that point. I think he'd been a pilot for about a year, and I was fresh out of college, fully intending to change the galaxy, looking for my big break.
When I met a Barabel in a bar on Sollust who told me he could get me to a Rebel fleet ship, I thought I'd found my chance. He was a mechanic, I think, and along with about twenty other crew, was there in a rusted little freighter picking up some very suspect shipment which I never found out about – hey, give me a break; I was young.
So anyway, four days later I was sitting in the mess onboard this Frigate, having lost practically all I owned to the Barabel and his bunkmates in three days of intensive Sabacc-playing. Thus I was deposited on the flight deck with one Rebel issue mechanics' jumpsuit, one bar of chocolate, my automemo and fourteen credits exactly.
Fortunately, food seemed to be free once onboard, the assumption being made that if you're on the frigate then you're probably meant to be here, so they'd better feed you.
I was sitting by myself, stewing, when a voice piped up.
"Hey, anyone sitting here?"
I looked up to the bright orange jump-suit of a pilot. Like most of the pilots then, he was pretty young, about my own age, and he had nice eyes, so I kicked out the chair opposite. "Be my guest."
As he sat down, there was this whoup from the other side of the mess, and I glanced over to see about six other pilots all watching. Immediately they all sat down and looked the other way in mock disinterest. I glanced through narrowed eyes at the blond pilot opposite, who was giving them a disparaging look.
"Just ignore them. I don't know any of them – they just follow me around and make my life hell." He turned to me and smiled, which made him look even younger and– okay, I admit it; quite cute.
I distinctly remember hoping he was hitting on me.
"Like the lilly. Hi Catia."
Now I was sure he was hitting on me. Didn't mind though.
He shrugged, "Well, I went to school. Unlike those reprobates. You're new 'round here?"
"Yep. Fresh in today." I felt it best not to mention from where.
Not that he noticed, setting a dry grin on his face and his head on one side, "Wow – from the real outside galaxy?"
"Yeah." Rebels, I found out, speak about the 'real galaxy' as if it's some mythical, unreachable place, whilst most people from the real galaxy speak of the Rebellion in the same way.
The pilot leaned forward; he had nice eyes – have I mentioned that already? He always had nice eyes. Expressive; startling sky blue. They always made him look so much younger. They say you can see a being's soul by looking into its eyes. I think he had a young soul… I think he still does; he just hides it better now.
"So, do you have any real, outside galaxy food, Catia-like-the-lilly?"
"I have a bar of chocolate."
He grinned; had a nice smile too. "I cannot tell you how popular you're about to become."
He was so young; it makes me smile right now just to remember it. So young and so slim – you know when people haven't yet grown into their bodyweight? Not gangly, he was past that stage, he had a bit of muscle on him already, but – I don't know – maybe everybody at that age looks the same. Maybe it's because they stand so straight, not knocked down by life yet. He had his whole life in front of him, and he thought he had a pretty good idea of how it was going to go.
I imagine he couldn't have been more wrong.
"So you're a pilot?" Not my best line, but he let it pass.
"Yeah, but don't hold it against me. I don't hang out with those guys." He glanced back at the others, all still staring, who tuned quikly to look innocently elsewhere.
"Well they seem to know you."
"I'm telling you, they just follow me around. I have no idea how to get rid of them." He glanced up from his empty plate and back towards the serving hatch, "I'm going for something else. You want anything?"
He twisted his face, "Sweet may be a little optimistic. I can get you some fluffy pink stuff in a little plastic dish – I think it's made out of beets."
He headed off toward the serving hatch with a grin, to be accosted by several pilots from a different wing group, these wearing yellow flightsuits. I watched him chat a minute, then gesture in my direction, followed by various noises and gestures. Glancing over at me, he shouted, "I swear I never met 'em before!"
I was still grinning when he sat back down, handing a small dish over. "Here; strange, yellow goopy stuff today. Never claim we don't get variety."
