Thank you all for participating in our Star Wars fanfiction contest! We’ll contact the winners today through email about their prizes. And without further ado, the winners are:
Winner: Samuel Hedley “The Isoultian Gambit”
Runner-Up: E.L. Bates “Haven”
Runner-Up: Alyssa DeFord “For Mirium”
Read the winning fanfiction below—and may the Force be with you.
“The Isoultian Gambit” by Samuel Hedley
The sun was high on Parsus XII, casting a short and unimpressive shadow over the Isoult rocks. The blinding desert heat was almost too much for a human to bear — but Lando Calrissian was no normal human, and carried himself along the dark, dusty pathway as though it were no discomfort at all. He had walked the road to Isoult’s hidden towers many times before, and seen its complex systems of surveillance from inside.
Far be it from him to give the guards operating the cameras a show.
At least, not the kind that saw him ill-at-ease. Even in deep space, a man wearing a mustard-coloured cape was quite flamboyant enough all by itself.
He gave a squinting smile up at the winding rock formation, finally close enough to come to a halt in the short, sunless patch of its shadow. The rocks looked like a natural feature, but inside their hollowed-out centres and the ground below them lay a libertarian palace of pleasures. If Canto Bight was where the rich and powerful went to play, then Isoult was its underworld reflection. A table where anything could be gambled and won — or lost. A place where a man could buy or sell anything, if he was careful with his words.
For Lando, it was less a marketplace or a playground than it was an insurance policy. Sure, it could be entertaining to roll the dice for something unconventional every once in a while, but he’d learned to contain that impulse the hard way. Now, when he made his entrance here, it was usually with the intention of finding one specific face, and the near-endless tap of money it could provide.
Judging by the unnatural flickers up on the rocks, where light curved gracelessly around Isoult’s ‘invisible’ cameras, that face was already pointing right in his direction.
He let his eyes linger there a second longer, a deliberate twist in his handsome smile, and then stepped up to the hidden entrance in the cavern wall.
Lando cleared his throat once, his cape finally coming to a halt a disobedient second after he did. A beat later, a hatch appeared in the once-smooth stone.
‘Password?’ came a voice from the void.
‘Oh, I’m sure you don’t need to ask me all that.’
The void paused, uncomfortable. Lando waited, his smile unrelenting.
‘I’d imagine he’s already seen me make my approach,’ said Lando. ‘And I wouldn’t like to tell you how to do your job, but… in my experience, he doesn’t much like to be kept waiting.’
The hatch closed with an irritable grunt, and after a moment’s creaking the entire concealed door swung open to let Lando pass — which he did, with a smile as charming as if he’d never been stopped.
‘Hey, just wait—‘
‘Now, please let’s not pretend I’d ever do that.’
He swept a drink off a passing tray as he stepped into the smoky main hall, grateful that his eccentricity was so well-known here. It was hard work pretending that you weren’t dehydrated from the intense midday heat. If anybody else did this, it would be obvious they were parched. When Lando did it, it seemed like a power play. He was quite content to leave it that way.
By the time he reached the entrance to Cal-Ron’s private wing, the large round droid that guarded the way was already stepping aside. He gave her a familiar nod and walked right by, not stopping until he reached the open archway of his host’s office.
‘Well, then, Cal,’ he said, leaning against the raw carved stone. ‘I won’t ask if you’ve missed me. You’ll only lie.’
‘What’s there to miss?’
The square-jawed man in the centre of the room had the outward appearance of a thirty-year old man, and the countenance of a late teenager. His lips held in a firm pout, and his eyes betrayed a youthful mixture of sulkiness and interest — like a rich kid tempted out of a bad mood with the promise of something expensive. He wore a set of turquoise robes that even Lando might pass up on, and with far less confidence and flair.
Cal-Ron’s father hollowed out the towers of Isoult, and invited its first violent guests. Now the far easier task of keeping the peace fell to Cal-Ron himself, and this vast inheritance seemed as much a burden to him as it would an opportunity to anybody else.
He was lonely here. It was an easy dial to twist.
‘Come on,’ said Lando, slinking into the room with the usual feline composure. ‘I know you wait for my visits. There’s nothing you like more than a little information.’
‘Ha. The information, maybe. The delivery system leaves something to be desired.’
‘Interesting choice of words,’ said Lando, and settled uninvited into the opposite chair. Cal-Ron’s face was already flush with frustration, so he pressed no further and moved on to his next goal instead. ‘I suppose you’d rather read it in a letter that your sister and Bar-Tol have been spotted in a dive bar in Galactic City.’
That got him. Cal-Ron’s head snapped up, gaze hungry and stern. ‘Together?’
Lando shrugged, as if this were an inconsequential detail. ‘In the same place.’
‘You suspected as much when they ran,’ Lando pointed out, tipping back the rest of his drink. A droid stepped forward to take the glass, but halted at Cal-Ron’s furious gesture.
‘Suspecting and knowing are different things,’ he said. Then, to the droid: ‘Out.’
Lando turned to watch the humanoid, polished-chrome creature back out respectfully. Its eyes lingered a fraction too long on his face; he gave it a broad grin, and then off it went.
‘You know, they don’t talk about these things.’
‘I don’t care what they do or do not talk about,’ said Cal-Ron, shifting in his chair. He had lost weight since Lando last saw him, and he didn’t wear it well. There seemed to be no position he could take that gave him any comfort. ‘Anybody can be bought or corrupted. Even a droid.’
