Biggs Darklighter shoved his X-Wing's joysticks forward and dove toward the Death Star. The TIE fighter curved around behind him to spit lasers that plashed against Biggs' shields in a nacreous green shower, and Luke's X-Wing slotted in behind it as neatly as dancing. The patterned Death Star surface flashed beneath them.
"I can't shake him—!" Biggs cried, looking around as if he could see his squadronmates' faces somewhere out there in their ships.
But it was Luke Skywalker who answered him, Luke who understood how different the X-Wings and space were from the skyhoppers that they used to ride together in the Tatooine desert. You could feel every tip and turn around you here, hear the sounds of the air whipping past you, in one of those, not like the dampened gravity of a starship where the enemy could only be seen as a dot on the radar. "Hang on, Biggs. I'm coming in."
On the tac screen Biggs saw the red dot juke and waver as Luke's green dot tracked it. He focused forward and kicked the X-Wing into a starboard side wing-stand that swung him around and set the Imperial ship in his sights again. Squeeze of the trigger and the TIE's solar plates were ripped from its cockpit, shorn off by both his and Luke's shots. The vacuum-suited pilot ejected in a burst of hydraulic smoke.
The X-Wings curved away. Luke whooped, and Biggs laughed with the joy of that sound he had not heard since before his Academy days.
No humans killing humans then. Just boys out for an explore, for hunting, racing. No red dots—
One red dot now , out from a niche in the Death Star's great horizoned surface and rising fastfastfast toward them, and Biggs knew this feeling of something has gone very wrong I must protect my squad, and of the cold precision which could save him.
His Imperial training had taught him these things. But it had also taught him that an advantage Imperials had over Rebels was the latter's morality; they would not shoot an enemy if an ally were behind him, just in case. And so the TIE roseroserose between Luke and Biggs, and Biggs tried to curve around, kick his footpedals to the ground around to find the right angle, before—
So easy, that flurry of shots, and Luke's cockpit filled with oxygen—oh you moral Rebels, he thought for a moment, and cursed himself—roiled in a ball of flame. X-Wing parts dripped in gouts like fire, and the dug-out hull of the craft fell, pulled by the Death Star's gravity to a pyre on the surface, to a stain—
Biggs roared. (Leia on the moon of Yavin was screaming too, Red Five can you come in can you come in over and over like his name was too much for her, Dodonna pulling at her shoulders so that she did not vomit past her rasping throat onto the maps lain out before her, because she knew, she'd never known but now she knew that half of her was torn away)
And Biggs was brought back to himself by Garvin Dreis' voice over his comm, "Almost there," and now the cold is setting in. Imperial-military-cold white as snow and plasteel armor, cold that thinks about how many kill marks he could paint on his ship's nose as a result of the last few minutes.
Red Leader again, voice strained: "Where are you, Red Three?"
"On my way sir." Cold.
But he arrived in time to see Darth Vader's sleek TIE Advanced (one more red dot—the Rebel computers are not new enough to portray it differently) overtake Dreis and send his ship bouncing and flaming between the trench walls. One X-Wing continued on in the trench, Wedge, and he fired a missile that just added to the fumes of war as it exploded against the sides of the reactor shaft.
Vader clipped Wedge's wing with a laser bolt, and the grazed X-Wing soared for space. Wedge's "Sorry!" sounded sincere.
How many Rebels were left? Biggs looked down; green dots few and far between, some retreating in limping craft. Vader's ship rose from the trench like a bird of prey from its kill.
I can't take him, Biggs thought. Not just because we were trained in the Academy to salute to his picture as if we were bowing to a god—but because I'm tired. He had known from the swoops how combat took it out of you, even when you were sitting down and pushing buttons. Fatigue now juddered through his shoulders and weakened his arms, threatening his core. So torn, between living to fight, to die, and living to wait while he did nothing at all—
And he and Wedge and Vader danced a hesitant dance around the Death Star while it moved closer and closer and the comm calls from the base were drowned out by Leia's ragged breaths, quiet as they were—
Wedge and Biggs, together, they let the planet die.
I wanted to survive so that the Rebellion had one more hope, Biggs thought later, thought one thousand times in the cramped and stale-smelling cockpit on his way to the planet he had not thought of as home in a long time; I would never have been able to make that shot, not with Vader hovering like a carrion bird. I never let Luke beat me lightly in the canyons, but the kid was going to do it—
And then he needed to stop thinking.
