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Gungan to the left

Star Wars: Redemption (PG-13)

By : WookieeLiberationFront

Archived on: Saturday, October 30, 2010

It is the height of the Galactic Civil War. Two Wookiees from different backgrounds are put through similar trials during the Empirical oppression of their world of Kashyyyk. One finds solace in the Dark Side, one finds hope in the Light Side. Makaashyya comes into conflict with her very being after losing everything. The Dark Side consumes her and she is corrupted into helping the very tyrants and murderers that destroyed her life. Echobe never had much to begin with, and what he did have was taken from him by the Empire, but the hate doesn't rule him. He fights back during his search for his missing senator parents while trying to help his people he once neglected . Eventually, these two Wookiees meet, and with Echobe, his pet rancor, Bilebelch, and with comrades in arms he meets along the way, Makaashyya is able to fight her demons and find redemption, ultimately giving Echobe his.
Makaashyya: Darkness And Betrayal
Book One
Chapter 1

This is Kashyyyk sprawling out before you, cocooned within the fertile canopy of the Wroshyr, and home world of my people. Kashyyyk is the womb that gave birth to the Wookiees. Kashyyyk is the gem of the system sharing the same name shining in the darkness of space like a jade star. For thousands of years Kashyyyk endured strife and turmoil as have its people. Numerous times have our ancestors faced opposition as if it was embedded in the genes of the Wookiee race, but still we survive and Kashyyyk endures.

The monolithic Wroshyr trees of the ages cover the majority of the land and reach into the sky to touch the clouds with leafy fingers as if desiring to touch space. Within the branches and wrapped about the trunks in organic and metallic technological mesh are where we make our cities, and where we have sought shelter from the dangers living below in the darkness. Few Wookiees travel regularly below the cities away from safety. Though, upon a Wookiee's coming of age, one travels below to complete a long-held traditional coming of age ritual that had endured until the occupation. In the chaos of constant war that ritual had all but been abandoned.

It was during those years and of my coming of age where my story begins. In the beginning, with the fall of the Republic, Kashyyyk was blockaded at the influence of our Trandoshan enemies who had joined the Empire. In the beginning, Trandoshans raided our villages, freely taking what and whom they wished for slave labor, and the Empire quickly followed in the same tactics in dealing with the Wookiee people. In the beginning it was a simpler civil war across the galaxy, which for us became the fight for our species' very right to exist. We were prisoners in our homes, and within our cities that we had built into the trees that every generation of Wookiees throughout time has called home. Within one of these smaller villages is where I must truly begin.

I am named Makaashyya after my great grandmother. Back then, I was a quiet child lost in the enchantment of my daydreams, and fast approaching my coming of age. I usually kept to myself, seldom talking to others outside of my depleted family. I instead directed my attentions elsewhere, to fanciful stories once told by village Elders and to the watching of those around me; how they moved, how they talked, how they interacted, how they withstood the darkness of those times, and how they changed as the days of sorrow pressed harder and harder down upon us.

The darkness had swallowed my people's home world of Kashyyyk as the darkness swallows the ancient Wroshyr deep below our cities; so have the oppressors, the Empire, choked our freedom at its roots, removed our liberty, and in the hearts of many, the will to defy them.

I lived in one of these villages with what remained of the dwindling numbers of my once large family. Wookiee families usually are extensive. By that point in the occupation only my grandfather, my mother, brother and I survived. Everyone else had been taken off world or killed by Imperials. Those who survived the frequent bombing raids fell instead to malnourishment, or to disease that ran rampant, nearly unabated by our feeble attempts at treatment with minimal supplies.

Our once grand shelters had become dilapidated, shaken to their foundations. As the health of the people failed so did our creations. Those of us still strong enough and lucky enough to have survived the fighting were rewarded with conscription and rounded up like cattle, thick slaver collars welded around our necks. There was little we could do but watch as more of our loved ones were lost to us, forced onto an Imperial ship, bound to the floor in chains, and shipped off world, harvested like crop to be fed to the war machine.

My family lived in the battered, skeletal remains of our house. We spent our days staving off hunger with what food we had or could find. A fire constantly burned in the middle of the main room, and we all huddled near it each night as we held each other, giving comfort as we listened to bombs explode in the distance. We stayed close together most times, only separating during the day for brief periods to gather wood and whatever other essentials we could scavenge. Few within the village strayed far, not just for fear of incoming Imperial artillery at any time, but also because the creatures that lurked below our villages had begun to venture to the upper levels, no longer restrained by the Wookiee sentinels that had once stood guard. The oppressors had long since taken them from us. Fresh meat, as the oppressors often mocked during their visits.

We all slept in the common room for the feeling of safety, the feeling of not being alone. That feeling of comfort and confidence was quickly sundered by anything louder than our own voices, more often by the all too familiar sound of blaster fire or bombs that kept our nerves strained and on the edge of panic. My brother Syymbacca comforted me each time I woke from a nightmare, or from an explosion that shook the trees. It was me above all else that he cherished and watched over. He would stroke my fur until I fell back to sleep, whisper a song, or make light-hearted jokes, anything to make me feel better. His fur in hues of gray and black contrasted with my own of red and blonde. He used to call me sea-eyes; that being the closest translation to Basic for one of the seas on Kashyyyk, tinted in wisps of withering green dotted by the shadows of fish swimming underneath the surface.

Syymbacca had unyielding devotion to the family, and to me as his last living sister. He would sleep by my side each night ready to rescue me from the horrors of rampant dreams that shattered my sleep. I would wake to find there was little difference in the reality, but he was always there to remind me that at least I wasn't alone. Little did I know that one of the most pleasant nights we spent together as a family during the occupation was to be our last. That last night went without disturbance. It was quiet and pleasant, and no battle raged in the distance. We were even fortunate enough to have gathered more food that usual for the nighttime meal. The fire burned brightly and we cooked our food and ate together as a family almost as if things were normal again. Syymbacca was at my side, and the nightmares left me in peace for that one night.

Daylight came upon us, and without incident. The first time in a long time we woke with the light of the sun coming in through the many holes in the roof instead to the thundering explosion of a bomb, or the high-pitched squeal of a TIE fighter. I woke before anyone else, Syymbacca still fast asleep beside me. I couldn't remember how long it had been when I last saw him sleep. The rest of the family slept huddled together near the fire that had burnt down to smoking cinders. I realized that it must have been Syymbacca's first undisturbed sleep for quite some time so I didn't bother him.

I carefully rolled away from Syymbacca, and went to the splintered door to look out over our village. It was silent. The birds sang and flew in and out of the countless holes in everyone's houses looking for their own home. Even the great trees did not escape the scars of the occupation. What I once thought were invincible, muscular arms of the ancient guardians had been blown off to fall into the forest, or left hanging by a sinewy thread. Blaster bolts from Imperial blasters were burnt into the bark, pitting them with blackened craters like the surface of a desolate moon, but for that moment it was peaceful. The destruction could not be overlooked. The discontent was palpable. But for a moment it was quiet. There were no children playing, and that only amplified our precarious existence. There were no Wookiees gathering together as a community, too afraid to risk being caught in the open and made an easy target, but at least we had that morning. For a brief moment we were able to grasp a little of what we had before the Imperials. And so the day went, uneventful, cheerless, but quiet.

Grandfather was well enough to tell a story later that afternoon to my brother and I. Mother had even come out of her depression and listened, savoring each moment. We forgot what was going on around us, and just allowed ourselves to daydream. I wished that that moment could have lasted forever. I wished my brother, my grandfather, my mother, and I could have been lost in that moment in time, immune to death, to sickness and hunger, free from Imperials. It was all too brief a moment we all realized when TIE fighters broke our peaceful silence as day set into night.

The H-shaped craft screamed across the sky, rattling the walls of our homes, shaking us from that moment of solitude and back to the war. A dozen of the fighters flew low over the village. The wailing, ion engines echoed throughout the trees, stirring the leaves. The branches shuddered as if in fear of what was coming. Wookiees in nearby houses could be heard scrambling about in their homes as if there were anything that could be done to escape. I watched as an Imperial freighter broke from the low laying clouds and escorted by two TIE fighters. The wood floor of the entire village shook as the ships touched down. The retro thrusters burnt the wood black beneath them and with a final blast, they shutdown. The cargo bay door opened to the freighter, and out of its belly marched a squad of stormtroopers with helmets of human skulls, an echo of what was underneath, and an officer, a Colonel I now know. The officer wore the typical and disciplined gray Imperial uniform.

They marched towards us as a group with the officer in the lead. Terrified, we remained inside our homes until ordered out. I peaked out of one of the many holes in our wall to watch them. They stopped in a small clearing in front of the largest grouping of homes and ordered us out and to line up before them as they often did. None of us refused, knowing all too well the consequences of defiance. Two were lost to us for making that mistake, from just my family alone. We lined up as ordered, filing out of our homes with our heads bowed in shame and fear. Syymbacca was the first to walk out of our home. I held his hand. My grandfather held my other hand, my mother held onto my grandfather's hand forming a chain. The other Wookiee families came out of their homes the same, joined at the hands to keep in contact with each other as long as possible.

The stormtroopers very casually leveled their standard issue E-11 blasters at us from their hips, those blasters as synonymous with Imperial stormtroopers as their armor. The Colonel came up from behind his subordinates and walked along in front of us. Like picking ripe fruit at a stand, he pointed us out without hesitation.

"You, you, you, you and you." He spoke quickly and harshly.

Without even raising my head I knew I had been chosen. My mother cried out, my grandfather desperately tried to silence her by putting his hand over her mouth. I felt my brother's hand grab mine tight. I looked at the Colonel. He returned my look with ire, as if I had caused him some great pain that he was now enacting his revenge upon me for. As if he were looking down upon an insect taunting him to crush with his boot heel. If it weren't for Syymbacca being with me, I would have been totally lost. I looked to my mother and grandfather and squeezed her hand one last time pleading with her to be silent. I was young but not foolish enough to not know what could happen had she kept wailing. Reluctantly she ended her defiance, and stepped back in line. She lowered her head and looked to the ground with an empty stare; grandfather did the same.

I no longer blame them. For a time I resented my mother and grandfather for not doing something to prevent what happened, even though I knew there was no escape. There was no use in denying or defying the truth. Syymbacca and I and the three others were far from the last to be taken, and the families before us, like ours, were powerless to stop it just the same.

We were bound about the wrists with locking binders and roughly shoved towards the freighter were a medical droid waited just inside the cargo bay. One by one it raised its steely appendage, sprayed us with a delousing mist that burned at first but quickly subsided. It shaved our necks with one uncaring, robotic arm and attached a tracking collar with another. With a spark of heat from its welder it fused the collars about our necks, searing the skin just under the weld. I did my best not to cry; I choked back my sobs that welled up inside me, doing my best to emulate Syymbacca's silent reserve.

We then were shoved into the cargo bay. I looked at my mother and grandfather from the belly of the Imperial beast. They still stood in line, crying as silently as they could, not able to comfort each other for fear of what the stormtroopers would do if they moved. All of the Wookiees in the line cried for us, and were helpless to do anything as the last of the children were taken from them. Syymbacca hung his head in shame, unable to prevent our fate, unable to ease the suffering of our family. He flexed against his bonds, but even his great strength was futile against the steel binders. The Colonel and the stormtroopers remained in front of our families with blasters still leveled. The Colonel walked off to one side of them and raised his hand.

I was confused.

"Why haven't we left yet? What is he doing?" I thought. The oppressors rarely wasted time once they had collected what they desired. I looked to Syymbacca who was as confused as I. We clasped each other's hands tightly, and as quickly as I looked at Syymbacca to return his frail smile and to look into his pale-gray eyes for some reassurance that not all was lost, it was then that the blaster fire rang out. The crack of thundering laser-blasts as they exited the barrels of their E-11 blasters violently ripped me out of Syymbacca's embrace. I jerked my head to look only to see my mother, grandfather and all of the remaining Wookiee's gunned down were they stood. The blaster bolts tore through their bodies and into the houses and trees behind them. They barely had the time to scream, or even try to shield themselves as they were cut down like pests.

Before my mind could comprehend the images, my mother, grandfather, everyone lay dead upon the ground, contorted in a morbid position as their bodies thrashed. Mother's eyes were fixed upon me in an empty stare. I had looked away when they were all killed. The instant to look at Syymbacca had sent everything spiraling out of control. The realization held me in horrified stupor. I could hardly grasp what was happening around me. It was as if I was dreaming. My vision was blurred, I felt lightheaded, my body seemed to go numb, and then everything went dark and I lost all comprehension of time.

I woke with the shudder of the freighter. My head throbbed and my wrists were bloodied from the bite of the binders. Syymbacca was still at my side sitting with his knees to his chest, silent. As I regained my composure the weight of reality came crushing down on me as I remembered. The image of my mother lying dead staring at me was seared into the back of my eyes. I started sobbing uncontrollably. Syymbacca leaned over, and took my hands into his. I flinched. I buried my face in his chest. His fur soaked up my tears as I cried, and he gently rocked me back and forth. My head pounded to the beat of my heart making me feel like I had been beaten over the head. I slowed my breathing and tried to control myself, but the cargo bay was filled with the cries and sobs of the three other Wookiees who were taken with us, making it impossible to shut out reality. The anger burned inside of me; I wished they would stop crying. I closed my eyes to block out my senses from the pain. I focused on the rhythm of Syymbacca's heart. It was steady, calm, and strong, unwavering, a beacon. I drifted into an uneasy sleep.

That was the first time I had the dream that overtook all others. I saw my family in the darkness of my mind just before they were slaughtered. I was seeing it from the line of stormtroopers as if I were one of them. I turned to face them, but they grabbed my arms and legs, pulling at my fur, trying to tear me apart. I felt a presence from where the freighter should have been, and it came towards me, threatening to consume me. It was a void, like a black hole trying to pull me into it. Then I heard my name being called out. I strained to turn my head far enough, hoping it was my mother calling me, or Syymbacca, or my grandfather, but they still lay dead on the floor. The voice grew louder as the void approached, and all went dark.

Chapter 2

I woke to the cargo door unlocking, and the faint whirring of servos. A stormtrooper ordered us out and to line up before them. I hoped that they intended to finish us, and then I wouldn't have had to feel the pain. It was dark and overcast, and the ground was moist. The ankle high grass combed through my fur, soaking my skin underneath. The sensation made the raw skin underneath the binders ache. We all marched out of the ship, following the stormtrooper, and lined up as ordered in silent obedience. We had landed in a very large clearing that must have been used many times before, as the ground beneath the freighter was scarred black. Felled trees were strewn about the perimeter. Live trees skirted the clearing and mingled with thick brush. Hoots and howls from unknown creatures echoed from the shadows at the tree line; further beyond, deeper into the forest, hills and mountains rose, blocking out the faint sun on the horizon.

