The mammoth white spearhead of the Super Star Destroyer, The Executor, broke the blackness of space like an arrow piercing the night. Engines hummed, mutely reverberating along its length. It made its stately passage through the vast emptiness of space, its interior a hive of activity. Techs repaired TIE fighters and bombers, medics patched the wounded, and troops readied themselves for the next battle of the Imperial war machine. They had just brought Bakura to heel. A minor uprising on a small, nondescript world close to the rim, but no one was allowed to deviate from the course that the Emperor had chosen. No one.

In the control room stood a dark figure. Mechanical breathing sounded faintly, carrying fear into the officers working at their stations. The figure was cloaked, armored, helmeted, and masked. An evil seemed to drip from the folds of its cloak. It cast its hidden eyes out the viewport, searching the skies. Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith, turned to the Captain.

"As soon as our last troops return to the ship, contact the Emperor. Tell him that we are done here. Request our next assignment." With that, the dark lord strode from the control room, headed for his personal quarters.

Doors swished shut behind the Sith Lord as he entered his rooms. Bare walls received no notice, he went to his meditation chamber and sat down. Jagged edges of the white dome came together, sealing him off from the outside galaxy.

'Stupid rebels' The Sith Lord thought viciously. 'If they are going to have an uprising, they should at least determine if they can win. Petty skirmishes- they didn't have a prayer. And I had to come all the way out here to put it down.' The air in the chamber hissed as medicated atmosphere filled the space. 'Wasn't worth my time. Damn Palpatine. I know that he's giving me these assignments just to keep me busy. Doesn't trust me, not that I blame him.' Darth Vader smirked behind his mask.

A mechanical arm came down from the ceiling, relieving the dark lord of his helmet and mask.

No, he didn't blame the Emperor. Rising with the Empire, Darth Vader had always stood to support the ideals of peace and order that the Empire had promised. Order to be forced upon an unwilling chaotic galaxy, but order all the same. But the peace that should have come with that order was still to be seen. And over the last few years, Darth Vader had come to realize that was due primarily to the Emperor's mishandling of situations. He was brutal- ordering first cities, then continents, then whole planets striped of life for disobeying his slightest whim. The Emperor had stopped using subtle politics or public relations to sway the reluctant public. He came to rely more and more on brute force.

And that force meant using Darth Vader. The Emperor saw him as a puppet. Vader ground his teeth. It was stupid really. You should never use any more force than you had to.

Take this planet, Bakura, for example. Known mostly for its repulsor industry, the planet was not well-armed. The rebel faction had been unorganized, rather pathetic really, but once they recovered from the purges that were about to happen- they would be back with a vengeance. It would take a few years, but then the Emperor would send him out here again. And he would, with his troops, smash them down again. But it didn't have to be that way. If they had done some undercover work, a few assassinations, discredit some of the leaders, this uprising would have fallen like the house of cards that it was.

But the Emperor was stupid. He was loosing control, letting his lust for power control him. He would destroy his own Empire in time, and Darth Vader didn't want to see that happen. Vader knew, in his heart, that he would have to seize control. He would have to kill the power hungry man he called master. His ideals demanded it. He knew he could wield the power much better than his master. He would save the Empire from its own creator.

But he couldn't do it alone.

Obi-Wan had seen to that. 'Curse him.' Vader thought as he breathed in the medicated air. 'I'm in this suit because of you, Obi-Wan. And some day I will find you. You will die for this. You will die for all of your trickery.' Vader tried to throttle down his emotions, but he would not let himself forget. Obi-Wan, who had told him he was wrong, who had cast him in the pit. Vader shuttered. He could still feel the lava caressing his skin with its burning touch. He had crawled out, had gotten medical aid. He had been turned into a mechanical monster. After months of physical therapy, learning to live again, he had returned to find his wife.... gone. Obi-Wan had taken her.

Then he had found out she had been pregnant.

Her medical records, he had checked everything to find where she might have gone. And she was pregnant. He remembered reading those little words on the datapad taken from the doctors' office. Obi-Wan had taken his son from him. He had known that it was a son- he had seen glimpses of the boy in visions. Rage filled his veins. 'Damn Jedi. Do you always take children from their parents? You took me from my mother, now you take my son.' Vader pushed out the memory of his mother. It was still painful to think of her. Loosing her, then loosing his son, it had been too much. And the Jedi had approved. Vader had been furious, so he had agreed with Palpatine about the purges. He had gone after as many of the Jedi as he could. He had run out of Jedi before he had run out of anger.

Vader thought about his son. 'Ah, my child, if I could find where that bastard has taken you. I'm not quite strong enough to kill the Emperor, but with you at my side, I could do it. I could rule the galaxy. You could help me. I know you'd be strong in the Force. And you are my son. You should be beside me. You're old enough now, you could be a real asset to me. Sons should be with their fathers.'

Vader focused on his son. Vader sent tendrils of the Force out to look for his son. He had to hide this action from the Emperor, but he would search this world below for his child. He searched every world he could for his son.

Someday, he would find him.

Someday, they would be together.


by Rebecca Thomson ---
and Valerie Vancollie ---

This story has been split in two in order to be displayed on this site.

Luke let out a loud 'whoop' as he dropped his T-16 beneath ground level just as he entered Beggar's Canyon. Quickly glancing over his shoulder he saw that his best friend, Biggs, was gaining on him. Looking forward again he pushed the accelerator forward another notch and firmly gripped his hands on the controls. One little glitch, a moments loss of concentration, a single mess-up, and he'd be no more then a red smear on the canyon wall, but then, that was the fun of it.

Up ahead of him the canyon split in two, to the left was a canyon known as Easy Street, and to the right was Dead Man's Turn. However, despite the name, most people went down Easy Street because Dead Man's Turn had gotten it's name for a reason, the sharp-angled turn was quite deadly if you didn't know how to fly it.

Grinning to himself Luke thought of how he had secretly been taking Dead Man's Turn when no one else was around, not even Biggs knew he was doing it. At first he had been forced to take the turn at minimum speed, but now, after months of practice, he was sure that he could make the turn at little less then breakneck speed.

Casting a last glance over his shoulder he slowed his craft down and then turned hard to the right, bringing his T-16 into Dead Man's Turn. Letting his instincts guide him he managed to get his craft through the turn without coming closer then a meter to the canyon wall on either side. As soon as he made it through the turn he pushed the accelerator back up to full speed and shot forward. The advantage of using Dead Man's Turn was that it was a major short cut to the end of the canyon.

Knowing that he'd win the race Luke smiled to himself and thought of what his friend's reaction would be. Having known Biggs for as long as he could remember he knew that his older friend would lecture him for taking such a big risk, however, underneath it all, he would be unable not to be impressed.

Expertly maneuvering his craft he quickly reached the end of the canyon and set his T-16 down on the ground at the finish. Climbing out of the craft he sat down in the shade it provided. He sat there and waited until he heard the soft hum of Biggs's approaching ship. Rising to his feet he watched Biggs's T-16 appear over the rim of the canyon and land near his own craft. Quickly Biggs shut off the engines and climbed out of his ship.

"You're nuts," Biggs exclaimed as he approached Luke. "You could have killed yourself pulling a stunt like that!"

"I won the race," Luke replied simply.

Shaking his head Biggs came over to stand next to his friend in the shade.

"That's all you care about isn't it?" he asked looking into his friend's ice-blue eyes.

"No," Luke replied. "I want to get out of here, of this planet, and into the Imperial Academy so that I can fly real ships."

"You do know what they say about the Imperials don't you?" Biggs asked. "That they're extremely cruel to non-humans and all."

"Well what do you suggest then?"

"Well we could join the Academy and then jump ship and join the Rebellion," Biggs replied looking away from Luke to Tatooine's twin suns setting in the distance which were leaving a blaze of gold and crimson behind them as they sank lower and lower.

"True," Luke stated. "But then Uncle Owen would never let me leave, he needs me to help him."

"He can't keep you here forever," Biggs replied looking back at the friend whom he often thought of as his younger brother.

"With him you never know," Luke replied looking at his chronometer. "But I'd better be heading back home, I'm late as it is."

"Okay," Biggs stated heading back to his own T-16. "I'll see you tomorrow, and don't scare me like that again!"

Laughing Luke quickly climbed into his T-16 and headed back home, knowing that he'd probably be in for it.

Luke revved the landspeeder around the street corner at Anchorhead. Most of the buildings were sand colored concrete with flat roofs. The squat, heavy buildings were separated by dusty sun-baked dirt roads. Grit covered everything.

Luke had gotten the raw side of Uncle Owen's tongue a few days ago when he had come home late. He had finally gotten permission to come into town to get some much needed vaporator parts- but if his uncle found out he had made any side trips- he'd get his hide tanned.

He pulled up to a long low building and launched himself from the landspeeder.

Rushing into the building, he saw Biggs playing computer-assisted pool with Deak. Deak was another farmers' son- but his clothes were a little newer than Luke's. In the back was Fixer, a huge man of a mechanic, working on a landspeeder. Parts were strewn around him in a rough semi-circle.

"Hi guys!" Luke said, waving to Biggs as he walked back to Fixer.

Fixer looked up from the engine of the landspeeder and glared at Luke.

"Hello farmboy."

Luke grimaced at the term, then he bucked up his courage and went on in a rush. " Ah, Fixer. I got grounded by my uncle so I would have told you sooner. I ordered a package and told 'em to deliver it here. It was going to have some postage due- I couldn't afford to have it sent to the farm. Ah- I have the credits, could I... "

"It came."

"Oh, that's great!! I mean, how much do I owe you? Um, you did take it
didn't you?"

"Yeah. Figured I'd grind it outta your hide if you didn't have the credits." Fixer went back to a desk, opened a drawer and brought out a datapad with a big Imperial seal on it.

"You owe me 10 kid." Fixer held out an open palm. He had only paid 5 credits for the postage, but the farmboy wouldn't question.

Luke rummaged in his pockets and handed over the credits to Fixer. Tossing the pad to Luke, Fixer pocketed the cash. Biggs wandered over, curious.

"What are you trying to do kid? Apply to become a spy?" Fixer laughed.

"No" Luke said as he tried to wipe Fixer's greasy fingerprints from the datapad's screen. "It's an application for the Imperial Flight Academy."

Biggs eyebrows shot up. "Really Luke? Did Uncle Owen say you could go?"

"Nah. Haven't talked with him yet. But I wanted the information. Maybe I can use it to persuade him."

Biggs looked hopeful. "Might work- wanna play pool?"

"I gotta go- I promised I'd be right back." Luke headed for the door "Want Uncle Owen in a to be in a good mood when we talk!"

Luke went out into the searing heat. Carefully hiding the precious datapad beneath the seat, he took off for home.

Entering his room Luke quickly took the datapad out from underneath his shirt. It had been necessary for him to hide it as his uncle had approached him as soon as he had returned. He had quickly given his uncle the parts he needed and had then been able to go to his room as there wasn't enough time for him to go out and work on the vaporators until after lunch.

Walking over to his bed he sat down on it. Taking off the Imperial seal he just looked at the datapad for a moment, this could be his key out of here, his key to becoming a pilot, just like his father had been. His father. His uncle and aunt had always told him that his father had been a navigator on a spice-freighter until his death shortly before he had been born. Despite this knowledge he had always dreamed of having a father, of being called son by him, and being taught by him.

But those things were only dreams, in actuality he didn't even know what his father had looked like! He always got punished if he asked questions about him. He had often wondered why and the only reason he could come up with was the probability that his uncle and his father had never gotten along very well.

But why had his mother then left him with his uncle? Why had she left him at all? Or was she dead too? He knew even less about his mother then he did about his father and, considering the beatings he had gotten when he asked questions, he had soon learned that he would accomplish nothing by asking for information.

Pushing aside those thoughts he turned his attention back to the datapad in his hands. A little nervous he turned it on and then watched silently as the Imperial symbol appeared on the screen, it was followed by the anthem of the Imperial navy. Quickly turning down the volume Luke leaned closer to the datapad and listened while a voice explained what the Imperial Academy was like, how people could join it, and all the benefits of being part of the Empire's defense against the Rebellion. As the voice droned on images of the different Academies flashed across the screen.

Mesmerized Luke watched and listened in amazement. The Academies looked and sounded so cool, not to mention that the planet the Flight Academy was on was covered by a lush, blue, forest. Reaching up to the top of the datapad he was about to start the short video over again when he heard his aunt's voice:

"Luke," she called. "Lunch!"

Rising to his feet Luke quickly turned off the datapad and placed it on his desk under some other datapads lying there. Then he quickly left the room and headed upstairs for lunch.

"Finally," Owen Lars stated as Luke entered the dining room. "What took you so long?"

"I was busy," Luke replied as he took his normal seat.

Owen gave a grunt as he took a sip of his drink. Knowing that his uncle was displeased with him Luke knew better then to bring up the Academy, instead he just reached for the food and served himself.

"You are to go fix the vaporators on the south ridge when you're done eating," Owen ordered.

"Okay," Luke replied obediently. "May I go see my friends tomorrow?"

"You st--" Owen began.

"As long as you're back by noon," Beru interrupted flashing a look at her husband.

"Thank you," Luke replied as he carefully avoided eye contact with his uncle.