‘I’m sure yours are under very strict control.’
Cal-Ron’s eyes fixed on him. He had always had trouble discerning whether Lando was making fun of him or not — which of course delighted Lando. He encouraged it.
‘That’s all you came to tell me? That my sister and her lapdog been seen?’
‘And where,’ said Lando, nodding in Cal’s direction. ‘Specifically, it was the Cheating Kniss. I thought you’d consider that valuable. If I was mistaken…’
‘No,’ he relented. ‘No, you’re right. I’d prefer to know.’
Cal-Ron sighed, and it sank him down further into his chair. That prompted another shift. Lando wondered whether the magnate knew exactly how little of his father’s poise he had inherited, and whether he was self-conscious of it. He seemed self-conscious enough of everything else. Wasn’t that why he had kept his sister locked away in the first place?
‘If you don’t mind my saying so,’ said Lando, ‘you seem a little distressed.’
‘Distressed? No. But angry…’
‘After the life I provided for Cal-Nys. The years of private education for her. All the pets and the parties and countless boxes of clothes…’
‘I dread to think how much you spent on the security keeping her inside that tower.’
Cal-Ron looked up sharply, sensing the bite in those words. Seeing the same old smile on Lando’s face, he doubted himself and read it as sincere. ‘She has no idea what it took to ensure her safety. She never will.’
‘Well, it’s not your burden any longer,’ said Lando, treading dangerously close to the line. Even Cal-Ron could hear a certain level of mockery. He’d do well not to reach that. ‘But tell me honestly. Is it really just your sister that’s got you so tightly-wound? Not…?’
‘I won’t talk about Bar-Tol.’
Lando nodded once, slowly. He counted down the seconds in his head.
‘You knew him,’ Cal continued, like clockwork. ‘You knew what he was to me. Could you have foreseen a betrayal like that?’
‘Could most of us?’ asked Lando, knowing fine well that the answer was ‘yes’.
Cal-Ron’s lip curled, assuming the opposite. As the magnate turned away, Lando almost felt sorry for him. The abandonment was so sharp a wound that it couldn’t heal. Every day it cut itself a little wider. Now, a year after Bar-Tol and Cal-Nys had skipped out of this dusty planet and its twisted-finger rocks, the loneliness seemed to hurt him more now than it had on the very first day.
But how long could Lando feel pity for a grown child who’d done all this to himself? Terrified of her cleverness and charm, Cal-Ron had throttled his sister’s familial affection for him until it turned blue. If he was surprised that it had died, then more fool him for keeping such a tight grip.
And Bar-Tol? Well. You couldn’t buy the loyalty of a man like that forever. Not if you were as boring and capricious a captor as this.
‘I won’t talk about it, anyway,’ Cal-Ron insisted, smoothing his hands over the front of his robes. ‘You wouldn’t understand.’
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
‘You’ve never lost anything,’ he said, back comfortably in turbulent teenager territory again. ‘Especially not a person. You walk toward and away from people like they’re fixed points. Exactly where you left them when you come back.’
Lando shook his head, a faint up-tick in the corner of his smile. ‘See — you claim not to have missed me…’
‘Of course you wouldn’t understand,’ Cal-Ron cut in, as red as mineral-rich soil.
Maybe Lando ought to show a little mercy.
‘Perhaps I’d be less inclined to disappear on people if I didn’t know exactly where to look,’ he pointed out. ‘Some people are so uniquely positioned that I know they’ll never go far. Whenever I want them, they’re there.’
It was an unusually mean kind of mercy, but it had the desired effect. The redness in Cal-Ron’s cheeks spread to the tips of his ears, and he cleared his throat. There he went, shuffling again.
‘You can’t try that with me,’ he said, waving an accusatory finger Lando’s way. ‘I know you’d flirt with a droid if you saw some profit in it.’
‘I take exception to that,’ said Lando. ‘I’d flirt with a droid for free.’
‘For goodness’ sake.’
It had been a cheap parry, but at least Lando had earned a weak smile on that sullen face of Cal’s. Lando was a man of a thousand tactics, and you could never quite be sure what he was up to — but keeping a smile on as many faces as possible was key. This one seemed to pop the tension. A beat later, Cal-Ron leaned forward and patted his hands on the desk.
‘In any case. I know what I promised for this kind of information. I’m a man of my word.’
‘That much, I know.’
The blond reached into his belongings for a small pre-wrapped parcel of Parsian jewels. Among them was the ring of family loyalty that his sister had been forced to leave behind during her escape. Once belonging to their mother, it was a piece of some reputation. A real bounty.
Never mind its price.
He passed it over the table towards Lando, who took it in one hand. He examined his reward briefly, as if looking through the paper to the wooden box beneath. ‘Mind if I take a look?’
‘You don’t trust me?’
Lando placed a hand over his heart. He might have played it a little bigger, but he knew better than to risk that with so much hurt laced into his host’s voice. ‘Forgive me. I’ve lost one too many hands in Isoult. I came a long way to tell you this.’
Cal-Ron waved a hand at him in tired, silent permission.
‘Much obliged. And of course, I’ve heard so much about it…’
‘All true,’ said Cal-Ron, incapable of missing the chance to brag — even now, as the ring tipped out of the box with a few loose brothers and sisters, and fell into Lando’s waiting hand. ‘The clearest green diamond that ever came from Parsian soil, once charged with enough protective energy to prevent the wearer from leaving the Isoult rocks.’
‘It’s ugly to me, now.’