Groups of stormtroopers dotted the clearing in pairs, all of them armed. A large white shuttle with three triangular wings like sails sat next to the freighter that had brought us, and more stormtroopers marched forth from its lowered tongue-like platform. I scanned the valley with my eyes. I was stunned and sickened. I had expected to see the inside of a cold Imperial prison cell, but the dwindling hope I felt when I saw the wilderness died when I saw my kin, some from my very own village. They were alive, but had collars about their necks as well, holding hydro-spanners and welders in their hands. Some were lifting huge sheets of steel, and others were carrying steel girders in groups. Some carried equipment from another freighter at the opposite side of the clearing, and across the field to the main construction site.

"Perhaps dying with the rest of my family would have been a better fate," I thought to myself.

A stormtrooper approached us and individually scanned our collars. An Imperial officer, another Colonel, the one I figured to be in charge walked to the front of us from a gray tent near the stormtrooper barracks. Despite being among the wilds, his uniform was impeccably clean and wrinkle free. He was clean-shaven, and had kempt hair, hardly the kind of Imperial who lacked any of the normal comforts being in the middle of a jungle planet. With his hands behind his back, glowering at us with contempt, he coldly spoke.

"You are here to work. Make no mistake about your purpose. Do your work well and follow orders and you will live. It's as simple as that. Anything less and you will be disposed of. You will be assigned labor tasks and given the necessary tools. Any damaged property is a punishable offense. A missed deadline is a punishable offense. Failure to obey orders is a punishable offense." He spoke like reading a list of daily tasks, no compassion or noticeable hatred, just the facts. "Nourishment will be called out once per day. Sleep will also be announced. Failure to follow schedule is a punishable offense. Assign the prisoners." He looked from us to the stormtroopers behind us, stabbing his finger at his subordinates.

We were marched in file towards a desk outside of the officer's housing, assigned tools and work tasks, and then directed to our workstations - pushed and shoved and yelled at the entire way. Luckily, Syymbacca and I were grouped together along with an elder Wookiee, (I never did learn his name) who quickly began to instruct us in our duties without so much as an acknowledgement as to what we were. I was taken aback that the elder was neither glad nor curious to see us. He seemed empty or broken somehow. He asked no questions, he gave no sympathy. I looked around the camp trying to take all of this in, and noticed the same stale expressions on all of the Wookiee's faces.

We passed our first day, if you could even call it that. It was constantly dark and cold on the strange planet. Dathomir it was called, as the Elder working with us later mentioned. A planet neither Syymbacca nor I were familiar with. We were shown how to weld steel plates to the frame husk of a guard tower. Syymbacca and I did our best to learn quickly and not to get ourselves, or anyone else in trouble, but the tools were Imperial not Wookiee, and strange to our hands. Working with the metal amplified the cold, unforgiving atmosphere of our surroundings. Moisture permeated the air, the ground was muddy, and the steel had a thin coating of water. It looked like tears to me.

As I knelt beside my brother helping him to weld steel plates into place I suddenly became incredibly confused. It couldn't have been more than a day ago. I was at my home though under siege, but at home nonetheless with my family. Within hours it seemed I found myself working for the Empire against our own people. Not more than a day before and what I thought to be a hellish situation went deeper into misery. Mother and grandfather were dead, and everyone but the remaining five of us from the village was dead. Perhaps another day and the oppressors would finish the rest of us off.

"What the hell am I doing?" I angrily asked myself in muted tones. "We should be fighting back, how did we fall into our roles so quickly and willingly?" My mind went deeper into the whirlpool of confusion and anger when Syymbacca nudged me, bringing me to my senses.

"I know what you're thinking," he said. He always seemed to know what I was thinking, always in lock step with me. "There's not much we can do yet. We have to figure this place out first. Until then, we have to be the good slaves. It's going to take time, Makaashyya. We'll get through this." With a confident squeeze of my hand he encouraged me to continue the tasks we were assigned to.

I lost count of the hours. We ate once as we were told we would, and amazingly enough it became darker as the day turned to evening. As the darkness unfolded, bringing with it a chill evening breeze, with it came the unknown ambient noises of the surrounding jungle. The things making the noises sounded anxious and ravenous; perhaps knowing there was something edible in the clearing just beyond the tree line, the smell of our food carried on the wind, or perhaps it was us who were being smelled as food by whatever lay beyond the trees.

The chatter from the predatory locals in the jungle kept me up for many nights since our arrival, but always Syymbacca was there to reassure me. He kept me from dwelling on my anger, kept me alert, aware, and unafraid. We stared up at the stars from our unsheltered bedrolls in the camp each night. One solace was that we were allowed to sleep in the open, though still trapped by our surroundings. Having nowhere to escape to on the hostile planet only made things worse, and the pervasive moisture nearly drove me mad.

My dream came to me again as it had in one form or another since the first time in the cargo bay of the Imperial freighter. Again, the void coming to claim me, the stormtroopers holding me fast to my fate, and my voice being called in the distance. The feelings it brought to me were refreshed. That night I was saved from my nightmares by the most unlikely savoir.

A thundering, metallic stomping that shook the very earth woke us all. We stirred from our bedrolls to see several huge, two-legged, beasts walking towards the construction site. Giant box-like heads with holes for eyes, blaster cannons for ears and a nose, supported by two thick bipedal legs. A total of six of the walkers spread out along the perimeter of the construction site in a bizarre techno-herd of machines. There was panicked whispering among the rest of the Wookiees, but they were too afraid to point, or make any big movements. Syymbacca broke in with his calm voice to ease them. The Imperial technological creatures fascinated me. I was overwhelmed by the power they represented, in complete awe of the power it took to bend unyielding materials to their will. They were very small and wholly insignificant parts making up the much larger Imperial War Machine. A part of me admired the Empire for their outlandish and grandiose designs. Try for yourself to look upon an Imperial Walker, or Star Destroyer without your bowels anxiously wiggling within you.

"Come on, Makaashyya," Syymbacca put his hand on my shoulder, "we better get to work, we don't need to give them a reason to train their beasts on us." I followed Syymbacca and the Elder Wookiee to our work assignment, looking back over my shoulder the whole time at the patrolling Imperial AT-ST Walkers. Other work groups were slowly erecting the fences about the site. In the short time we had been there, progress was quick and cruel. The stormtroopers marched back and forth glaring at us through the visors in their armored helmets; I could feel them. With their blasters in hand and their gigantic counterparts roaming about the valley, they served as powerful motivators to perform well for the oppressors.

Our job was the construction of the guard towers that surrounded the larger structure. The framing had been set into the foundation before we ever arrived, Syymbacca and I. The towers were hexagonal in shape and stretched into the dark sky at least fifteen times Syymbacca's height; the gray steel offered no contrast to the clouds that were always on the edge of storm. The Elder Wookiee with us had already begun climbing the tower for the day's work while we were pulling ourselves away from the sight of the AT-STs. Syymbacca unloaded thick steel plates from a rack, connected them to a cable and hoisted them up to where the Elder welded them into place. I started at the bottom fixing the steel into place at the foundation.

That day wore on after being woken earlier than normal by the Imperial walkers. Later that day the ever-threatening rain clouds finally followed through and began to rain around noon, and continued throughout the night as if to make our tasks even more difficult. Our fur mingled with the mud, twisting it into knots, making us look like some kind of bog creatures. I am sure the site was quite hilarious to the oppressors who sought shelter for themselves underneath tents, but still keeping their blasters pointed in our direction.

The following day, after being woken up by kicking, taunting, and shouting stormtroopers, we were ordered to line up before our slavers. The Imperial Colonel in charge stood before us. He kept his hands behind his back and took a quick look up and down our ranks as if sizing us up. He spoke in his familiar cold tone and declared that our quota was not met the previous day, despite the fact that the rain, and lack of sleep and food hindered our performance. It was like they wanted us to fail and encouraged it. None of us dared to look up as we were scolded like children. I noticed some of the other Wookiees who had been there longer than Syymbacca and I was trembling. That set my nerves on edge. I could see the Elder's hands shaking as I kept my head lowered, but shifted my eyes left and right to look at everyone else.

The Imperial Colonel interrogated the first Wookiee in the line. A young, strong and tall Wookiee, tall as Syymbacca, his fur was a timid blond, but you could hardly tell from the grime that caked him. The young male could have easily torn the arrogant Imperial limb from limb should he had the chance, but he kept his head low, though still looking down on the Colonel.

"You are the leader of the teams beneath you. If you cannot keep your kind in line, you force me to take action," the Colonel scolded. "Now punishment must be appropriated."

I strained my eyes to look at the Wookiee being accused; his thick arms shook, and he made fists with his hands to keep them from trembling. I was startled by the fear that emanated from him. I vaguely remembered a time when Wookiees feared nothing. I pondered what had happened to us as a people as I watched him shake.

No one dared to move for fear of being included in the punishment, yet Syymbacca and I were unsure what the punishment was, this being the first display to our eyes. The tall Wookiee was moved from the line by an E-11 blaster being jabbed into his back by a stormtrooper. Then with a sharp crack from the stock of the rifle to the back of his knees, the Wookiee fell to the ground. He gritted his teeth in pain, but he made no sound.

My heart raced in anticipation and fear. My skin crawled and my fur stood on end. I was able to barely see the Wookiee on his knees in the mud. I craned my neck to risk a look. Once again, before I could comprehend what was happening, a red blaster bolt ripped through his skull from behind, his body went limp and fell sickeningly into a heap on the ground. The blood that flowed from the wound, from his nose and ears, flowed like a waterfall and mixed with the mud in a horrid concoction of brownish-black and arterial red. Then with all the arrogance and disconnect befitting an Imperial officer, the Colonel announced to the horrified row of Wookiees before him.

"This lesson has concluded. Let us not repeat the same mistakes." And he walked away as if nothing had happened. As if it was an inanimate object that had just fallen from the sky, not a living, breathing creature. The oppressors were indifferent to the murder as they went back to their duties. They allowed us to stand there for seconds, or maybe it was minutes; I am not sure. We stood there looking at the fallen Wookiee until we were ordered back to work, and we were not called off duty until late the following morning, our sleep time cut by half. There were no delays the following morning.

We woke at the usual time with only half the sleep we were normally allowed, in order to make up for construction delays of the previous day when a life was taken as punishment. It was all the more effective knowing that it could have been any one of us. I no longer questioned why once proud and strong Wookiees had become timid and broken. The reality that Syymbacca and I had been inducted into was made all the more real after that. The seriousness and hopelessness came down on us with all the weight of that planet Dathomir, full of darkness and suffering.

The thoughts of that Wookiee being killed ran in and out of my mind throughout that day vying for position in my mind with the dreams I continued to have each night. I didn't even know the Wookiee's name, as if knowing would somehow immortalize him within me. I couldn't stop thinking of him. I figured he could not have been much older than I, and now it was all over for him.

We continued our work, speaking very little. I believe Syymbacca was thinking as I was, and was trying to work through it. Ironically, the labors were a distractive bit of therapy.

Despite the lack of sleep, the dream still came that night, and every other night. More clear, more vivid, more frightening than ever. With each retelling it refreshed feelings of fear, loss, and hatred in my heart, but when I woke I somehow felt calm, stewing in my growing anger. I kept quiet and didn't put words to my thoughts no matter how doggedly they invaded my consciousness. The knowing glances from Syymbacca were enough to communicate what he and I feared to do with words, words that could've led us both to the same fate as the tall blonde one. The days pressed on, and with the completion of the first guard tower we were given an extra ration of food as a reward. The wooden-tasting Imperial rations amounted to a bitter celebration among the dank air.

Several weeks passed and the flesh was slowly covering the bones of the prison. We had erected two of the guard towers, and the foundation for the yard fencing had been poured a few days past. Transports filled with stormtroopers, and equipment of all kinds arrived daily. More Wookiee slaves also arrived. Most of the equipment remained covered as it was unloaded from the ship and taken to the small section of the prison that had been erected, and declared off limits to the laborers, shielded from our eyes.

Three more delays had occurred since the first, three more murders followed. Among them was the Elder Wookiee with whom we were paired and who trained us. The three who were punished for the deeds of the whole were merely among the public executions. Wookiees disappeared in the night usually without a sound. One attempted an escape during feeding time into the unknown jungle that surrounded the construction site. The last visage of his existence swallowed up by the shadows, welcomed by excited sounds of predators. There was still no shortage of replacements to fill vacancies, and with the arrival of a transport more slaves poured forth from its hold.

Yes, the dreams continued every night, and they did little to improve my disposition towards our oppressors, unable to escape them even in my dreams. Knowing my brother would be next to me when I woke was the only thing that kept me from crying out and running for the trees. With just the two of us in our working group, we were the smallest of any of the teams, which made me nervous. We were easily noticed and more likely to be taken to task for our mistakes, so we worked all the more meticulously in spite of it.

We were working on a third guard tower set on the far side of the construction site away from most of the other groups of slaves. It was an abnormally bright day, but I welcomed the warmth, and reveled in the first rays of light that we had seen since we arrived. Syymbacca was even able to coax a few smiles out of me, mocking the guards and their puny forms hiding beneath their armor. He joked he could shatter it to pieces given the chance. He boasted about how he would rip them limb from limb and feed the soldiers to the creatures beneath our great cities, and then use the funny looking armor for soup bowls.

I couldn't help but giggle at the last joke. It made my throat sore, having been so long since we had laughed together, or really spoke openly. It became our undoing. I dropped a hydrospanner onto the ground and it broke from the fall as it slammed on the foundation of the tower. Just as I had feared, a stormtrooper guard hollered at us to get down from the tower. He walked quickly towards us, his blaster as his hip. I slowly climbed down, and as I reached just a few feet from the ground the stormtrooper grabbed the fur on my leg and pulled me from the tower. I landed hard onto the ground on my back, and was unable to recover quick enough to block the butt of his blaster as he slammed it into my head.

Dear Syymbacca reacted foolishly, but for my defense, and he grabbed the blaster from the startled stormtrooper. The stormtrooper stood there trying to decide whether or not to raise his hands, hovering somewhere between disbelief that such a lowly creature - as Imperials saw us - could muster any rebellious bravado, and the fact that a large creature was pointing his own rifle at his midsection. The repercussions were swift and violent. Syymbacca stood there with blaster in hand hardly able to decide what to do next before he was struck in the back with a stun rod, forcing him to his knees.