I lifted my spoon and it stayed upright in the stuff. "Isn't this baby food?"
Luke studied his suspiciously, "Really? That's why I feel like crying every time I look at it."
He ate a little bit, and I watched his expression. It didn't look good.
"What's it taste of?" I asked.
I tasted the stuff, and I think 'yellow' was a pretty accurate description. "Why do you guys stay here?" I asked, screwing up my face.
"Cos they never give us quite enough fuel to leave." He smiled, dropping his head onto his arm, which was laid across the metal mesh table, so that he could look up at me disarmingly. "You know what this needs? Chocolate."
"Hey, pal, you're going to have to do an awful lot more than get me some 'yellow' before I part with my last bar of chocolate."
He smiled, "Well, that sounds like…"
This last was drowned out by a claxon and he jumped to his feet, "Gotta go!"
"Wait! Where will you be later?"
He was already backing out, the other orange flightsuits heading towards him in a mass.
"What's your name, I'll find you."
Without thinking I shouted "Olange. Catia Olange." Then he was gone in a sea of orange and yellow flight suits as they headed for the flight deck. It wasn't until they'd left the room that I realised that my name was no help whatsoever since I wasn't supposed to be here in the first place. I cursed roundly until people started staring, then sat down and ate my 'yellow'.
A front-line frigate is a big place, and you'd be surprised how possible it is to just melt into the background if you have a Rebel-issue mechanic's jumpsuit on. I hung around the various mess for a few days, chatted to a few beings, but there are about ten mess-halls on a frigate of that type, plus I had to sleep – something that apparently fighter pilots don't seem to get a lot of – so it was actually several days before I saw my blue-eyed pilot again.
I had learned a little bit about him, though. Like the fact that he was the pilot who destroyed the new Imperial Battle-Station that was all over the underground news holo's a year earlier – the one that had destroyed Alderaan.
Of course, they didn't mention its destruction on the official channels, but then they hadn't mentioned its existence either. That was strictly for those who knew where to look.
Knowing this, I was all the more eager to find 'Blue' again. I wanted to get a name for myself and I was figuring that this could be just the way to do it.
The name of the pilot who'd destroyed the Emperor's new toy; an exclusive interview.
Kind of thing that puts a new reporter on the map.
So when I was wandering up a corridor and felt a strong arm grab my elbow, pushing me forward as his voice whispered, "Just keep walking", I was actually pretty pleased.
I was a little nervous as he just kept me walking for some time, guiding me in silence down corridors which held fewer and fewer people. He pulled me short before a door, opened it and pushed me into the dark room beyond. Not harshly, but firmly, whirling me around in the darkness.
I heard him move around before the lights came on and he spun round to face me. "Okay, who are you?"
I held my hands out before me, suddenly very aware of the fact that he was wearing a gun and I was wearing someone else's uniform. "I can explain."
He held his silence, looking at me expectantly. Those sky-blue eyes were now hard and cold as ice.
"Well, no I can't, but it's nothing bad."
He was shaking his head, blond hair whipping every which way, tousled from the flight helmet he still held by the strap. "You're not a member of the crew – I checked. So who are you?"
"I'm a reporter."
He just looked, then, "Please…" he said unbelievingly.
"I swear to you I'm just a reporter. I wanted a story."
He looked at me in silence for a long time – no he kind of looked through me.
Finally he spoke, "How did you get here?"
"I stowed away." I didn't want to get the Barabel in trouble.
Straight away, he said something that shook me with its conviction, "You're lying." I probably gaped like a fish, but there was something in his eyes which broached no argument. "If you ever lie to me again, I'll..."
"Okay, okay. I hitched a lift off of some guy from a freighter on Sollust – they were dropping off parts or something. He cleaned me out, if it makes you feel any better. I'm actually stuck here because I don't have anything to barter a return passage with. I just wanted a story, that's all."