Lando’s eyes drifted from the stone to his host’s face. For the first time he heard a hardness in Cal-Ron that echoed his late father. Lando closed his hand around the ring. ‘Tell me something, friend. What will you do when you find them?’
Cal scoffed, turning away to face the camera feeds where Lando himself would have appeared a short while ago. They were empty as the rest of the desert now.
‘She thought I kept her locked away before,’ said Cal-Ron. ‘They both did. Well — there are far less comfortable cells in these rocks. They’ll learn that, when the light and the breeze can’t touch them any longer. That they traded a palace for a living coffin.’
Lando folded the parcel of jewels into the fabric of his cape as he stood. ‘No mercy, then?’ There was little ambiguity in his voice now. If Cal-Ron couldn’t hear the disapproval now, however mild, then he never would.
‘You’re a proud man just like I am, Lando Calrissian. Tell me honestly, now. Would you risk losing this same battle twice?’
They locked eyes. Lando imagined the imposing, fatherly ghost of Cal-Res, more finely attuned to Lando’s priorities than his son ever would be. Less malleable and trusting — but this family had always been dysfunctional. Though it was Lando taking the jewels, it would be Cal-Ron who felt his father’s wrath for letting his sister escape in the first place. For being susceptible to the charms of a man like Bar-Tol.
He acknowledged the spirit, and tried much harder for a soft, confessional smile.
‘No,’ said Lando. ‘I would not.’
Because I wouldn’t fight it in the first place.
Three miles out from the last Isoultian camera, Lando reached the grit-weathered hull of his ship. The breeze was quite still out here, and the dark sands had only just begun to roll over the ship’s steadying feet as he lowered the steps and boarded.
‘Hello, empty ship,’ he called out, hanging his cape over the chair in the brig. The box of Cal-Ron’s jewels sat perched in the three fingers of his right hand, and he leaned against the wall in waiting. ‘I surely hope there aren’t any heartless Isoultian runaways on board.’
‘You could at least wait for the door to close,’ Bar-Tol complained, stepping out from the hold with his usual affected swagger. ‘You don’t know who he has following you.’ There was something charming about his physical confidence, considering that he was quite a nervous man. Lando liked the contradiction — the muscles and the meekness.
‘Only his own eyes,’ said Lando, wrapping an arm around Bar-Tol’s shoulder as he approached. ‘And they ran out a few miles back.’ Soon, Cal-Nys appeared too, her grin a picture of defiance and boldness. She reached out for the parcel, stealing a kiss instead of the box when Lando held it at a distance. Only then did he hand it to her, generous and playful.
‘You checked? It’s in there?’
‘Of course I checked. I’m not walking all the way back through the heat.’
Bar-Tol hummed, unconvinced. His eyes danced between the diamond and its rescuer.
‘Anyhow, I feel deeply underestimated.’ Lando pulled away from their embrace, heading up to the captain’s chair to start setting a course away from Parsus XII. ‘He wouldn’t try to short me. You know yourself how susceptible he is to a handsome face.’
‘It’s been a while,’ countered Bar-Tol. ‘Besides, he’s on guard now.’
‘Apparently, not quite on guard enough.’
Bar-Tol tutted as they lifted away from the planet’s surface, keeping an overcautious distance from the glass panel of the cockpit. Cal-Nys, in the copilot’s seat, displayed no such concern.
‘You worry too much,’ she told Bar-Tol, reaching behind the chair to squeeze the hand that took hers. ‘It’s done with, now. We can go anywhere we like.’
Lando gave her a playful sidelong glance. ‘Well… I wouldn’t recommend Galactic City.’
‘No?’ she said, light-hearted. ‘Then what about Cloud City?’
Lando grinned at her lack of subtlety, tapping away at the controls to chart a course for home. In the distance, the giant’s fingers of Isoult grew smaller and smaller as they rose up above. The man inside was smaller still.
‘Maybe that could be arranged,’ he said at last. He pulled the ship up into the planet’s outer layers, where Bar-Tol finally seemed able to breathe. Even Cal-Nys’s shoulders relaxed. ‘Maybe, anyway. I think I know a guy.’
“Haven” by E.L. Bates
Maddox rushed into the cantina, eyes wide, hair mussed, rounds cheeks scarlet. Elin Prydudd looked up from her accounts. Luckily the cantina was almost empty, only a few patrons in at this time of day.
“What is it now, Mads?” she asked, motioning for him to join her behind the counter.
“Haven’t you heard? The Resistance has fallen!”
Elin’s hands grew numb and her breath caught. She felt exactly as she had the day she’d been whacked in the chest by the tail of her older brother’s Cracian Thumper.
One of the few patrons sitting at the bar raised his head. “What’s that, young fellow?”
“Another rumor, I’m sure,” Elin said, trying to ignore her trembling hands. “There’s been one a week since the New Republic was destroyed.”
Maddox’s green eyes sparked with fury at her dismissal of his words. He straightened up from pouring himself a tumbler of Fistula juice.
“It is not a rumor! It was all over the HoloNet—which you would know if you allowed it to play in here.” He pouted, this ancient grievance a sore spot even in the midst of this crisis.
“Nobody comes to the cantina to watch the news,” Elin replied automatically. At least, not the official news. Plenty of unofficial information passed hands—or claws, or tentacles—in her establishment.
This one she hadn’t heard.
