An Unexpected Rescue
"Help me Obi-wan Kenobi, you're my only hope."
Princess Leia glanced over her shoulder then leaned down and switched off R2's holoimager and took a deep breath. This was it, no turning back now. The droid let out one of his many chirps and whistles, which of course, she couldn't understand, but she liked to think it was an acknowledgment, that he understood how important the message and mission was.
But she didn't have time to dwell on such thoughts. The little droid needed to get to an escape pod, and she needed to get... anywhere else. For anything living, an escape pod was nothing less than a death sentence, which meant she was stuck on this ship, but she intended to avoid the Empire's patrols as long as she possibly could, and possibly take a few of them with her when they inevitably cornered her.
At least she had the home turf advantage, she knew the inside and outside of this ship as well as she knew every nook and cranny of her room at her father's the palace. With any luck, she would be able to keep the empire chasing after her for more than enough time for the little droid, and the vital plans that he carried, to escape.
After slipping by a couple of squadrons, Leia managed to make her way deeper into the depths of the ship. The Empire would be be flooding the maintenance shafts with gas so she had to stay the main corridors. Yet, in spite of the slinking around and imperial patrols, she actually managed to remain relatively calm, a no win scenario had that effect.
Something in the air, had shifted in the last several minutes. The temperature felt like someone had altered the environmental controls; if she hadn't been running she might have shivered. Then there was the way the occasional trooper she slipped by seemed to be standing a little taller, or hold his weapon a little shakier. Something wasn't right, something more than the standard raid.
Of course, that feeling, of something being off, had lingered with her ever since they came out of hyperspace in the Tatooine system. General Kenobi was supposed to be on the dustball of a planet below. Yet even as Leia had said 'you're my only hope' the words had felt empty, as if she knew no one was there to answer.
But Leia, pushed those thoughts back. She had no choice but to hold to hope that Kenobi would answer her plea and deliver the plans to the Empire's superweapon to her father. If she couldn't hope for herself she had to hope for that.
As she crept through the corridors she found herself at a junction, one led to the main hold, the other to a chance for escape. If she could get past it she could slip into the engine room she could access a gas mask and then perhaps find away into the shafts. It wasn't a great plan, but at the moment, it was all she had. Holding her blaster at the ready, she peeked around the corner into the junction.
She wasn't one for vulgar words but 'kriff' was about the only word that covered it. For half a second she thought they hadn't spotted her, that she could slip back the way she came. Then one pointed and signaled his comrades. Leia wasted no time. She leveled her blaster and shot the one that gave her away, then made a break for the adjacent hallway. She knew this was it, there would be no escaping them at this point. She could only hope she could get far enough to lead them on a chase.
Behind her she heard the discharge of a blaster bolt, followed by a yelp, cut short by another blast.
Leia glanced over her shoulder then stopped in her tracks, almost tripping over her feet. Besides the stormtrooper she shot, lay two more, with the last one standing over their corpses.
It took a moment to figure out what happened. But even though the smoking barrel of the remaining trooper attested to his actions, Leia aimed her blaster at him. He may have just saved her, but she still had no idea who he was.
"Take the helmet off," she ordered. "Identify yourself."
"No time for that." the trooper said in a familiar voice, but still not one that identified him. There were still clones in the stormtrooper corps that originated from the original 'Fett' template, though not many. "Help me hide the bodies and strip their armor off."
"Take their armor off?" Leia said as the Stormtrooper dragged one of the corpses to a nearby alcove. "Why? Who are you? What's your designation?"
"Don't have one," he muttered as he grabbed the next body. "Your father sent me here to keep you alive."
Leia breathed a small sigh. A secret escort of some kind. That was just like her father. And in other circumstances she might have been annoyed. But considering the predicament they found themselves in, she couldn't be anything but thankful. Her mysterious protector might be rude, but could have been much worse.
"My father sent you? A rogue clone?" She said quietly as she helped move the last body. "Is there anyone else with you? Do we have an escape vehicle?"
The clone didn't say anything right away, instead he frittered with the clasps on the armor one of the dead troopers wore. Once he stripped the breastplate off the corpse, he shoved it into her arms.
"Help me get the rest off, between the three of them we should be able to cobble together a full set for you to wear."
"What?" Leia stared at the armor. "That's your escape plan? Have me put on oversized armor and hope nobody notices that I'm a little short for a-"
"Shut up and get dressed," The clone said. "I'll watch for any patrols. Hurry up."