Luke's landspeeder swooped sluggishly up to the house. The farm and its outbuildings looked like so many rounded bumps clustered on the dessert sands. Most of the living space was underground, hidden from the desert heat. Luke pulled the landspeeder into the domed garage. Behind him, the last sliver of the twin suns was dipping below the rocky horizon. Luke lugged the tools from the back of the landspeeder up to the workbench, closed the garage door, turned off the lights, and he clomped down the stairs.

Cutting across the courtyard, he ducked into the kitchen. Aunt Beru was cleaning up.

"Wondered where you were."

"Lousy vaporators. I swear- they just love to break. They must get lonely out on the sands. I didn't think that I'd get done by sunset. Got any dinner left over?"

Beru gave the counter one last swipe. "Yes, I saved you some on the bottom shelf of the refrigeration unit." Beru turned to Luke as he hungrily reached into the unit. "But, I don't like you out so late alone Luke. I worry about sandpeople."

"I wouldn't have stayed after dark. " Luke pulled the dish out of the unit, removed the cover, and began shoveling his mouth full of food.

Sighing, Beru turned to her bedroom. "Start the sonic dishwasher when you're done Luke. Goodnight."

As soon as Luke had finished eating, he carefully placed the his dishes into the machine and set the timer. Turning off the kitchen lights, he went to his bedroom.

Carefully shutting his bedroom door, Luke dimmed his lights. Furtively walking over to his desk, he pawed through the datapads until he found the Imperial Academy pad. Sighing with relief, he sunk down, sitting on the corner of his bed. He looked at the pad thoughtfully. So much hope rode on one little pad.

A half-formed idea rose Luke up and back over to the desk. He shuffled through the pads there once again, picking out a slightly smaller one. Connecting the two pads with the appropriate cable, he quickly programmed the original Imperial datapad to copy itself to the smaller pad. He then
hid the second pad under his mattress.

'Luke' he thought, 'Why did you do that? You're getting more paranoid than a Jawa.'

Pulling off his worn boots with one hand, Luke grabbed the original datapad and turned it on. Scanning the main menu, he chose to breeze through the sections on Application Requirements (startlingly low), Imperial Honor Code (rather unoriginal), and Local Recruitment Stations. Luke found out that there was no recruitment station on Tatooine, but he could report to the Imperial offices in Mos Eisley, and the local officials would schedule free transport to the Academy. Luke snorted. Mos Eisley was really far away- he had never even been there.

Turning the volume down even lower than before, he watched the recruitment narrative again. Stately white wedge-shaped mammoth ships glided across the screen against the black backdrop of stars. Proud ranks of the navy stood in formation. Beautiful foreign worlds flashed by. The narrative ended with a shot of the Imperial Academy itself, nestled down in the lush jungle.

Luke hit replay.

Luke's bedroom door swung open. Uncle Owen announced "Goto sleep Luke." Luke nearly jumped out of his skin. He fumbled for the off-switch on the datapad.

"Luke, what do you have there?"

"Ah, nothing... just... " Uncle Owen leaned over and grabbed the pad from Luke's hands. "Just some information... " Luke's answer sounded flat to his own ears.

"Information." Uncle Owen switched the pad on. His eyes got hard as he read the contents. "This is Imperial" He hit the controls again. "This is an application to the Imperial ACADEMY? Are you STUPID?" He thundered.

"No, I just wanted to, to look into it. I wanted to find out.. " Luke trailed off, this was not going as well as he had hoped.

"Find out what? How to sell your life away? DID YOU THINK THAT I WOULD HAVE LET YOU GO?" Owen's face was red. "Let YOU join the EMPIRE?" Owen looked really angry. A small detached part of Luke noticed that he also looked afraid. But he couldn't figure that out now, Owen had grabbed his shirt and pulled him up.

"What were you thinking? Why the empire?" Owen said.

"I... wanted to..." Luke thought frantically. "I wanted ... I... wanted to do something... meaningful" Luke hoped that answer would suffice.

"With THE EMPIRE?" Owen asked incredulously. He shook Luke. "Oh come on, you're not that stupid. Why the imperial academy?"

"I... want to be a pilot." The last came out very small, but it wouldn't stay in.

Owen dropped Luke. Shock and disbelief written into his face. "No. You will not be a pilot. No. Never. I won't let you. I... " Owen swallowed and started looking determined. "I need you here on the farm. You will stay and help me." Owen looked at the pad. He nodded to himself. He looked at Luke. "This is not for you. You'll stay here. And be a farmer."

With that, he turned and strode down the hall, with the datapad.

Luke sat on the bed. Stunned. Uncle Owen's reaction had been so much worse than he could have imagined. Sudden tears welled up. His dreams were dying. He turned off the lights and buried his head in his pillow. Silent sobs wanted to rack the young man's body. Luke fought them down. He listened carefully to the night. Then, slowly, one hand slipped down, under the mattress, and touched the datapad hidden there. The hand came back up, and Luke fell asleep.

Heading his landspeeder towards a spot near Beggar's Canyon where he and Biggs always met Luke thought. Uncle Owen's sudden, unreasonable, outburst the night before was still on his mind and he was surprised when he had been allowed to go. Generally when he had misbehaved, in his uncle's opinion, he was grounded for at least a couple of days. But not today, today he had gotten out of the house without so much as a word of protest. This disturbed him greatly, never had this ever happened before. His uncle was clearly upset about something far more then him leaving Tatooine and going to the Imperial Academy.

Turning his attention back to his driving he smiled as he saw Biggs waiting for him at the mouth of one the smaller canyons surrounding Beggar's Canyon. Pulling his landspeeder up next to Biggs's Luke picked up the small datapad and jumped out of the beat up speeder.

"Hey Luke," Biggs said as he stepped forward. "Is that the pad you got from the Academy? May I see it?"

"Sure," Luke replied as he tossed the datapad to his friend.

Catching the datapad Biggs quickly turned it on and selected the recruitment narrative from the main menu. Turning up the volume as the short narrative started Biggs kept his eyes on the screen until it ended.

"This is awesome!" he exclaimed, excited. "Although I'm sure they left out the parts about the non-humans.....but still. Can I take this home to show my parents? I think they'll let me go when they see this, or at least when I'm old enough anyway."

Silently Luke listened to his friend as his mind went back to the night before. Why had his uncle gotten so mad? And why had he seen a momentary glimpse of fear on his uncle's face? He knew his uncle had no love for the Empire, but still....

"Luke?" Biggs questioned snapping Luke out of his thoughts. "Are you all right?"

"Yes," Luke answered automatically.

Should he ask his uncle why he couldn't go? No! How could he have thought that? He'd probably get punished, just like when he asked questions about his father. It seemed like he was expected to just obey his aunt and uncle and not to ever question them. But there had to be something more behind last night's incident, hadn't there? This was all so frustrating!

"Don't give me that," Biggs replied. "I've known you far too long to fall for that. You're preoccupied, what's on your mind?"

"Uncle Owen knows about the datapad," Luke replied as he walked over to where the canyon wall met the ground and sat down.

"And?" Biggs asked seating himself next to his friend.

"He got mad, extremely mad, mad and...." Luke trailed off.

"And what?" Biggs pressed. "And if he got mad then why did he let you keep the datapad?"

"He didn't, he took it away, that's a copy you're holding," Luke replied looking at his friend. "I can't be sure, but I'd swear that I saw fear on his face when he learned I wanted to become a pilot."

"Fear? Owen Lars?" Biggs questioned and Luke knew what he meant.

His uncle was known for having defending the farm against a raid of Tusken Raiders all by himself several years back. Their neighbors had happened to be over and they had told everyone of how fearlessly his uncle had fought the Tusken Raiders.

"Yeah," Luke replied getting up and pacing back and forth. "He also said that I couldn't become a pilot, he said that I had to stay here and become farmer!"

As he said this last he kicked up a cloud of sand, then he leaned over and picked up a rock laying next to his feet.

"What?" Biggs asked. "He can't keep you here!"

"Well he said that I'm not to leave," Luke replied as he angrily threw the rock against the canyon wall and watched it shatter into several tiny pebbles on impact. "It's not fair! You'll be able to go away from here once you're old enough and I'll be stuck here!"

Watching his friend pace restlessly back and forth Biggs sighed. What Luke said was true, it was only a matter of time before his parents let him go, and as soon as they did he would join the Imperial Academy. But Luke? If his uncle said he was going to keep him here then he probably would.

"So what are you going to do?" Biggs asked knowing that Luke wasn't just going to give up all his dreams this fast.

"I don't know," Luke replied as he stopped pacing and turned to face his friend. "I don't know, but some way I'm going to get off this dust ball!"

Luke was flying across the sands in the landspeeder. Having returned to the farm for lunch he had been sent out to check the equipment on the west ridge this afternoon. Fortunately, only a little maintenance on the fourth vaporator was needed. He would be home well before dinner. Luke thought about stealing some time to himself before he went home.

He whacked the side of the Landspeeder in frustration. He was trying to steal a few hours, but Uncle Owen was stealing his whole life. It just wasn't fair. Why should he have to beg for a few hours? It was his life- why did Uncle Owen think that he owned Luke? He wasn't a slave. After all, slave were told what to eat, what to do, what to...

The landspeeder slowed. Luke took a deep breath. No. He wasn't a slave. He couldn't be. He wasn't owned by Uncle Owen. Uncle Owen didn't force him to stay. He just didn't help him leave. He wouldn't be able to post a bounty or anything if he left. Uncle Owen just wouldn't let Luke use any of the farm's resources to leave. But Luke could leave whenever he wanted to.

Luke stopped the landspeeder. Stood up, and looked around. The sand seemed to stretch endlessly in all directions. The enormity of the thought seemed to permeate his mind... "I can... I can... runaway... from all of this" Luke whispered to himself.

Luke laughed, sliding back down into the seat. Yeah, he could runaway, he thought to himself. With the five credits in his pocket and, glancing down, a landspeeder with only a quarter of the power needed to get to Mos Eisley. Starting the landspeeder back up, he knew that he had only to get the transportation, and he could leave. Wouldn't hurt to have some spare credits as well.

The landspeeder crested the last rise to the farm and Luke pulled into the garage. He bounced out, glancing around. Uncle Owen was on the back workbench, repairing one of the farm's old droids. Luke tried to casually head to his room.

"You're back early."

"Yeah, only one of the vaporators needed any work." Luke sighed. He wouldn't get any free time this afternoon.

"Well, that's a relief. Here, you can help me. I'm trying to get this droid's motivator properly calibrated." Uncle Owen was looking into the droid's innards, parts scattered across the bench.

Luke sat down on the other side of the droid next to the workbench. Owen had one hand in the droid. "Hand me the microspanners, Luke." A few twists with the offered tool, and Owen leaned back.

"I've been thinking Luke. You've been given quite a good life here." Luke forced a neutral expression on his face. "You've never had to worry about food, clothing, or shelter. You've also been given lots of time to hang out with those 'friends' of yours. Now, I'm sure that these 'friends' have stuffed your head with all these crazy ideas... " Alarm bells began to ring in Luke's head, but Uncle Owen continued to speak. "Flying, spaceships, piloting, the Imperial Flight Academy" The last two came out like a curse.

"So I've decided that you shouldn't be goofing off with these so-called friends of yours quite so much. I don't want you to use your T-16 for a couple of weeks Luke. You need to start thinking about your priorities in life."

"Two weeks?!? But I just... I was just checking it out! That's not fair!"

Owen eyes got hard again. Luke wished he could learn to keep his mouth shut. "Yes, two weeks. Teach you what's important. Besides, we don't need your skyhopper for the farm. I could always sell it. Could use the money. Buy a few more droids, a vaporator or two. Now, finish this droid, I'm going to clean up for dinner." Owen walked out.

Luke got up. He walked over to his skyhopper. It looked like a perched bird. Its little one-man cockpit with two wings folded up waiting for the sky. Sell it. Uncle Owen would sell it if he didn't toe the line. He ran one hand down a wing. Flying Beggar's Canyon was the closest he got to real piloting. Uncle Owen would sell it. Fly the skyhopper to wherever he wanted and sell it. Fly the skyhopper where he wanted... Luke stepped back and stared at the T-16. Stared at the transportation he needed. But he couldn't take the Skyhopper all the way to the Academy. Wouldn't want to. He would be flying real ships. He'd have to sell it. The credits might be of some use.

Luke grimaced at the thought of getting rid of the T-16. Even if it was the only way. Well, he wasn't getting rid of it right away. Not yet, not tonight. He would have to plan. He gave the skyhopper one last pat and turned back to the droid.

As soon as dinner was over Luke quickly left the dining room and went to his bedroom. Dinner had been completely silent and there had been an awful tension in the air. He had also noticed that Aunt Beru kept eyeing him every few moments, a slightly frightened and worried expression on her face. But why? Why did she seem frightened? Why had he seen the same look on his uncle's face the other night?

As often before in his life he had lots of questions but no answers. It seemed to happen all too often, he had asked Biggs if he sometimes felt the same way and his friend had answered no. Biggs had said that his father always answered his questions when he had any.....his father.

Suppressing the urge to pound his fists against the wall, he had been grounded for two days last time he had done that!, Luke lay down on his bed. As he lay there looking up at the sand colored ceiling his earlier idea of running-away surfaced again. Could he do that? Yes he could, he had everything he needed, transportation and money.