The disarmed stormtrooper, and the one who first struck with the stun rod, dealt untold blows to my brother's prone body. I wiped the blood from my face, and I cried out for them to stop, grabbing one by the arm. The stormtrooper spun, and hit me across the face once again with the butt of the blaster knocking me back to the ground. My vision went blurry, and the last thing I remember were the sounds of Syymbacca being beaten as I lost consciousness.

The dream came again. It seemed that the moment my vision went dark, it came as it had time and again before. The Wookiees in the village slaughtered. My arms and legs seized by the stormtroopers. The void coming towards me, hearing my voice being called out, though this time when I looked to see where it was coming from, I saw Syymbacca lying on the ground with the other slain Wookiees mouthing my name as blood oozed from his mouth, his eyes staring at me blankly.

I jolted awake wanting to scream, and immediately my head began to throb from the beating I received. I felt around in the caked blood on my head and noticed more cuts and bumps. They must have hit me while I was out, I assumed, and someone must have dragged me towards the bedrolls. I closed my eyes to try and ignore the pain, but any one of my movements just inflamed it. I looked around despite the pain, not seeing Syymbacca anywhere. Worry overcame everything else. I stood, ignoring the dizziness, and went to the first Wookiee I saw to find out what had happened to Syymbacca.

"Where is he, what did they do with him?" I asked desperately, grabbing onto the arms of the starved, matted-hair waste of a once strong Wookiee.

"He has been locked up," the Wookiee reluctantly told me. "Chained to the tower you were working on. He is there still."

I ran to the tower trying not to stumble over my own feet in my concussion induced haze. I saw Syymbacca there as the Wookiee said he would be, but in far worse condition than I feared. Blood ran across his face in tiny rivers and dripped off and onto the ground. His chest moved very slowly and gently with his breathing. I ran to him and tried to get him to respond to reassure me that there was still life in him. His eyelids fluttered and then finally opened. A small and shaky smile grew on his face as he looked at me. He asked me if I was okay. It was more than I could bear. I broke into tears.

"That was a pretty funny," he said, "I got my hits in," he half-heartedly bragged as his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he lost consciousness.

"You, slave! Do not disturb the prisoner. Finish your work detail," a stormtrooper yelled to me as he walked towards us, that damned blaster in hand. "You have twice the work to do and less time to do it in."

I looked at him with wide-eyes, dumbfounded.

"But I need my brother, I can't do it without him," I plead. The stormtrooper didn't understand what I was saying.

"Your brother remains where he is, if there are any delays in your work schedule, he will be the first to face punishment." The stormtrooper stood there with the blaster pointed at my middle, waiting.

I wanted to rip the oppressor's head from his body right then and there. I wished Syymbacca were strong enough to do it. For a brief moment, the desire for revenge overcame the importance of my life, until I looked back to Syymbacca, and stopped myself. I tore my glance away from my bloodied brother, grabbed my tools, and set to work on the rest of the tower as ordered. For all the times Syymbacca had comforted me, I was helpless to comfort him as he hung there, bleeding, dirty, and exhausted. I could only be his savior by taking everything on myself, as he had done for me so many times before without a second thought.

I worked as quickly as I could. Syymbacca, just below bleeding, and me, chained kept me focused. The hate I had for the stormtroopers, for the Empire drove me on, fueling me. I didn't lower myself by the ropes to retrieve more materials as the normal practice. I instead let myself drop from the heights, landing harshly on my feet, and rappelled my way back to the top to continue working. The faster I worked, the angrier I became, and the less the fall hurt my feet and legs, like my rage was protecting me, cushioning my fall and giving me the strength and speed I needed to succeed. The fur on my hands thinned out from the shower of sparks. My eyes were sore from staring into the bright, blue light of the welder as it fused metal-to-metal, adding steel skin to the skeletal structure. I could hear Syymbacca beneath me. He weakly called my name, but I ignored him, desperately trying to finish putting together the obscenity of the Empire's design.

The day was quickly coming to a close. Sleep time was being called, and few of the other work groups of Wookiees were packing it up for the night and had started to watch me from their sleeping area. Two stormtroopers and an officer had gathered near the base of the tower. The officer approached Syymbacca, and the other two watched me like buzzards. I was closing the final gaps in the last panel; with one last weld, and another tuft of fur being singed off, I dropped from the top of the tower, slowing my fall with the rope, and burning my hands on the way down. Careful not to drop the tool again, I stood erect before the two stormtroopers and officer; with the greatest of restraint and feigned respect that I could muster, I declared that I was finished. The officer looked at me with the usual cold stare we all were too familiar with, and then looked to Syymbacca.

"Release him," said the officer, and then he looked to me. "Punishment will not be so forgiving the next time. Remember that Wookiee," he said flippantly, and walked away.

The two stormtroopers released Syymbacca from his binders, and let him fall to the ground, and then they followed their superior. I tried to catch my brother, but didn't realize how weak I was, and I collapsed underneath his weight. I struggled to lift him from the ground, and dragged him to the sleeping area onto his bedroll. I did the best I could to clear the caked blood from his face with a torn rag and some of my ration water. He looked at me with his one uninjured gray eye, and smiled despite his pain and weariness.

"Thank you sister, I am sorry I made you do that alone." He trailed off to a murmur, closed his eyes and slept. I finished cleaning him up and laid my head down on his chest, unable to hold myself up any longer. I closed my eyes. I could still see the violent blue-flame of the welder burnt into the darkness of my closed eyes. Perhaps, I thought, this will drown out the dream for one night. It was not to be so.

The dream came again. I saw my family slain and bleeding out on the wooden floor of our village. The void came towards me, and again the stormtroopers held me in place despite my struggling. I heard my name being called louder on the wind. When I turned to look Syymbacca was no longer there, all the bodies were gone. When I woke I felt somewhat comforted, but had a newfound worry about the meaning of the change in the dream. The bodies were gone. But where my mother, grandfather, my brother, and the other Wookiees in the village lay dead, there was only emptiness. I shook my head and pushed the thoughts away.

"I must be going crazy," I told myself.

Morning came and I woke first. I lifted Syymbacca's head onto my lap, and stroked his fur to wake him. The swelling in his eye had relaxed. The cuts on his face were red, irritated, but quickly closing. He was always a fast healer. Syymbacca forced himself up and stretched his limbs to ready himself. He was able to look upon me with both eyes, and as always his warm smile grew upon his lips to greet me for the dawn of a new day, a new day that quickly progressed into our daily routine of work.

Tower after tower, and day after day. The only reprieve was that the weeks passed by without incident. That was until the raising of the final tower was nearly completed. We were hurriedly finishing up the final tower of the complex, nearing our due time. Syymbacca had recovered fully despite the poor conditions we lived in. He worked almost merrily, more for my benefit than his own; he never showed fear, or doubt. He retained his easygoing demeanor, and was confident without worry of consequence. I kept my worry inside, not wishing to stir up the ever-caring guardian within my brother to further protect and encourage me about our dire circumstances.

"Just a few more welds up here," Syymbacca said from atop the tower, as I was busy finishing up the final welds a few panels below.

Night was coming. The clouds growing darker were some of the subtle indications of the changing of sentinels in the sky on that planet, which seemed to never see daylight. We finished up the welding, and started to lower ourselves from the top of the tower when a stormtrooper yelled at us from a short distance across the field to line up. My hands immediately began to tremble. I was so concerned with completing my own task that the thought of a different work team not completing their own duties was the furthest from my mind. Syymbacca told me it was going to be okay, and told me to go ahead, that he would be by my side no matter what happens.

The stormtrooper held his blaster on us, and herded us to the line where the rest of the Wookiees already stood. I wringed my sore, burnt, hands in anticipation, and felt the feeling of foreboding as my senses stood on end. I looked up into the sky, as if expecting the very clouds to come crashing down on me. It started to rain, and the spongy ground hungrily soaked up the moisture. We took our place in line and routinely looked to the ground knowing that another murder was coming.

The same Imperial Colonel that presided over each execution stood before us again, always arrogant, hateful, and impeccable.

"Yet another delay," he spat. "Perhaps we are being too lax in our efforts to persuade you to work your best for the Empire. So instead today, there will be two punishments carried out, and as the delays increase, so will the punishments. The more that fail, the more that will die."

My chin started to quiver uncontrollably. I had seen enough death of my kin, but was paralyzed by fear to do anything about it. More Wookiees had been arriving with unknown sorts of equipment that remained in locked crates away from our eyes, and the already grim mood among the Imperials guarding us had changed in a way I could not yet explain.

The Colonel then made his selections.

"You and you." The officer pointed to a Wookiee on my right at the end of the line and then he pointed to me. I jerked my head up to look at the Colonel in disbelief. Before I could mutter a pleading word, or cry out, before the stormtrooper guards could react, Syymbacca broke from the line and rushed the Colonel. Syymbacca knocked him to the ground and set his weight upon him, grasping for the Colonel's throat with his powerful hands. Syymbacca roared, echoing throughout the jungle. The Colonel couldn't scream, as Syymbacca started to squeeze the shocked Imperial's throat with his great strength summoned up, as if in waiting all that time to save me from the fate that the Colonel had chosen me for.

I cried out Syymbacca's name and started to go to him to stop him. I didn't see the surrounding stormtroopers leveling their blasters at Syymbacca. A blinding flash of red blaster bolts ripped through Syymbacca's body, an onslaught that went on seemingly forever to my eyes. I watched Syymbacca as he was hit by bolt after bolt, his arm, his leg, his chest, and then his head. His bulging muscles went lax, and his roar went silent. It was as if I could see his soul leaving his body. He slumped over on top of the Imperial Colonel who then pushed Syymbacca's body from him to fall over limp into the ever-thickening mud. The Colonel's hands quivered, his voice shaky.

"Kill her!" he yelled hoarsely, jabbing his finger at me in final judgment. I spared no thought for anything. I ran. I broke from the line, and past the Colonel, past Syymbacca's now lifeless body, kicking up mud in my wake. I ran. I scarcely noticed the bolts striking dangerously close to my body. The world around me was a blur as I sought escape into the jungle, not caring for what was behind the curtain of trees and heavy brush, not even taking notice of the laser bolts that pierced my calf, my thigh and my shoulder. I kept running. Jumping over dead logs, and roots reaching up from the ground like tentacles to impede me. Ducking under thick hanging vines, and ignoring the feral sounds that could always be heard from the ungainly sanctuary of my prison, my prison no longer. I ran until all thought left me, until my chest felt like it was ready to cave in. My breathing coming in shuddering, wracking gasps. My tears became a veil between the world and me as I kept running, until I finally collapsed in the mulch.

I tried to catch my breath as my sobs shook my body. My head swam with thousands of thoughts and memories. My heart ached with pain for my beloved brother and I felt like I had been struck by all of the blaster rounds that killed so many of my own. My entire body felt like tangled mass of snakes biting at each other, writhing with one another, desperately trying to be free, but trapped in agony. All went black. I dreamt nothing. The dream didn't come to pour salt into my wounds. It let me pass into unconsciousness, to leave me in morbid peace with my reality. I don't know how long I lay there until consciousness came to greet me at the tip of a spear.

Chapter 3

I was startled out of my sleep by the incessant jabbing of a sharp spear at my mid section. I looked up to see the wielder. My vision cleared through the dried tears after a few moments, and I saw a strange looking woman. Her face was tinted with black and reddish-purple paint in a spidery design that grasped at her face from her hairline. Her hair was braided and adorned with many sorts of trinkets, and bones, and other bizarre accessories from the wild. The look in her eyes was fierce, determined, but not cruel. She wore tatters of clothing made from animal skins. She spoke the common dialect.

"Looks like this one made it. A female as well. What shall I do?" she said to her companion who I couldn't see.

"Gethzerion will wish to see it," said the hidden one.

"Trap her wrists and bring her along," said another, what I assumed was another similar female, and my assumption was proven correct as both leapt from a gathering of thick brush with a spear of the same craft as the first in their hands.

The strange female pulled me up from the ground like a weed. I had little choice but to follow her lead, and I stood before her. My body ached. I could feel blood caked and dried on my leg and arm. I hadn't realized I had been shot until that moment. Not that I cared at that same moment. They prodded me along before them as we walked silently towards wherever the strange people were leading me. I had not the energy or will to defy them.

"Syymbacca is dead," I said in my mind. I wanted to cry. I wished they had just left me in my grave in the jungle, let it be my resting place, and I would've cried until the sedimentary feeders claimed me.

They didn't leave me. We walked for what must have been hours. They prodded and pushed me all the way, and said nothing until we left the jungle and entered into a clearing much like the one where the Imperial prison was being built. Small huts made of branches, clay, and other gatherings of the jungle dotted the small, well-hidden valley. The mountains rose around the entire area just beyond the trees and thick vine-mesh. The path from where we entered from was thick with foliage, and the ground was covered with moss that didn't retain the imprint of our steps.

We walked into the center of the small village. There were several other females, all human looking females, all dressed and painted very similar to the three who found me. They all watched me with curious, and a few vicious stares. The only sounds were from the surrounding forest, for none of the human women spoke. Breaking the silence among them was a voice from the largest hut that stood at the apex of the clearing. A deep, melodic, but unmistakably female voice spoke from within.

"Bring her to me," she said.

The spear wielding female guards did the voice's bidding without hesitation. The voice felt strange to me. I heard more than what she said, as if a kinder, softer voice spoke in hushed tones at the same time, like there was someone else speaking with her in translation welcoming me, speaking only to me. We reached the doorway. I tried to peer in to find the owner of the voices. She spoke again.

"Unbind her and leave us."

Doing her bidding, the guards unbound my wrists and pushed me inside the hut. In the far corner of the hut sat a dark figure cross-legged, sitting near a small fire that I could not see until I had entered; the shadows acted as a wall between me and what was inside. The woman before the fire looked up to me. Her face paint was similar but more extravagant. She wore finer clothing compared to the rest. She wore a long dress in different hues of purple, black, and white. Her hair was adorned with equally similar trinkets, and unknown collections. Her eyes are what set her apart from the others. Her deep, black pupils like wells of nothingness, were surrounded by red as if offering a glimpse of her life's blood. She looked at me with the gaze a predator looks upon its prey before it seizes it. Her smile desired something else, but it was kind, and inviting.

