War and Serenity

By Michael Weyer

The Hand Strikes

The grinding of the engines marred the quiet of the swamp as the Firefly warmed up. Mal was in the cockpit watching Wash flick over switches. "Sure we can get going?"

"Jayne cleaned the mud out as much as he could," the pilot answered. "Not sure how bad the struts are sunk in but if we can get off the ground, we should be able to lift off."

"Hopefully a mite easier than the landing part was," Mal stated. He turned to push on the wall communicator. "Kaylee, engines ready?"

"Fired up, sir!"

"No need to call me, sir, Kaylee. Though appreciation for the thought is felt." Mal hung up the communicator to head down the hallways, pausing at a door. He opened it slightly to see the form of Ahsoka Tano sitting cross-legged on the ground, head bowed. "I'm aware our seats are not the best form but a mite more comfortable."

She looked up with a smile. "I've been in worse ships."

"Not taken as the sterling compliment it was intended as."

Tano smiled more. "Thanks for this."

"Best to hold appreciation until it's deserved," Mal warned her. He studied her carefully. "I don't hold to many rules on this boat but the first you should know…I don't appreciate surprises. Been hit by too many of them so any baggage you carry on board, best to have it out now."

"Not much to tell," she stated. "I'm a Jedi on the run, I try not to keep to many bases tied down just in case. But trust me, Captain, I don't intend any harm to you or your ship."

"Sadly, intentions and results are not always exclusive." Mal turned to walk down the hall and made his way into the cargo bay. He saw Yoda perched on a nearby shelf, observing the ship. "Sure you're okay with coming on board with us?"

"Come, the time has," the Jedi Master intoned. "Gone too long, have I been." He tapped his stick at the crate. "Thought destiny was to wait but differently, the Force flows."

Mal made a mental note to not get into too many long talks with this man to help his own mental health. "Right. Well, we're about to take off. Need anything from your home? Might be a while before we come back."

Yoda looked at him with a flat gaze. "Return, I never shall. Carved from swamp, my home was. Return to it, it shall."

Mal just looked at him before walking off. "Okay, then. Best to find a place to bunk, we'll be off shortly."

Yoda watched him go before looking to Book, who had walked into the bay. "Trust him, do you?"

"He's a good man, despite everything, Master," Book said. "I hope he can find more of that strength as we go on."

"Not just him." The two looked up as Ahsoka came down the stairs. "The Empire is strong, Master Yoda, maybe stronger than you can realize. Fighting against them…especially Vader…" She shivered.

"Have you met him?" Book asked with concern.

"I've seen him," Ahsoka answered. "I was helping some refugees on a planet when the 501st came in, looking for Rebel supporters. Vader was with them." She shook her head. "That aura…the Dark Side was so strong in him, even more than with Dooku. The way he executed a pair of soldiers without hesitation, it was terrifying." She looked to Yoda. "Who was he, Master? I can tell he had to be a Jedi at one point but…"

"Who he was, matters not," the elderly Jedi stated. "Gone that figure is. Darkness remains now." He felt a rumble as he saw the docking bay doors lock closed. "Prepare, we must be."

"I know," Ahsoka sighed. "We may be all that's left of the Jedi in this galaxy."

"No." Yoda looked to them both. "There is another."

The cup slowly floated upward toward the table. It paused in mid-air as it started to turn on its side then paused. Luke frowned as he furrowed his brow and made a motion with his hand toward the cup.

"Do not push it," Zhaan stated, sitting behind him watching intently. "You let the Force flow through you. You do not try to manipulate it directly. That frustration blocks your ability to use it properly. At least from the parts you want to."

"The Dark Side." Luke looked to her. "Is the Dark Side stronger?"

Zhaan shook her head. "No. Although it seems to be. That is part of its allure. It's faster and seemingly easier but it exacts a terrible price from those who use it. The way of the Jedi is not a fast one nor is the journey easy. But that is what makes it much stronger in the end."

Luke nodded as he turned back to the cup. He took a deep breath before holding his hand out and turning it slowly around. He then levitated it over to slide onto the shelf next to the others, letting his breath out. "Good," Zhaan stated. "I can tell the Force is strong within you. Your father must have been a powerful Jedi."

"I never knew him," Luke quickly pointed out. "He died when I was a child. I had no idea I had any potential until Obi-Wan began teaching me."

"Hmm…" Zhaan tapped a finger to her chin. "It is strong in you. Not as much as in Leia but then…"

Luke stared at her in surprise. "Leia?"

"Yes. You did not know?" Zhaan cocked her head. "Most interesting. But yes, I can feel strength in the Force in her. Buried quite deep but it is there."