But where would he go? What would he do? How would he get to the Academy? Suddenly he remembered that there had been a section on the main menu of the datapad he had that was on how to join the Empire. Quickly getting up Luke walked over to his desk and pulled the small datapad from underneath all the others on his desk. Turning it on he sat back down on his bed and selected the 'Local Recruitment Stations' option from the main menu.

Listening to the voice that explained everything Luke quickly learned that while Mos Eisley, or Tatooine for that matter, didn't have a recruitment station he could report to the local officials and they would provide free transportation to the Academy.

Smiling to himself he quickly turned off the datapad and hid it underneath the other datapads on his desk. Now he had everything he needed and he knew exactly what to do. The only things left to do were to inform Biggs, gather his courage together, and he'd have to be able to get his T-16 out one day without letting his uncle and aunt know what he was going to do.

Quickly changing Luke then lay back on his bed and smiled to himself, soon he would be off of Tatooine and in the Academy. Then he'd be able to become a pilot, just like his father had once been. He was so excited about the prospect of actually having a future that it was hours before he managed to fall asleep, all he could think about was telling Biggs about his plan.

When he finally did fall asleep he dreamt about becoming a brilliant pilot and of having his name known throughout the galaxy.

Luke walked into Fixer's place in Anchorhead. The ever-present dust and sand swirled in after him as the door swung shut, locking out the burning rays of the double suns. It had been almost a week since his Uncle had grounded him from using the T-16. He hadn't been able to get away in all that time. His Uncle had given him one chore after another for the last seven days, till crawling into bed was all he wanted do at night.

Biggs and Deak were deep into the computer assisted pool game. Fixer was in the back, head stuck in yet another beat up landspeeder. Luke realized that things would never change. He would sit around, cycling between pool games at Fixer's and broken vaporators as long as he stayed on this dusty sandpit of a planet.

"Hey Luke!" Biggs had noticed his arrival, "Where have you been?"

"Everything on the farm chose this week to break." Luke didn't feel like announcing to the world that he'd been effectively grounded- even if it was just Fixer and Deak. Luke forced a smile and sat on a box next to the pool table.

"Tough. Missed you at the canyon. We had a couple of challenges. Deak here raced some guy from Blayton" Every once in awhile people raced each other for bets and bragging rights at Beggar's Canyon. Biggs leaned over to shoot. "Terrible shame he lost." Biggs was smirking at Deak.

Deak leaned over for his shot. "Yeah, well, not by much. I just need to tune up my secondary dampers."

"You always say that Deak. You never get around to it so you have an excuse." Biggs sunk his last computer generated ball. "Come on Luke, let's go." Biggs put up his cue and grabbed Luke. Both of them walked back outside.

"Everything broke? Yeah right Luke- you got grounded again." Biggs was grinning, he gave a friendly swipe to his friend. "Hey, what did you do anyway?" Both of them jumped into Biggs' landspeeder. Biggs pulled the 'speeder out, heading for the open dessert.

Luke sighed, depression slamming into him again. "Nothing. Uncle Owen just wants me to stop hanging out with my friends, who are such a horrible influence. Trying to get me to go to the Imperial Flight Academy and all that." Luke rubbed his temples.

Biggs whistled. "Damn, Luke, he sure is worked up about this."

"I know." Luke paused. "I'm going anyway."


"I'm going anyway. Got it all figured out. Fly my skyhopper to Mos Eisley. Sell it and take the money with me to the Academy." Luke was smiling now. Hands behind his head, staring into the painfully bright sky.

"You're nuts. Sell your T-16? You love that thing!"

"Can't take it with me. Some spending money would be nice for my trip. Besides, I'll get a real ship at the Academy."

"But your skyhopper wouldn't get you enough to get to the Academy anyway, would it? And why Mos Eisley? That place is rough."

"Imperial offices are in Mos Eisley. The recruitment datapad said that the officers would arrange free transportation to the Academy."

"Whoa." Biggs "You're serious."

"Yeah. It'll be great." Luke flashed his best friend a grin. "Besides, you'll be there in six months yourself."

"Yep, I will, talked to my father. He wants me to go. Ordered a copy of that datapad for me... Hey, when are you going anyway?"

Luke swallowed regret. Biggs' father always seemed to support him. "Oh, tonight. Or tomorrow. I'll have to wait for a good opportunity. Definitely in the next two weeks."

The speeder came up to a canyon ridge. Biggs stopped the speeder, looking at Luke.

"You are really serious." Biggs let out a little laugh. "Sithspawn! I hope you weren't leaving before you said goodbye!"

"Nah, that's why I waited this long. Wouldn't want to not say goodbye to my best friend."

Biggs reached over and grabbed Luke in a bearhug, pounding him on the back. "Take care of yourself, kid."

"Hey, no problem." Luke pulled back, looking at his friend. "And Biggs, don't tell 'em you know where I am. I don't want Uncle Owen to know. Okay?"

"If that's what you want."

Fours days later Luke finally got the opportunity he had been waiting for. His uncle had gone out to the north ridge to work on some of the troublesome vaporators himself and he had taken Aunt Beru with him as she needed to see the neighbors who lived along the way. As soon as they left Luke went down to his room and took a small, white, bag out of his closet. Quickly he filled it with some of his possessions, including a couple of the datapads he had. Double checking to make sure he had the datapad with the Academy information he headed upstairs.

Crossing the courtyard and climbing the stairs he entered the garage and put his bag into the T-16 before he exited the garage and looked at his home for the last time. He knew that the Empire allowed leave every six months, but he wouldn't be coming back, he couldn't for Uncle Owen would then force him to stay. Shaking his head, slightly saddened, he turned around and reentered the garage.

Starting up his T-16 he was unable not to smile despite the sadness he felt for, although he would miss Aunt Beru, and perhaps even his uncle a little, he was going to be leaving Tatooine! Not only that but from now on he'd be making the decisions concerning his life, he'd go to the Academy, learn how to fly and then he could always drop out of the navy and become whatever he wanted should he chose to do so.

Pushing the accelerator forward he rushed away from his home, heading in the direction of Mos Eisley. Several hours later he finally caught sight of the spaceport city just as Tatoo I started to sink beneath the horizon. Slowing down as he entered the city he looked around, amazed. Their were aliens of every sort and type milling around admits a bustle of activity. Merchants were selling stuff all over the place and there were cantinas everywhere, and not the cantinas like Anchorhead either, these cantinas had dark entrances making him glad that he didn't have to go in there.

Slowing down even more he started to look around for the Imperial outpost when he realized that the buildings here were a lot cleaner then in Anchorhead, the usual grit that he was accustomed to seeing wasn't on these buildings, meaning that the city must be better protected from the sudden, violent, sandstorms common on the planet.

Then, looking to the left of him, Luke caught sight of a group of storm troopers exiting a building. Smiling he quickly settled his T-16 down next to some other crafts and locked it up before heading towards the building the Imperials had just left. Walking towards the building he kept having to side step vehicles of all sorts, driven by humans and aliens who didn't seem to care whether they ran somebody over or not.

But even as he noticed this he noticed that everyone, whether human or alien, fearfully avoided the storm troopers.

The building had an old, cracked sign over the top of the door that had "Imperial Offices" written across it in basic. Luke gathered his nerves and pushed open the doors.

The inside was slightly cooler, with pale stucco walls held screens with flashing wanted posters and other notices on each side of the entry. A wide counter was centered across the entry space. Behind the counter were several desks, piled with datacards. Off to the left of the desks was a dark hallway, thick doors with large numbers lined the walls. Off to the right of the desks was a brighter hallway, each of the doors held a worn nameplate. A droid receptionist looked up.

Just then, four stormtroopers burst through the door, manhandling a short and stocky alien between them. The creature was basically humanoid in shape with blue scales and pink tuffs of fur where its ears should be. It kept yelling in squeaky accented basic "I didn't do it! I didn't do it!"

One of the stormtroopers grunted at the droid. "Attempted theft of imperial property."

The droid receptionist looked down at a screen behind its counter "Number 12 is clear." The stormtroopers dragged the still protesting figure down the darkened hallway.

"May I help you?" Luke swept his bewildered gaze back to the receptionist droid. It was a plain, metallic gray droid with minimal plating.

"Uh, yeah. The datapad said I should report here for transportation to the Imperial Flight Academy. I.. uh... want to fly. Um..."

"Oh." The receptionist nodded. "We haven't got one of you for awhile. You'll need to talk to Assistant Security Officer Predne Balu. He's in his office. I'll buzz him."

Picking up its comlink, the droid proceeded to mumble into it. "He'll be with you in a minute." It turned back to its work.

Luke smiled at the droid and wandered over to the side of the entryway, looking at some of the wanted posters. Various aliens and human holovids dotted the screens with descriptions of crimes, bounties, and other statistics.

A stocky male human with a rumpled blue uniform emerged from one of the right hand offices. He walked up to the desk. Luke came forward.

"Ah, so you want to fly kid?" The imperial official was forcing a smile. "You're a moisture farmer, right?" Luke nodded. "Figured. Betcha your family's got your whole life mapped out for you, telling what you're gonna do when. Now, don't look so surprised kid. We don't get many recruits from Tatooine, but they're all the same. You're not alone. Yep, could say, you could, you've got a whole new family now." The imperial gestured Luke to go in front of him. "Let's go back to my office. I'll tell you what's next."

Luke was ushered into a small office. One chair sat behind a desk piled high with datacards, two chairs sat in front. Luke took one of the chairs as the Imperial official sat down.

"Now kid, my name's Predne Balu. What's yours?"

"Luke Skywalker, sir."

"Skywalker? Good name for a pilot. Well, this is what's gonna happen. Tomorrow morning, first light, you'll be at landing bay 94. We've hired an independent freighter to take some supplies from here to Goblonia. You'll ride on his ship to there, and then you'll transfer to an Imperial ship. That'll take you straight to the Academy. Here's a datapad with the transfer information for you." He handed Luke the pad. "Now, Luke, I'm gonna ask you a few questions real quick- okay?"

"Uh, sure."

"I am guessing that you're folks don't know where you've gone." The official was looking concerned.

"No, sir."

"That's all right. The imperial government understands wanting to serve. You're not running from anything illegal?"

"No." Luke's face was surprised.

"Didn't think so. Now, how did you get here and where are you spending the night?"

"I came on my skyhopper. Don't know where I'm sleeping."

"Well, I don't recommend trying to sack out on the streets, you'll get robbed. I wrote the name of two local hotels on the first directory of that pad. Stay there. What you doing with your skyhopper while your gone?"

"Um. I'm not coming back. I figured I'd sell it. Know a good dealer?"

"Yes, try the ship dealer six blocks west of here. If his prices are ridiculous, go to the next one down the row. With any luck, they'll notice and start bickering with each other. First hotel on your list is only a block or so from there. Landing pad is only a few blocks further than that." The official looked at his chronometer. "Better get going, you're loosing daylight."

"Uh, thanks sir. Thanks a bunch." Luke shook the offered hand and almost ran out of the office and back to his skyhopper.

Balu walked back out to the receptionist droid. Bored eyes followed the retreating back. "Well, that was worth the 50 credit recruitment bonus. Damn young idealists. Call the hotel. I want my kickback. Call the pilot, tell him the kid's coming. I'm going home."

As soon as Luke exited the Imperial building he noticed that Predne Balu was right, he didn't have much daylight left as Tatoo I had just dropped beneath the horizon. Walking back to his skyhopper he called up the first directory on the datapad Balu had given him. Scanning the information he quickly climbed into his skyhopper and headed west through Mos Eisley.

Reaching the area Balu had said the dealers were he set down the skyhopper as close to one of the shops as possible. Climbing out he looked at the small, dirty, sandstone, shop. Slightly to the left and behind the shop he could make out a fenced yard with other small crafts and pieces of old crafts. This must be where his uncle came every few years when he desperately needed some hard-to-find pieces for the vaporators.

Walking over to the store Luke side stepped a Rodian coming out of it. Entering the shop Luke was instantly approached by a tall, muscular, male, Twi'lek.

"Hi chudda da nago?" the Twi'lek asked.

"Um," Luke started, recognizing that the Twi'lek was speaking in Huttese, but unable to understand it. "I'm looking to sell my T-16."

"A T-16?" the Twi'lek asked in heavily accented basic. "Let me see it."

Nodding his head Luke exited the stop and showed the Twi'lek his craft. The Twi'lek seemed interested and started examining it. Several minutes later, after a good look at the skyhopper, the Twi'lek turned back to Luke.

"I'll give you 4,000 credits for it," he stated.

"4,000?!" Luke exclaimed astonished and angry. "It's worth at least double that!"

"It's an old, used, airspeeder," the Twi'lek responded. "You're lucky that I offer so much."

"It cost 30,000," Luke replied, determined to get the amount of money the skyhopper was now worth.

"That was when it was new," the Twi'lek argued. "It's been used and it's dirty."

Nodding his head Luke looked around and noticed that, just as Balu had said, there was another shop next to the Twi'lek's.

"Very well," he said. "If that's all you're willing to give me for it then I'm not interested, I'll just try that shop there."

With this Luke started walking towards the other shop.

"No, wait!" The Twi'lek called after him. "Perhaps I can give you a little more for it."