“They dismissed school early because of it!” Maddox went on. “It was shown on all the screens in our classrooms. They tried to murder the Supreme Leader, but the First Order rallied and fought back and destroyed them on the planet of Crait. Even General Organa! They say that Jedi Master Luke Skywalker returned to commit more treachery—something about him being involved in the plot to kill the Supreme Leader—but Kylo Ren destroyed him, and the Jedi as well as the Resistance are done away with, and …”
He was interrupted by Ianthe rushing downstairs from the apartment above the cantina where Elin’s family lived. She had been repairing Barberry, the dark green protocol droid she had rescued from a junk heap when she was a toddler and fixed up to become her mother’s assistant. He was a good droid, though quirky, but his programming did fail on a regular basis.
“Mam!” she shouted. “I just saw on the HoloNet, they say the Resistance has fallen! Also you have a message, it came through on your private line.”
“I told you!” Maddox said.
“Who’s the message from?” Elin said, wiping her hands on her apron.
“I don’t know, I don’t open your private messages,” Ianthe said, looking smug.
“Since when?” Elin retorted wryly.
Ianthe’s skin was several shades darker than Maddox’s or Elin’s—she took after her father in looks and mechanical aptitude—but long experience had taught Elin to recognize her daughter’s discomfiture even without the telltale signs of a blush.
“All right, I tried, but it was encrypted. Who do you know who would send you an encrypted message, anyway?”
Elin’s heart leapt into her throat.
“Ianthe, Mads, watch the counter for me. I’ll be right back.”
Elin ignored them both, hurrying up the stairs to the tiny apartment they called home. Barberry, ignoring the open cavity of his chest showing a mass of wires, nodded his head gravely.
“Good day, Mistress. You seem disturbed. Is there anything I might do to help?”
“Thank you, no, Berry,” Elin replied.
She went into her bedroom—about the size of a closet, really, room only for a bed and two drawers for her clothes—and shut the door. Her hands were trembling again.
She forced herself to pick up her datapad and look at received messages. One new message blinked. The address was unknown. The code required to unlock it was not.
“Elin Prydudd, 59B-XN-18,” she said.
The blinking red light turned green and held steady. A small figure sprang to life above the pad.
“Elin,” said the man, older and more tired-looking than last time she had seen him, but still with a fire burning in his blue eyes. “By now you’ll have heard the news about the Resistance. Force forgive me, I got the distress signal too late. By the time I reached Crait, it was all over. There was nothing I could do. It was …” He looked down, swallowed, and continued. “It was bad.
“But not as bad as the HoloNet is claiming. The Supreme Leader is dead, I have that directly from my sources within the First Order. Kylo Ren and General Hux are sharing command. Amidst all the bodies, I did not find General Organa’s, nor any indications that Luke—Master Skywalker was ever there. I did see signs of what looked like a Corellian YT-1300 light freighter landing and taking off again. My best guess, Chewbacca got the general away safely, and the Skywalker tale is just being put about by the First Order to bolster the image of a total victory.”
Elin released a slow breath. Not as dire as it could have been, then.
“You have kids, responsibilities, your old injury … no one would blame you for keeping your head down and waiting out the storm. You’ve done your share. Anything we do now would likely be an exercise in futility anyway. But if you want to give it a try … you know where to find me.”
The hologram flickered and died.
So. Here it was. The choice she hoped she’d never have to make.
By the Jedi, it wasn’t supposed to have come down to this! They fought to make the galaxy a better place, a place where they could have families and raise them in peace and freedom. They had won, darn it all. Why now were they in a worse place than before?
That was the nature of evil, she supposed. Cut it down, and it came back even stronger on the next round.
The question was, would good do the same?
Elin sat staring at a blank datapad for a long time.
* * *
Back downstairs, the children were full of questions. Elin raised her hand.
“Not now. I’ll explain everything shortly.”
She flipped the switch to change the sigils and colors running up and down the cantina’s façade from “open” to “closed,” then raised her voice.
“Apologies, patrons, but the business is closed for the day. Your orders are on the house.”
Maddox and Ianthe gasped. Their mother *never* closed early, not unless one of them was deathly ill or in big trouble. Maddox edged closer to his older sister.
“Is she mad at us for talking about the Resistance in front of the customers?”
“Shh,” Ianthe hissed. “No. Um. I don’t think so.”
Elin paid little attention to this interchange, listening patiently to the grumbles of the customers as they filed out, smiling with patent falsity and keying the doorlock thankfully when the final Rodian shuffled out still spitting angry curses.
“Now,” she said, turning to her wide-eyed children. “We need to talk.”
Before she could begin, Barberry creaked downstairs, chest cavity still open and trailing wires.
“Forgive my interruption, Mistress,” he said, “as well as my disheveled appearance, but I thought you should know, a warrant has been issued for your arrest.”
“What?” Maddox shouted.
“Why?” Ianthe, more practical, demanded.
Elin could only come up with, “How do you know?”
Berry answered the questions in order. “A warrant has been issued for Mistress Elin’s arrest. The reason given is that she is a known Resistance supporter and a former Rebel. I know because Miss Ianthe installed a hacking program last moon cycle and I hacked into the local law enforcement database.”
“You made Berry a hacker droid?” Elin asked her daughter.
“You’re a Resistance supporter?” Ianthe asked her at the same time.
“You were a Rebel?” Maddox chimed in a beat later.
Elin sighed and sank down onto a barstool. So much for easing the children into the story.
“Yes and yes,” she said. “Ianthe, don’t think we’re done with our discussion of Berry’s programming. For now, go upstairs and fill a knapsack with a change of clothes each, and anything special you want to bring with us. You have ten minutes. I’ll explain on the way.”