He merely put his back to her and stalked to the nearest entrance with his blaster ready. She was only left to shake her head then stare down at the armor. Where did her father dig this guy up? She knew she wasn't exactly in a position to pick and choose, but as far as rescuers went he left a lot to be desired.
A group of troopers passed by the outside corridor, quickly silencing her mental protestations and she began working on the armor in earnest. It took her a few moments longer than she would have liked, but she finally managed to put it all together. Though she did take pause at seeing the face of the man she took the helmet from. The helmets made it too easy to forget they were just as human as anybody fighting on her side.
Taking the helmet under her arm she approached the clone. He glanced back then nodded to the helmet.
"Put that on, don't speak, and follow me."
"Wait," she said. "What about the others? Captain Antilles, the ambassador, we have to try and rescue them!"
"What do you mean no?"
"Doesn't matter, your father didn't pay me to save them. Now put that on, shut up and come on."
"Paid!?" Leia started but the clone started off into the hallway. She had no choice but to slap on the helmet and race after him.
Not that it was easy, she couldn't see a thing in the helmet and it pressed uncomfortably against her hairbraids. In spite of that she did her best to keep up, though he always kept himself a few feet ahead, checking each corner before they turned it.
Leia couldn't believe that her father actually hired someone to come after her. Money made for fickle fickle friends and uncertain allies. Her father had taught her that. Were things really so desperate that they'd come to this?
Unfortunately, she wasn't given the time to muse on this as that strange chill ran up her spine, and a moment later her clone rescuer froze up; glancing around a corner and tightening his grip on his blaster.
"Kriff," he muttered. "He's here. Turn around we'll find another..."
Just as they turned around, another patrol came down the corridor, heading their direction. Between them was none other than Captain Antilles, Leia gripped her blaster rifle tighter and reminded herself that she couldn't interfere.
"You two, come with us," the stormtrooper commander said and they were forced to fall into step along with them and round the exact corner the clone wanted them to avoid. And it only took a passing glance to know why.
There, towering over the officers and stormtroopers, stood none other than Darth Vader. Now Leia knew why the stormtrooper's demeanor had changed earlier, it was one thing to run a military raid, it was another when the Emperor's most vicious servant led the charge and breathed down your neck.
The troopers led Captain Antilles to Vader and the pair exchanged words, with Vader bearing down on the Captain. Leia bit her lip as she watched the poor Captain try to maintain his professionalism and propriety under the horrible visage of Vader. Another trooper approached and informed the Dark Lord that the Death Star plans weren't in the main computer. Leia's heart skipped a beat. He hadn't said anything about the droids! There was still hope.
But her brief moment was shattered when Vader gripped Captain Antilles by the throat and hoisted him into the air. She made a move to... stop it, attack, cry out... something! But she felt a hard hand grip her shoulder just underneath the armor. She glanced back at the clone, who just gave the smallest of shakes of the head.
Before she knew it or could even react, the air filled with the sickening crunch of bones and Vader tossed Antilles lifeless body against a bulkhead like a ragdoll. She could only stand there in stunned horror as Vader barked orders then set off down the hallway.
Moments later, she and her Clone rescuer were headed down the opposite hall. With each step any tears that she may have been holding back for the Captain dried completely, replaced with the familiar hatred she had for this empire that could so callously end an innocent man's life.
As soon as they were able, they broke away from their group of troopers and found a nearby corridor to duck into. Leia fought the urge to remove her helmet and instead leaned on the bulkhead and tried her best to find her composure, even if nobody could see it.
"As soon as we have the opportunity we'll get to the shuttle bay," the Clone said. "From there we can get transport and get the hell away from this system. Your old man better be good for what he owes me. Should have known Vader would show."
"How can you be thinking of money at a time like this? It's only a matter of time before Vader and his bloodhounds figure out that the plans are not on board. We need to do something."
"We are," the clone said. "We're escaping while we still can."
"You don't understand," Leia said. "I'm the one responsible for keeping the plans away from the Empire, we have to go down to the planet and retrieve them, the fate of the Rebellion depends on me completing my mission."
"Not happening," the clone said. "All I care about at this point is getting off this ship with my head attached to the neck and you with me so it will actually be worth it."