His eyes narrowed. Suddenly he didn't look so very young anymore. Suddenly, he was a soldier and I had the unpleasant feeling I was on the wrong side of his war. "What story?"
I opened my mouth and almost lied – but those hard blue eyes stopped me dead. "You, now." I admitted.
That took him by surprise. "Me?"
"Well yeah, you're the pilot who destroyed the Battle Station with a single shot. You're famous."
"The Death Star?"
Great name! I filed it away for later use, "Yes. I just wanted a story."
He was calming down a little now, thrown by this unexpected curve ball.
"You have got to be kidding me." He ran his fingers through his hair.
"I've been looking for you for days, Blue."
He glanced up at that. "You have no idea how much trouble you're in, do you?"
I truly didn't. I was that naïve. "Trouble? Why?"
He sighed. "I think we should go have a chat, Catia-like-the-lilly." His face had softened a little now, as he opened the door and gestured me through, "And I think you should bring chocolate."
He glanced back at me, raising his eyebrows, "Assuming that is, that you weren't lying about that too?"
"No, the chocolate's real."
"Well, that's something."
I spent the next two days in the brig while they decided what to do with me.
Blue had convinced me, against my better judgement, to go and see the Captain with him, which was upheld when I was invited in no uncertain terms to take a short walk to a small room with two rather burly men supporting me. Blue had immediately come to my defence, but the Captain had maintained that I would at least have to stay there until they verified my story.
This was my very first brig, though certainly not my last, so I spent an inordinate amount of time pacing and biting my nails, though Blue came to see me before and after his shifts, both times bringing me food and eating his own meals with me, just on the other side of the bars – they don't do forcefields in Rebel ships; too power-hungry. See, I'm an old hand now.
I admit, I may have spent most of our time together alternately cursing him roundly for talking me into going to the Captain with him, then pleading with him to put in another good word for me, then telling him what I'd do to him if there wasn't a very stout set of bars between us.
He took it all in good humour, which has always been one of his particular talents with everything in his life – fortunately, as it turns out.
Forty-eight hours later, in exchange for rather ignominiously naming the Barabel who fleeced me, I was released under Commander Skywalker's cognizance, pending a return flight to civilisation. Apparently, he'd argued my case again to the powers that be, and that was good enough to get me out of the brig and off the ship. I didn't particularly want the latter, but was quite pleased with the former, since it gave me an excuse to spend some time with Blue.
I'd like to be able to tell you that it was strictly professional, but I'd be lying.
To tell the truth, I was quite touched; Blue had no reason to stick his neck out for me, so the fact that he had done so without hesitation was quite flattering and very sweet. Yes, sweet. I know you don't generally hear that and the name Luke Skywalker in the same sentence, but as it turns out you should, because he is- very.
"So, where are we going, your place or mine?" I had nine hours before my shuttle left and I didn't want to waste them. I had a story to write and a pilot to get to know better. Not necessarily in that order. I admit, I was practically skipping along beside him, which made him look away to try to hide his grin.
"Where exactly is your place?" He asked.
"Actually it's a store cupboard on level twelve, near the speeders in the Deep Storage hangers."
"Nice. My place it is, then."
He then completely surprised me by turning down a corridor which I knew only led to the mess hall. I stopped dead. "Where're you going?"
Now he frowned, "To eat. Food?"
Total embarrassment on everybody's part.
"I thought you were kidding." he said…
"No, I was serious-"
"Oh? Oh!? What happened to all this 'live for the moment' stuff? A pilot on active duty – you might be dead this time tomorrow."
"Thanks," he said dryly.
"Oh, that didn't come out right!"
"No really, keep going. This is great."
"Is it scary? To fly in combat, I mean?"
We were in the mess now, eating processed food and trying not to look at it too closely for fear that we might recognise what it was. Blue shrugged, glancing up.
"Yeah, I guess – sometimes. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't. You don't think about it though, not when you're up there."