“The way where?” Maddox asked.
“No time!” Elin said. “Go.”
The crack of authority in her voice sent them both scampering up the stairs.
“Berry,” Elin said. “Implement program Edris Beta One.”
Edris had been her husband’s name.
Barberry’s golden eyes flashed five times, and when they settled they were more orange than gold.
“Escape route mapped and signal sent to the *Flyer*,” he said. Even his voice was a shade deeper than before. “Cantina defenses are armed.”
She’d told herself she was a fool for spending her hard-earned credits on these programs and keeping her old ship in flying condition, but old habits died hard. Now she was glad her Rebel instincts wouldn’t allow her to settle down without a bolt hole, even after thirty years of supposed peace.
The children clattered back down the stairs, each with an overstuffed knapsack slung over one shoulder. Elin scanned them with a professional eye. Shoes were decent for walking and even running, should it become necessary; the bags were not too heavy; clothing was light and not likely to encumber them.
“Ianthe, close Berry up. We’re going out the back door.”
“Mistress, I am too slow,” the droid said. “You should leave me behind. I can upload the route to your datapad. You don’t need me.”
“No way!” Maddox shouted.
“Mam, you wouldn’t,” Ianthe said, hands trembling as she reattached wires and closed the open chest panels.
“You must,” Berry insisted.
“You’ll be incinerated when the defenses engage,” Elin said.
“Defenses?” Ianthe asked.
“It is the only way,” the droid said.
He was right—but Elin still shook her head.
“That’s not how we do things in this family, Berry. Nobody is left behind.”
The droid, unusually for him, did not argue.
“Mam, when are you going to explain all of this?” Maddox said, a whine evident in his voice.
“Not until we’re safe aboard the *Flyer*,” Elin said. “I know you are confused and scared, and I’m sorry. Now let’s go.”
“Where’s your bag?” Ianthe asked, steadying her voice with an admirable effort.
Elin smiled at her tall, bright-eyed daughter, such a mix between child and adult, trying so hard to be brave. “Everything I need is already with me.”
They exited out the back door, a little-used entry and exit way. Elin sealed it behind them, not without regret. She had liked being a cantina owner, had been proud to provide a haven for those needing a place of safety and comfort.
“Mam,” Maddox whispered. “I hear sirens.”
Elin could hear them as well. They were getting closer.
“Run,” she said, giving the children a little push. “Run.”
She wanted as much distance as possible between them and the cantina when the defenses engaged.
They were still close enough to be knocked off their feet when it exploded.
Elin was up first, dragging her children to their feet while Berry stiffly picked himself up out of someone’s Thranian Rose bush.
“Go, go,” she shouted, shaking her head at the ringing in her ears. “That will only slow them down. Berry, which ways are still safe?”
“Updating,” he said. “Primary route is now blocked. Secondary route is safe but is likely to be blocked in three standard minutes.”
Elin did the calculations in her head. That should be enough time for them. But Berry?
They would have to make it work.
They did, just barely. The white-armored troops poured into the street junction a whisker after the four of them fled through, Elin dragging Berry around the corner just before one of them turned his head in their direction.
“Mam, I don’t understand,” Ianthe whispered as they paused long enough to catch their breath and for Berry to update their route again. “We aren’t even a First Order world. We’re supposed to be neutral. How did they get their stormtroopers here so fast? How can they enforce a warrant like this?”
“The stormtroopers have always been here, just out of armor. There are no First Order-free worlds, not anymore,” Elin said. “Neutrality was a lie maintained for the benefit of the populace, who might otherwise have rebelled against the idea of not being self-governed. Now the Resistance has fallen, they don’t care. Worlds all over the galaxy are finding they’ve always been occupied, and anyone who has ever spoken up in discontent or disapproval of the Supreme Leader is getting arrested or killed.”
“Did you really support the Resistance?”
“Not as much as I wanted to,” Elin admitted. “I had to put your safety first, yours and your brother’s. But I did what I could.”
Hiding injured pilots desperate for a safe place to recuperate until they could return to the Resistance; making the cantina known as a safe place for couriers to meet and pass messages; helping behind the scenes to undermine the First Order’s control over the planet’s government … in the end, none of it had been enough to make a difference.
No, she scolded herself. That was defeatist thinking. That wasn’t the Rebel way. Every gesture of defiance, no matter how futile or small it seemed, was a seed planted. Perhaps most of them would die, but if even one sprouted and grew to full blossom, it was enough.
“I recommend we stay hidden for 3.25 more minutes, then run,” Berry said.
“Copy that,” Elin said automatically.
“You really were a Rebel?” Maddox asked, a note of wistfulness in his voice. “Did you know Luke Skywalker? Or General Organa? Or General Solo?”
Elin laughed quietly. “I saw all three of them at various ceremonies, but never to speak with. Yes, I was a Rebel pilot and Intelligence officer, one of Colonel Janson’s Spector Squadron.”
They were a specialized squadron, every member a dual A-Wing pilot and spy, used for missions that required a combination of skills. It had been dangerous, highly intense work, and Elin had loved every moment.
“Your father was a mechanic with our squadron, and when the Galactic Concordance was signed, we retired, married, and settled down here. The cantina—and you two—were our dream for peacetime.”
“Da was a Rebel, too?” Ianthe’s voice squeaked.
“Now, Mistress,” Berry said, cutting off any reply Elin might have made.
