One with the Force. One with the Force. One with the Force…
The trees, the rocks, the small insects running between grass leaves, the fauna on the ground, in the sky, in the big lake. All her friends and... something was missing. Everything disappeared. She took a deep breath and refocused. The trees, the rocks, the small insects running between grass leaves, the fauna on the ground, in the sky, in the big lake. All her friends and... Leia. Rey opened one eye and looked at the older woman. The General's eyes were still closed. In meditation? Rest? Rey had no clue. Leia's light, diminished as it was after what had happened to her above D’Qar, still shone. A beacon in the night that the Resistance was going through. Their forces had grown after Crait, but it still wasn’t enough. Aftab and his fellow Mon Calamari had brought a few ships. One reminded those who were old enough of Home One. Another cruiser brought bitter memories of the Raddus for the younger fighters. Those that remained at least. Ryloth had been a failure, but the other missions had brought moderate success in capturing more ships. They would do with what they had. And, at the moment, it was very little compared to the might of the First Order.
Rey climbed down from the branch she had been standing on for the past hour. Her training didn’t go as well as she had thought it would. She still had trouble maintaining a constant connection to the Force. Leia knew how troubled the girl was, and why. She understood. More than once she had reminded her of a conversation that they’d had aboard the Falcon, about the fact that no important choice could be made by someone other than you. These things took time. Leia put her hoverchair in motion and they returned to the camp together. She had to manage her strength.
Leia felt a bit at home on Ajan Kloss. It reminded her of Yavin IV, minus the ziggurats, and her stay there, more than thirty years before. Thirty years… The planet, or rather, the moon, had been charted by her own people. Alderaan had elected not to disclose its existence to the Empire, for it could have been of great use as a hiding place for the Rebellion. Leia had kept it in her back pocket for as long as she had been able to. And now they were here. The third reason, and maybe the most personal, was that she and Luke had come here after Endor. It had only been the two of them. They had spoken of their lineage, of the Force and after a few days of complicated meditation, Leia had resolved not to pursue her heritage, choosing instead to walk in the path that her father, the man who had raised her to be who she was, had walked. She had been an Organa her whole life, and she would rather honour that name and all it meant for the homeless Alderaanians than change it to something that meant very little to her. Let him be the Jedi. Her choice, though it had brought hardship and tremendous pain, had been the right one. She had told herself so every day for so many years, yet there were still times, like Crait, like right now, when doubt found its way in.
They were moving in silence, each in their own head, struggling with sombre thoughts, when the sound of four X-wing engines resonated up in the sky. It grew louder and louder, until the four combat ships landed. Four ships. There were supposed to be five. Snap Wexley got out of his ship first, closely followed by the rest of Black Squadron.
“Where’s the Falcon?” Leia asked, rising out of her chair and grabbing her cane. She tried to get rid of the lump that was forming in her throat.
“Black Leader ordered us to go.” Snap began while removing his flight helmet. “We were leaving the Sinta Glacier when at least… I don’t know, three full wings of TIE fighters came out of nowhere.”
“It was pretty bad” Suralinda intervened as she was putting her hair down. Rey found the blue-skinned woman quite curious. She had been subjected to her gaze more than once, and Suralinda had even taken her face into her hand on one occasion, muttering to herself about make-up and camera angles.
“We managed to destroy quite a bit” Karé said, walking to her husband and taking his hand in hers. “But it quickly became hard to see anything with all the debris, the ice. Poe said they’d figure it out and told us to leave. So, we did.”
“Well, at least you obeyed your commander…” Leia sighed.
She looked at each of them in turn. Jess Pava was still talking to her astromech. Her ship had sustained some serious damage. She exchanged a glance with Rey. Poe wasn’t alone on that ship. Chewie was in the co-pilot’s seat, and Finn and Rose had gone with them.
“The Force will be with them.” Leia said for all to hear. “They will return.” She believed in what she had just said, but she knew, deep inside, that she could believe a little more.
“That was close!” Poe exclaimed as he made the Falcon dip down to avoid a dark metallic structure that was half bridge, half something else, the use of which could be determined later, if they were still alive. He still had seven TIE fighters on his tail, and it was fortunate that they could not all fit side by side in the icy corridors. Only two could fit, and their blasts were weakening the shields at too fast a pace. Chewie growled something about Rey, to which Poe replied that he wished she was here too. Poe was a great pilot, he was the first to say so, but he’d seen Rey fly the Millennium Falcon a few times and… yeah, she was pretty good with this ship. He refocused his attention. The situation was not dire yet, by his standards. He had good people on board. Speaking of which…
“Finn, Rose, would you mind?”
“Doing my best, here!” Rose answered, slightly panicked. Armament training had made her a nice shot, but she felt much more at ease in less stressful situations. She took a deep breath and looked at her display, at the TIEs, then back at her display. There! She rained fire on the small craft, and it burst into glorious flames, taking its closest companion with it.