She raised a hand with a wind-like grace, beckoning me to sit beside her. Her nails were long and dark, further adding to her predatory look. I sat before her next to the fire holding my hand over my shoulder, keeping my leg as straight as possible to not reopen my wounds. She lowered her hand to her lap and spoke. Her voice enthralled me. It wrapped me in its comforting embrace, and sang me into its dream.

"I know who you are, Wookiee, dear Makaashyya. You have finally come to me, behest, after the death of your brother at the hands of the oppressors. You come into my care and protection to set you upon your path to your destiny. A path we both share."

My eyes lulled in my head as she spoke; her melodic voice was a vaporous drug. It conjured up warmth inside me that I could not explain. It seemed to wash away the pain of my wounds both seen and unseen, but all visible to her. She spoke as if she knew all that I had encountered, and knew the answers to my questions.

"You have a light within you, child. That is why I have called you here. I can help you find this light, to nurture it, to help it grow. I can give it to you. To right all wrongs, and seek your justice."

I was calmed, and on the edge of sleep, my eyes half closed, but unable to look away from the woman. Her power made me forget what had just happened. She continued.

"Do you not see things my child? Do you not dream of things strange, and perhaps terrifying to you?"

"Yes." I nodded lazily. "Yes, I do. How do you know of this?" So I thought, but did not speak. She heard me nonetheless.

"You learn quickly, as I suspected." Her thoughts entered my mind, welcomed as a savior.

"Who are you? What is this place?" I asked in thought.

"I am Gethzerion, Nightsister, leader of these people, people of the secret magic, the Force as you will come to know of it," she answered.

"The Force? I have heard of it in stories told to us by the Elders of my people."

"Yes. Most people are aware of it, just by a different name. It has guided you here with subtle and gentle pushes amidst the horror around you. It has been calling to you, and with my help it has led you here."

She held me for a moment with her gaze and then continued.

"There is much you can learn here, much I can teach you. All you must do is accept, and I will give it to you."

"What do you require of me?" I could hear chaos in her mind, but muted, dull, hidden from me.

"I require you to open your mind to me, and to be my willing apprentice. You must abide by our laws and our ways against a common enemy." Images of the Empire swirled in my mind. Gethzerion swallowed them up hungrily. The bombing of my village, so many lives taken, slaves, Syymbacca, my dream. My head grew hot. I bared my teeth in anger.

"Yes," she thought, "That enemy, and greater still of the same yoke of whom you do not know."

I didn't want to wait any longer. I was taken.

"I accept what terms you offer. I desire to avenge my brother, and my family, and all of my people to rid us of the oppressors. Tell me, teach me, mold me into the weapon to reap my justice." I pleaded with her in my mind, not noticing the tears welling up in my eyes. She nodded, and with a wave of her hand over the fire she snuffed it out like a candle.

"Now go. You need care and rest. The truth and your desire are forthcoming. Go with the Force, child." Her voice trailed off into silence, and she disappeared again into the shadows.

A Nightsister, a teen child by human reckoning waited for me at the entrance of the hut. She guided me to another hut like the smaller ones that rose to honor Gethzerion's larger one. The Nightsister tended to my wounds, cleaning them out with warm water that had been boiling over the small fire in my hut. My flesh was raw, torn, but not infected. She plastered the wounds shut with a strange paste that smelled foul, and then wrapped them in cloth bandages, and then helped me to remove the slaver collar. I was given a plate of food, and left to myself. I occasionally looked outside while I ate ravenously, and looking for Nightsister guards, or my fear that stormtroopers would come breaking from the forest in their towering AT-STs, or firebombing the trees with TIE fighters.

I pushed the empty plate away, wiped my mouth on my arm, and rested my head against the wall of the hut. I thought it impossible that I could have actually felt comfortable after what had happened, but I was still under Gethzerion's powerful influence.

I drifted into an uneasy sleep thinking of dear Syymbacca, and the dream met me again. I was held fast by stormtroopers to offer me up to the approaching void. I looked and saw my village, my family, all of them lying upon the ground spilling their blood onto the wooden floor. I faced the void. The wind around me pulsed and throbbed, like I was trapped in a vacuum. The throbbing drowned out the calling of my name from the void. When I looked back to my family one last time before the darkness consumed me, they all stood around me as faceless figures shrouded in shadow, their heads hanging low. I jerked myself awake wanting to scream, but I came to my senses and realized where I was. Dathomir had always been dark and overcast with clouds threatening to storm, so I couldn't tell what time it was, but figured it to be day by the coming and going among the Nightsisters outside. I watched them from my makeshift bed made of soft leaves and straw. Then I felt a shudder in the ground however faint but noticeable.

"They are coming," I said to myself in near panic. I limped from my hut ready to break and run into the forest when I saw them. Thundering in from the jungle came towering beasts that walked partially on all fours. Their segmented, armored hide was in different colors of brown, green, and black. They had short pudgy clawless legs, long muscular arms, with four fingers that ended in frightening talons. Four of them came running in from the forest, each with a spear wielding Nightsister on its back. The beasts had Gamorrean like faces, with beady pitch black eyes that reminded me of the soulless void in my dream. Their gaping mouths were filled with irregular spiked teeth. The beasts looked as fearsome as anything a Wookiee could ever experience on Kashyyyk.

They rode into the center of the village, throwing up dirt in their wake, making the ground rumble with their steps, and stopped where Gethzerion stood waiting for them. I found it amazing how they had tamed such terrifying things. The Nightsisters gracefully leapt from their mounts and fell like leaves before the hulking beasts came to a stop. The Nightsisters spoke to Gethzerion in hushed tones, and then Gethzerion dismissed them. They mounted their beasts and ran back into the forest. The heavy footfalls of the creatures shook the ground as the jungle swallowed them up. Gethzerion looked to me and noticed my perplexed, and almost frightened stare. She glided over to me, as her body didn't sway in the normal motion when she walked like gravity had no affect on her, her presence was intoxicating.

"Rancors, great beasts of the forest of Dathomir. We have a special kinship with them. They understand us, we understand them, and we benefit each other. It is a talent among we Nightsisters, a talent you may be worthy of learning in the future." She turned and started walking. "Come with me, Makaashyya," she said over her shoulder.

I started walking after her, trying to ignore the pain in my leg and shoulder.

"Are you going to begin my teaching?" I asked. Gethzerion looked at me out of the corner of her eye with a smirk on her face.

"Ambitious, eager. You have desire, and the anger, and hate to drive it. Cultivate that. It is your first step to learning who you truly are, and in letting the force into yourself." She kept walking, and I followed.

We walked through the village, and into the jungle. It seemed as if only seconds passed when we started walking, and I noticed we were deep into the trees and brush. Time seemed to hasten. The ground moved faster under our feet, the foliage was a blur. I felt strange, like I had just wakened from what was for once, a pleasant dream.

I was again fully embraced by her enchantment before she spoke again.

"This world is strong in the Force, full of life, full of the dark side of the Force. It thrives by doing what is in its nature to do. To survive, to defend against enemies, or to crush enemies, or be crushed by the stronger." Her tone was careful, melodic and she used words that were in my mind.

We stopped walking, and by that time we were surrounded by foliage. The trees reached into the sky and were covered in parasitic vines, creating a spidery canopy that acted as a shield to the elements. The sounds of the forest that I had feared at the labor camp echoed in all directions around us, but I wasn't afraid.

"I must start at the beginning," Gethzerion continued. "Just as we were born, you must be reborn again, and tear away the remnants of your old self." Her mouth stopped moving, but she continued to speak. She entered my mind, as I eagerly wanted her to.

"A Jedi Knight named Allya was cast into exile by her order, the Jedi Order, because she posed a threat to their power. She made the Force known to us. They feared her strength, just as the Empire wisely fears us. Allya showed the ways of the Force to our ancestors, a tradition that has continued for hundreds of years. We are the daughters of Allya. There are nine different clans, none of which we the Nightsisters ally ourselves with. They fear our power as well."

I let my eyes lull in my head. Her voice was so comforting. Her mind had an overpowering affect on me, taking away all the pain and replacing it with warmth. I spoke slowly, finding it difficult to speak clearly.

"Do they have the same power as you?"

"Yes they do," she answered. "Though they hold themselves back in pursuit of a false ideal, that things can be at peace, or that ambition is somehow evil, or wrong, that vengeance is against the will of the Force."

She paused and looked to the ground in contemplation of her next words. I couldn't see her mind as clearly as she saw mine. She looked back to me with her burning eyes.

"How does life grow and thrive if not through conflict? How do the great trees that cover a planet grow from a seed without the desire to reach the sky? How does one attain worthiness to survive if not acting upon others as they have acted upon her?" Her words spoke sense, either with her power to enthrall and captivate, or I truly did believe she was telling me the truth.

I was aware of her hypnotic power, and in fleeting dissent I asked, "You still bend your will upon me. Do you not have faith in your judgment to not let your words stand alone?" I said to her mind. She burst out into laughter, which made me uneasy.

"You are wise beyond your years, Makaashyya. It is the very truth in my words that enthralls you by no will of my own. Take what you will and do away with what you will. I am merely your guide." She opened her hands in supplication.

Part of me wanted to resist, most of me did not. My attempt of defiance was tepid.

"Why do you wish to guide me? Are there so few within your clan to nourish?" I wanted to be skeptical, untrusting, yet the weak wall of my will crumbled.

"Few know of the pain you bear. I know your pain well; as mine own has nurtured me, so shall yours. You alone have a power beyond that of the others. Perhaps beyond mine. With my teachings, the teachings of the dark side of the Force, will you be able to set on your path."

"What are my first steps?" I asked curiously.

"You are taking them with me now just as we walk through this forest. Your training must be done in secret, or others will be jealous, but for now let us return to the village."

We wandered in a large circular path through the forest and back towards the village. I paid no attention to the predatory roars and growls around me, nor did I think of the Imperials that were still on that planet. I focused all of my thought upon the feelings around me, and to Gethzerion's mind.

We entered Gethzerion's tent together. No fire burned in the center. No other Nightsisters came to the entrance to disturb us. We sat, cross-legged upon the ground. The scent permeating the hut was sweet, and moist like fertile soil. After sitting and dwelling on my overwhelmed senses, and Gethzerion's power of enchantment over me, I let the memory of Syymbacca drift into my mind. His comforting smile stretched across the landscape of my thoughts. His protective nature, and unmitigated devotion to me pulled me deeper into my subconscious. Then, and against my will, and with Gethzerion's subtle coaxing, I thought of his death. The blaster bolts tore through him, his blood splattered my body. I felt as if I was having the dream again. Gethzerion spoke, and startled me from my daydream. I opened my eyes.

The Nightsister sat across from me glaring, her legs crossed. Gethzerion's voice still held me in her thrall.

"Do not fear your memories. Embrace those memories. Revel in them and let them fuel your hate, and you will gain strength to overcome. That is the dark side. Repeat after me. Hear the words, feel them and let them empower you, my child. This is the way of the dark side."

I was eager to obey.

"Peace is a lie, there is only Passion." Gethzerion's red encircled pupils burned with a power that I did not understand, and feared. It was as if Gethzerion was looking right through me, burning a hole through me with the fiery embers in her eyes.

"Through passion, I gain strength, through strength, I gain power, through power, I gain victory, through victory, my chains are broken. The Force shall set me free. Do you understand these words, Makaashyya?"

I repeated the words, slowly and deliberately. I let the images of my dead family flow through my mind, like the bursting of a damn flooding the valley. The waters that were held back flowed red with their blood; my hatred drifted within it. Gethzerion closed her eyes, and I followed her lead, followed her guidance.

"Repeat them again, Makaashyya," she demanded.

I spoke the words in my mind, my memories came to me at Gethzerion's bidding, and she fully entered my mind and stoked the fire within me.

"Again," her voice cracked like lightning, echoing in my mind. Hours passed by. Days it seemed as I fell into my self, searching for the power that Gethzerion spoke of. Then, the dream came to me. No longer a nightmare. I embraced it as I would have embraced Syymbacca.

"Claim me," I thought. "Claim me if you can."

The stormtroopers grasped my arms, though their grip was feeble. The void coming towards me no longer frightened me. I wanted it to come, to cover me in its comforting shadow. I turned from it, and stood there to let it engulf me as I watched my family bleed onto the ground. I no longer bothered to listen to the voice upon the wind. Just before the void won, I woke, still cross-legged, and sitting before my master. Gethzerion was gone. My head was hot, the blood pumped hard through my veins as my heart raced. I wanted to fight, to rend, and to tear apart anything near me. The hate felt empowering, warm and it began to fill me with the strength of the vengeance of my dead family. I clenched my fists and bared my teeth and screamed out Syymbacca's name in rage in the darkness. The dark side welled up inside my being, its power rippled through my soul. The hut shuddered, the loose dirt on the ground started to move from me as if repelled by my hate, and then all went black.

I woke in my own hut, food sat beside my bed. It was dark outside, and no one walked about. My fur was clean, my wounds were freshly bandaged, and I did not ache as I thought I would, considering the previous two days. I had forgotten my hunger through the day and it made itself known as dryness in the back of my throat, and a dull ache in my stomach. I ate without care or fear of the unknown for the first time since I had left Kashyyyk. I pushed the now empty plate aside with satisfaction, and was startled to see Gethzerion standing at the entrance when I looked up.

"Did you sleep well?" she asked. I nodded, feeling embarrassed that I had fainted earlier. Gethzerion knew.

"Embarrassment is a weakness; you are above such petty concerns. The power that you are learning to wield comes with a physical price that those beneath you could scarcely pay, much less understand."

I looked into Gethzerion's eyes. More than ever before they burned, and left their scorched mark on my memory, and for the first time I could just see darkened, spidery veins at the corners of her eyes like a cancer. She quickly turned her head and looked down at the ground to break my gaze.

"You still have much to learn, Makaashyya. Come with me." Gethzerion turned and walked away from the entrance. I followed her, eager for her to fill my mind with her thoughts and teachings. Out again into the forest we walked. We stopped in another clearing different from the last, but also surrounded by trees.

"You are correct, Makaashyya, few are able to grasp what I will teach you." She reached her hand out to the ground, and up into her palm flew a small rock carried by the Force. "Exerting your mind over the will of others is a fundamental lesson. Not just beings, but objects as well, as you did last night in my hut, nearly destroying it." She smirked. "Feel the Force around you; let it into you and to mix with your being. Your rage and hatred are the point of ignition."

Then the small rock in her hand flew through the air as if powered by a thruster, and then it embedded itself into a giant tree in front of us, exploding the bark of the tree on impact.

