Well, originally this fic was going to be 11 chapters (hence the title), but I've decided not to continue with this particular idea. It would have mainly been a story about survival, and braving the elements… Unfortunately, my time to write has been limited as of late and I already have a few other things in the works (including a couple of my other unfinished stories).
So, here's what I had before I decided to scrap it…
Hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars, etc.
The Eleventh Hour
She could remember seeing a bright red light.
Her squad of clone troopers. The familiar sheen of their helmets as they eagerly waited for the ominous glow of the standby signal to turn green.
Her Master had been there. He had sensed the danger, had told them to brace for impact… that's when it happened.
The light never turned green.
The doors never slid open.
They never even got a chance to step foot out of their battle cruiser. She had staggered when the military transport violently lurched to one side, and would have been thrown to the floor if not for the overhead handgrip that she had so desperately clung to for support.
She had regained her balance just long enough to catch a glimpse of her Master calling out to the pilot, but she couldn't hear his voice over the deafening roar of engines, and the rumbling of the ships' hull as it continued to accelerate and plummet toward the surface of…
It had all gone black. There was nothing…
Her eyes took a moment to adjust to her new surroundings as she fought to lift her head. She winced and stopped short when a sharp pain shot down her neck, and her vision blurred; both her body and mind protesting the abrupt movement. She couldn't stifle a moan as she allowed her head to fall back against the cold… snow?
Startled, she glanced over when a gloved hand suddenly reached out and covered her mouth. Holding a finger up to his lips, she saw a face that she had come to know very well since becoming a padawan learner and joining in the war effort: that of a clone soldier. She didn't recognize this particular trooper, but had served with many of his brothers. And just as she had placed her life in their hands on countless occasions, she knew that he, too, could be trusted.
Once he was confident that she would remain quiet, he cautiously removed his palm and offered her an apologetic nod. He had sustained a deep gash over his left brow, but didn't seem to notice the fresh blood as it trickled down his cheek and dripped from his chin. His hair, like many of his brothers, was shaved down to the scalp. Across his neck, an old burn scar from an injury that had long ago healed was barely visible beneath his worn armor. Clearly, he was no stranger to combat.
"Commander, we have to maintain noise discipline," he whispered, anxiously peering over his shoulder to make sure that they were still alone. "If those clankers hear us, we're as good as dead."
"Wh… what happened?" she managed to choke out.
"Emergency landing, Commander," the trooper answered, keeping his voice low. "They hit us with heavy artillery. We were on the ground before we even heard the first shot."
"Master!" she gasped, a little louder than she had intended. "General Skywalker… have you seen him?"
"Don't worry, he's fine," the trooper reassured her. "The two of you were lucky."
"The rest of your unit didn't make it," he elaborated. "I'm not quite sure how you lived through that landing, but here you are. I found the General dragging you out of the wreckage. So far, it looks like we're all that's left."
Releasing a labored sigh, Ahsoka Tano closed her eyes and took a moment to digest the distressing information. "Where is he now?"
"Searching for other survivors before the Seppies completely overrun our position," the trooper replied, once again glancing over his shoulder. "He wanted to get you away from the crash site, so we brought you here. I tried ta convince him it was too risky to go back, but once the General sets his mind on something…"
"Believe me, I understand," Ahsoka said, unable to contain a knowing smirk despite the gravity of their situation.
Taking a deep breath and gritting her teeth, she somehow managed to lift her head and pull herself up into a sitting position; doing her best to ignore the severe pain that shot through her aching muscles.
After a better inspection of her surroundings, she realized that she was indeed sitting in snow. Fortunately, like her companion, she was clad in the appropriate winter garbs required to endure such freezing temperatures. Her memories rushing back to her all at once, she could now recall the objective of their disastrous mission, and precisely where they were…
Along with her Master and a full regiment of Republic soldiers, she had been sent to locate and neutralize a newly established Separatist base suspected of manufacturing enemy droids on the ice–planet of Hoth. They had found the installation easily enough, but had obviously underestimated its defenses.
Frowning, Ahsoka soon shifted her focus to her leg when she became painfully aware that it was throbbing.
"I'm afraid it's broken, Commander," the trooper whispered, answering her unasked question and confirming her suspicions. "We're gonna have to fin–"
"Wait!" Ahsoka abruptly interrupted him, sensing an approaching presence even through her diminished state of awareness. "Something's coming. Listen…"
The trooper spun around on his heels an instant later when the sound of hurried footsteps crunching in the snow met their ears. Training his blaster on a nearby hill overlooking their perimeter, he squeezed his trigger and prepared to fire while the steps closed in and continued to grow louder. Without saying a word, Ahsoka grabbed the weapon and gently but firmly lowered its barrel; quickly recognizing the unmistakable Force signature making its way in their direction.
"Don't shoot," she whispered.
It wasn't long before she spotted him…
Anakin Skywalker, renowned Jedi Knight and General to the Grand Army of the Republic, appeared on the hilltop as if out of thin air and hastily started toward them. Not far behind him, another armed clone trooper trudged through the soft snow while he vigilantly scanned the area for possible threats from behind the reflective lens of his helmet.
Not wasting any time, Anakin was at his apprentices' side within a matter of seconds. "Ahsoka? How do you feel?"
"Other than my leg, I'm fine," she said, relieved to see her Master alive and well. "Did you find any more survivors?"
"Just Private Stackhouse here," Anakin answered, his expression grim and serious as he motioned toward his companion. "It looks like we're on our own for now."
"General, I suggest we move out," the helmet–less trooper spoke up. "It wouldn't do to linger. Sooner or later, those clankers are gonna widen their search grid to check for stragglers. I don't know about you, but I'd prefer not to be here when they do."
"You read my mind, Sergeant," Anakin replied. "And I fear that it will be sooner, rather than later. We'll have to find a temporary shelter until reinforcements arrive."
"Shelter?" Private Stackhouse chimed in. "Out here, sir?"
"It's our only chance," Anakin said, turning to the tentative soldier. "If we can't find some form of cover before nightfall, we're all going to freeze. Either way, we can't stay here."
"It's not our place to question orders, trooper," the Sergeant added, snapping to attention. "We're ready when you are, General Skywalker. Right, Private?"
Private Stackhouse immediately followed suit; straightening his posture and respectfully saluting his superior officers. "Sir, yes, sir!"
Anakin opened his mouth to reply, but the words never left his lips. He was the first to hear the distant sound of droids on the march, and quickly sprang into action. Ahsoka had no time to react as her Master suddenly scooped her up in his arms, and silently gestured for the two clone soldiers to follow his lead.
Under normal circumstances, she would have refused his help. When it came to pride, she realized that she and her Master shared a similar stubbornness that, as she had been reminded by the Council on numerous occasions, wasn't considered to be befitting of a Jedi. But she also realized that she wouldn't get far with a broken leg, and a legion of battle droids on her tail.
She would let it slide… just this once.