Leia opened her mouth to argue but didn't get a chance. The earpiece in her helmet suddenly buzzed and the CO of the helmet's previous owner demanded that she report hanger to serve as part of the search team looking for a jettisoned escape pod. Leia knew all too well what had been in that pod.
"Come on," she broke away from their hideaway.
"Where the hell do you think you're going?" The clone said, falling into step beside her.
"Hanger bay," she said. "Looks like the soldier you killed to get me this disguise has been ordered planetside."
"Not happening. We need to be leaving the system, not getting ourselves stuck on a planet crawling with Imps."
"Do you really believe that we could steal a shuttle from the hanger, blast off, and actually make the jump to lightspeed before the Empire reduced us to cosmic dust or towed us back with the tractor beam?"
"I've survived worse odds."
"I'm sure you believe that, however, we're not going to risk such a course needlessly, not when far safer and successful options are available, not while the information we obtained from the Empire is still within our reach to recover."
Princess Leia smiled to herself then about faced and marched down the hall, stopping only when she heard the clone level his blaster at her and click the safety off. Even then, she did not turn around. She barely even turned her head his direction.
"What do you plan on doing once you shoot me? Attempt your doomed escape plan carrying me on your back? If so, shoot me and I wish you luck on avoiding notice."
After a few heavy seconds, she heard the safety click on and the clone mutter something in Mandalorian. He the rushed up behind her and gripped her arm as they walked.
"If we're going to do this let's do it right. But once we're planetside and away from the Imps, you do as I say, understood."
Before he'd ever left Tatooine, he truly thought that Mos Eisely was a big city. Sure, he knew that it wasn't Planet Sized, like Coruscant or Nar Shadda, but in his mind it compared to Coronet or Aldera. An impression that stuck with him right until he actually saw Aldera when his transport from Tatooine made a stop over. Only then did he realize that Mos Eisely was barely a speck of dust in the Galactic scheme of things.
And truth be told, Biggs Darklighter wondered if he'd ever lay eyes on it again.
Tatooine's twin suns blazed a deep red as they sunk into the horizon and Biggs adjusted his cloak as he stepped into the cantina. Before he got out and saw the galaxy, a place like this might have made him bristle and twitch with nervousness. Mos Eisely was where people came if they were either running from trouble off world or fleeing from it planetside. A dive like this one was filled with galactic riffraff, but now, they were his kind of people. Sentients just looking for an escape from the Empire, even if it was at the bottom of a glass.
Biggs found himself a nice stool at the bar, taking in the assortment of tusks, snouts, and antennae that came attached to most of the bars patrons. He wondered if any of the others here were also members of the Alliance. That's what made them successful, you knew an imperial just by looking at him. Human, polished armor or pressed uniform, and an arrogant gait like they owned every piece of floor they walked on. But a Rebel could be anyone. Human, non-human, in between and no one knew everyone in the Alliance.
"What will it be friend?" the matronly barkeeper asked him, pulling his attention from the menagerie of aliens and to the main reason he came to the bar in the first place. After ordering a juma he let his mind wander back to the argument he'd had with his father earlier in the evening, shortly after he got back from Tosche Station and saw Luke.
His father just didn't understand. He knew his father hated the Empire, but he always insisted that they just needed to get along with it instead of fighting and dying. In his mind as long as you left the Empire alone, it mostly left you alone. What he didn't get was that the Empire wasn't content in leaving anybody alone. The Empire was all about controlling everyone's lives, how much they made, how much they produced, where they went. Eventually the Empire would have it's fingers in all of it.
His juma arrived and Biggs took a small sip of it before turning back to face the room. At least he finally got to the Rebellion and was finally making a difference. Which was one of the reasons he was here on Tatooine. Officially it was just to visit his family and old friends like Luke. But unofficially, he'd received orders from up top that a possible operation would be taking place nearby and they wanted him in the system as back up. Further instructions would be given out upon meeting his contact.
He just had to wait for that person to make said contact.
As the minutes ticked by, and he slowly nursed his drink until it was midway down the glass, Biggs felt himself grow wary. How long was he going to be waiting? Shouldn't his contact have arrived by now? He'd been told to look for and what the pass phrase was. But thelonger he sat there, the more he worried that something had happened. Perhaps the Empire had captured him! There was already an unusually heavy Imperial presence here, escaping would be no easy feat.