Perhaps Wedge did too; they left one another with their personal comm numbers, but he would not call. Wedge would be dealing in his own way, on Corellia, in Treasure Row…
He heard about the battle—the victory, they called it-- on the HoloNet, even in the text-only feeds he could get in the X-Wing. Yavin IV destroyed. Alderaan's princess gone the way of her world. Names of Imperial deserters that, even if they had been cleared from security, weren't able to be identified. No remains of the world, no chunks of planet—
When finally Biggs stood on the tamped-down sand of Tatooine, he wondered whether the ground was going to crumble beneath him. Leave him to the fate he left the others. But he held his head high and felt the dry wind flip up the edges of his cloak. Sadness settled into him and scabbed over, his thoughts made clear and dry by the sun. He had family here, and a comfortable home. The galaxy outside could crumble, the Rebellion lurch until its heart stopped.
But did he feel hope, somewhere distant, somewhere he could access if he didn't think about Luke's last words? Yes. His panache remained. But Luke is dead and Organa is dead and Dodonna is dead.
His feet followed the tracks they had made many years ago to Tosche Station.
It looked the same. He came at the building from the side and the high ground, so that he could see the ledge of the other side of the building that hung out over the great brown-striped Dune Sea. How many times had he stood here?
Speeder parts lay propped against the walls like scales the building had shed.
His friends here would be barely half a year older than he when he had seen them last, but Biggs almost expected them to have changed unrecognizably.
He pressed the door buzzer.
Camie opened the door. She did not recognize him at first, but then a tanned hand fluttered up to sun-chapped limbs and her eyes widened.
She stepped aside and let him into the office. Biggs could see the brown-coated form of Fixer beyond the grated gate to the workshop, goggles resting on his once-broken nose and a welding torch spitting sparks in his hands.
Biggs felt Camie's hand on his shoulder. She said, "Look who's here!"
The torch shut off; Fixer shouted "Tell him if his power's not on now it's not our fault—check the circuit breaker—"
Fixer look up, raised the goggles. A smile spread over his weathered face. He bounded over and engulfed Biggs' hands in his. "Oh, Biggs! Welcome back! Great to see you—we saw the news about the sack of the rebels and wondered if you were involved on that—what was the name of your ship again?"
Looking at him, Biggs realized that he had not planned how he was going to tell his story.
"The Rebel leaders have been murdered," Biggs said. "And Luke is dead."
They knew he was not joking; they knew how his face looked when he laughed at danger, and this was not it.
"What?" breathed Camie.
"In the line of duty. And I am done with the war."
Biggs leaned against the desk. Silence for a time as he turned away from the others' tears to hide his own.
Then Fixer said, "We'll hold a funeral, however he'd have wanted it."
They removed to the balcony and sat on the sun-warmed whitewash, Fixer's arm around Camie's shoulder, and they spoke of old times, while Biggs saw in the suns the shape of Yavin IV cracking open.
Eventually, Fixer asked, "Are you staying back here?"
"My parents would like me to." Could he do it? Live comfortably here? Thoughts of what job he would do, how to clandestinely manage his finances, filled him up surprisingly easy. They would take over thoughts of strategy and changing the tyrannical government…the Empire would not touch Tatooine again; it was no longer worth it.
And leave the galaxy alone with the Empire, and leave Luke having died for nothing.
"Yes," Biggs sighed. "I think I will."
"Hey!" A voice from the front of the station.
"Customer," said Camie.
"I'll tell them to go," Fixer said, and stood.
A growl, like metal screeching, echoed around the station. Camie and Fixer both hurried out.
I can't stay here, Biggs thought. One day it will be the Empire knocking on that door looking for their traitor.
He had met them just briefly, but Biggs recognized Han Solo and Chewbacca as soon as he saw them. Solo's crooked lips looked something like a natural, accusatory smirk.
"I thought I'd find you here. Tracked your squad signal. Found you here and asked the locals about that flashy cloak of yours. " His eyes flicked around, taking in the place.
Camie said softly, "Who…?"
Solo said, "I saw the others go out. And I turned around and came back. And I was…" He blinked. "I saw the laser blast. And we're not finished."
Does he want to hurt me for leaving the battle?, Biggs thought for a moment. But no—
"I didn't care mopek for the Rebellion. But I don't care much for the Empire either, and there were people in the Rebellion I'll miss. And they're not doing that to planets whenever they frakking feel like it."
Biggs felt Camie and Fixer staring past him at Han.
He felt his thoughts of staying on Tatooine melt like morning dew. How could he have imagined staying on Tatooine? There was work to be done. How he and Han and Wedge could scrape together anything out of the nothing where Yavin had been he did not know, but perhaps somewhere in space there floated resilient chunks of life, undersea microbae that would colonize some other temperate planet. He said, "We're going to hold a funeral for Luke."
"And for Leia," Han rasped. Chewbacca growled his approval.
"And then," Biggs said, "We're going to start again. We're going to show them."