Luke shook his head. "There has to be a mistake, Leia…"

"No mistake, I assure you," Zhaan pressed. "Something that is well worth exploring in the future. For now, continue on your…" She stopped, cocking her head to the side. Luke also stiffened as he felt...something in the air around them, a sudden tension. "What is that?"

"Someone else on this ship is tapping into the Force," Zhaan answered. She looked to him with concern before turning to race out of the room, Luke quickly behind her.

A few minutes earlier, Leia was making her way into the lower levels of Moya, still marveling at this amazing ship. It was strange how she could almost…feel something in the walls, they seemed to respond to her touch. She had to wonder more about what race created this, to harness a living organism in such a way. That was something to impress…yet she also felt an odd chill at the same sensation.

She paused as she saw Aeryn working at a nearby station. The woman was clad in black pants and a shirt without her jacket, clearly adept at the mechanics but instantly alert to see Leia behind her. They stared at one another for a moment before Aeryn went back to her work. "Moya may be a special ship but she needs repairs as much as any other," she intoned in that flat voice of hers.

"Compared to most ships I've been on lately, she's doing great." Leia studied Aeryn carefully. "How long were you with the Imperial military?"

Aeryn kept on working. "Family tradition. Basically trained since I could walk."

"To serve the Empire?" Leia didn't bother hiding his disdain.

"You Rebels like to talk of how great it was but my father served the Republic. He remembers it wasn't a utopia. There was slavery rampant, crime out of control, planets where governors ran as dictatorships…"

"And a full-scale dictatorship is better?" Leia snapped. "One that exterminates planets?"

Aeryn looked over to her, seeing the pain in Leia's eyes. "Alderaan…That was different. I knew the Empire was brutal but an entire planet exterminated…" She shook her head. "I suppose that was a reason I helped Crichton out when I met him. And how I can deal with being made an enemy of the government I once served."

Leia leaned on a wall as she studied her. "It's an odd group to be sure."

"Crichton may act a fool at times but he's really quite capable in a fight and good leadership skills." Aeryn was delivering her words like a status report. D'argo can let his anger get the best of him but a great fighter to have at your back. Chianna is a thief, sneaky which comes in handy a lot but don't fully trust her. Zaahn has some secrets but don't let her 'priestess' act fool you, she can unleash a hell of a dark side. Stark is a raving lunatic but get on his own bad side and it gets nasty. And Rygel…" She rolled her eyes. "The less said there…"

"And you still stick with them," Leia pointed out. "You could have left on your own but you stay here."

"Safety in numbers."

"If you say so."

Aeryn gave her a hard look. "I fully admit the Empire isn't perfect. But if you Rebels truly believe every planet wants out of it, you're just fooling yourselves. Some worlds remember how chaotic the Clone Wars were, the mass destruction and the savagery. They prefer order."

"There's order and then there's lack of freedom at all. What we're trying to do is at least give people a choice."

"And if they choose not to follow you?"

"At least it's better than what they have now. We have to try and…" Before Leia could continue, a low moan echoed from the walls. The two women looked baffled before Pilot's voice echoed from a loudspeaker. "Someone is trying to interfere with Moya's engines!"

In a flash, Aeryn had yanked her gun from the nearby table and was racing to the stairway. Leia was quick to follow as the woman bounded down some stairs to another level of the large chamber. She whirled on a corner, weapon up and calling "Hold it!" at the red-haired figure standing by a console.

Saffron froze in place as she heard the voice. She slowly raised up her hands as she turned around to face the intense Aeryn. "Take it easy…I was just on my way down and…"

"Don't even try," the soldier snapped. "You were trying to sabotage the engines."

"Actually, I wasn't," the redhead replied in a calm voice. "They're way too advanced, almost like a living organism." She smiled. "But your sensor system…that was a little easier to crack."

Aeryn's eyes were widening as she backed up toward the communicator. Before she could, Saffron threw a hand forward and a shockwave of energy suddenly knocked Aeryn and Leia back. Aeryn managed to hold onto her gun, raising it to fire but Saffron easily dodged the blasts. She was fiddling with something she'd slipped out of her dress as Aeryn rose up. Leia had as well, moving to grab a second blaster at Aeryn's back. The dark-haired woman glared at first until she saw the professional manner Leia was holding the weapon and gave a respectful nod.

"Just come out now," Leia called out. "Before it gets messy.

The reply was a snap-hiss that Leia knew very well and Saffron leapt outward, holding a device emitting a purple blade of energy in her hands. Aeryn was firing but Saffron easily blocked the bolts with her lightsaber before lashing out a kick that knocked Aeryn back. Leia was drawing her weapon but in a lightning-fast move, Saffron sliced it in half before sending another wave to knock Leia back.