Oddly enough, that made him think of Luke. If anybody would be able to out fly the imps, it would be that kid. All the more reason Biggs was glad he wasn't involved in all of this. Luke still had some growing up to do before he would be ready for the life that Biggs lived, wondering if a platoon of stormtroopers waited around every corner, constantly wondering if the next flight would be his last.
A newcomer sat down next to him and ordered a Tarisian ale, Biggs slid his eyes toward her, careful not to make eye contact or let on that he was looking. Immediately he recognized the cloak she was wearing and the small emblazoned crest of Alderaan near the neckline. Exactly what she was looking for.
"You should try this tarisian ale," she glanced over to him.
But I much prefer Nubian wine in the springtime.," Biggs answered. Then turned and faced the woman fully. There was one thing he could say about her, she was beautiful, long white hair, crystal blue eyes, and lips that would probably melt his heart if she smiled.
"Biggs," he said but then couldn't help himself. "You know, Tatoonie has never seen a Winter before, much less one as gorgeous as you."
She didn't so much as smile at him. In fact, if her eyes had rolled any harder they might have popped out of their sockets.
"A flyboy, should have known they'd would send me someone like you. Try to keep it professional, we don't have time for this."
"Oh... I mean..."
"Come with me, I have a private booth we can talk freely at."
Biggs followed her, passing a wookiee and his companion playing a game of sabaac with a pair of twins. Biggs managed a sneaking glance at the cards, noting the wookiee would probably win before they came to their booth; situated in their tiny corner of the cantina. Winter glanced around then pulled out a small cicular device, and placed it in the center of the table before sitting back in her seat.
"Aural scrambler," she said. "Anyone listening in on us will get nothing but a garble of words and phrases."
Biggs raised a brow. This was getting more and more interesting, this wasn't exactly a haven for the Empire, and yet she still felt the need for maximum secrecy.
"You were selected for this mission," she unceremoniously began. "Because of two reasons, your impressive flight skills, but more importantly your knowledge of the local system. We'd hoped to not have to call on you at all but that isn't an option any longer."
"What are you talking about?"
"At 0800, regional planetary time, Princess Leia intercepted transmissions with a technical readout of a new superweapon being developed by the Empire. But the transmission was traced and the Princess's ship was captured by the Empire."
"Then there was a battle in orbit this morning," Biggs rubbed his chin, his thoughts turning to Luke.
Winter raised a brow.
"A friend of mine spotted it and showed me the ship through his macrobinoculars, but the fighting must have stopped before he could get to us. All we saw were a pair of ships docking. What was the Princess even doing in this system? There's not much here and almost no Rebel presence."
"Princess Organa was instructed that should all other options be closed to her, she was to come here to seek the aide of an exiled clone wars general. With his help she would be able to travel to Alderaan and deliver the plans."
"But the Princess was captured wasn't she?" Biggs said, feeling his heart sink a bit.
"Just after the operation began, Senator Bail Organa received intelligence that the general the Princess was supposed to contact, was possibly missing or dead. It was too late to abort the mission so a more... unorthodox back up plan was devised. In the event of the ship being captured, a hired mercenary was to protect the Princess and facilitate her escape."
"You devised a way to sneak the princess from the clutches of the Empire?"
"As I said, unorthodox."
"So I assume we're to make contact with the Princess and her rescuer?"
"He's been instructed to send a signal for a rendezvous if he can get planetside or to get her straight to Alderaan if he can. So far he has not signaled and I've received no confirmation from the Alliance that they have heard from him. Until we do our mission is to try and locate the missing General."
"Very well," Biggs nodded. "When do we begin?"
"From what I understand, it's dangerous to be out at night on Tatooine."
"You're not mistaken."
"First thing tomorrow morning then," she said. "But I'll need your comm code. If I hear from the Princess then you'll need to be read at a moment's notice."
"Very well then," Biggs said. "Or you could always stay with me, there's a spare room at my parents house."
"I have my own place to stay thank you very much." She replied curtly as she collected the jamming device. "Remember you were selected for this mission because of your piloting skills. Not your domestic connections."
"Understood," Biggs let out a small breath and handed her his comm codes. "Tomorrow then?"
"Tomorrow," she nodded curtly as she stood from their booth and started toward the door with no warning or preamble.
"Wait..." Biggs caught up with her and took her by the arm, knowing it would look less suspicious if they seemed close to any onlookers. "One final question... you didn't tell me. This General that's supposedly living here on Tatooine. What's his name?"