"Do you think…" I couldn't say it. I didn't have to.
"That you're going to die? You think it the whole time before you go up." His eyes became distant, "Play every scenario through in your head. Then they sound the call for the briefing, and you just get so much information crammed into your head that all you can do is try to remember it all, and you just… put everything else aside. When you're up there, you're way too concerned with staying alive to worry about being killed. And you just… you have a job to do, so you do it."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that. Then you come back and go to bed and lay in the dark staring at the ceiling for about six hours straight 'cos you're too wired to sleep."
"Then you get up and do it again. But this time when you get back you just stare at the ceiling for five and three-quarter hours."
"And so on," I finished for him
"And so on,"
"So how long are you at?"
"Varies," he shrugged.
"On?" I prompted.
He just shrugged again.
"How many you lost." I realized.
"Sometimes…" he fell into uneasy silence.
He shook his head. "You just… you feel bad, 'cos….. you know, you hear all that stuff - that after a while you stop learning the new one's names and you try not to get talking - but… it's not like that; not really. You know their names. You know that they have a sister on Corellia or a brother on Io. You teach them to play sabacc, 'cos you gotta make up numbers at the table and you sit and go through the 'fight-comp.' test with 'em, 'cos they won't pass it otherwise. They just… they wriggle through your defences. Not all of them, but enough. Enough that when you lose them 'cos they juked left when they should have gone right or they strayed too far from their wingman or they didn't do anything wrong at all; the other guy was just that bit faster or more experienced – enough get through that it…"
"Just leaves you…" He shrugged again, not meeting my eye, "I dunno. You swear every time that you're never gonna do it again; you're never gonna learn their names or let 'em in, but… you're human, you know? We're all just…trying to do the right thing; trying to get through as best we can."
The way he spoke… with such depth of feeling and such immediacy… "You just lost some pilots today?"
"Four." He murmured, nodding, eyes on the middle-distance. "I gotta write four letters tonight, before I turn in. I actually only knew the surname of one of them… one of the others; I don't think his folks even knew he was here."
"What was his surname?"
"Killy- stupid name." He half-laughed.
"What happened?" I had to ask. But he just shrugged, not wishing to be drawn.
"He died." He said simply, then, voice forced lighter, "And he owed me four hundred from sabacc. Never play me at sabacc; I think its bad luck – you get past four or five hundred owing and that's it. If I could call in all those credits owed, I could buy the damn fleet. I'd get some decent food in here for a start."
I laughed, recognising that he'd changed the subject, but hey, he'd had a tough week.
Turns out that four down is a pretty good week – I just didn't know it at the time.
"Welcome to my apartment. Try not to get lost."
It was a tiny room with two single beds on opposite walls, a locker at the head of each of them, the lower half of which didn't open because the beds were in the way, and just enough room at the foot of the beds, beside the door, for a fold-down table which was bolted to the wall and a metal mesh chair, obviously stolen from the mess-hall. The table was covered in stuff and the chair had an assortment of ex-aircraft seat pads on it in a vain attempt to make it comfy. At the opposite end of the room, a narrow door led through into one of those tiny prefab 'freshers which are basically just wet-rooms with a pan and a sink at one end and a shower head at the other.
"Now you know why I spend all my time in the mess." He said, not so much embarrassed as resigned.
"Cosy," I said dryly, "Classy. I particularly like the wet towels. Nice touch."
"Hey, you live in a locker under the stairs," he laughed easily. He had a nice laugh, very easy-going; completely infectious. And he used it a lot, which I liked.
"I never mentioned any stairs." I defended with mock-gravity.
"Really? There were stairs in my head."
I was, I confess, mildly spooked by the fact that there was an emergency stair above my flop. I guess I just figured he'd seen it at some point.
Blue pulled a face, "Oh, what now?"
Confused, I leaned back, "What?" A scrabble at the locked door seconds later was very confusing 'cos it was after he'd said 'What now'.