"That was merely a trifle, Makaashyya, but a necessary step, learning to control."

With a furrowed brow giving physical being to my doubt, I picked up an equally small rock from the ground, and held it in my hand. I focused my thoughts on it, as if trying to bend it to my will. I thought of Syymbacca, of my family, of all the other Wookiees still slaving, and the ones who were probably punished for my escape, all of the rage burned inside of me, and then the rock exploded into dust in my hand. Gethzerion didn't flinch from the powdered rock. She just stood there. I cleared my eyes and saw the look of rage in hers.

"Control, my young apprentice." She spoke with a quiver of restrained anger in her voice. "Even a raging storm is controlled or it would come apart under its own forces. Again," she commanded. I picked up another rock from the ground, half a fist in size, and held it in my hand. I found the same energy that was quickly becoming familiar to me, and focused it from the rock to the tree as if a line of wire were connecting the two. I summoned the same feelings again, quicker than before. Obeying my command the rock shot from my hand at blinding speed into the tree; it grazed off of the side of the trunk tearing off a section of bark, and ricocheted into the brush.

Gethzerion smiled.

Chapter 4

I spent almost six years in training with Gethzerion. Day after day she took me into the jungle, and ending the day with the finer details while in her hut in meditation. Time and again she made me cast rocks at blinding speed into targets, coming closer and closer to my mark than before with each try. The trees in the training area where she trained me each day were riddled with holes, and increasingly larger sections of trees were blown apart as my skills grew. Gethzerion taught me how to use the Force to quicken my movements, to run through the forest at blinding speeds. She taught me how to leap over boulders and felled logs several times my height, and anything else that got in my way, landing with all of the gentleness of a whisper. My abilities grew through the years. Faster and faster I sped through the forest and came to know it, not fearing the dangers within, knowing that I was now the danger.

I learned to pick up boulders larger and larger, and eventually bigger than I with the Force, and send them flying like a missile, toppling an entire tree with the strength of the Force within me. Gethzerion helped me expand the power in my mind to exert my will over others. She taught me to look into other's minds and read their thoughts, putting myself into their bodies, seeing what they saw. She taught me to obscure their thoughts and issue commands to the weak of mind.

Then came one of the greatest lessons to a user of the dark side. Not the power of mind, or the strength of the will, but the fiery blaze of a lightsaber. It was Gethzerion's lightsaber. The only one to exist within the tribe, that only she knew how to wield. Slowly I mastered the grace and technique, and learned the different styles to wield it. Gethzerion trained me day after day during the almost six years since I had escaped from the labor camp. The dreams also came night after night in those years as if to train me in my sleep as well to harden my heart, temper my hate in the fires of the Force, guiding what I believed, what Gethzerion helped me to believe was my destiny.

Gethzerion integrated me into the tribe of Nightsisters and taught me their ways. I was hesitantly accepted as one of them. It was not acceptance of me, but fear of Gethzerion that quashed any argument. I didn't care what they thought or how they felt. I was completely devoted to my cause. I was hungry for the dark side, a hunger that Gethzerion satiated. But over the years, I became more eager, more ambitious, and impatient. I began to try Gethzerion's patience. My discontent fueled her increasing distrust of me, a distrust that existed within the dark side of the Force itself, and the nature to turn upon itself. My desire to know more than she was willing to teach wore on her. I didn't care.

The void had by then all but claimed me during the dream. I danced in the event horizon, no longer restrained by stormtroopers. They too now lay beside my dead family, the blood pouring from their bodies just the same. My name could no longer be heard as I embraced the comfort of the blackness that still hungrily engulfed me. Each day I woke feeling renewed in my desire, and eager to have more of the power Gethzerion had shown me.

So came my day of reckoning. Gethzerion stood waiting for me within her hut beckoning me to enter.

"You have done well, my apprentice," she spoke. "Your hate for the Empire has made you strong and you have grasped the teachings of the dark side quicker that I could have imagined, which is fortunate. Now is the time, Makaashyya," she said in an almost mocking tone, my impatient desire for more having tried her patience over the past years. It was unsettling. She came closer to me speaking softly, conspiratorially.

"The very prison you were forced to build will be your proving ground. Soon the Emperor will quarantine this planet. I have seen it. The order as already been given. The Emperor fears us, and rightly so. Tomorrow we will lay siege to the prison. We cannot allow the Emperor to cut us off from the rest of the galaxy. We must secure our passage from this place and continue to fight from beyond the boundaries of this planet. Tomorrow will require all that I have taught to you these past years, my apprentice."

With that, she bade me to meditate on the coming battle alone. I went to my hut at her command. I couldn't hold back a smile as I sat down upon my bed. Finally I would seek my revenge against the oppressors. My family, dear Syymbacca and all of my people would inflict pain and death on the Empire through my hands.

Gethzerion spent the rest of the day in planning with her Nightsisters. I spent my day alone in the darkness of my hut as my master commanded. I fought with feelings of anxiousness, wringing my hands in excitement. I also felt repulsed by the thought of seeing the gray soulless prison again. I wondered what they had done with Syymbacca's body. Over the years I had let go of my regret of escaping into the forest, but a part of me wished I had stayed behind to fall with my beloved brother; I wished I knew what they had done to him. The thought of the oppressors desecrating his remains sickened me. I had to push those feelings away. I had lived for a reason.

"Today is the beginning," I told myself.

I paced the floor of my hut reviewing in my mind over and over all that I had seen, heard, and learned those past years. Finally retribution was at hand, and I would have my chance at inflicting the revenge I had so desired against the evil Empire.

"Make them pay," I told myself. "Make them pay for all they have taken. The trees they destroyed, my people whose spirits they shattered, and killed." The very construction they forced us to do would become our freedom. I felt at that moment that I could bring down the Empire on my own. I felt that not even the Emperor could stand against me. I had become so convinced of my own power to the point of flaunting it, foolishly, almost recklessly. How unprepared I was.

It was the night before the assault. The subtle changes in the atmosphere, the cooling of the air, the chirping of nocturnal creatures, and the changing of energies within the very soil told me. With my newfound intimacy I had with my surroundings through the Force I no longer sought out the sun hidden behind an impenetrable blanket of cloud, the predators of the jungle were no longer hidden in the shadows. Their minds spoke loudly, and I was no longer afraid. I had undergone the coming of age ritual like no other Wookiee before me. The dark side had matured me, hastily tempered me. I closed my eyes and drifted. I beckoned for the dream to come to me again, but it did not. Once being the bane of my sleep, it refused to come when called, when expected, and hoped for. An omen that made me feel uneasy about the coming of the day.

I woke with the rising of the sun. No light pillared into my hut, and the night chill was still on the wind, but I could feel the star's life-giving presence in the sky. I went out into the small village. Nightsisters were stirring, dressing themselves, and readying their rancor mounts. I stood at the entrance and breathed the air. Just as I had forgotten what freedom once was while being an Imperial slave, I had forgotten what being a slave was like, having lived among the Nightsisters, tutored by Gethzerion. I felt as free as I ever had before. The Nightsisters were clothed and armed for battle, spears in hand. The four monstrous rancors were covered in pieces of carbon scorched, and claw raked, scrap-metal, some pieces still bearing the Imperial insignia strapped about their hulking bodies. Gethzerion stepped from her hut like a ruling Empress.

She spoke to me first.

"At my side," she beckoned wordlessly. I went to her side as she wished. She then turned and started walking towards the surrounding jungle, and I was at her side, the right hand of death, vengeance walking along side absolution. I felt invincible.

Soon we had reached the tree line about a mile from the prison. A construction site no longer, the prison had been fully built during my self-imposed exile from slave labor. All of the towers had guards posted within, manning laser cannons. The look of the finished guard towers, once our toil, stung me to look upon. The main wall connected each tower to one another in a hexagonal shape, the prisoner's caged area extended beyond the building creating another hexagonal shape in mimicry.

It was quiet. Not even the creatures made a noise. The gray walls of the prison housed the main command structure. The three towers that faced towards us had laser cannon emplacements. The white armor of stormtroopers could easily be seen in contrast against the dull colors of the prison, and the dark painting of the sky. A large gate closed off the prison from the outside at the apex of the hexagon. Just beyond the gate, a heavy blast door. Along the top of the wall the three white wings of an Imperial shuttle could be seen sticking up over the wall, like teeth in the gaping maw of the prison.

Gethzerion and I, and the rest of the small clan of Nightsisters stood at the tree line. The main structure of the prison was more of a detachment base. The actual prison was in the open air surrounded by two rows of barbed and electrified fencing. Stormtrooper guards paced back and forth along the perimeter of the towering wall like grim reapers in their skeletal armor. Many Wookiees could be seen mingling about, none that I recognized, but also other species from other planets, even humans. The prisoners wore dark gray clothing all of similar style, making them difficult to see.

The barracks that housed the prisoners from the elements were a shock to see. It pained me to remember our harsh nights in the open air exposed to wind, and cold, and rain. Such little concern for the labor, so much more concern for the prisoners, it only helped to enrage me further. Though the prisoners were free to come and go about the yard, as it was when I worked there, the thoughts of escape must have been little comfort considering the teeth and claws of animals that roamed just a mile into the forest, though still too close to their relatively safe prison bed. On foot with no protection they would be little more than a warm, running meal for a more than formidable predator.

"A prison, through and through," I thought.

It was not just the local predators. From around the corner at first obscured from our view by wall and tower, walking with a lumbering gait, was the two-legged Imperial predator, the AT-ST. A two-legged, ungainly-looking, metal beast, and it too was slowly walking the perimeter as their smaller counterparts, moving its great, box-like head back and forth with an oddly organic, but clearly mechanical motion. Aside from the thundering footfalls of the walkers, the grounds leading up to the prison were calm and quiet. There was no hurried extraction, no guards packing up gear, no disturbance what so ever. I had expected there to be chaos not just another day on the job.

"They must be unaware of the withdrawal, and there's only one shuttle remaining," Gethzerion whispered to me. The Nightsisters had spread out along the tree line. They watched for Gethzerion's command with unyielding eyes. The malevolent Nightsister with her burning eyes looked up and down the thin ranks of her army, and nodded to each side; like tusked panthers, they broke from the trees in a crouched, blindingly fast prowl towards the prison wall. I almost called out for fear of them being seen, but to my amazement they reached the wall undetected, and just as a walker passed them by.

"Another lesson you have yet to learn, my apprentice," said Gethzerion, reading my thoughts without my knowledge. The excitement of the long awaited raid had sharpened her senses to a fine point. She controlled the Force, and her Nightsisters as a consummate master. With an arrogant, almost hateful smirk, Gethzerion started her short trek to the prison wall to join the rest of the clan. I needed no order to follow. Behind us the mounted rancors gathered just on the edge of the trees where we had been standing just out of sight.

The guards paced rather lazily and with disinterest along the catwalk on top of the wall. Guards posted in the cannon towers seemed to have little interest in watching the surrounding valley; they instead talked amongst themselves. Steadily, like scaling a mountain at the edge of a chasm, we shuffled along the wall in a single column, Gethzerion in the lead, and I just behind her. Looking straight up from the bottom of the wall the stormtroopers were hidden from our view, but we could still hear the scuffle of their armored boots. Gethzerion looked to me with a commanding glance and continued skirting her way along the wall towards the prison barracks. I was surprised how easy it was to walk unnoticed to the prison yard. It was as if the Imperials had grown complacent from inactivity.

I looked upwards at a guard tower as we crossed it. I recognized it. We had built it, Syymbacca and I. The images of my brother ran through my mind in like flashing stars streaking across the sky; the memories started to pour forth again as I looked at the towers. Revenge had always been in my mind, but the image of Syymbacca did not always stand side by side with my intentions during those years of training. I stopped for a moment and let my mind wander about my dear brother, and how he bravely fell to protect me. Gethzerion threw me a fiery look, knowing that I had become distracted. I promised myself that I would shed further tears for my beloved brother after I had avenged his death.

After a little while we finally reached the edge of the prison wall as it connected to the double layer of fencing that kept prisoners inside. I couldn't hear the hum of electricity, but I knew it was there; it made my fur stand on end. With a little extension, I could also sense the four mounted rancors that stood waiting with their Nightsister riders, waiting for the sign to attack. The two fences were of equal height, thirty feet straight up. The very top of the fences curved inward to prevent climbers, but it seemed like a cruel joke being played upon the imprisoned since electricity would have fried any challengers to a crisp. The floor of the entire prison was built into was eight feet of duracrete. The doubts of our assault began to fill my mind when Gethzerion shot up into the air in one powerful leap, and landed with no more sound than the flapping of a bird's wings on the other side of the double fencing. In turn the Nightsisters followed her as flawlessly, one by one until only I remained on the other side. They looked at me for a moment and just walked off, leaving me to stand there in awe of the awesome feat they had just displayed, which I hadn't mastered more than fifteen feet.

"Jump or you will be left behind, Makaashyya," said Gethzerion with finality. I couldn't tolerate being stranded there with the damned Imperials in the cursed prison.

"How dare she leave me here to rot!" The anger grew within me in a blinding flash until I could feel the pulse in my temples. My hands shook with rage and I let go of inhibition and I sprang from the ground as hard as I could, letting the dark side fuel me, and before I realized it I had jumped over the fence and landed not so gracefully upon the hard floor. My bumbling was met with looks of distain from Gethzerion and her Nightsisters.

I had imagined the assault on the prison to be my moment to shine. Never did I think I would have been so clumsy. It was a cruel blow to my newfound pride, but there was no stirring of guards or prisoners, so we continued through the compound to the rear doors of the prison.

The doors were closed tight. Gethzerion neglected to explain how she planned to penetrate the prison. Though I had helped to build the prison, what did I really know about it? Not a lot apparently. A few towers we had constructed, but much had been built over the years since my escape. The layout of the interior I hadn't the faintest clue about, nor did I know of any of the technology that operated the blight. I contemplated our options, trying to search my mind for any knowledge, any observation when I was an Imperial slave that could help. I chided myself for not having paid closer attention; I considered myself foolish. Just then a horrible buzzing alarm broke the silence of the prison camp. I darted my head back and forth to see what had happened. The yelling and hollering began, prisoners screamed in defiance, stormtroopers yelled commands and threats, and a few blaster bolts were loosed as a warning.

Gethzerion yelled her orders.