They fled across the street, cut through an alley, scrambled up over the low roofs of the city’s refugee Ugnaught population, turned another corner, and found themselves at the abandoned hangar which was their destination.
“All clear?” Elin asked Barberry.
The droid bobbed his head in a mechanical nod. “They will have found our trail and caught up with us in 2.73 minutes, however.”
“Then we move fast.”
Elin placed her hand over the keypad beside the door. It recognized her handprint and the door retracted long enough for the four of them to enter. As it lowered creakily behind them, Elin set the inner lock to explode if anyone tried to force it.
It wouldn’t stop the First Order, but it would slow them down.
Before them, its pristine condition a stark contrast to the filthy and debris-ridden hangar, was the *Lleddf Flyer*, the ship she and Edris had bought with their combined savings after the war. They had meant it as a family ship for vacations and traveling, but after Edris died and the First Order rose to power, Elin made some adaptations and kept it hidden away as an escape plan.
The children hadn’t seen it since they were small, and had indeed forgotten all about it. They looked around with wide eyes as they walked up the gangplank and into its heart.
“I can’t believe you never told us about this!” Ianthe accused her mother.
“The other kids at school would be so jealous,” Maddox breathed.
“Strap in,” was all Elin answered. She brushed past them to get to the cockpit, where she seated herself in the pilot’s seat with a sigh of relief.
Her reflexes were nowhere near as sharp as they’d once been, injury and age having dulled them, but she still felt safer in a cockpit when an enemy was pursuing her than anywhere else.
“Can I be co-pilot?” Maddox asked eagerly, following on her heels.
“No way, that’s my role,” Ianthe said, pushing him out of the way.
“Sit,” Elin ordered them sternly. “Berry, take the chair.”
“But protocol droids can’t fly!”
“They can if they’re programmed to.”
“I never programmed Berry—”
“Your father did,” Elin said.
That silenced both of them.
“Where are we going, Mistress?” Barberry asked.
Elin glanced at her children.
There was no safe place left in the galaxy, nowhere she could leave them while she joined the war. She’d hoped to give her children more of a chance than she’d had. Both she and Edris had joined the Rebellion when they were no older than Mads, their homes destroyed and the fire for justice burning in their hearts. She’d wanted more than that for her son and daughter.
There was no choice, not if she wanted to ever be able to look at her face in the mirror again. In many ways, her children would be safer with her than in hiding—at least she could keep them off the front lines.
“We are going to find some old friends,” she answered Berry. “And then we are going to cut the First Order down, branch, trunk, and root.”
Evil had risen, but good would rise even stronger. They would not settle for a false peace.
The *Flyer* stood upright on her tail and blasted into space as the first of the stormtroopers poured into the hangar. Elin steered toward the stars, the sparks of freedom.
“The Resistance is dead; long live the Resistance,” she whispered.
“For Mirium” by Alyssa DeFord
The lurch from realspace to hyperspace hardly bothered Mayla anymore. She was always amazed at how much she had gotten used to since graduating from the Imperial Flight Academy. She had been on dozens of missions, stationed onboard five star destroyers, and entered and exited hyperspace more times than she could count.
If you had asked the poor, dirty little girl living on Lothal twenty years ago if this is what she imagined her life would become, you would have gotten a resounding negative. But here she was, a major in the Imperial Navy. Commander of her own squadron of TIE fighters. Her parents would have been proud.
Would have. That was the key phrase. They would have been proud if they hadn’t been killed by Rebels when Mayla was just ten. Mayla could still remember cradling her mother’s head, watching her take her last breaths. Her father’s whispered voice saying, “For the Empire!” before coughing and dying.
Now, Mayla looked out the observation window and saw the warbled blue light streaking by. She had no idea where they were headed- only that they had been called away from their previous position to this new one. Mayla figured there was a serious problem with the Rebels. They had been causing a lot of problems lately. And for the life of her, Mayla could not figure out why anyone would want to be a part of something like that.
She had voiced this opinion to her sister, Mirium, the day before. Mirium had just recently graduated from the Flight Academy and was currently flying patrol missions over Malastare.
“I don’t understand these Rebels. Why keep fighting? It’s practically hopeless!” Mayla had said over the holotransmission.
Mirium hadn’t replied at first. “I guess that’s why they do it. It’s practically hopeless, but not completely.”
Mayla had raised her thin eyebrows. “The Rebels killed our parents.”
Mirium had held up her hands in defense. “I’m not saying I agree with them! I’m just saying that they believe they have a little bit of hope.”
“Well then it’s up to us to stamp out that hope.”
Mayla’s comm buzzed. It was a message from one of her closest friends and comrades, Pax. She had graduated with Pax, and the two had been delighted to find that they were stationed together.
“Mayla, there’s something you need to see. Now.”
“Can it wait? I’m supposed to be on-duty in an hour. Wanted to take a quick nap before we exited hyperspace.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Mayla sighed and headed for Pax’s quarters. When she arrived, she saw Pax’s face was drawn and white.
“I think you need to sit down,” Pax said quietly. She pulled out her datapad. “I debated on whether or not to share this with you because you technically aren’t supposed to know.”
Mayla eyed Pax suspiciously. “You’re going against regulations?” Pax never broke regulation.
Pax ignored her. “One of my jobs is to go through this data to send out as news transmissions throughout the Empire. This particular story caught my eye because it took place on Malastare.”
Mayla nodded. “There’s a lot of unrest there—”
“A squadron of fighters was shot down yesterday evening, Mayla.”