"How much more?" Luke asked turning around.

The Twi'lek tilted his head slightly to the right, letting his right headtail brush the ground. He was silent for a moment, studying Luke, then the skyhopper, and finally looking to the other shop.

"I'll give you another 3,000 for it," he finally stated.

"No," Luke replied stubbornly, this was after all the only source of money he had available, he wanted at least another 1,000 for it.

"All right 8,500," the Twi'lek stated firmly. "But that's my final offer."

Hesitating Luke looked at the Twi'lek and then at the shop behind him, it was possible that the owner there would him more for it, but it was also possible that he wouldn't. Taking one last look at the shop he turned back to face the Twi'lek.

"Deal," he stated.

Bag slung over one shoulder, Luke walked up to the docking bay in the quiet of dawn. The dusty air filled with the first rays of light. Skywalker rechecked the bay number against the datapad the Imperial had given him. This looked to be the place.

Last night, he had gotten to the hotel just as the last light had left. The hotel receptionist had proposed a ridiculous fee for one night's lodging. Luke had nearly left, but he didn't want to risk the streets. The coming night had brought out some very disreputable looking beings as he had made his way to the hotel. Disgusted, he had forked over the credits and had slept with one hand on his credits the whole night. He had tossed and turned all night in the tiny room, too excited to sleep. At the first hint of dawn, he had hurried to the docking bay.

The vanishing gloom reluctantly revealed the silent ship inside. Walking inside, Luke began to circle the ship. He was going to space in this? The ship was vaguely saucer shaped with a forward protrusion for the cockpit, upper and lower guns, and a sensor dish. Other components looked stuck on. The whole thing looked cobbled together out of scraps and held together with space tape. The ship was a hunk of junk. Luke guessed that independent freighters must not make much of a living.

Suddenly, one of the lower gun emplacements swung around and pointed at Luke. A voice came out of the ship's intercom, "What do you want?" Whoever it was, they sounded like they just woke up.

"I was told to come here for my transportation. The Imperial officer..."

"Oh. Yeah. They called last night about you. Hold on."

A ramp lowered from the base of the ship, and a human male ambled down, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He had scuffed military boots, rumpled military pants, a white shirt, a short brown vest, and a blaster strung low on one hip. Except for the blaster, Luke bet that the man had been sleeping in what he had on. The man had put one hand up on the underside of the ship and the other on his blaster, he looked Luke up and down. Luke thought, 'no, I think he sleeps with the blaster too.'

"So you're the Imperial recruit. Huh. You look like a moisture farmer. Got tired of working on dad's little farm?"

Luke was instantly uncomfortable. "Don't have a father. Grew up at my uncle's place."

"Sorry kid. But I must say, the Imperial's must be desperate. You sure don't look like much."

"Neither does your ship."

The man was instantly defensive. "Hey! Watch what you say about my ship! You wouldn't believe what she can do! She's faster than she looks!" The man paused, and began to laugh. "Yeah, good point kid. Looks can be deceiving. Come on up. We've got clearance in an hour for lift-off." Turning back up the ramp, the man led the way. "Welcome to the Falcon. I'm Han Solo, this is my first mate Chewbacca-"


Luke jumped back. A huge furry thing with fangs had just roared at him.

"Ah, he's a Wookiee. He can understand everything you say, but he doesn't speak Basic."


"You'll sleep in the common room. I'd already filled the spare cabin with freight when I got the call that you were coming. I hope that's all you have- I don't have a lot of spare storage."

"This is all. Um... "

Han flicked a hand at a bench with a table in what looked to be the common room. "Sit here. I've got to go get some stuff ready." He walked off, mumbling to himself.

Looking around the small room Luke sat down on the bench with a sigh, he was finally on his way! He'd heard of Wookiees before but he had never actually met one until today. He hoped that they didn't anger quickly as he didn't want to end up having to face an angry one. Pushing aside the unpleasant thought he turned his mind to the future, it wouldn't be long before the Falcon took off and took him off of Tatooine forever.

Briefly he thought of how his aunt must be feeling right now, she would probably be worried sick about him, worried and hurt. He felt a momentary pang of guilt as he thought of her, she had raised him and he had repaid her by leaving her in a way that clearly showed that he had disliked the life she had given him. But then, how could she expect him to become a moisture farmer?

Shaking his head he pushed that thought aside too. He was going to the Imperial Academy now and once there he would become a pilot......just like his father had once been. Smiling at the thought that he would finally be able to do something that his father had done he got up and headed towards the cockpit.

"Sit down kid," Han ordered as he entered. "We're taking off."

Sitting down in the vacant chair behind the pirate, what was his name?, he watched in fascination as the pirate and the Wookiee started up the Falcon's engines and took off. Han, Han Solo, that was the name of the pilot.

"How long until we get to Goblonia?"

"Two days," Han replied, not taking his eyes off the controls as the Falcon rapidly climbed into Tatooine's dry atmosphere.

Luke continued to watch Han's every manipulation of the controls as the ship pulled away from Tatooine's gravity well and entered hyperspace. As soon as the stars blurred into strips of light that streaked past the ship Han swung his chair around to face his passenger.

"So, do you really want to become an Imperial or did you just want to get off that hellhole of a planet?" he asked.

"Both," Luke replied.

Han immediately sent Chewie a look, warning him not to touch the boy. He knew the kid's answer had angered the Wookiee, and he couldn't blame him, after all if he'd been enslaved by the Empire then he'd want revenge as well. But they desperately needed the money this shipment would bring them and he couldn't deliver the shipment without the boy along with it, for he knew the Imperials on Goblonia would be expecting him. Perhaps he could tell the boy what he was getting himself into, perhaps he could warn him.

"What?" Luke asked, not knowing how he knew, but suddenly knowing that the Wookiee didn't like him.......that he was angry with him.

"Well I, we, think that you're making a big mistake," Han replied looking right into the boy's ice-blue eyes.

"A mistake?" Luke asked, eyes flashing from the pirate to his first mate.

"Yes," Han replied as Chewie growled his agreement. "The Empire isn't all that it seems to be. I was an Imperial once, I should know."

"You were an Imperial?" Luke asked curiously. "Why aren't you one anymore?"

"I....I....I quit you could say," Han lied uncomfortably as old, unwanted, memories surfaced. "I didn't like the slavery they had."

"Slavery?" Luke asked.

"Yes," Han stated. "Chewie here was a slave until I freed him."

"You freed him? Weren't you punished?" Luke asked, but then his eyes opened wide with sudden understanding. "You didn't quit, you were kicked out, discharged!"

Han gritted his teeth at the word, despite his dislike of the Empire the word made him sound like a failure, like a loser.

"Look kid I quit, I had no intention of staying with people who do slavery," Han said coldly. "If you want to join the Empire then that's fine with me, just know that within the Empire you will be nothing, a nobody, just another soldier that can be expended!"

Luke's eyes narrowed at the pirate's words. Was what he was saying true? Biggs had mentioned something about non-humans too, but then what could Biggs possibly know about the Empire? What he had heard could have been rumors, rumors spread by people angry at the Empire. People who had been punished by the Empire for doing something they shouldn't have been doing......or by people who had been discharged from the Imperial navy and were resentful of that fact.

Looking at the pilot of the ship he was on Luke wondered how someone discharged from the Empire had managed to get a job hauling Imperial cargo. Perhaps the Imperials didn't know, perhaps this man, Han Solo, had changed his name and they didn't know, there were many different reasons. But whatever the reason he was certain of one thing, and that was that he shouldn't let himself be influenced by people who had reason to hate the Empire. He would go to the Academy, and if he found that he didn't like the Empire, then he'd just quit and make a life for himself as a pilot.

"We'll see," Luke replied getting to his feet.

"Isn't that what they all say, Chewie?" Han asked as he leaned back in his chair and looked at his first mate. "They all think that they'll become important and have their name known throughout the galaxy. Well pretend that if you want kid, just don't be surprised to find yourself just another face in a crowd full of nameless people."

This would be a long two days Luke realized as he gave the pirate a last, stony, glare before he left the cockpit. Two long days indeed.

Luke was playing the computer at holo-chess in the common area. The different pieces were represented by holos of different monsters. The first half of the day had gone by without a word being spoken between him and the ship's crew. Luke moved one of the monsters on the board.

The captain came walking through. He was holding a toolbox in one hand. Luke had noticed that the man and his Wookiee had been walking back and forth all morning with tools and parts. Luke got the funny feeling that this was pretty normal for this ship- it looked like it required a lot of upkeep.

Luke cleared the board. He hated the tension- he decided to break it. "You know, the only reason I want to become an imperial is to be a pilot."

Han Solo turned and looked at Luke. "So you're selling yourself, your whole life, just to fly?"

Luke grimaced. "It's not like I can go anywhere else."

"Humph. You got any flight experience? Any at all?"

"Got- Had a T-16 Skyhopper at home. Used to fly Beggar's Canyon all the time."

"Nah, that's just flying in goo. Atmosphere. Ah well, you'll wise up. Get out of the academy- skip town. Once you see what the Empire is all about you'll want to quit. Bet you'd even want to join the rebellion." Han laughed.

Luke looked sheepish. He should have known that this guy wasn't going to quit. Ah well, he might as well make the rest of the trip more enjoyable. "Yeah, just might- if it's as bad as you say."

"I give you 6 months, then you'll want out. I recommend shipping. Maybe transports. Less risky than the rebellion. Pays better."

"Besides- it's not like the Rebellion has recruitment offices."

Han was laughing as he started back to the rear compartments with his toolbox. "That would be the day!"

Luke leaned his head against the bulkhead. This guy was annoying. He could tell that Han just wanted to keep him at arm's length for wanting to join the imperial academy, but what else was he going to do now? He'd burned his bridges- couldn't go home. And he still wanted to fly. Closing his eyes, he could envision himself swooping in a little snub fighter, out in the darkness of space.

Luke sighed. He could hear Han and his first mate talking through the bulkhead. Well, he could hear Han talking, Chewie was just growling and barking back at Han. "Ah, Chewie, the kid doesn't know any better." The clanking of tools could be heard. "Just wants to pilot." A growling reply. "No, I don't think he cares who for." A few yips. "Take him to the Rebellion!! Are you nuts? Listen, we need the money. We deliver the kid. If he wants to join them later, he can. I don't even know where the rebellion is. And they won't pay us for him either." A low growl. "He wants to go. Let him. His funeral. Hand me that hydrospanner." The conversation continued, revolving around the reluctant coupling.

Luke lay down on the bench. He just wished they'd get to Goblonia. He wanted off this bucket before it blew up underneath him. He tried to doze off.

"Sit down kid," Han ordered as Luke entered the cockpit. "We're about to come out of hyperspace."

Sitting down Luke mentally gave a sigh of relief, it wouldn't be long before he would get off of this ship and away from its crew. It wasn't that he hated Han, but he didn't like him either, as for the Wookiee......well he'd been getting the cold shoulder from him and he disliked him quite a bit now. He briefly wondered whether all Wookiees were like this or if it was just this one, but then he pushed that thought from his mind and watched as Han and his first mate brought them out of hyperspace.

The ship slowed and then jumped out of hyperspace near a green and orange planet.

"Well, here you are, Goblonia," Han said as he set the Falcon on a course heading for the planet.

Luke just looked at the planet through the view port, this was the first time he had actually saw a planet other then Tatooine. Not wanting to miss anything he leaned forward in his seat and kept his eyes on the planet. He had heard that most vegetation was green, which was probably what gave the planet it's green color, but orange?

"What's the orange?" he finally asked, his curiosity finally getting the better of him.

"Water," Han replied. "This is the only planet that I know which has orange water, some kind of organism is responsible for it or something."

Luke nodded his head despite the fact that the pirate couldn't see him.

"Millennium Falcon what is purpose and destination?" a cold voice suddenly demanded over the com.

"We carry cargo and a passenger for the Imperial outpost," Han replied rolling his eyes.

The outpost was the only civilized area in the entire system and still the Imps had to ask stupid questions, not to mention the fact that they were expecting him and knew the name of his ship. The Imps really had to control everything and everyone they could. Well he'd had enough, after this he'd quit hauling Imperial cargo, and passengers!, no matter how much he needed the money.

As soon as the outpost came into view Han cast a quick look over his shoulder to the farmboy sitting behind him. The kid had his eyes fixed on the outpost, seemingly lost in his own world. Shaking his head he turned back to his piloting, if the kid wanted to waste his life then he could, it was his business, he didn't care.

Luke looked at the Imperial outpost in fascination, it was just as he had dreamt it would be. The landing pad laying next to the building complex was nearly full with TIE fighters and Imperial shuttles. Walking between the ships were techs checking to make sure all the fighters and shuttles were ready whenever they might be needed. Near the buildings he could see storm troopers walking around.

Landing the Falcon Han quickly cut the repulsorlifts, got up, and turned to Luke.

"The moment you walk off this ship your life won't be your own anymore," he stated. "You'll belong to the Empire then."

Looking up at the older man Luke gritted his teeth but remained quiet. Han's constant warnings about the Empire and its ways had really started to annoy him. Seeing that the kid wasn't going to listen to him Han shrugged and left the cockpit, Chewie right behind him.

Sighing Luke looked out the viewport at the outpost again before he got to his feet and made his way to the Falcon's ramp.