"Makaashyya and I will try to find a way into the prison, the rest of you release the prisoners. Kill any Imperial you see." My heart started racing, the excitement and fear of the inevitability of combat pulsed in my veins like spice. I followed Gethzerion's lead as she made her way to the doors that separated the prisoner's yard from the prison itself. All around me I could hear the chaos growing louder, prisoners screamed for vengeance like a death knell to the Imperials.

"Maybe the prisoners will revolt," I hoped. "They will hold no more prisoners, and once we get into the air we can firebomb the scourge. Vindication has come, Imperials," I thought to myself, and imagined the steaming white armor containing charred Imperials within, like a bizarre kind of shellfish.

Gethzerion stopped; her feet solidly in place and I almost ran into her. Three Imperial stormtroopers emerged from the gate and blocked our path. Unsure of what to do, I froze behind Gethzerion. Before the stormtroopers could level their rifles at us, the crack of ignition and an arching bow of red blurred my vision. When I blinked to clear my eyes, the three stormtroopers lay dead on the ground in a heap, cut neatly in half, and twitching grotesquely. I had seen blood and gore but the speed and ruthlessness of Gethzerion disturbed me for a few moments, but the desire for vengeance quickly took control again.

"To hell with them, they had earned what they got in the end. I just hope the life that they lived was worth the end they received." An ultimately comforting thought.

Gethzerion replaced her lightsaber upon her belt, and continued her march through the open gate. As we approached, I could see that the main doors to the prison were thin, without intersecting support structure, and not made for stopping any kind of real threat from the prisoners in the yard. A quick slice of a lightsaber would be all it would take, I figured. Just as we reached the doors, Gethzerion raised her hand; without any kind of warning, and with an incredibly fast use of the Force she threw me to one side of the doors. I slammed into the wall hard, jarring my senses. Gethzerion quickly sidestepped to the opposite side.

A blink of an eye later, and the doors opened. As if the doors were holding them back, a surge of laser blasts burst forth from inside. Huge red energy bolts flew down the hall and out into the prison yard into the massing of angry and confused prisoners, and Nightsisters. Explosions followed the impacts as the solid gas energy decimated whatever it touched. The angered and alert yelling turned into screams of pain and panic. I could easily imagine what was happening to the people in the yard.

I looked to Gethzerion who paid no attention to the volley. She called for my silence with a wave of her hand as stormtroopers began filing out from the opened doors. I hugged tight to the wall hoping not to be seen. Fortunately the cumbersome armor they wore offered us some cover from their sight. Twenty troopers rushed in a military march out of the prison and into the yard. As they reached the gate to the yard, some went to kneeling postures, and some went prone, a few others stood in a defensive formation. They began firing into the crowd of confused Nightsisters and prisoners. I looked to Gethzerion in desperation, and again she meant for silence with a gesture of her hand.

"We have to help them, they are being slaughtered!" I almost yelled to my master. Gethzerion ducked into the doorway with indifference, and then grabbed me hard by the fur on my chest and pulled me inside and threw me against the wall. For a human, her strength matched if not dwarfed mine. She pierced me with her glowing, dark side seared eyes.

"You had best learn to keep up child, or you will be left to die with the others," she scolded, and clenched her fist' tearing fur from my body, almost unable to control herself.

"You are going to leave them to die?" I snarled at her.

"They are our means of escaping this prison. You know just as well as I that this planet is nothing but a giant prison," she spat the words at me. "We may as well be locked up with these pathetic creatures here!" Her eyes burned with rage; she started yelling. I could not help but cease my argument with that inhuman stare of hers. Gethzerion was more like a predator, like one of the rancors her Nightsisters had trained.

I kept silent, and averted my eyes from hers and said nothing more. As well as she had trained me, I still had no doubt she could butcher me as she saw fit. To my comfort, she averted her eyes, turned, and continued walking down the corridor. The pulsing, red, emergency lights lit the hall. Part of the alarm I assumed. I barely knew where I was going. I had helped to dig holes and weld durasteel into place, but I didn't install anything within. Somehow, Gethzerion seemed to know perfectly well where she was headed. I questioned why she needed me.

We passed several doors that lined the hallway to each side. Cargo crates, computer terminals and other unidentifiable equipment lined the walls. I kept an eye on the doors, half-expecting one of them to open and more stormtroopers to burst forth. As I turned my head side to side watching, I was stopped in my tracks. Two Wookiees, a male and a female, rounded the corner up ahead, and came running down the hallway right towards us. Before Gethzerion could shove me to the side again, I stepped out in front of them. My heart swelled with the thoughts of freeing some of my own kind.

"Wait, you've got to follow us. We're getting away from this horrible place!" I said excitedly. They stopped, sliding a few inches from their momentum, and looked at me perplexed. "Where did you find guns? How did you make it out of the yard?" I asked.

"Both of you are prisoners?" The male spoke first. "You have to go back, you can't be caught wandering around, or they'll kill you." There was a hint of concern in their voices.

"What are you saying?" I grabbed my head in frustration. "I am not a prisoner, neither is she," I pointed to Gethzerion. "Neither are you ?? are you?"

The female Wookiee then spoke.

"The Imperials have assigned us to work. They let us live in exchange for acting as guard, for being loyal to them. They've given us a new life. We have to take you back." The Wookiees leveled their Imperial issue blasters at us.

"Come with us and we won't have to shoot," they both ordered. I stepped back as the gun barrel was jammed into my stomach. I looked down at it, an E-11 blaster, a stormtrooper's weapon, as much as a symbol of our oppressors as the Imperial Insignia itself.

"How could they betray their own? How could they side with these Imperials? Unbelievable! Unbelievable!" The disgust hammered my mind like the explosions and blaster fire in the prison yard.

"Traitors," I said under my breath. The anger built inside of me again, boiling my blood. My heart thrummed in my chest, my temples throbbed. I lost control. I didn't think. All rational thought was lost to me. I watched as some creature took possession of me with a thirst for blood and death. I let the monster claim me; I agreed with it. I wanted to maim, punish. I wanted to show the traitorous Wookiees their mistake. I lashed out.

My claws extended as I swung my open hand at the female's neck in wild abandon. Her blood splattered across the face of her male companion. A look of opened-jawed horror masked his face. I didn't feel or hear the blaster bolt exit the male Wookiee's rifle and rip into my shoulder, igniting my flesh. I leapt at him. I bit down into his neck, and dug my claws into his flanks like a piece of game, tearing out the vital arteries from him with my teeth. I released him from my embrace that had lifted him from his feet, and spit a chunk of his flesh from my mouth. He crumpled to the floor, pouring blood on his female companion.

My vision returned, and the void receded. Only then did I realize what I had done as I watched their final anguished spasms. They both lay there dead by my hand, on the floor of the prison I had helped build. Their eyes stared at me, empty, looking almost confused, their mouths hanging open as if to ask, ??how could you?' A small piece of flesh hung from the wickedly curved talons protruding from my hands, forbidden among my people to be used for anything more violent than climbing a tree, an abomination to use them for anything else. I had desecrated them by killing. Madclaw. Unbelievable. Unforgivable.

For several moments I stared at my hands. Blood dripped from my mouth and hands falling onto the dead Wookiees like rain. I flung the flesh from my claws in disgust, and wiped the blood from my body as best as I could, splattering it onto the floor like morbid paint. I looked at the two dead once more, their E-11 Imperial issue blasters were scattered on the floor useless to them. I pointed at my two victims like I was passing ultimate judgment upon their souls before they could ascend.

"You are the abomination," I said aloud.

Gethzerion walked up behind me and put her hand on my shoulder.

"Your hate is making you powerful, my apprentice. We will soon be free of this place." Gethzerion stepped over the bodies and moved on. I followed, casting the female Wookiee body out from my path with my foot like debris.

We made it to the far end of the hallway to the doors that separated the small shuttle port area from the facility. How Gethzerion knew where she was going, I didn't care. My mind was blank. I could feel the sticky blood drying on my hands. I rubbed my fingers together further smearing it, feeling the cold, almost gritty like texture. My mouth tasted as if it was full of metal. I spit on the ground.

"Not even a Wookiee," I told myself reassuringly, "an Imperial."

When we reached the door, Gethzerion pushed some buttons on the control pad, and the door quickly slid up and out of the way, and there rested the white, triple-winged shuttle. Gethzerion lifted her hand and the ships platform descended. I could see a few dim lights within, but it was still dark.

"Get on board. Eliminate all but the pilot," she commanded, and I obeyed. Gethzerion turned to the door, and closed it, then tampered with the controls. I walked onto the shuttle, panning my head back and forth, straining my eyes to see, and then out of the shadows an Imperial officer ran into me face first, nearly knocking him from his feet. He took a step back, and met eyes with mine. Before he could reach for his blaster, I snatched him up by his jaw, and clenched his neck with my other hand. Uncaring, still feeling the lust for vengeance and with a brutal twist, I turned his head around on his neck until I could hear and feel the spine separate completely. He dropped his blaster and flailed his arms frantically in desperate bid for survival, and in reaction to the pain, but it couldn't stop me. I looked at him for a moment satisfied that he was dead, and flung him like a doll to the side, and walked further into the shuttle's cargo bay towards the cockpit.

Another officer who had been sitting in the cockpit, and who witnessed my entrance and the death of his comrade, ran towards me with a small blaster in his hand and opened fire. I dodged the first bolt with ease, nearly catching the second in the head as I ducked behind a chair. The same chair I then uprooted from its bracket, and threw at the officer. It slammed into his body, knocking him to the floor and out cold as his head collided with the metal hull with a sickening crack. The last remaining Imperial, a pilot sitting at the controls, frantically tried to get the shuttle powered up, and off the ground when I ran up behind him, and grabbed him by the back of his neck letting my claws dig into his soft flesh. I growled at him. Or so he thought, not understanding my language.

"Don't move," I said again, tightening my grip, my claws drew blood. He got the message, and raised his hands in submission wincing from the pain. His blood oozed from the wounds on his neck. I looked out the dark tinted windshield of the shuttle, and saw Gethzerion tampering with the now closed prison door we passed through. The shuttle suddenly rocked, a crack of an explosion followed. I craned my neck to look out of the windshield, and saw the laser cannon on the guard tower pointed at the shuttle.

"Hurry!" I roared at Gethzerion, "we are going to be destroyed!" A wisp of smoke, and a shower of sparks burst from a control panel that Gethzerion was tampering with at the door. She turned to face the shuttle with a look of satisfaction on her face, and took a step towards the shuttle. Outmatching her amazing reflexes, a bolt from the cannon emplacement struck at the ground right in front of her and sent her flying back into the door she had just sealed. She impacted the door, a splatter of blood adhered to the door as she slid down in a heap. Dirt rocketed into the air in a cloud obscuring my view of my master. Another bolt impacted the side of the shuttle. A warning light on the dash came on. I stared at Gethzerion as she lay on the ground not moving, her face riddled with tiny cuts. I tried to call out to her, but I could sense nothing, my ability lacked or she was gone. Another bolt hit the shuttle causing it to teeter.

The pilot could not understand me, but I could easily understand him. The pilot spoke.

"He is going to destroy this shuttle, and us with it. He won't risk prisoners escaping!"

"Get us out!" I roared, pounding my fist on the control panel in front of him. He got the hint, and he engaged the ship's engines. I looked to Gethzerion again; she did not move. Blood mingled with dirt covering her face in a hideous mask. More bolts struck the ship, and then the ground in front of it. An alarm sounded. Smoke and dirt were thrown into the air obscuring my view of Gethzerion. I roared at the pilot, and jerked towards the sky with my still bared, gore-covered claws. The trembling pilot engaged the engines sending a torrent of dirt and exhaust around us, and that was the last I saw of my master. The Imperial retracted the cargo-bay platform with a push of a button, sealing the ship. One final laser bolt hit the side of the craft as the pilot mashed the throttle, and we were carried up and out of the prison shuttle bay, and into the atmosphere with blinding speed.

I fell into the co-pilot's chair from the force of the thrusters, and stared out the window. The dark sky grew darker as we ascended. For the first time in years I saw the stars, their vivid light unrestrained by Dathomir's dark skies. The prison shrank in the distance below us. Blaster bolts flashed across the sky trying to chase us down, but failed. The clouds enshrouded the ship as if to make one more futile attempt to hold us down, and then we broke from the atmosphere of the prison planet. I looked at my hands, they shook uncontrollably, and I felt sick. The blood had dried and matted my fur. I looked at the pilot. He did not look at me, but I could feel his fear. He tried to subdue his shivering. Sweat beaded upon his brow. He stuttered as he spoke.

"I have to contact my commander for authorization," the pilot said to me, though not looking at me. I bared my teeth, and then nodded. I slid from my seat to the floor with the small blaster of the officer I knocked senseless still in my hand, I pointed it at the pilot's head as I lay on the floor out of view.

The ships radio squealed.

"Shuttle Alpha 1-1. Transmit security codes and verify objective."

The pilot flipped a switch on the console to respond.

"Admiral Zsinj, sir, this is shuttle Alpha 1-1. Final cargo has been delivered, planet is clear for quarantine, sir."

There was a short silence. The pilot remained surprisingly calm and collected.

"Very well. Good luck on Tatooine." A crackle of static and Admiral Zsinj was gone.

"Yes, sir." The pilot responded without hesitation.

"Discipline befitting an officer," I thought mockingly.

"I have to get the ship into hyperspace now and follow orders or they will know something is wrong. You're lucky he didn't ask to speak to my CO," the pilot added. I nodded, and stood from the floor, and held the blaster at the base of the pilot's skull. I roared at him to get to it. Very carefully he entered the destination into the navigation computer, and a few moments later we entered the hyperspace tunnel.

Chapter 5

I had never witnessed the majesty of lightspeed travel before that moment, and what I saw forced me to drop my guard. The pilot didn't notice. The stars turned into streaming comets as the shuttle attained lightspeed, and then the tunnel opened up before us like storm clouds encompassing the entire ship, like a sea of smoky blue. I pried my eyes away from the view and walked backwards to the rear of the shuttle, keeping the blaster trained on the pilot, and grabbed the downed officer by his uniform collar, and drug him to the front of the ship. I brought the unconscious officer's wrists up to the pilots face.

The pilot nodded. A smart one was he. From a compartment in the wall of the shuttle, the pilot fetched a pair of binders and attached them to the wrists of the officer. I pushed the unconscious officer towards the wall, and from the same compartment I grabbed another set of binders. I tossed them to the pilot and pointed the blaster at his face. Like the good learner that he was, he fastened them to his wrists. I grabbed him by his throat and forced him into the co-pilot's chair. I sat in the pilot's chair. The exhaustion from all that had happened in the last few moments overwhelmed me. I looked at my hands again. They were still caked with blood. I then pointed at the hyperspace tunnel as it swirled in hues of blue, white, and purple, encircling the ship, carrying us across the galaxy.