"Not sure you would have ever heard of him," she said. "But in the mid rim and core he was once very well known. He was a Jedi, by the name of Obi-wan Kenobi."
Biggs nearly tripped over his feet at that. He gripped Winter's arm tightly as his mind shot to the old stories his father and some of the moisture farmers used to tell. The wizard, the hermit. A Jedi living near them all this time... if he was still alive.
"I don't know any Obi-wan Kenobi," he said just loud enough for her to hear him. "But I think I've heard of the guy we're looking for, and I know where to start."
Mos Eisley received countless starships into its spaceport everyday. Legitimate traders, smugglers, mechanics, sinners and saints; everything and anything pretty much went. The old spaceport had seen it all, fortunes won and lost, deals struck and then undone. And for every soul that took off and swore they'd never set eyes on it again, a passenger disembarked from a freighter or cruiser, seeing an opportunity to start new in the sand.
Even with Imperials Star Destroyers orbiting above, the spaceport's daily hustle and bustle remained largely unaffected. The Hutts saw to that. And so cargo ships entered the system with little notice or harassment.
One in particular, though completely unassuming by all outward appearances, might have actually proved interesting if anyone had bothered to find out exactly who sat in its hold.
Not that it landed with no inspection whatsoever. It just happened to pass the cursory background checks and procedures without any fuss. Upon arrival it displayed all the proper landing codes and permits and registered as a nondescript cargo vessel. Nothing out of the ordinary.
However, had anyone attempted to dig into the passenger manifest or computer files, they would receive a lockout message from the upper clearance levels of Imperial Control.
So when this ship entered the Tatooine system, it passed by the Imperial blockade with relative ease, partially because of the unique nature of the ship and also because the Empire was far more interested in keeping ships from leaving the system then letting them come in.
The cargo ship came in for a smooth landing, while maintenance drones zipped and hovered about, eager to begin any work or repairs to the ship the instant they were deemed necessary. With the docking fee already paid and the proper identification given, no one appeared in the cargo bay to greet the passenger as the ships loading ramp lowered.
The slim figure stepped into the dry, morning air of Tatooine and wrinkled her nose. There were worse places in the galaxy to be, but not many. It was a far cry from the opulent dining room in their lofty towers she spent much of her time in. And at least here, no one would be whispering behind her back about being anyone's kept woman and other less than flattering sobriquets.
But she'd have time to muse on her surroundings later. His voice still echoed in her head. She had a mission to fulfill and her instincts told her that it was only planetside where she would find her quarry.
You will kill Princess Leia Organa
It had been no more complicated than that. One minute she was running a training program while waiting for her computer to decode a transmission she'd intercepted from a Moff the Emperor didn't quite trust, the next she heard the order and she went to the cockpit of her vessel. The Emperor had already transmitted the hyperspace coordinates and relevant data.
Apparently Darth Vader had failed to capture the Princess, along with sensitive documents she had stolen. Whatever it was. It was more than the run of the mill assassination. Princess Leia Organa was one of the rising stars in the Imperial Senate and to order her assassination, right under the nose of Darth Vader himself could only mean that The Emperor viewed this in the highest priority.
For these such matters he turned to his Hand.
For this reason, Mara Jade stepped foot on Tatooine.
After a couple of seconds of adjusting her transport to compensate for the desert sands, she set out of the hanger, immediately blending in with the local riffraff of the spaceport. Perhaps the denizens of Mos Eisley weren't refined and polished like the upper echelons of Coruscant, but the thick layer of dust and grit seemed to make them all equal in their own way.
Except for the jawas.
Mara set out, into the city, reviewing the information she'd been given from the Emperor and what she'd learned by listening in on the com-chatter of the Imperial Star Destroyers orbiting the planet.
Organa had somehow eluded Darth Vader's clutches. She likely had the stolen data with her and she had been missing for over a day. Comm chatter Mara had listened in on told her that Vader's men had launched a mission to recover an escape pod in the desert but otherwise no further details were available.
Vader's men likely had the scent, and Mara fought back the temptation to find a way to insert herself into their investigation. Vader was not to know of her presence, but more than that... her instincts told her that if she sought the Princess, she needed to take another path.
A dry wind blew past her and she pulled a pair of goggles down over her eyes. She was going to get burnt in this sun, and there would be sand everywhere for who knew how many days, but in the end, she would carry out her master's will and Princess Leia would be dead.