"The cargo is in the storage area as well as in the spare cabin," Han was saying to an Imperial officer as Luke appeared at the top of the ramp. "And there is your new recruit."

The officer looked past Han and up the ramp to where Luke was standing. For a moment his cold gray eyes studied him.

"You're Luke Skywalker," it was more of a statement then a question.

"Yes Sir," Luke replied as he came down the ramp, ignoring the look Han was giving him.

Nodding his head the officer turned around and motioned for a nearby storm trooper to approach.

"Take him to Commander Frag," the officer ordered as he gestured to Luke.

"Yes Sir," the storm trooper replied before he turned around and lead Luke towards the building complex.

Watching Luke go Han shook his head, the kid could have made a good life for himself, he could have become someone and gotten married, instead he chose to give himself to the Empire. Considering that the kid wanted to be a pilot he probably wouldn't live very long. The TIE fighters the Empire gave its pilots had neither shields nor hyperdrive meaning that they were very vulnerable to the Alliance's shielded and hyperspace capable snub fighters. But then the Empire could afford to be careless with its pilots as they, unlike the Alliance, had an almost unlimited supply of kids and young men like Luke.

Turning around to oversee the unloading Han pushed all thoughts of the boy out of his mind, he'd never see the boy again so his thoughts shouldn't dwell on him.

Luke followed the storm trooper in silence. The soldier quickly marched past several ships to a doorway in one of the nearby buildings. The gray building was a large several story cube, with the only windows on the upper story. It looked exactly like three other buildings that surrounded the garrison proper.

The soldier walked down the interior hallway. Harsh artificial light shined off immaculate gray walls. The storm trooper's feet echoed off the spotless flooring. The soldier turned at a door marked 'Recruitment'. The storm trooper looked straight at Luke, his hand on the door. "Good luck." He opened the door.

Surprised, Luke followed mutely. A waiting area and a desk sat in the next room. The soldier announced to the receptionist "Luke Skywalker, recruit." Turned and left.

The prim receptionist had her graying hair pulled back in a severe style. Her pressed uniform, stiff and formal, matched the rigid lines of the room. She looked the young man up and down. She pulled out a datapad and a stylus, and held them out to Luke. "Fill these out." It was clearly a refusal to answer any questions till she had her completed forms.

Luke took the datapad and turned to the chairs in the waiting area. Two other recruits sat there, both of them wore clean civilian clothes of tunic, pants, and boots. One was in a dark blue outfit, the other in brown. Luke sat as far in the corner as he dared, and looked at the datapad. He was beginning to feel like a real rimworld bumpkin.

The form was pretty standard, name, age, schooling, birthplace. Luke was busy filling in "Tatooine" when he realized that he didn't really know where he was born. It then went on to ask for parent's names. Luke left it blank. It was so frustrating- whole segments of his life were left out- Uncle Owen kept so much from him. Well, he was going to start his life over here. He finished filling out the rest of the form and handed it to the receptionist.

She took the pad and plugged it into her terminal. "You did not fill it out completely."

"Uh... I'm adopted. I don't know who my mother and father are."

"Section 1345-128b of the Imperial Laws say that you should be knowledgeable of all personal information."

"I'm from Tatooine. They don't really follow..."

"Ah. A rimworld. We could arrange for the local officials to investigate the matter."

"No! I mean.. ah.. they don't know where I am. They didn't want me to come.. um, do you have to?"

The receptionist blinked. "I am sorry. Most of our recruits in your classification are supported in their decision to join by their families. We can accept your application, under the circumstances." Luke sighed with relief as the receptionist went on. "Now, please go through that door and follow the blue line so you can take your aptitude test."

Luke smiled, and walked through the door. He was on his way- finally.

Luke walked down the hallway and into a room. He was given another datapad by a droid and given a seat in a room filled with rows of chairs. He took tests asking him to solve mechanical problems, math problems, and others. He was thrown in a flight simulator for a 'dry run' as the inspector told him. As the morning wore on to afternoon, he was given medical tests, hand-eye coordination tests, asked a barrage of questions about his friends and family back home, and, finally, someone gave him a small tray of food and told him to sit in a chair. Commander Frag would see him shortly.

Luke was just finishing his food when someone returned for him. "Skywalker, follow me."

He was lead into an office. A balding man sat behind a large desk. The desk was clear of anything except one datapad held in the man's thin fingers.

"Sit down, Skywalker." Luke sat. "You want to be a pilot? Hope so, we are going to make one of you, young man. Your scores were quite good."

"Thank you sir."

"Noticed that you weren't suppose to, shall we say, visit us? Oh, don't be ashamed. You knew where you needed to be. You're wanted here. I want you to remember that. Your family back home, they were never very accepting of you- am I right? Don't worry about it son. You've got a new family now. We want you here." He paused. Luke felt a little confused. Then he remembered all the questions he was asked today. They probably figured out his whole life story with all the questions they asked.

Commander Frag gave Luke a friendly smile. "Now son, next we are going to send you to the Academy. Flight school. I want you to know that the Academy initiation period is going to be tough. It's like the boot camp for the storm troopers, but it's tailored towards our future pilots. You'll learn how to fit into our family, carry yourself like a pilot. Just stick with it, and you'll be fine." Commander Frag got up, walked Luke to a door on the other side of the office. "The ship leaves for the Academy in the morning. I'll have someone escort you to your quarters for the night. Any questions, son?"

"Uh... no sir."

"Fine, fine..." The Commander opened the door. "Please take Skywalker to
recruitment quarters, section E."

After the door closed, the fatherly attitude of the Commander fell off him like cloak. He picked up the datapad. The next recruit needed a harder hand. After all, this was Commander Frag's specialty. He gave each new recruit the command figure that they needed to feel comfortable with their decision to join the Imperial armed forces. To remove their doubts- at least until they reached their respective training grounds.

Waking up the next morning Luke looked up at the gray ceiling of the room he was in and briefly wondered where he was. But then it all came rushing back to him and he quickly got out of bed. This was the third time this had happened to him, he always woke up wondering where he was. But that was probably from having lived in one place his whole life and having always woken up to see the same sand colored ceiling of his room at home.

Pushing the thought aside he turned to look at his clothes. He had found them lying on the bed when he had entered the room the night before. The clothes were a plain black jumpsuit with the only markings on it being three, white, Imperial symbols, one at the top of both sleeves and one above the pocket on the left side of his chest. With the clothes, which he had seen were exactly his size, were a pair of black ankle-boots. He had wondered at the color at first as all the other uniforms he had seen had either been gray, green, white or brown, but then he had realized that that was why his were black, so people would be able to tell that he was a recruit.

Putting on the clothes he looked at himself in the small mirror in the bathroom and smiled. He liked the way he looked in black, it was such a difference from the white he had worn for everyday of his life until today. At the thought his smile broadened, he wasn't even at the Academy yet and he was already extremely pleased that he had left Tatooine. True he felt a little guilt about leaving the way he had, but even that was beginning to fade with the excitement of what had already happened and what was going to happen soon.

Walking back into the small bedroom he looked at the chronometer and saw that he still had a good two hours to go before he needed to report to the landing pad along with the other recruits. Deciding to go and have breakfast he left his room and headed for the cafeteria he had been shown the day before as he had been lead to his room.

Entering the cafeteria he looked around. Obviously there were several cafeterias in the buildings as everyone in this cafeteria wore the same black uniform he did. Briefly he remembered what Solo had said about him being just another face in a crowd of nameless people, but he quickly pushed the thought aside. Hadn't Commander Frag said that his scores on the tests he had taken had been quite good? That had to mean something, didn't it? Briefly he wished he knew exactly what his scores had been.

Knowing that he couldn't find out now he went to stand in line behind the other recruits and waited until he got his food before he sat down at an empty table. At least now that he was wearing the same clothes as everyone else he didn't feel so out of place. Nobody could tell that he was from the Outer Rim Territories anymore and that made him feel a lot better.

Looking down at the food before him he wondered what it was. It looked like nothing he had ever seen before and it had the most peculiar smell to it as well. However, since he knew he wouldn't be getting anything else, he started to eat the food and found that it didn't taste too bad. Just as he was about half way through his breakfast another recruit came up to his table.

"May I sit with you?" the boy asked and sat down when Luke nodded his head. "So where're you going?"

"Flight Academy," Luke replied as he took another bite of his food.

"Hey, me too," the boy replied. "By the way my name is Ausly Hesu, what's yours?"

"Luke Skywalker," Luke replied as he looked at Ausly.

The boy had dark brown hair, hazel brown eyes and looked to be a couple of years older then himself.

"So, where are you from?" Ausly asked as he started to eat his breakfast. "I'm from Corellia."

"I'm from Tatooine," Luke replied reluctantly, he couldn't really refuse to speak, could he?

"Tatooine?" Ausly asked. "That desert planet? No wonder you're so tanned."

"So, why'd you join the Empire?" Luke asked hoping to change the subject.

"I want to see the galaxy, and my father's in the Empire as well," Ausly said. "I want to follow in his footsteps and become like him, you know."

"No, I don't," Luke replied sadly as he felt jealousy rise within him. "I never knew my father......or my mother."

Ausly knew what it was like to grow up in a normal family. He'd had a father to love him, to help him, to teach him....... He'd had no one, sure he'd had Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, but it wasn't the same. There was a kind of bond that existed between parents and their children, he had seen it often enough with Biggs and with others, but he had never felt it himself.

"I'm sorry," Ausly replied shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "If I'd known I'd never have said anything."

Luke gave a brief smile as he shrugged and finished off his breakfast.

"I'll see you at the landing pad in an hour and a half, bye."

"See you later," Ausly replied as he turned his attention to another recruit who came to sit next to him.

Quickly exiting the cafeteria Luke headed outside. He wanted to get a look at the plants outside before he headed back to his room for his stuff. He had never seen a plant up close before in his life and was curious as to what they looked and felt like.

As soon as he exited the building he circled around to the back of it and approached the nearest plants. The bush he approached was green and had bright yellow and purple flowers. Reaching out he took a leave between his fingers and rubbed it, feeling the veins running through it. Then he reached out and picked one of the yellow flowers from the bush, brought it to his face, and promptly sneezed as he got pollen up his nose. Dropping the flower he quickly looked around to make sure no one had seen him and heaved a sigh of relieve when he could see no one nearby. Looking at the bush one last time he turned around and headed back inside, he knew it was early, but he wanted to be ready when the shuttle came.

Luke had gone back to his temporary quarters and started to pack his bag. He was shoving his old clothes into the bag when he came across his credit pouch. He checked the contents, everything was still there. But it was a lot of money to be carrying around- he ought to do something with it before he got on the shuttle.

But that was easily fixed. The entrance to the temporary recruit quarters had a front desk- he had seen it when he walked in. Asking the receptionist at the desk, he was given directions to an office on the next floor. Opening a bank account with the imperial military was easy. The terms were easy to understand too- if he got kicked out or died, the Empire kept the money. He didn't like that part, but it was better than carrying cash.

With that taken care of, Luke went to the launch pad.

The sun was shining, but Luke barely noticed its relatively weak rays. The shuttle that was to take him to the flight school sat on the tarmac. It was a big squat thing with stubby wings and blunt nose. It didn't have any viewports for the passengers. The shuttle was loading supplies, but the recruits were still hanging around outside. Many of the black-clad recruits were sitting on crates or standing in circles, talking. Luke felt suddenly shy- he didn't know anyone.

"Hey, Luke! Over here!"

Luke turned to see the dark haired man from breakfast waving at him. "Oh, hello Ausly!" Luke walked over to the group Ausly Hesu was with. About six guys stood together, chatting like they had known each other for years.

"Hey everybody, this is Luke, met him at breakfast. You ready for initiation?"

"Um.. what?"

"I told you guys they never tell the newbies anything. My father told me all about it- the first six weeks of academy are going to be hell. But you stick it out, and everything's fine."

"Oh. Must be nice having the inside scoop."

"Yeah, well, you sit by me and I'll fill you in on the trip. It's the last time we'll get to talk till it's over." The group laughed at Luke's expression.

"You're scaring him Ausly." That came from a blond haired, brown eyed guy across the circle. He was huge, large muscles rippled under his clothes.

"Ah, Drake, he needs to know."

"Don't see why you flyboys need your little initiation anyway." Drake was smiling- he was ribbing his friend.

"Ignore him Luke, musclehead here is only going to be a Storm Trooper. They don't count. Drake and I have been arguing about this for the last two years."

"LINE UP!! ALL RECRUITS LINE UP BEHIND THE YELLOW LINE!!" An officer was standing beside the now lowered passenger ramp.

Ausly grabbed Luke's arm and whispered: "Come on Luke, stand close. They separate us by academy type- all us flyboys are together." Much louder, Ausly told his friends "See ya at graduation guys!"

Luke stuck close to Ausly as they boarded the shuttle. Inside was row upon row of passenger chairs bolted to the floor. Each section of chairs was painted one color. The whole back half was yellow, the next section was red, and then the purple section. Luke and Ausly had been directed to the purple section- all recruits going to the flight academy were seated together.

"Who's yellow?"

"Techs. The Storm Troopers are red. Don't let it fool you though- if you wash out of technical or flight, you end up a trooper. Most of all of us will end up troopers. Or pilots on supply ships. Tech always gets a lot of volunteers though- you're less likely to die in action. All my other friends went tech."