Mayla blinked. Fighters shot down? That was awful! She shook her head in disgust. “Those Rebels—”
“All pilots were killed. Including Mirium.” Pax put her hand on Mayla’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”
“What? Mirium? But that can’t be. I just spoke with her yesterday morning! You must have wrong information. That can’t be true.” Mayla felt her chest begin to constrict. She was having a hard time breathing.
Pax bit her lip. “I’m so sorry, Mayla. I wish I was wrong.” She handed Mayla the datapad with the list of the deceased.
There it was. Mirium Iona- Killed in Action. Mayla’s eyes began to burn. She let the datapad slip out of her hands onto the floor.
“Is there anything I can get for you?”
But Mayla didn’t hear her. TIE pilots were the toughest of the tough. Of the thousands of people who entered the Imperial Flight Academies each year, only 10% ever graduated. They were taught that they were expendable. Their deaths were for the greater good. And the pilots prided themselves in that. No shields. All guts. But this was different. Mirium was just another pilot to the Empire, but not to Mayla. Mirium was the only family she had left. And the Rebels had taken that from her. They had taken everything from her.
Mayla clenched her fists and bit the inside of her cheek. The metallic taste of blood filled her mouth. An alert on her commpad brought her back to the present. She was now on-duty.
She barely had time to process how she was going to get through her shift when the ship lurched into realspace. Mayla looked up at the small window in the room, something she did every time she entered back into realspace.
Pax’s mouth dropped open. “What is that?” Her voice was barely audible.
Ahead, a huge construction site was taking place. It wasn’t finished, but there was no question about what it was. “Another Death Star?” Pax answered her own question.
Mayla stood and numbly walked to the window. She could hardly believe it. After the first one had been destroyed, Mayla didn’t think the Empire would try to rebuild. But the Empire was always full of surprises. “I guess the Empire wasn’t going to give up that easily,” she mumbled.
Surrounding the half-completed Death Star were dozens of star destroyers. TIEs were being deployed from the hangars of most of them. She glanced to the left of the window. A Rebel ship was taking fire. Two X-wings zoomed past her.
Mayla stared, a lone tear dripped from her right eye. This wasn’t going to be a simple skirmish.
Alarms sounded throughout the ship.
“All pilots, report to your designated hangars immediately.”
Mayla brushed the tear on her cheek away. No time for tears now. The Rebels had caused enough grief in her life already. They would pay for what they did. She hurried to the hangar bay. Already, dozens of other pilots were flooding in. Alarms echoed through the cavernous hangar. Ground crewmen were scurrying around like mouse droids prepping the TIEs.
Admiral Letta marched toward Mayla and the other pilots assembling in the hangar. He was flanked by three stormtroopers on both sides.
“Rebels. X-wings and that blasted Falcon. Take them out.”
The pilots around Mayla nodded their agreement. “Aye, sir.”
Mayla ran to the shining black TIE Interceptor she would be flying. No shields. All guts. She sucked in a deep breath. Her guts would have to be enough now. Her mind was still reeling from her sister’s death, but her psychological training was kicking in. Use that anger. She told herself. Focus it. Mayla climbed up the ladder above the ship and dropped into the cockpit. As she let her body slide into the cramped chair, she couldn’t help but wonder what Mirium felt like climbing into her cockpit for the last time.
She wouldn’t have known. Mayla told herself. Just like you don’t know if this is your last time. The thought hardly crossed Mayla’s mind anymore. Climbing into a TIE was like climbing into death’s mouth, but after doing it hundreds of times, one tended to forget.
She locked her helmet into place- the hissing noises of the oxygen filled her ears. It was a sound she never got used to, but it was like home. Like the wobbly front step she always tripped on going into her house. And now, the hissing provided some sort of grounding sensation for Mayla. Lights flashed on the cockpit. She flipped switches, engaging the systems. She glanced over the sensors, checking to make sure all was well.
As Mayla went through the pre-flight checklist, she felt her eyes starting to burn again. She blinked the tears away. She had a squadron to lead. Mourning would come later.
“This is Phantom. All systems are go.”
The other pilots echoed out that they were ready as well.
Mayla pulled her TIE out of the hangar into space, the rest of the squadron following after her. As she left the hangar, Mayla gawked at the sight before her. She had been involved in small battles before, but this was different. Hundreds of other TIEs were already in space. Everywhere she looked there were star destroyers. The looming metallic shell of the second Death Star was just ahead. Three green laser bolts shot past her.
“All right, it’s show time. Follow my lead.”
The adrenaline pumping into her bloodstream caused her to forget the pain and grief. Now all she could think about was staying alive. One hit from the Rebels, and she would be gone in a fiery explosion. The TIEs were built to be efficient and cheap. No shields, no life-support, and no hyperdrive meant that the fighters were some of the lightest spacecraft in production. Able to move in any direction in almost a split second’s time. But the efficiency had a high cost. Almost daily, reports of dead pilots appeared.
That thought seemed to stop time for Mayla. Her sister was one of those dead pilots. Her name would be on the list in the morning. Mayla bit on her cheek again, fresh blood flooded into her mouth. Now her goal was to make sure her own name didn’t end up on that list as well.
Mayla locked onto an X-wing in front of her and fired. She pulled her TIE up and over the explosion. She didn’t want any of the debris to hit her ship.
“Great shot, Major.”