"How long to Tatooine?" I roared. The pilot furrowed his brow and thought for a moment.

"We will be in the Tatooine system in a few hours." I nodded and looked at the floor, and then around the cargo bay of the shuttle aimlessly, like the clarity to my confusion hid in the dark. Then something caught my eye. I got up slowly and walked towards it. In the far corner of the ship wedged at the seam of the bay doors, gleaming like a jewel. There sitting safely in the crevice where the door meets the hull sat a lightsaber splattered with blood. Gethzerion's lightsaber! Wide-eyed and awestruck, I picked up the artifact, and rolled Gethzerion's weapon in my hands examining every aspect of it.

Save for the blood that dulled patches of its polished surface, the metal caught every bit of light within the ship like a mirror. A black grip encircled the handle throughout the middle. A small clip and three pressure pads sat just under the hilt. I tried to wipe the blood off of it with my hands, but only smeared it. The fur on my hands matted, and sticking together like a neglected paintbrush only added to the tarnish.

"How did this get here? Did she do this? Was this a part of her plan?" I shook my head in disbelief, and clipped the lightsaber to the fur on my waist. "What will I do now that Gethzerion is gone?" I asked myself. I looked at my Imperial hostages. The adept pilot returned my gaze with one of contempt. "What am I going to do with these two?"

I walked back to the pilot's chair. I pointed at the pilot, and then jabbed my finger at the co-pilot's chair. Quick to guess my desires, he stood up by wiggling his shoulders to get him into position, and then sat down with his hands set in his lap. I gestured to the controls, sticking the gun into his face.

"Show me how to work this thing!" I hollered at him. Which only sounded like unintelligible growls and barks to his ears. I pointed at the console, grabbed the control stick, and pointed out the windshield, trying to make him understand.

He squinted his eyes for a moment, and a sudden glimpse of realization swept over him. And then with a look of righteousness marring his face he spat.

"You aren't going to make it past the patrols. The prison will have informed battalion of what you have done..." I didn't let him finish his idle threats, I rammed him square in the forehead with the muzzle of the blaster leaving a round imprint from the barrel that immediately began to welt and bleed. He groaned and rubbed his head, and regained his stance in the chair, hatred flashing in his eyes.

"No wonder you things have been enslaved," he said with gritted teeth.

It was almost impossible for me to control myself amidst the worm's taunts. I roared at him, an actual roar, and bared my claws at his throat.

"Shut your damn mouth or I'll rip your head from your body!" I yelled. He seemed to take pleasure in my anger. He smiled, and was obviously satisfied that he could get such a rise out of me. The solution to one of my problems came to mind in that instant. With as much concern I would have had for an insect, I pointed the blaster at the unconscious Imperial leaning against the wall. I pulled the trigger, and sent a bolt ripping through his head, scoring the wall behind him. The Imperial convulsed as his body screamed for air, his brain dead, and his heart slow to catch on to the fact, then he went still. The pilot looked on in horror. I returned the blaster to the pilot's head. Now with his bravado apparently gone, the smile on his face was replaced with a straight-mouthed look of fear, sweat once again beaded up on his forehead. He didn't even flinch when the salty sweat dripped down his forehead and passed over his wound.

"This is the sub-light throttle ??" He began my crash course training by pointing to a lever just in front of him.

Several hours passed, and I was just beginning to grasp a very basic understanding of how to operate the Imperial shuttle. The blaster I kept pointed at him turned out to be powerful motivator, as was the corpse of perhaps a friend, or maybe even a brother of his. I didn't care at the time. The Imperial pilot actually could have been mistaken for a professional instructor. He had grown calm and spoke to me like an avid student. Had I not hated him, and wanted to kill him, we might have been friends in another time. That ridiculous thought made me giggle. To him it probably sounded like I had something caught in my throat.

"We are nearing our destination. I am going to have to send authorization codes, but they hardly ever request visual confirmation. You better hope they don't know about you," he added in a spiteful tone as we approached our destination. I ignored him, and watched an Imperial space station as it orbited the unusually bright planet, like a sun, coming into view.

"Shuttle Alpha 1-1, sending authorization," the Imperial pilot said in an unusually casual tone over the radio.

"Transmitting," crackled an unknown voice in response. A few moments passed, I inched the blaster closer to the pilot's head ready to kill him should utter anything more than was necessary.

"Authorization confirmed, proceed to landing bay 491, Mos Eisley."

"Affirmative." The pilot cut the radio off with a flick of a switch, and began our descent. Just as quickly we had ascended out of the atmosphere of Dathomir, we descended into the atmosphere of Tatooine. That was the only similarity. The contrasts between the two planets, two of the three I had ever known, were stark to say the least. Dathomir seemed locked in a perpetual state of storm, or near storm. Tatooine instead was a vision-blurring, bleached-white wasteland covered as much in sand as swathed in sunlight. Years it had been since I had seen so much sunlight. I had heard little of the planet. Its twin suns kept it in a constant state of desolate desert. I also knew that it was under tenuous Imperial control.

As we reached the lower atmosphere I could see Imperial stormtroopers dotting the surface, usually in groups of two amongst the hordes of people walking about. The pilot spun the ship on its axis and descended towards a decrepit looking landing bay marked with the fading black-painted numbers 491. It looked like some kind of mud house structure, even with dirt floor. Trash and discarded cargo crates were scattered about. The shuttle touched down with a gentle thud. The pilot eased back the throttle and disengaged the engines, then powered down the craft to silence. Only a few lights remained lit on the dash, and then a cargo light came on illuminating the entire interior of the ship.

"My superiors are already going to be suspicious. There were supposed to be three showing up. You've gotten yourself into an inescapable situation by killing two of us," the pilot said in his usual spiteful and arrogant tone. I grabbed the lightsaber from my side and rubbed a little bit of dried blood from it. I longingly ran my fingers across the pressure pads, and a glaring, red energy blade shot from the hilt with a sharp crack. The lightsaber hummed steadily. The Imperial pilot had finally served his purpose, I decided.

"You are the one who can't escape." The last words I spoke to him merely sounded like grunts and roars. Before he could produce a look of fear or confusion, I ran the lightsaber into his heart. Pain creased the expression on his face. He looked at the energy blade still inside of him as it cauterized the wound in his chest. He then began to laugh. He laughed at me until the blood welled up in his throat choking him. His eyes went blank as his last ragged breath mixed with his blood in a sickening gurgle. I pulled the lightsaber free. It hissed as it burned its way out of his body, a putrid scent carried on the smoke drifted up to me. I deactivated the weapon and put it back on my waist. I began to scour the cabin of the ship for whatever supplies and clothing I could find. I found a blanket, which I draped over myself like a makeshift robe, and a utility strap for a belt making me look nomadic, and a backpack in which I found some Imperial issue rations and an untouched survival kit.

With my lightsaber hidden underneath my robe, then strapping the backpack on, I activated the platform door and looked out into the landing bay. There were no signs of alarm, no passersby, no stormtroopers. Taking one last glance back at the two dead Imperial soldiers, I fleetingly wondered what stories would surface from the shuttle being found with a crew of corpses.

"They will eventually find out what has happened and they will come looking for me," I thought in sudden despair. "Maybe they will quarantine the planet, too." I turned my back to the shuttle, and walked down the ramp, and made my way to the starport door checking around corners as I went until I made it out into the open city. I then let myself be carried off by the currents of people shuffling about their daily lives.

The bright, twin suns gleaming off of the white sands, the people of hundreds of different planets, the animals of burden, the pets, the very pulse of life overwhelmed me, turning my reality on its head. My hands began to shake. I had to stop more than once and lean against a wall to get my bearings and clear my mind. There were so many voices invading my senses. I was not used to being near so many beings, around so much thought, now that I could hear it. I averted the gaze of a few people looking at me strangely, but they seemed to be enamored in their own doings, and they didn't have the time or the concern, which suited me fine. Being seen covered in blood just might have caused me some problems. Then I saw the patrols that I had seen upon entering the starport, Imperial stormtroopers with massive rifles in their hands walking in pairs.

"I can't stay out here," I thought. "Once that shuttle is discovered they will start arresting people." I beat my feet to the sands, kicking up a small cloud of dust in my wake, my makeshift robe billowing out threatening to reveal me.

I didn't pay much attention to where I was going. I was just trying to get as much space between the murders and me as I could. I tried to come up with some sort of plan in my mind. I was alone on an alien world with no allies, no Gethzerion, and surrounded by the oppressors. After I had finally put some considerable distance between the dead Imperials and me, I stopped at what I figured was a watering hole that was set in front of a building. Several animals unknown to me were tied up in front of what looked like a control tower that had fallen on its side. The whole strange city seemed to be pieced together with scrap and blanketed by sand. Every building was the same color, and the same mud-hut design to it, save for the one I stopped at.

I leaned against the side the building pulling my robes about me tightly, wondering what the Imperials there would think when they found the abandoned shuttle with their dead comrades inside. Maybe they would think some local thugs had killed them. There was no one to report that a Wookiee had escaped Dathomir, and the manner in which I had dealt with them was nothing more than feral. Gethzerion had said that the prison planet was being abandoned for fear of the Nightsisters. Knowing the power of Gethzerion, I could understand why someone would fear her, much less an entire tribe of the same, of which I had once considered myself one.

"Am I the last of the Nightsisters?" The possibility dawned on me.

Imperials had always seemed ignorant of what Wookiees were capable of. I am not even sure they knew we have claws. I reminded myself of what I had done. My claws, again the images of me killing with my claws assailed my thoughts. If any of my kin found out I would be banished, sent into exile, considered as good as dead.

"What would Syymbacca have thought?" I wondered. "What would mother have said?" I laughed in spite of myself. "Madclaw? What could they say, they're all dead!"

"Exile from what?" I giggled as I soundlessly mouthed the words to myself, "exile from the prison that has become Kashyyyk? If they hadn't been so weak and easily overcome we would not be enslaved. They wouldn't have betrayed us all. The two at the prison deserved the fate they received." I rubbed at the blaster wound on my side. It had scabbed over, further matting my fur, adding to the raggedness of my appearance. My once soft, red-highlighted coat of fur was now caked, and lumped into knots with blood, and dirt, and gore. I had to find some place to gather my thoughts, to breath, to clean myself of the filth.

I had not yet seen any other Wookiees, though it was hard to pay attention to the multitudes that had passed me by. What I did notice was more patrols. I turned away from the street, walked towards the door of the building, and went inside. Immediately when I entered a very strange smell hit me, like sweet smoke, and the musky smell of the mingling of dozens of different species. The place was dark and the many different species that wandered the streets also wandered about in there. A tavern. I knew enough outside of my home world to know one when I saw it. The music and musky air, people holding drinks half inebriated, and dancers gyrating upon the bar was quite difficult to mistaken. Eyes swept over me as if in a collective hasty judgment, like the patrons were expecting trouble with each new arrival. I pulled the robe tighter around my body, and moved to a darkened corner.

I sat in one of the metal chairs set before a small metal table covered in the dried rings from numerous glasses. I looked at my surroundings from my secluded spot, taking advantage of the shadows. I grabbed at the lightsaber that hung from my waist to reassure myself, for all I knew its former master, my master was now dead, and if she wasn't she was now a prisoner on Dathomir. The very idea angered her so, which made me fearful. Regret crept into me. I left her there to die. I owed her everything. If not for her I would have died there in the soil of Dathomir. Part of me wanted to go back to Dathomir, for the familiarity, and for fear of Gethzerion's wrath, had she survived.

"What have I done? I killed Gethzerion. I killed those Wookiees. I killed my brother," I whispered to myself, my mind was swirling in agony. The hate and anger at myself, the Empire, for my own people, for all things burned inside of me. I braced myself against the table, closed my eyes and drifted, trying to slow my mind as I had been taught. I then let my mind drift from person to person inside the tavern. It was much quieter that way, fewer minds and fewer thoughts. Their minds spoke secrets, and I listened. I let their voices drown out my anxiety.

There was one, a murderer. He killed his friend over a game of something called Sabacc. Another one was wondering how he was going to get his shipment of spice off planet. The dancer on the table. A Twi-lek, what a surprise. She had her eyes closed. She was imagining she was somewhere else, somewhere less degrading. Her mind was cloudy, chemically induced. And then there was another looking right at me. My eyes flipped open. I was still shrouded in darkness, and my face hidden, but there was a human male in an opposite corner of the bar watching me. He stood up from his seat, his eyes never leaving me. He walked towards me. I reached for the lightsaber ready to kill my way out if I had to. He came right to my table and sat down without hesitation. I grabbed my weapon firmly.

"You understand Basic?" He asked. I nodded. "Good, we can understand each other then." His voice was deep, but not commanding, almost warm in a forced way. He spoke with a tone that identified him as street, but not book smart. His hair was brown and scruffy, but not unclean. His lean, peach-colored face was clean-shaven, and without any scars. He had surprisingly delicate hands for seeming like a laborer, and he wore thick, hide-like tan pants, and some kind of brown flight jacket. I nodded to him. He lowered his voice, and leaned in closer.

"The name's Nes, and you must have certainly caused some trouble. Stormtroopers have already been alerted about the dead officers. They say some animal-like alien was responsible." He paused, and looked around the tavern for eavesdroppers, and then continued. I fingered the pressure pad on the lightsaber, readying myself to cut him in half at the midsection from underneath the table.

"I know what goes on at that port. The one you killed was delivering some friends of mine. Friends that have now been confiscated by the authorities so I am told. Those friends were very valuable to me, and now I have nothing to show for it."

I had a bad feeling about where this conversation was headed. I slowly lifted my lightsaber from my waist. Anticipating my reaction, he tried to assuage my anxiety.

"Relax. I have no desire to fight a Wookiee." He chuckled under his breath, a hint of fear hidden within. "And I have no desire to see you go to jail, that does none of us any good. But I do have a problem of lost profits because of your fumbling." He swatted his hand in the air carelessly. "I'm not concerned about the Imperials you killed, the more the merrier, right? But I am concerned about the damage caused to my operation." He turned his head and looked at the Twi-lek dancing on the bar for a moment, distracted by her lithe form swaying suggestively upon the bar, and then he turned back to me.