The ship rumbled as it took off. Luke wished he could look out a viewport, but at least he could talk to Ausly.

"You flunk out and they move you to another Academy?"

"Yeah- you've signed up. The Empire owns you for the next 4 years. If you can't fly, well, they have to do something with you."

Luke didn't like talking about this. He had come to fly- not spend the next few years in a white armored uniform. "Why did your friend Drake want to be a Storm Trooper?"

"Don't let musclehead fool you. He's smart. Wants to be an officer. He'll make it. Not too many volunteers for the ground troops, and volunteers promote faster. He'll advance quick."

"So what about initiation? What's going to happen?"

"Oh boy, it's going to be tough. It may have changed a bit since my father and my cousin went through- but it will start the second we get off this shuttle. Just keep your mouth shut, don't talk back to the instructors or upperclassmen, and do what you're told. Dad told me..." Ausly went on with a bunch of stories about upperclassmen making the newbies scrub the floors all night, instructors yelling at you for anything, and how the whole group of recruits could get punished for one guy's mistake.

Luke was beginning to feel like he had made a mistake. Ausly caught Luke's growing mood. "Ah, don't worry about it. It's bad, but you get through it. Then it's all downhill. Hey, anything for the Empire, right?"

Luke forced a smile. "Actually, anything to fly."

"That too!" Ausly laughed. Then he got serious and quiet. "But be sure to tell them its for the Empire- it's important." Ausly smiled again. "So tell me about Tatooine. Never been there- what's it like?"

"You haven't missed a thing. It is so hot there all the time. I almost feel like I'm freezing here. And dry. And sand." Luke was loosening up.

Ausly was fun to talk to, and listen to. He kinda reminded him of Biggs, besides he had nothing else to do. The rest of the shuttle was buzzing with other conversations.

Luke and Ausly talked on. Water was served, then lunch. Luke realized he hadn't even felt the jump to hyperspace. Ausly checked his chrono. "Academy isn't that far away. We'll be there in a hour. I'm going to use the fresher. I'd use it too, if I were you. Check-in takes awhile." He got up. Luke followed.

Soon after they got back to their seats, the shuttle rumbled. The intercom came on with a click, "All Flight Academy recruits prepare for unloading. All Flight Academy recruits, prepare for unloading. Remaining recruits, remain seated at this time." The intercom clicked off. The shuttle had landed.

Ausly and Luke stood up. Row by row the black clad recruits filed out the shuttle. Luke tried to straighten his uniform as he walked to the ramp.

The incredibly wet air of Rauz hit him in the face. After the dry air of Tatooine, it was almost too thick to breath. All the flight school recruits walked down the ramp and stood in a group at the bottom as the shuttle's passenger ramp closed. The shuttle took off as Luke tried to get his bearings.

"Here they come." It was Ausly, he was talking about the group of officers marching towards the recruits. "Nowhere to hide, huh Luke?"

A week and a half later Luke stifled an impatient sigh as he waited in line. So far he had not yet even gotten into a simulator since the 'dry run' he had done on Goblonia. True, he had been studying the controls and maneuvers of the Imperial TIE fighter, but mostly he and the other recruits had been put through one physical workout after another. The workouts had gotten so hard recently that some of the weaker recruits had already been sent away because they couldn't keep up. And, although he had managed to stay in he Flight Academy, he was always sore and more tired at night then he had ever been in his entire life. The officers had said that pilots needed to be in perfect physical condition to be able to fly. And, although he didn't like the workouts, Luke had to admit that he was in the best physical condition of his life.

The other things he detested besides the officers superior manner and the fact that he hadn't yet been able to fly was the fact that he had had almost no time to talk with Ausly. They had been assigned to the same dorm building, but their schedules were so busy that they only got to talk during lunch, and even then they couldn't exchange more then a few words as their lunch was so short.

At least today he'd be able to get into a simulator. He had heard the news yesterday morning and it had been all that he could do to keep his face expressionless as was required by regulations. There had been a couple of times when he had started to regret coming here, but all that had vanished when he had learned that he'd be put into a simulator today.

Suppressing another impatient sigh he leaned forward to see how many other recruits were ahead of him, waiting to get into a simulator and to be tested for their skill. He and the other pilots had been told that now that they knew the controls they would be tested and then divided into squadrons according to skill. Seeing that there were five more recruits ahead of him he leaned back in his chair and waited for Ausly to re-appear out of the simulator he was in.

Yesterday, during lunch, Ausly had managed to tell him that the best pilots were placed together in Gray squadron which was under the command of Commander Riggs, then pilots were placed in either the Blue, Green, or Red squadron, or they were exported to the storm trooper Academy.

Sitting in his chair Luke finally saw Ausly appear from the simulator before he started walking past the recruits towards him.

"I think I did okay," he whispered softly at Luke's raised eyebrow.

Then Ausly was out the door. The moment they were done with their testing they were ordered to go and get their assignments for the rest of the day until dinner. He had heard different recruits whispering amongst themselves that the assignments following the testing were normally messy clean-up jobs that the officers couldn't be bothered to do themselves. Pushing the thought aside Luke looked forward instead and wondered exactly how he would be tested. He guessed that he'd probably have to go up against a computer program of sorts, but he wasn't sure what kind of program. The computer would probably create other TIE fighters that would be on his side so as to simulate what it would be like fighting and flying in a squadron.

"Skywalker," an officer finally called out ten minutes later.

"Here Sir," Luke replied getting to his feet.

"Get into the simulator," the officer barked.

"Yes Sir," Luke replied as he stepped forward and got into the simulator.

Sitting down he strapped himself in and put on the breathing mask that covered his entire face. It took him a couple of seconds to get used to the feel of it, but then he pushed those thoughts aside as the blank screen before him changed into a space scene. Taking hold of the controls he took a deep breath and waited. It was seconds later that he realized that this exercise wouldn't be done with anyone else, computer generated or not. Quickly glancing at the radar to his right he saw two dots rapidly approaching him from behind, X-wings he realized from the studying he had done.

Instantly he threw the TIE fighter into a sharp, spiral, turn just as the lead X-wing's red laser fire overshot him by inches. Suddenly he realized why some of the recruits had come out of the simulator so fast, they had been completely taking by surprise and wiped out with a couple of well placed shots by the X-wings. Clearing his mind of everything but that which he had learned about TIE fighters, their controls, and maneuvers he quickly brought the TIE he was in level as he fired at one of the two X-wings. One of his two shots hit the X-wing, only to be deflected by it's shield.

Cursing, but somehow managing to avoid the X-wings fire, he finally managed to destroy one of the two X-wings.

"Now the numbers are even," he said to himself as he started chasing the second X-wing.

Ten minutes and two X-wings later, as more of them had appeared out of no where when he had finished off the second one, he was finally hit and destroyed by one of the X-wings. Leaning back in his seat and taking off the breathing mask he took a deep breath as he wondered whether he had done well or not. The officers had said absolutely nothing about what they expected them to do in the simulator and the test results would only be out after dinner.

Sighing once more Luke quickly climbed out of the simulator and went to go get his next assignment before dinner.

Plates clattered and the rattle of dinnerware was loud, but only a few whispers were heard. The bare gray dinning hall held the nervous recruits who were busily shoving food into their mouths. The recruits didn't have time to talk, the 15 minutes given for meals wasn't nearly enough time to eat, let alone discuss anything. Luke sat at his assigned seat at dinner, gulping down the food and trying not to choke- the results of the simulation would be announced after dinner, and he felt too nervous to eat. But, at the Academy, you ate anytime you were given food.

"ATTENTION!" Five officers had walked in. All the recruits instantly dropped their forks, jumped to their feet, turned, and snapped a salute. The first officer pointed at a space on the floor.

"The following recruits are to line up here! Skywalker, Daol..." startled, Luke had already started marching to the front, missing the next few names. "...Hesu, Blann..." Well, at least Ausly and him were together. He snapped to attention at the front of the line. The officer finished reading the first list. "You recruits are now Gray Squadron. Follow Commander Riggs." One of the officers stepped out and nodded at the line and marched out of the cafeteria. Luke followed, the rest of the group marching behind as the officer in the dinning hall started reading a second list of names.

They quickly turned into a classroom, everyone took a seat while Commander Riggs leaned against the desk at the front of the room. He was an older man- salt and pepper hair toped a small athletic frame, crows feet marked sharp eyes, and one half of his face was covered in a thin network of scars. The scars went up into his hairline, down across his neck and into his uniform.

As Commander Riggs spoke, it was obvious that whatever had scared his face had also damaged his voice. He spoke in a gravely rasp, words dragged across ruined vocal cords. "You're Gray Squadron. Your simulation scores gave the indication that you may become TIE fighter pilots. Do not think that this means that you have secured your pilot status. I will expect more out of you than you have given the Empire before. You must learn to work as part of a squad. You must learn unwavering concentration."

The commander smiled. It did not sit well on his damaged face. "I've learned the price of wingmates that loose their concentration in battle." His eyes bored into the recruits "I will not let you become TIE pilots without that concentration, that skill."

"Skywalker, stand up, face your squad." Luke stood, nervous. "I want you all to know that Skywalker here has set the academy record for first-time simulation scores. Beating his scores in future sim flights is now your goal. That shouldn't be too hard, considering he's just some farmer's kid from the Rim. Therefore, everyday we run a simulation and no one beats him either time, we will find something to do to 'reward' the group. However, Skywalker, if you throw a sim, you'll flunk out of the Academy and be sent to be a Stormtrooper. Sit down."

Commander Riggs went on to describe the coming week's schedule. Two simulation flights per day were planned. Luke's growing enthusiasm was only slightly damped by fears- surely he wasn't that much better than everyone else.

"Are there any questions?" Commander Riggs growled. "Good. Report to the parade ground in 15 minutes."

As the recruits filled out, Ausly caught his arm. "Sith, Luke, what did you do?"

"I don't know."

Ausly sighed. "Can't be too bad. How long did you last in that sim flight anyway?" The rest of the squad slowed down, listening without looking like it.

"Um, not long past the third X-wing I got, about 10 minutes."

Most of the squad looked at Luke. One of them swore under their breath.

Ausly sighed. "Well, I got two. We'll be okay. Besides, my dad said they always find something to get you for, everyday. If it isn't you, it will be something else. Won't really be your fault. Come on, let's go." Ausly looked at the rest of the squad. "Anyone else get two?"

Four others raised their hands.

"Actually, I got three as well. But I had to ram the last one." That was from a small blond recruit. "I'm Daol. I think they lined us up in order."

Ausly nodded. "See, we'll be all right."

Luke nodded back, devoutly wishing that Ausly was right. He didn't want everyone to hate him.

15 minutes later the group was waiting on the parade ground. As Commander Riggs approached the group could see that he was holding a gray bag. Stopping in front of Luke as the squad lined up he tossed the bag to Luke.

"In the bag are strips of gray cloth," Commander Riggs stated. "You are each to take one and put it around your right shoulder as an identification of what squad you're in."

Nodding his head Luke reached into the bag, pulled out one of the strips of cloth before handing the bag to Daol standing behind him. Then he quickly tied the cloth to his right shoulder before looking back to Commander Riggs.

"You shall be split into two groups and put into the simulators again for a dry run with wingmates," Commander Riggs rasped as the bag was passed from one squad member to the next. "Both groups will go up against one another. One group will have black TIEs and the other group's TIE fighters will be gray."

Luke and the others in his squad nodded as Commander Riggs's cold eyes swept over them.

"Starting with Skywalker every other one of you is to take two steps to the right," Commander Riggs ordered.

Doing as he was told Luke quickly took two steps to the right and looked over his shoulder to see who was with him. He was disappointed to see that Ausly was in the other line.

"Although you shall be flying in a group your individual scores will be monitored," Commander Riggs informed the group. "So remember what I said earlier, you are to try to beat Skywalker's score or else we shall start the day tomorrow with something other then the simulator flight, understood?"

Nodding his head nervously Luke tossed a quickly look over his shoulder and saw that most of the others in the squad were eyeing him. He couldn't purposely lose, so he sincerely hoped that what Ausly had said earlier was true, that he had indeed just had luck. He would do his best and hope for the best, he had after all joined the Empire to become a pilot and not a storm trooper. He briefly tried to imagine himself spending four years in that white armor and quickly shoved the thought aside. If he ever needed to remember why he had to do his absolute best in the simulators all he had to do was think of himself as a storm trooper.

"Follow me," Commander Riggs ordered as he turned around and headed indoors.

Marching behind the Commander at the head of his line Luke wondered where they were going as the Commander was heading towards the one building he hadn't been in yet. As they entered the building two storm troopers in the first room looked up and raised their blasters but then lowered them as they saw Commander Riggs. Walking through a winding gray hall Commander Riggs finally entered a room and Luke saw that it was full of simulators lined in two rows along the walls.

If they had this many simulators then why hadn't the officers tested them here? Why had they been tested in two simulators? Shaking his head Luke walked forward at the Commander's signal and stopped before the last simulator in the first row.

"Skywalker, your group will have the black TIEs and Daol's group will have the gray ones," Commander Riggs stated in his raspy voice. "Get into your simulators."