We both looked at each-other for several seconds, Blue's expression momentarily guilty, as if he'd been caught out. Then he broke the moment by jumping up, belaying any questions as he headed for the door, dragging his shipboard fatigues into some kind of order.
Had I put two and two together by this point? I'd like to say yes, that my keen journalistic mind was working all the angles, but it honestly never even occurred. There had been no Jedi in my lifetime, and the Empire didn't allow any images of, or information about them onto official comm channels on the HoloNet. As far as most people were concerned, they were nothing more than a myth, a distant memory. Everyone claimed to know someone who knew someone who knew a Jedi, but no-one had actually met one themselves.
Two decades after the Empire took control, and already the Jedi were a distant memory, consigned to myth and folklore. And believe me, the Empire worked hard to keep it that way.
"Luke, you in there?" The words were muffled by the thick shipboard door.
Blue opened the door a crack, obviously surprising the other pilot, who had clearly expected to be let in and basically walked into the door.
"Wedge? What're you doing here?" Blue said casually, still holding the door half-shut.
After doing a quick double-take at not being let in, the pilot stopped short, "Uh, you're needed on the flight deck."
Blue shook his head, "No, I'm not on duty 'till the next shift."
I think about then I started pulling at his leg, causing him to stumble back into the room slightly. The other pilot finally put two and two together at this, "You uh…busy?"
"Kinda." Blue closed the door a little further, using his bare foot to push me back as I pulled at him.
The other pilot's voice was full of pity, "Oh man, I am so sorry. They swapped the duty roster -you fly in fifteen minutes."
That was both of us. Blue finally opened the door, and I looked up into the grinning face of the other pilot, a dark-haired human with a suitably apologetic expression.
"Are you sure?" Blue was equal parts exasperation and suspicion.
"I swear to you. They just changed the roster about ten minutes ago. I thought you knew."
"I didn't check my messages." He was fumbling into his flight suit now, shrugging the top half on over his shoulders as he checked his comm.
I watched Blue head reluctantly off down the corridor, then looked the other pilot up and down, "Well, thanks a lot…um.?"
"Wedge. Wedge Antilles." He said, chagrined.
"Well thanks, 'Wedge, Wedge Antilles', for ruining our night."
He backed up, hands out, "Hey, I had nothing to do with it. I didn't request the swap, I'm just a grunt following orders."
"Orders?" It occurred to me that the Captain had said that Blue would be responsible for me until I left, so why would he then change the duty roster around to leave me on my own? "Whose orders?"
Wedge Antilles fumbled out a small automemo from one of his many flightsuit pockets and checked, "Ohh…" his voice was very knowing as he glanced back up at Blue's disappearing form.
Nodding, his inference very clear, he turned the automemo around for me to see, "Princess Leia Organa."
"Princess L… The Senator…from Alderaan?"
"Oh yeah." Antilles nodded.
I think I actually blanched. "Wow. Stiff competition."
"Oh yeah." Antilles repeated.
I was still contemplating this when Antilles looked me up and down and leaned gamely on the doorframe, "So, Rogue Commander's outta here… how does a Lieutenant-Commander sound to you?"
"He's not even got to the end of the corridor!"
"Hey, I may be dead tomorrow..."
"Yeah, I've already used that line myself today... on Blue."
"Blue? Oh, Luke. Did it work?"
"I guess I'll never know."
"Try it on me - I'm an easy touch."
I finally turned to him, "Are all pilots this cocky?!"
He waggled his eyebrows at me, "Oh yeah."
He just managed to back out before I shut the door in his face.
And that, I'm afraid, was the end of that. I was shipped back to the 'Real Galaxy' and Blue was stuck on that damn frigate.
But I knew him now, and he knew me. And that's all you need to start a very long friendship.
That, of course, and to be roughly in the same star system. Preferably a little closer than that.
But I was already working work on it…