“Woo!” she exclaimed.
Two more appeared out of their comrades’ fiery demise and shot at them with even more rage. In the other turret, Finn was shooting methodically. One. Two. Three. Rose stole the fourth from him, and she once again let her joy explode in their ears. Fair enough. One blast hit his canopy. He screamed in surprise and fear.
“Finn, buddy, you okay?” Poe shouted in the comm system.
Finn reassured him effusively, his hearting banging against his rib cage, sweat suddenly flowing from his brow. He readjusted his position in his seat, took aim, and destroyed another TIE.
“Looks like we’re done!” Rose exclaimed.
“Looks like it, yeah” Finn confirmed. “Poe, Chewie, get us outta here!”
Chewie noisily approved and started the calculations for the jump to hyperspace. Halfway through it he stole a glance at Poe. The human had a nice head of hair, but not much anywhere else, like all of them. He also had good flying instincts that reminded him of Han. The skill, the cockiness… but the similitude ended there. Poe’s closed mouth went agape. Chewbacca raised a furry eyebrow. The human was staring straight ahead, and even from the side, he could see that his expression had changed from relief to… absolute terror. He looked out front, too. A swarm of TIEs was coming out of the end of the ice tunnel, so massive and dark that the light dramatically shifted. Chewie groaned. He had seen way too many of them. They had caused him and Han, but mainly him, hundreds of hours of repair. Yet that was trivial, compared to what they represented. Empire, First Order: same thing, different name. They were tyranny incarnate. They had spread terror all around the galaxy for too long. They had destroyed and killed. They had enslaved Kashyyyk, reduced his tribe, his family, to beings stripped of their dignity, their strength. No more. Rage swelled in the mighty Chewbacca. He had an idea. He spoke.
“Really?” asked Poe, alternatively looking to the Wookiee and the deadly squadron.
Chewie nodded with determination.
“Alright, not going to argue with you, pal.”
Poe got out of the pilot’s seat, and Chewie got in. He was not used to the first mate position but, hey, there was a first for everything, and so close to death… why not?
Chewbacca instructed Finn and Rose to shoot, shoot, shoot. Poe was to reroute auxiliary power to rear shields in five, four, three, two… The Falcon did a one-eighty turn in the tunnel and started spinning on its own axis. The blasts that the two turrets were firing created a beautiful cylinder of green that destroyed one, two, five, seven, ten TIE fighters.
“Holy kriff!” Poe shouted.
Chewie remained silent, focusing on his flying. To the spinning he added lateral movement in the tunnel, thus making the Falcon an inescapable weapon that was difficult to hit at the same time. Behind them, explosions rocked the ice walls. A big chunk fell from the ceiling and crashed in the middle of the First Order fighters, causing another explosion. Fully confident in the outcome, certain that the Force was with him, Chewbacca told Poe to lower the shields down to five per cents and get the sublight thrusters to full capacity.
“Are you sure? We can’t afford to take more than-”
Chewbacca’s response was so loud that Rose and Finn jumped in their seats.
“Okay, okay, forget I said anything…” Poe said submissively.
He did as he was told. That one was a gamble. A big one. The navicomputer made new calculations. The Falcon lurched forward. Poe estimated that they’d be out of the tunnel in thirty, maybe twenty-five seconds. On the ground, it was short. Up here, it was an eternity. And they could not lose the hyperdrive. There would be no dashing escape. There would just be death.
The first hit came after second five. It rocked the ship. Finn and Rose were still shooting, but the cannons were hot, going on unrefined coaxium hot. The ship’s movement did not help. Poe’s head was starting to spin. Everything was becoming blurry. His stomach was genuinely upset, and it wouldn’t be long before it expressed this feeling in a concrete manner. The second hit came after second thirteen. It cost them in speed. Not a lot, but Poe felt the Falcon decelerate.
“I have a bad feeling about this…” Poe said under his breath.
Chewie’s big body was unmoving, except for his muscular arms. They made the ship move with unparalleled grace and fury. A beautiful, yet terrifying sight. The Wookiee was unaware that his teeth were showing. He had a beastly look on his face. Poe was glad not to be on the receiving end of that look. If the First Order pilots could see what he was seeing, they would fly away, and fast. The third hit came on second nineteen. Alarms blared all throughout the ship. Lights turned red. Sparks came out of panels.
A blast went over their heads. This one would have been fatal, he knew it. They were close. Closer. Closer. So close…
The narrow blue tunnel disappeared. They were out, out in the unforgiving void that now felt like a breath of fresh air. Chewie banked up, hard, screaming his victory in the cockpit, nearly getting rid of Poe’s eardrums in the process. He then pulled a lever, and the Millennium Falcon went into another, this time much safer, blue tunnel.