Quickly, eagerly, Luke climbed into his simulator and pulled on the annoying breathing mask. Then he took hold of the controls and waited until the screen changed into a space scene. Looking out the viewport he saw that they were in space above a green and brown planet. Instantly he made a mental note of not getting too close to the planet to prevent being pulled in by the planet's gravity well.

Searching the vast expanse of space he looked for the gray TIEs but failed to see them, quickly he looked down at his radar but still saw nothing but the ships of his wingmates. Sitting back he wondered what was happening when he suddenly became aware of the sound of breathing near his ear.

"Who's there?" he asked looking behind him.

"Skywalker, that you?" another voice replied over the com, a voice which Luke recognized as Blann's.

"Yes," Luke replied.

"I guess everyone in our group has com connection," Frand stated. "Perhaps we should agree on some kind of strategy."

"Probably," Luke replied. "We'd better break into two groups so that the other group can't surround us."

"Good idea," Jokanse stated. "Why don't Skywalker, Frand, and Blann be in one group while Wlanke, Grust, and I be in the other."

"Sounds fine with me," Wlanke replied.

"Watch out," Luke said as he saw six gray dots appear on his radar. "Here they come."

"How do you know?" Grust asked.

"Look at your radar," Luke replied. "My group break left."

Quickly Luke turned his TIE fighter left and saw that two other black TIEs followed him.

"What do you think we should do Skywalker?" Blann asked as they turned to face their approaching opponents.

"I'm not sure," Luke replied, nervous that the others were automatically looking to him for instructions, he had never been a leader. "Perhaps we should chose a target and one of us attack it while the others provide cover."

"Good idea," Frand replied. "Let's take that gray TIE near the edge of their group."

"Okay," Blann replied. "You get him, Skywalker and I will cover you."

Silently nodding his head Luke let himself fall slightly behind Frand's TIE as he looked at the other gray TIEs. Frand had fired his first shots before the gray TIEs responded. The target Frand had chosen swerved at the last minute and managed to just avoid the fire aimed at him. Following his target Frand fired as he turned his TIE. Seeing one of the other gray TIEs breaking from the main group to help his wingmate Luke quickly fired and missed.

"Watch out Frand, behind you to the left," he said into the com before he pulled his TIE into a turn and fired at the gray TIE again.

This time one of his two shots hit the cockpit of the TIE before the TIE started spinning out of control, oxygen seemingly leaking out of the cockpit. The TIE continued to spin until it disappeared.

"One down," Luke stated triumphantly over the com just as Frand fired and hit his TIE.

"Make that two," Frand said.

"Guys, we just lost Grust," Jokanse's voice suddenly said over the com.

"You and Wlanke watch out and stick together," Blann ordered.

"Okay," Jokanse agreed before he cursed.

"What's wrong?" Luke asked. "Jokanse?"

"He's out of it," Wlanke replied.

"Come join us," Frand stated.

Seconds later Wlanke joined them and they manage to take out several of the gray TIEs before Blann and Frand both were hit and 'killed.' Firing at the TIE that had taken out Frand, Luke shot a brief glance at Wlanke and saw that he had just destroyed the TIE that had 'killed' Blann. Destroying the TIE he was chasing Luke turned around just in time to see Wlanke's TIE disappear in a ball of fire as it was hit by the last remaining gray TIE.

Looking at the other TIE Luke wondered who was piloting it, perhaps it was Daol, or perhaps it was one of the others. Approaching the TIE Luke fired at it at the same instant the other TIE opened fire on him. Twisting in an unsuccessful effort to avoid the fire Luke saw the other TIE disappear in a ball of flame just as his screen went blank. Getting out of his simulator Luke saw Ausly getting out of his own simulator before joining his 'dead' wingmen. Smiling at his friend Luke knew that they had just 'killed' each other.

Snapping to attention as Commander Riggs entered the room with a datapad in his hand Luke wondered how he had done. Just because he was the last one of his squad to die didn't mean that he had scored the most hits.

It was late, but Luke sat alone in the lobby of the dorm, studying for the test. He had to know every last detail of the TIE fighter controls for tomorrow. Hard gray benches and darker gray tabletops matched the gray walls of the room.

'Didn't they have any other colors?' thought Luke. He was starting to get sick of gray. 'At least Tatooine had color. I haven't even been able to walk through that blue jungle out there yet. Who could have ever thought that a plant, a tree, could grow that tall? And it rains all the time here... rain. How odd, water from the sky.' Luke shook his head. Everything was different here.

The lift door opened. "Hey Skywalker, trying to beat us in the classroom as well?" Ausly gave his head a friendly punch. Blann and Daol were with him.

"Yeah, I'm just trying to brush up on the control configuration for tomorrow's test. Would have gotten to it earlier, but I had to study history."

"History? Oh, come on, didn't you get that in your Rimworld education?" Ausly sat down across from him.

"Uh, it's a little different than the version I got..."

"Damn, I bet the Rebel Alliance has been feeding those outer worlds all sorts of garbage. No wonder we get so much trouble from them. Look on the bright side Luke, at least now you know the truth. How's the hand?"

"Oh, a little stiff. I'll be all right." Luke looked aside. "I wish that hadn't happened. I didn't tell anyone, I..."

"We know." That was Daol. He had been there, behind Nack, when Nack had reached out and tripped Skywalker on the stairs. Everyone had gotten tired of Skywalker beating them half the time. Nack had tried to even the score. It had backfired. "I don't know why that idiot did what he did. I would have stopped him. He should have known that we're watched."

The security cameras had caught the incident. Not 15 minutes later, Skywalker had been ordered to the medical center for evaluation. Luke's wrist was sprained. And Nack had gotten lectured, more like reamed, on the parade ground, in front of everybody. Commander Riggs had rasped on, at great length, about respecting the team, and more importantly, protecting Imperial property. Nack had been transferred to Red Squadron.

Nack's lecture had drove home to everyone that the Imperial government owned them, heart, body, and soul.

Blann's response was lighthearted. "Yeah, wouldn't want to risk loosing Imperial resources. See you guys later, I'm going to bed. We've got to get up early, don't we?"

Luke slumped down. Over the last few weeks Commander Riggs had gone from replacing morning simulation flights to just waking everyone up early. It wasn't everyday- in fact, he was beaten by at least one other person once a day at least half the time in sim flights. And Commander Riggs usually found another reason that the squad should wake up early. But it was making everyone rather sick of Skywalker.

"Yeah, Skywalker can't be beat. I'm going to bed." Daol said as he walked out.

Skywalker looked at Ausly. "It's not like I can loose on purpose. I tried once, you know. Just a little pause," Luke held up two fingers, an inch apart, "just a little one, got hit, died. Commander Riggs met me at the door to simulation chamber." Luke shook his head.

"What did he do?"

"Said if I ever did that again, he would personally escort me over to the Storm Trooper Academy." Luke snorted, "Like I want to wear that damn white armor. I'm too short for one thing. Your friend Drake is welcome to it."

Ausly smiled. "And if I remember right, you don't look good in white anyway."

Luke looked down at his black sleeve. "This is much more my color." Luke kicked his feet back, putting his hands behind his head. "Yep, this piece of Imperial property shall enjoy wearing black."

Ausly laughed, "What about when you become an officer?"

Luke frowned. "I guess I'll have to change the rules." Then he smiled again, "Like that's going to happen."

"Sooner have a fish-head as an officer, my friend." Ausly was talking about a Mon Calamari. It had quickly become apparent to Luke that the Imperial forces did not have much room for any non-humans. The second day he was here they had attended an 'Imperial Education Seminar', it was a propaganda film about not trusting non-humans. They had seen a different film each week.

"Ausly, do you think that they are all bad? Every last race but us?"

Ausly looked shocked. "Luke, I know you're a little out of touch with the galaxy because of where you grew up, but what interaction have you had with aliens?"

"Um, not much. Everybody in Anchorhead was human. I guess just the Jawas and the Sandpeople. Oh, and I saw a few in Mos Eisley on my way off Tatooine."

"Were any of those creatures trustworthy?"

Luke laughed. "Trust a Jawa? Sandpeople? I'm not that stupid. And I'm probably lucky to get through Mos Eisley alive."


Luke looked at Ausly. He remembered the hidden cameras. "You're probably right." He sighed. 'Better cover myself' thought Luke as he said, "You know, I bet the Rebel Alliance just saturated my education with junk. You're lucky, knowing all this stuff."

"Yeah, superior education brings superior minds."

"Sounds like a quote."

"You did come from the sticks! It's straight out of the Imperial Youth handbook."

"The what?"

Ausly just looked at Luke. Then he yawned. "It's late. I'm not going to be able to fill all the gaps in your education tonight. You go to bed. Wouldn't want to be late tomorrow morning." Ausly walked off to his room.

Luke packed up his stuff to take back to his room. Ausly was right, being late would really make everyone hate him even more. Well, that wasn't fair. They just didn't like him. Early morning exercises, provided by Skywalker, were just an initiation mind game. Most of them knew that the mind games came with the Academy, but that didn't keep them from wishing he would wash out and leave them in peace.

As Luke shut his door to his room, he remembered that Ausly didn't hate him for having to wake up early. He just shrugged it all off. Said his cousin had gone through the Academy with another hotshot flyer and had all the same tricks pulled on him. He didn't hold it against him. Ausly always seemed to know how everything really worked.

Luke threw himself on his bed, wishing for more sleep than he was going to get tonight. Questions still buzzed in his head. The Imperial Military seemed to have so many unspoken rules, Luke felt like he was rushing to find them all out, just so he could survive. Like the 'don't trust non-humans' rule. Luke lay there, drifting off to sleep, trying to straighten out what he knew from before, and the truth in front of him now. Truth was so malleable in the Empire....

His morning alarm buzzed. Luke slapped the wall panel, and dragged himself up. It was morning already? He checked his chronometer, and rushed through the fresher and tossed on some clothes. He would not be late. Blann had been 15 seconds late once. The whole squad had to run all the way around the Academy complex for that.

Luke met Ausly in the hall. Ausly was smiling. "Hey, initiation's over today. Let's see what changes."

Luke blinked. "I forgot. Been too busy trying to stay awake."

Down at the parade ground, Commander Riggs was looking as clean, awake, and irritated as usual. The harsh floodlights made the Commander's scars stand out like bloody scratches.

"Today, we start strategy training. You will start to learn how to work as a group. Scores will now be both for individuals and for your group. The group that looses will have to wake up early, the other group will get to sleep in. We will be rearranging groups as your strengths and weaknesses become more apparent. Later, we will have the whole squadron fight as one team against other squads. Then, you will get some real flight time in an actual TIE." The Commander handed out class schedules. "You may return to your quarters till breakfast. Dismissed."

Commander Riggs watched the retreating recruits. He stood and watched Skywalker. It was a shame that Imperial procedure made a target out of anyone who excelled like that kid. He was a great natural leader, but the training procedures made everyone hate him. Hopefully, the group scoring would change all that. Hopefully.

Four months later, Luke walked down the gray hall on his way to the outside landing pad. Today would be the first day that they actually left Rauz since they had first come here five and a half months ago. Since initiation had ended things had gone a little better among the pilots who had been in the same team as him as they had had to get up earlier far less frequently then the pilots of the other team. The members of the other team had therefore started to dislike him even more then before, but he had learned to live with that. Luckily the other team's dislike of him had lessened when their entire squadron had started flying as one against the other squadrons. Thus far they had only been beaten twice, both times by Red Squadron, but since those two defeats their team performance had gotten better and it was now know among the recruits that Gray Squadron was practically unbeatable.

Luke smiled at the thought, he and Blann had quickly excelled as leaders and he had slowly but surely gotten used to being in charge of his team. But today he wouldn't be leading his team, today Commander Riggs was going to take them off-planet in their TIEs so that they could get used to flying long distances in their fighters.

The thought made him excited for, although they had gone up into space a couple of times so that they would get used to it, they had never actually stayed out there for more then a couple of hours. Now he would stay in his TIE for a far longer time and he'd feel more like a real pilot then a student.

Another thing that excited him was the fact that he had received a message from Biggs this morning. The message had said that his friend would be joining the Academy in three weeks. Three more weeks and he'd be able to speak to his best friend for, although he had a friend in Ausly and that the others of the squadron didn't hate him too much, they weren't exactly all that close either. So the thought of having Biggs nearby truly excited him, he'd be able to tell his friend everything that had happened to him and they'd be able to talk about things he just couldn't talk about with Ausly.

Exiting the building he was in he hurried across the parade ground to the landing pad just as the sun came up in the distance. Walking over to where his squadron's TIE fighters were perched on their racks he wondered if he'd have to fly as Commander Riggs's wingman again. The last few times they had gone up into space Commander Riggs had divided them into groups of three, the first time it had happened there had been three groups of three and one of four as there had been twelve students in the squadron plus Commander Riggs. However since then Hreswe and Olsnu had been sent to the Storm Trooper Academy for misconduct, leaving three groups of three and him with Commander Riggs as the forth group.

"As you know today we shall take our TIEs and fly over to Caridia, the planet with the Storm Trooper Academy," Commander Riggs rasped as soon as everyone had arrived. "We shall spend the night there and return tomorrow."

Looking at his squadron Commander Riggs eyed them until everyone nodded his head before he continued:

"You shall pair up in your usual groups, Skywalker you shall be with me again, understood?"