She ran, taking the stairs in bounds greater than a regular human should have been able to do. In moments, she had reached the upper levels and racing through the hallway of the ship. She felt it before she saw it, able to slow her run down just as Luke and Zhaan turned the corner. The young man was startled to see but quickly recovered, holding his own lightsaber up into a ready stance. Zhaan was alert as well, hands at the ready. "Strong," she noted. "Not a full Sith but you do tap into the Dark Side."

"I do what's needed," Saffron snapped.

"Including going with us," Luke said. He was annoyed at the realization of how Han was going to be able to gloat about this for some time. "Was that planned, Saffron? Or whatever your real name is?"

"It's Mara," she replied. "And I'm very adaptable." She threw out her hand to create another wave of Force energy but Zhaan returned it with a wave of her own. The two clashed hard, Luke deciding to take advantage by lunging at Mara. He managed to deflect his saber strike with one of her own. It took a few moments for Luke to realize she was far more skilled than he was as she easily blocked his attacks before pushing him back.

Footsteps echoed behind her and Mara swirled around to see Crichton and Han moving in, blasters raised. "Told them this woman would be trouble," Han had to say as he fired off a shot. Mara blocked it with her lightsaber before throwing the blade out in a wide arc that sliced off the ends of the two blasters before returning to her hand.

Before the men could react, the ship rocked around them. "The hell?" Crichton yelled out.

On the bridge, Chiana let out a yell as the ship shook once more. "There's nothing on sensors!" she yelled.

D'argo cursed as he worked the controls. "Someone is shooting at us!" A rumble echoed through the ship. "And docking!" He looked around. "Where's Rygel?"

"We're under attack, where do you think he is?"

"Kitchen or his bedroom?"

"Bedroom this time I think."

D'argo grabbed his rifle as he ran down a hallway. He was just moving around a corner when an explosion ripped through a wall and the entire ship groaned as if in pain. There was movement and D'argo leapt to the side as blaster bolts ripped down the hallways. A trio of stromtroopers in armor were firing outward at full blast, making sure to keep D'argo down. Another trooper broke away from the pack, racing down a hallway. D'argo leaned out to fire a shot at him but was forced to back down after the others fired at him.

The lone trooper made his way down a hallway until coming to an intersection. He knelt down as he removed a large disc-shaped pack from his back. He placed it on the ground and pressed on the central button at its top. The pack raised up before firing a quintet of small globes from its various sides. Several zipped down the hallways while one plunged into the main wall. One globe was zipping down a hall just as C-3PO, R2 and Bullox walked out of a nearby supply room. "What in …." Was all Threepio got out before all three sparked and collapsed.

The trooper rose up as he put a hand to his helmet. "EMP is set, droids are out!" He pulled a small pad out to tap keys. "Give me a minute and we'll have the ship's engines!"

"Hurry it up, Marcross!" the lead trooper called out as he fired another blast down the hallway to push D'argo back. Two of the other globes landed into separate walls in hallways, magnetizing before firing up the charges within them.

Crichton was moving to try and reach the hallway when a burst came from a loudspeaker. "Under…attack…" Pilot gasped out. "Can't hold…" With a loud groan, the lights about Moya dimmed and the ship shook hard.

"Crap," Crichton muttered as Han shook his head. "I could have told you, John, you never put your faith in some AI…"

"He's not that, Solo," Crichton snapped as he raced back down the hallway only to find Mara once more blocking his way, her lightsaber pointed at him. Behind her were a pair of troopers, their rifles raised. Han and Crichton immediately raised theirs as well.

"We've got bombs linked up across the hull," one of the troopers said in his filtered voice. "Anyone tries anything and we blow this ship."

"And you too, genius," Han snapped.

The man snorted. "Oxygen tanks, genius. We can survive long enough to get to our ship. Can you?"

Han and Crichton exchanged looks. The lead trooper put a hand to his ear to listen before leaning in to whisper to Mara. She smiled as she looked at the two men. "One of my associates just happened to be an expert sniper and right now, he's got your two lady friends in his sights. Give up now or…."

Han and Crichton were obviously concerned but neither willing to put their guns down just yet. Mara tensed herself as she felt a disturbance, knowing Zhaan and Luke were heading toward her. She was preparing herself when the entire ship shook once more.

"The hell?" The lead trooper hit his communicator. "Korlo, what was that?" He paused, cocking his head. "Interference? From who? Korlo? Korlo, come in!"

He looked to Mara and the concern was obvious under his helmet. "Something's jamming us. I don't know who…"

From the hallway behind them, an eruption of flame rocked everyone off-balance. Mara spun around just in time to see an armored form landing in the hallway, his rifle raised. "All right," he said in a voice filtered by his own helmet. "Everyone take it easy or this gets messy."

"Is that…" Crichton began.

"Yep," Han groaned. "Perfect capper to the day."