She didn’t have time to revel in her success. One downed fighter wasn’t going to win the war. One downed fighter wasn’t going to make up for her sister’s death. Two laser bolts shot dangerously close by. Her onboard computer screens showed that three Rebel X-wings were pulling up behind her.
“Evasive action!” Mayla commanded her squadron. She pushed the floor pedals so that her fighter took a sharp left around the bridge of a star destroyer. Two other fighters pulled up next to her. And then a blast of green and fire. The TIE to her left was nothing more than mangled metal.
No shields. All guts. Fly high, pilot. Mayla thought to herself as she spotted two Rebel fighters ahead. Their S-foils were in attack position, ready to fire on the star destroyer’s cannons. She moved to get the enemy ship into range.
Even though sound was non-existent in space, Mayla knew what she sounded like approaching the enemy fighter. The scream of the twin ion engines was iconic. There was nothing like it in the entire galaxy. It put pride into the hearts of the loyal citizens of the Empire, and fear into those who were not. It reminded citizens that the Empire was there- protecting them, watching them.
It was that same scream that had caused Mayla and her sister to apply for the Flight Academy. As youngsters on Lothal, they watched the Empire rise from the ashes of the fallen Republic. They watched stormtroopers paste Imperial propaganda posters on the walls of buildings. Every morning, they were woken by the sounds of the TIEs flying overhead. Mayla would run out of her family’s small home to watch in awe as the Imperial fighters raced above the city. They were so close, she had felt like she could reach out and grab them out of the sky.
“One day,” she had told her father. “I’m gonna fly one of those.”
That was the day before her parents had been killed.
Now Mayla sucked in the cold oxygen that was provided to her through the hoses connecting her helmet to the life support chest box. She was flying one of those. And she was good at it. The X-wing was locked in. She pressed the fire button on top of her control, and the Rebel ship spun widely out of control. She pulled back, watching it for a moment before it crashed into a formation of five TIEs.
Five more dead pilots.
Five more names joining Mirium’s.
One of her pilots radioed in. “Major, I can’t shake them. I—”
She had just lost one of her own.
Mayla swore and turned her ship up and over the debris from the crash. Even a small piece of metal could damage her own fighter. As she brought her ship back into formation with the remaining fighters in her squadron, she noticed something outside her cockpit window. Another piece of stray debris, perhaps?
Not debris. A helmet. Black, with the Imperial cog printed in bright white on the side. One ripped hose was still attached, moving eerily in the vacuum of space.
Snap out of it, Mayla! You’re an Imperial pilot! One of the best in the galaxy. And you’re going to end up just like that if you don’t get your act together.
Her fighter shuddered. Mayla jerked her head to the right to see what happened.
An entire Rebel ship had just exploded.
“What in the—” Mayla looked up to see the lasers of the second Death Star engaged.
“Ooh, yes!” A voice boomed through the comm in her helmet.
“Rebel scum doesn’t stand a chance,” came another.
The new Death Star was operational. Mayla felt like a huge load had been lifted off her chest. All the grief she had been feeling seemed so small in comparison. She wanted to cry, not from sadness, but from relief. Surely the Rebels wouldn’t keep up the fight after this. They would have to surrender. They wouldn’t be given any mercy, but the rebellion would be over. The fight would be ended. The Rebels who killed her sister would be punished. Mayla could fly her TIE over Lothal, letting her engines comfort the citizens there. Her sister would not have died in vain.
Her relief was like a balm. Like she was floating on a cloud. The next minutes were almost a blur. Target locked. Fire. Target destroyed. Repeat. Over and over again.
The fools! Why do you keep fighting?
The Rebel ships were converging on the Death Star. Including the Millennium Falcon. Mayla smiled to herself. She knew how much the Empire hated that ship. To destroy it would make her a hero. She put her TIE in pursuit.
The eclectic band of Rebel ships entered the unconstructed area of the space station. Seven other TIEs had joined her in pursuit of the ships as they headed down the unfinished ventilation shafts. Mayla locked onto an X-wing into range and fired.
The Rebel ships split off and began to head back to the surface.
Mayla was in pursuit.
“All fighters return to the Executor immediately.” The orders rang throughout her helmet.
Mayla turned her TIE back towards the Imperial dreadnaught. Its cannons were firing on Rebel fighters when one damaged one slammed into the Executor’s bridge. Mayla watched in horror, knowing full well that no one on that bridge would survive the impact.
Debris was flying in all directions.
“Fighters, get away from there!”
Mayla pushed the pedals, turning her TIE sharply to the right. But she wasn’t fast enough. A loud thud sent her fighter spinning.
Mayla tried to get control of her ship. Alarms were ringing.
She watched in horror as the sensors began blinking critical alerts. She felt her fighter begin to spiral.
“Eject. Eject. Eject.” A soothing voice echoed through the cockpit. Mayla tried to regain control, but it seemed useless. She fumbled for the eject button, but the spinning was too fast. Too hard. The G-forces were too strong. Mayla felt herself begin to lose consciousness.
She would crash or explode in a matter of seconds. It didn’t matter. Both options would end her life.
But she would not be dying in vain. She had avenged her parents. She had avenged her sister. She had given her all for the Empire. She would be hailed a hero. The thought brought a smile to Mayla’s lips.
As her vision tunneled, Mayla focused in on the half-constructed Death Star. A weapon that would end the rest of the Rebels. A weapon that would end the war and bring peace to the galaxy.
Her vision began to fade, but her smile did not.
Flames engulfed the small black fighter. For the Empire. For Mirium.
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