"Yes Sir," they all replied before heading towards their TIEs at Commander Riggs's signal.

Climbing up the rack and into his TIE Luke barely managed to hide the excited smile on his face from his team members. This was the first time in three months that he had trouble controlling his emotions. Sitting down in the seat of his craft he quickly put on the breathing mask and smoothly lifted off at the Commander's order. They all climbed up into Rauz's atmosphere as a single group.

"Split up into your small groups," Commander Riggs ordered as soon as they had pulled away from Rauz's gravity well.

Heading up to the front of the squadron Luke quickly took his place to the right of Commander Riggs's TIE fighter.

"Everyone in formation?" Commander Riggs demanded and waited for the leader of each small group to respond before they speed away from Rauz.

Sitting back in his seat Luke looked out the window to the Commander's TIE fighter and made sure that he was in the correct position. Lately Commander Riggs always waited five minutes before commenting on a squadron member's mistake, waiting to see it the pilot would notice the mistake himself or not. If not he'd tell the pilot and then later use him as an example for the rest of the squadron. Seeing that he was slightly off he quickly adjusted his position.

"Good," Commander Riggs praised over the com.

Looking down Luke saw that the praise was aimed at him as the Commander had used a com channel that each group had so that they could communicate to only the others in their small group and, seeing that he was the only one in the group with Commander Riggs, the praise had to be aimed at him.

"Thank you Sir," Luke replied automatically.

When he had received his first praise from the Commander he had asked Ausly if he or anyone he knew in the squadron had received one as well the reply had been negative. Ausly had continued to say that at times it seemed like Commander Riggs was firmer on Luke then the others and it had seemed to Ausly as if the Commander was training him to be a Commander himself someday. He had dismissed Ausly's idea saying that it was just coincidental, but since then he had also started noticing that the Commander treated him differently and he had begun to wonder if Ausly was right.

If someone had told him about this on the first day or during the first two months he would have been both nervous and scared at the thought of having power over others, but not anymore. Having been constantly seen as a leader in his team he had slowly gotten used to, and had even started to like, being in charge.

Shaking his head he turned his attention back to his flying. He didn't want to mess up now, not with Commander Riggs right next to him.

Caridia wasn't far away by galactic standards, but without hyperdrive it was a long, boring trip. The two Imperial training worlds circled the same star, but were currently almost directly opposite each other. By the time Gray Squadron approached the blue, green, and tan world below Luke felt thirsty, hungry, and had to use the fresher.

Commander Riggs sounded as well rested as ever. "Well squad," he croaked, "this is Caridia. One of the few worlds in the galaxy that has an amazing variety of climates. Useful for training storm troopers in land operations. We'll be landing shortly, but first... " Suddenly, an orange light lit up on Skywalker's control panel. "I've just turned all your lasers to stun shots only. You can't really kill anyone now. Also, your TIE can register these hits on your hull as 'kills', so... " Luke noticed his scanner screen showing a squad of ships approaching fast, "Well, I'm not here boys. Join me when you get hit." Commander Riggs suddenly peeled off to the side.

'Great, a war game.' Luke thought. 'and I really need to use the fresher.' He slapped on his all squad comm while he studied the screen "Seems like a standard Corrilian Claw formation. Let's try a Drayson Defense. Blann take your group solar north. I'll go south. Daol, you're with me."

Skywalker's group swung down while Blann's shifted up. The Corrilian Claw attack was a standard V formation swung forward to surround a squad and crush it between it's claws. The ships were almost upon them now, and Luke checked the scanners again. The dawning realization hit him as someone else in the squad blurted out- "X-wings?? but..."

Luke forced his panic down. He hit the comm again. "Just training. Commander Riggs wouldn't just be sitting there if it wasn't. Remember the sim flights. Nail 'em twice. Attack speed- let's go."

The Drayson Defense called for a turning of the tables on the attacking group. The TIEs would attempt to divide the claw right down the middle, taking out one side first.

The approaching X-wings, no doubt noting the formation of the TIEs, started to rotate their formation. "Rotate opposite, we'll get the half on the inside." Near a planet, anything on the planet side was 'in'.

Suddenly, they were upon them. Luke yanked his stick, and his TIE sprang planetward. He got a hit on the leading X-wing, but it's shields held. As Luke started to tear a tight circle, he noticed that the X-wings had been liberally covered with the Imperial symbol on wings, body, belly, and nose.

"Keep to your elements. Stay together." Luke jinked left, then right, as the X-wings' stun fire tried to tag him. Heading down, Luke shot around the clustered, swirling ships. He dove into the maelstrom again. Hitting two X-wings during his swerving pass, he noticed that the ranks were beginning to thin already. "Gray 3" that was Daol- "how you doing?"

"Lost 'em both." Daol was a hotshot pilot, but he didn't work well with others. "Got an X on my tail." Luke ran a looping path between speeding ships to where his screen said Gray 3 was located. Sure enough, Daol was being hunted by an X-wing who was tight to his tail. Luke swooped behind, nailing the X-wing three times in rapid succession. The X-wing barrel rolled till it was belly up and pealed away to the waiting group of the 'killed'.

"Stick with me." Luke scanned the screen again. Six TIEs left. 'Damn, it's hard to watch everything.' Luke started pairing off the survivors- wingmen helped keep your tail clear, they watched your back. "Gray 6, 10 together. 4, 5, keep it tight."

Luke and Daol charged back into the giant cloverleafed dogfight. Tearing up, spinning around, hurling down they shot at the X-wings. But the numbers kept dropping. Suddenly they only had four left of the squad, then it was just Luke and Ausly. The remaining four X-wings separated them, and then Luke was alone.

'Sith. But I'm not dead yet.' Luke barrel rolled left and swung right. He scored the last hit needed on one X-wing to take it down- clipped another. 'I really want some shields.' Luke forced his mind clear as he took another twisting dive. Luke purposefully flew so close to an X-wing that he could see the pilot. The X-wing jumped away, giving Luke a clear shot at its partner. 'Got ya.' Luke was grim as he pulled up, shimmying right. As remaining X-wings teamed up on Luke, there wasn't much he could do. But he kept trying- until one 'hit' him, setting off red lights on his control panel.

"Sithspawn!" Luke smacked the panel.

"Not bad Skywalker." The raspy voice of Commander Riggs was heard over the comm unit. "But I wouldn't recommend running that close to an X-wing in a dogfight. The bastard may just run into you out of spite."

"Sorry sir. I just needed to scare him, sir."

"Fall in. Gray Squadron, meet Ghost Squadron. They're a little training group temporarily here at Caridia. You're not to tell anyone about Ghost Squadron until they've gotten the same surprise you just did. It's part of the training." Commander Riggs started to slide his TIE towards the planet.

The ride down was uneventful. After parking their TIEs, Gray Squadron had been escorted to the pilot barracks. Luke had visited the fresher and plopped himself down in the lobby with his mealpack. Tearing into the food, he watched Ausly try to use the wall terminal to contact his friend Drake.

"He should be in officer's training by now. I might get to talk to him." Ausly punched more buttons. Suddenly he smiled. "All right! I can leave him a message. Hope he can get back to me tonight."

Luke went back to eating. He understood Ausly, Biggs would be at the Academy in three weeks. He hoped he got to talk to him soon. He didn't know what had been going on in Biggs' life, or anything. He had so much to tell Biggs, stuff Ausly had told him, things that made adjusting to Imperial life so much easier. Also, Luke really wanted to know what everyone back on Tatooine thought happened to him. Did they even know where he was? Did he care?

One of the pilots from Ghost Squadron came into the lobby. He was a grizzled man in this forties, graying hair, hard-bitten expression, medium build. He looked around, saw Skywalker, walked over.

"Commander Scagg. So you're the one who gave Nasu that fright. He was convinced you had gotten lost and were going to really nail him." Scagg grinned. "I looked at the computer readouts, that was some fancy flying. Surprised you didn't black out."

"Thank you sir. I have to be careful about that- blacking out I mean."

"I'm sure you do. Those TIEs sure can turn. But we've got shields."

"Yeah, I wouldn't mind having shields. We were sure surprised when you guys popped up on our scopes. Never seen a real X-wing in action before."

"Last time you'll see a friendly one. Come on hotshot, I'll show you my ship. Never met an Imp yet that didn't want to see one up close."

"Well, just one that wasn't shooting at me."

The Commander laughed. "You do have a dry sense of humor kid. Come on, Commander Riggs said you'd want to see this."

Skywalker followed Commander Scagg out to the landing field. The sun was beginning to set. Twelve X-wings sat at attention, in close formation. Scagg reached out and patted the leading ship.

"This one's mine. Always has been." Luke walked up and ran his hand along the hull. His eyes found orange paint beneath a chip in the Imperial gray. "I had to fight to keep her. Took some doing, but the Imperials needed a training squad like mine. Once the right people heard my idea, I got to build my squad. We go around, training different groups."

Luke replied quietly. "You weren't always an Imp?" Luke smiled at the man, Scagg was right, the Imperials did need a squad like this. He wasn't so scared to fight X-wings now, even if he did 'die' in that training exercise earlier.

"Nah, grew up on the Rim. Joined the Rebels to fly. What a bunch of idealistic idiots. They were so busy being free individuals, they couldn't work together. I couldn't stand the lack of discipline, the lack of reality in their goals. And other things. So I jumped ship."

"And just casually changed sides and ended up leading a squad?" Luke was grinning.

"Well, my ship no longer has hyperdrive, or anything but stun weapons. And I had to talk to the right people..."

"Who was that?"

"Lord Vader." Luke was surprised, he had heard of the Dark Lord. "That man, he can look into your soul. See right into you. Can tell if you're lying, what you want to do. He just stared at me behind that mask. Felt like he was peeling me inside out, I wanted to faint. Then he turns to one of his officers and says 'Give him his squad. He keeps the ship. Round up the others like him.' Then he walked out, and everything happened."

"Just like that?" Luke didn't know hardly anything about Darth Vader. He had heard of him, sure, who hadn't? But his information was just rumors...

"Just like that. When our lord says something, it happens." Scagg gave his ship another pat. "But I didn't invite you out here to tell you my life story. Commander Riggs is right, you're going to be an officer. Squad leader at least." Skywalker felt surprised.

"That's why I want you to study this." He handed Luke a datapad. "The brass knows I have it, they have a copy, and they know that we let promising pilots look at it. It's the Rebel's training manual, their standard attack patterns. The copy isn't new, but it helps with figuring out what they're doing in the thick of it. I need the copy back by morning- we don't want you becoming too dependent on what's in there."

"Uh.. thanks."

"Don't mention it. Well, we better get back to the barracks."

Just as they began to turn, the lights on the fields across the landing strip turned on, banishing the gathering gloom. Two swoops zoomed out into the field, shooting stun blasts into the grass. One swoop stopped, its driver heaving a prone form over the back of his bike before heading back to the building it had come from. The remaining swoop set up a search pattern over the field.

"Conscripts." Commander Scagg answered Luke's unasked question. "Sometimes they think that if they run off base that they can get away. Fools ought to just learn to live with their place in life. Need to learn self-sacrifice for the greater good." Scagg shook his head. "You should hear them, 'I have to feed my family' or some other nonsense. It really means 'I don't want to fight'. Shesh. You think that peace just happens? It has to be defended." Scagg sounded disgusted.

Luke didn't know what to think. Everyone at the flight academy wanted to be there- the Imperials didn't use conscripts for pilots that much. But Luke could understand not wanting to be a Storm Trooper...

Back at the barracks, Luke scanned the datapad. He knew most of it, so he skipped to attack and defense patterns. Not much was there- It seemed that the Rebels didn't bother with too many rigid formations. The words 'improvise as needed' came up a lot. He put the pad down. He headed out to the lobby, maybe Ausly got hold of Drake.

The huge muscle-bound man sat in a chair across from Ausly. He was smiling, a slightly glazed look in his eyes, as him and Ausly tried to catch up on the last five and a half months.

"Yeah, we've been chasing each other around in sim flights, real flights, every which way. I think I can target in my sleep."

"I know I can. The flash learning gives me the weirdest dreams. Battles I know I wasn't in, stuff like that. But it is the fastest way to go. I'm surprised you pilots don't got through the same thing."

"I heard it doesn't take as well on pilots. Being drugged and glassy eyed don't sit well in a cockpit."

"Ah, I've only got one session left."

Luke hid his surprise. He had no idea why Storm Trooper training was so much shorter.

"Besides, I volunteered. Commando team training. The shortcut to becoming an officer." Drake had shoved a large smile on his face. "Then, officer training, and off to the real world."

"Hey Luke, remember Drake?"

"Of course, who could forget that mountain? Hope you're having fun here."

"Good to see you again Luke, glad to see you made it." Drake checked his chronometer. "I've got to get back, I'm lucky to get this much time." He stood to leave, every move a careful extension of power. He gave Ausly a careful bearhug and then slid out the door.

"Damn Luke, he sure moves different. I think he's dangerous now." Ausly was amazed at his retreating friend's change.

"Well, we fly different now too. Same thing."

"I guess. Well, sleep tight, it's a long trip tomorrow." Ausly and Luke returned to their temporary quarters.

Go to Part 2 for the rest