Mara glared at the form of Boba Fett. "This is Imperial business, Fett. Back off."

"Sorry but the bounty on Solo and this ship combined is something I want," Fett said. "And by the way, my ship's on auto ready to open fire on your shuttle so no funny moves on your part."

Luke and Zhaan turned the corner just in time to take in the scene before them: Fett was aiming his rifle at Solo, who was pointing his blaster right back. Crichton was aiming his own gun at a trooper and Aeryn was arriving on the scene with D'argo, their own weapons raised just as the remaining members of the Hand arrived to back up their squad.

"Well," the Jedi said in a dry voice. "I am most interested in seeing just how this turns out."

Walking across the deck of the Star Destroyer Conquest, Bialar Crais was not a happy person. As ever, his hunt for Moya and her crew was consuming his waking time as was his attempts to find out more of her origins. It was a mission sanctioned by the Empire, who wanted a closer look at its technology. However, Crais still felt himself burning for the need of revenge on the man who killed his brother. If he could do that while serving the Empire, that was all the better.

He was thus not pleased with being yanked out of a meeting with other officers to be called to the bridge. It sounded quite urgent but Crais preferred not having to deal with such matters now. He marched to a nearby officer on the bridge. "All right, Lieutenant, what is it?"

The man was quite nervous, swallowing as he faced his commander. "Sir…We…Just received a shuttle. We had thought it was just a courier but…" He nodded behind him and Crais looked past him at the figure standing at the head of the bridge. The man was dressed in black leather, his skin white where it showed under his mask and his eyes as cold as ice as he looked Crais over. The soldier did his best to silence the sudden terror in his heart as he carefully stepped forward. "And…you are?"

"You may call me Lord Scorpius," the man said in a chilling voice. "And as of now, on the authority of the Emperor, I am taking control of this vessel."

Crais was wise enough to know arguing was not a smart move here. The sheer menace this man gave off was intimidating, not to mention his obvious power. "I…see. What are your orders….My Lord," he quickly added.

"I am expecting a communique from a source soon," the Sith responded. "When I do, you will take this ship to capture the vessel known as Serenity."

Crais licked his lips. "My Lord…with respect, I am currently…"

"I am well aware of your hunt for Crichton, Captain," Scorpius cut him off. "However, the search for this other ship is of far more interest to the Emperor." He narrowed his eyes. "Do you wish to question those orders?"

"Of course not, sir," Crais quickly said. "We shall be ready to move at once."

"Be sure you do, Captain," the black-clad man stated as he turned to the windows. "I may not have the temper of Lord Vader…But we do share a hatred for failure."

Crais fought not to openly run off the bridge as he moved off. His mind was whirling, knowing he had to try and get in touch with Fett and Bane quickly to cancel their searches. Otherwise…he would be the one being hunted.

Imperial communications were top of the line but still capable of being hacked. While Rebels were the common threat, there were also many on the "independent" side who were more than ready to listen in to see what targets could be available for the right parties. And that included the group of people standing in the may bay of a small craft making its way through a distant cluster.

"So…" the captain of the ship said as he looked at the group before them, his long coat hanging off his suit as his scruffy beard highlighted his handsome face. "We're going in."

"Why?" growled the large man with a bald head and green-tinted skin. "Why risk ourselves like this?"

"You see the bounty put out on this?" the captain pressed. "We nab them and we're on easy street!"

"Please," came another crewmember, his fur bristling as he sat in a chair to fit his small frame. "How many times have you said that and it's not been proven right once!"

"No, I've been proven right lots of times!'

"You're mostly wrong."

"I'd say it's a good 80-20 I'm right!"

A loud screeching sound echoed through the hold.

"I hate that laugh…"

The lone female of the group brushed back her long reddish hair which clashed with her own green skin. "It would be a benefit for our bankbook, to get any number of people off our back."

"See, she agrees," the captain pressed. "Besides, my ship!"

"Oh, not this again!" the furry creature groaned. "We have to keep bowing to you because you own this garbage?"

"I do not bow," the green-skinned man rumbled.

"It will be dangerous," the woman noted.

"Dangerous?" the furry creature snorted. "We're going after Fett and some stormtroopers not to mention Bane and who knows what else, that's near-suicide!"

"Is it?" The other man smiled. "Hmmm…perhaps it is worth it after all."

"Okay, but we need this to be all-in," the leader of the group said. "Which means everyone gets a say in things."

They all turned to the last figure in the room. He had been sitting and observing all this in silence, as was his way. Seeing the stares thrown at him, he cocked his head to the side as he mulled the issues over. He slowly rose up, his long thin body shuffling with its extra appendages before opening his mouth and making his voice known.

"I am Groot."

Guardians of the Galaxy owned by Marvel. All comments welcomed.