"I have a deal for you, I know a lot about your kind and their troubles; I've dealt with them before. You wish to avoid the authorities and I wish to make repairs to my operation, and as I see it, you owe me. What I need is backup while I conduct my business, and what you need is cover from Imperials. I can provide it. And considering the nature of your crime against those Imps, you seem to me as someone not to be fooled with." Nes looked down towards where he knew a weapon of some sort rested in my hand. The smuggler reclined in his chair leaning on two legs, and interlaced his fingers behind his head.

"You could always take your chances on your own. May wanna watch out for those patrols. They're everywhere," he said with a sneer that boiled my blood. I knew that if I had not accepted his offer he would have slithered away to the nearest patrol to get his revenge upon me. Realizing my options, all two of them, I took my hand off of my lightsaber, interlocked my fingers, and set them upon the cold metal table that separated us. I nodded in agreement.

"We have an accord then? all right!" He let out two loud bursts of laughter, and then slammed his palm on the table.

"How nice that he was satisfied," I thought. However, at least I had some kind of direction despite its dubious nature.

"Now we can't have you looking like that; we have to get you some place to stay during our endeavor. Unfortunately you're going to have to make some concessions to get out of here." I already knew what he had in mind before he even reached into the pouch on his belt. He withdrew a pair of binders.

"How ironic," I thought. Nes laid them upon the table, and spoke in quieter tones.

"You're going to have to act as my slave to get out of here, and past Imperial patrols. Slavery is a common business here, you'll soon learn, so you'll be all right." I shuddered at the thought. Looking back now, maybe I should have just ripped his throat out right there. Instead I went along with his plan, running did not sound any more viable to me at the time.

"I'll go along with your plan, but I warn you. Do not betray me, or you'll be dead before you have a chance to call for help," I told him, leaving no room for equivocation. He smiled inwardly, as if doubting my ability, the damn fool. I caught a glimpse into his mind for the brief moments that he dwelled on his self-confidence. The blinding images of a Wookiee male went in and out of my mind like a fleeting thought. As he said, he had encounters with my kind before. I ultimately wondered how many Wookiees were on the scorched planet and just what happened to the one in his mind.

Not taking notice of my prying, he stood from the table. "Fair ??nuff. Let's go shall we?" I grabbed the binders, and fastened them loosely to my wrists, then hid my hands beneath my makeshift robe.

"Follow me and don't say anything. Just keep your head down and look homely." I obeyed and followed him past the other patrons, and back out the way I came from the harsh light of Tatooine's twin suns. I kept my face hidden. Just the dingy fur from my arms and legs stuck out from my robe. I walked behind Nes, covering his footsteps in the sand.

"I never did get your name," he said over his shoulder under his breath. Considering the consequences for a brief moment, I told him.

"Makaashyya?" He sounded impressed. "Pretty. You Wookiees sure do come up with some interesting names." As foolish as the man was, he was sincere at least that time.

We zigzagged our way through the multitudes of people. My senses were nearly drowned in the sea of thoughts that were coming to me from the mob around us. Stress made it more difficult to keep the roving ability in check. I kept my head low when I spotted a few Imperial patrols, mulling about the crowd. I had assumed that the place would have been locked down by now with my arrival. Perhaps I had overestimated my importance; I hoped so anyway.

Then from behind us we heard the subdued, helmet-speaker transmit the voice of a stormtrooper.

"Stop. You, were did you get this creature?" I didn't believe I hadn't noticed the two Imperial stormtroopers carrying the usual E-11 blasters level at our backs before they were upon us. If I had needed to kill them amongst the crowd I knew I would have had next to zero means of escape.

"I just got her in a trade," said Nes before I could react. Then without warning he pulled the hood from my head. I nearly panicked, but I managed to keep my eyes locked onto the bright sands under my feet, doing my best to look as deadened as the slaves on Dathomir looked.

"Her former owner was a bit abusive, and seeing as he owed me, I was feeling charitable and took her off his hands as payment." It sounded like a convincing enough story. I admit that it was a clever explanation of my fur being matted with blood. The blood of the Imperials I murdered had long since dried and would have been impossible to differentiate my wounds from their blood with the naked eye, unless they shaved me bald. I held back a giggle at the thought.

"A Wookiee, huh?" One stormtrooper said, unimpressed.

"Yeah, I figure she'll be strong enough to labor, unfortunately Wookiees are too dumb for complicated work and too docile for a bouncer, so ??" I wish I could have listened close enough to tell if Nes was being truthful with that remark or not.

They must have been tired of being burdened with patrol duty and the meanderings of the locals, so the stormtroopers dismissed us.

"All right. Go about your business citizen, stay out of trouble." The stormtroopers motioned for us to move along.

"I fully intend to," Nes said, as he jerked at the binders on my wrists and pretended to drag me behind him.

"It seems like you know how to talk your way out of a problem," I said, grabbing the hood and pulling it back over my head to hide my face in the scarce shadow.

"I have my moments, Makaashyya. Let's hope we don't have to depend on another fleeting one before we get to my hideout."

We were able avoid the other patrols along the way until we finally came to a comparatively large building covered in the same mud looking texture like the other buildings throughout the city I had seen so far.

"I have a room set up here for when things get a little warm at my real place. You'll stay here, but don't let anyone see you. I'll have to come get you for work. My apologies, but you'll have to make like a slave when we're in public."

"Doesn't seem like I have a lot of choice," I said flatly.

I followed him into the building and through a small lobby. Nes walked over to a terminal and punched in some numbers on a keypad, and pressed his hand to a biometric scanner. A card ejected from a slot in the machine in front of him. It was a fully automated complex. Nes collected his card, and motioned with his head for me to follow. I followed him onto an elevator and up three stories according to the numbers over the door. The doors to the elevator opened to reveal a narrow hallway that ended in a single door.

"Nobody wanted this last unit. I personally can't understand why considering the privacy. But with the heat and all, I guess people like to stay at ground level or lower. There is air conditioning so it's not a sweathouse in there. Do Wookiees even sweat?" He asked in passing. I ignored his question and followed him to the door. With a swipe of his keycard, the metal door slid open. There were no windows, which suited me. I had already grown to despise the twin suns that hovered in the sky like spotlights. The room was simple, small, but at least it was something, and somewhere private. And it didn't seem like the Imperials knew who or what they are looking for in connection with the murders, or that they were even searching yet. I hoped I had made a somewhat clean getaway. After looking around the small unit, I raised my hands to Nes to bring his attention to the binders.

"Oh. Yeah, about that," he said, and quickly removed the binders and tossed them aside. "Make yourself at home. You may wanna clean up a bit. There's um, food in the condenser, help yourself." He turned to leave and then spun back to face me. "Oh yeah. I hate to, but I am going to have to lock you in. I hope you don't see this as a prison, but I am sure you can think of the many good reasons for my doing this." The thought of prison stuck in my mind, but I forced myself to relent considering the precarious situation I found myself in. But I had no intention of allowing the opportunistic criminal to believe I was easy prey.

"As long as you remember that I am not some fool creature to be underestimated. I have escaped from a prison before. Don't put too much faith in a flimsy door that stands between me and my finding you." Nes stood for a moment looking into my eyes as if sizing me up, and I looked back into his deeper than he realized.

"Fair ??nuff." Nes bowed his head.

I was further impressed by his ability to understand my language; I wondered at how remarkable of a skill it was among humans. A small part of me felt some odd connection to him because of it.

Nes turned to the door and it closed behind him, followed by a distinctive click a moment later. A prison.

"Is there anywhere that isn't a prison for a Wookiee in the Empire?" I asked myself. I took the makeshift robe off, and tossed it into the trash in disgust, finally able to shed the layers of filth from me, and then I went looking for the bathroom. The shower was a mere square tub not more than four feet wide and four inches deep with an automated sliding glass door. I kept my lightsaber within arms reach on the sink counter and stepped into the shower and turned the water on as hot as it would go.

It was like wet sunlight raining down on me. Not oppressive like the suns on Tatooine, but pleasant, comforting, jumping into a lake kind of warmth. The dried blood mixed with the water and started to dissolve and fall from my body. The entire shower was quickly covered in light pinkish-brown sprays of water and dirt mixed with blood. I scrubbed and scrubbed, disgusted by the amount of filth that was coming from my fur. I drew my claws, and the very sight of them made the shunned name of Madclaw echo in my mind. They were still caked. I looked at them as my dream came to me. The light turning dark, my name that was once called out was forgotten. The darkness nearly consumed all of my old vision. I opened my eyes and looked at my claws again, and as if I had been deprived of all my will, I sunk to my knees and cried until the blood had been rinsed from my body. It was a severe moment of weakness for one of the Dark Side. I later came to my senses.

The shower was oddly more draining than all I had experienced since I left Dathomir. At least for a moment I felt as safe as I had felt since Gethzerion took me as her apprentice. I stood in front of a fan and enjoyed the air to dry me, and then I let myself sleep. I didn't realize how long it had been and how much had happened since I last slept. My dream appeared again, but all I could see was the blackness. Like a moonless night, wrapped in shadow. It was energizing, and I felt protected like Syymbacca was at my side again, like he was the void.

I woke after what must have been hours later, startled by the mechanical door opening. Without even thinking, I pulled the lightsaber from my side and ignited it. Nes stood there in the doorway dumbfounded by the glowing red beam of the Jedi's weapon, my weapon.

"I think I missed an important detail," he mused, raising his hands in surrender. "I thought you had a gun hidden under your blanket. I didn't know you were a Jedi." He looked at me in greedy astonishment, like someone would look at an ancient, valuable relic from history.

"I'm not a Jedi. I just happen to have one of their weapons. No less than a blaster."

"Well that's comforting," he said, with a wry smile. "Not only do I have a Wookiee as my backup, I have a lightsaber wielding Wookiee. I couldn't ask for a better strong arm." Nes stepped inside the room, but I kept the lightsaber pointed at him.

"Don't worry," he said, putting his hands up, "I'll keep it between us. I know the Empire doesn't smile on people with Jedi artifacts."

Satisfied that he understood me, I shut the lightsaber off with a release of my hand from the pressure pad and stood up from kneeling.

"Is there something going on tonight?" I asked. Nes stepped closer to me.

"As a matter of fact, yes. There is a pod race tonight. They've been outlawed while the Empire is around, but it's difficult to stop such an old tradition. And there is a lot of money to be made. I am betting my best pod, and I got the best driver I could find. I just need you along to make sure things go smoothly." Nes smiled. The sarcasm seemed to ooze from him, as did ulterior motive.

"You expect problems?"

"I expect for people to do what they always do and cause problems. The races are held outside of town away from the prying eyes of stormtroopers. It's going to be a night race, one of the most dangerous. Have you ever seen a pod race?"

I looked at him with an uninterested stare.

"Apparently not. Well, anyway. They're repulsor-lift pods driven by ion engines. Very fast, very dangerous, for the drivers mostly, and very profitable. I think you may enjoy it."

"I'm sure," I said, returning my own wry smile. I turned from him and got dressed in some robes that I had found in the room, and a bandolier that Nes had in one of his closets. I kept my lightsaber underneath my robe hidden from view, clipped onto the bandolier.

I stepped up to a mirror that hung on the outside of the closet door, and sized myself up. A far better sight than since I had left Dathomir. I then noticed something unusual. It took me a moment to place it. It was my eyes. I leaned in closer and saw my eyes were no longer green. Instead, like a flow of lava that consumes the forest during an eruption, my eyes had turned to a red-orange. The side effects of power Gethzerion once explained to me. Her eyes were the same, but her gaze more malevolent. I looked for a few moments more, examining the lines of black separating the flecks of red on a background of orange. Quick flashes of my damned dream came to mind and then faded.

"So be it," I said to myself and turned away from the mirror and went to Nes, who was waiting at the door.

Chapter 6

The twin suns of Tatooine still bludgeoned the surface of the planet, but were on the opposite horizon; their light had turned a fiery orange as they approached the side of the planet. It was a blinding first step out into the street. Long shadows were cast on the ground, and further aided to hide my face. It was like being in a desert in the early morning. The winds had cooled. The sky was subdued but still bright with an orange light. My eyes didn't adjust until we had driven far from Mos Eisley in Nes' speeder car, and the suns had nearly disappeared in the distance. Even then I still squinted. The white sands only made the glare worse on my eyes. I found it hard to believe the planet was habitable. It was nothing like back home. No Wroshyr trees that would have dwarfed even the mightiest rocks in the desert, and no thick brush or ropes of jungle vine, no screams and hollers of animals carpeting the landscape. No signs of life could be seen for miles. On Kashyyyk, life was everywhere; from the very top of the Wroshyr trees to the bottom levels of the planet. I dwelled on my homesickness to pass the time as the sands blurred beneath us.

"We are getting close. Too bad it's so far out here, but with Imperials around we have little choice," Nes said. After several more minutes of travel, and after the suns had waned, I began to see lights winking into existence on the horizon. The closer we got the better I could see what was a stadium. Nes slowed the craft down as we neared it. The multitudes were as diverse there as in Mos Eisley. There must have been thousands of people there, all outlaws in the Empire's eyes, packed in the stands in the coliseum-like grounds. Several pods, as Nes had described them, were huddled in the pit area grouped together by a banner that flew over each pit. Energy and excitement was in the air. I had never seen anything like it back home.

Nes parked the speeder car, and we walked the rest of the way into the stadium towards the racer's pit. The roar of the crowd was all that could be heard in anticipation of the race. The crews for each of the pod-racer teams were working on their pods as we neared Nes' team. Nes signaled for me to hang back while he spoke to his racer who was sitting in his pod. After a few whispered words and nods, the racers started towing their pods to the starting line at the command of the announcer, his voice booming over loud speakers placed throughout the stadium. The sudden god-like projected voice startled me. Everyone watched intently as their favorite racer toed the starting line. Then the announcer spoke again, and announced each individual team and the famed racer within each pod. Nes had to yell at me so I could hear him.

"That's my pod and my racer over there. Team Sincarrii." Nes pointed to the furthest end of the starting line. Some green, fish looking alien was inside of the pod. The pod itself was a small compartment connected to two huge jet engines. Between the engines was what looked like a constant, pulsing, stream of lightning connecting the two. Black hoses stretched from the pod to the engines like tentacles. The entire scene seemed obscured to me, as was the makeshift-looking state of the racer pods themselves. The entire event seemed like shoddy, mechanized, patchwork of jet powered masochism.

"Thirty seconds to the start and our racers are primed and ready," boomed the announcer. The crowd cheered in anticipation.

"There's a lot of money being moved here. Sometimes the losers don't like paying up. That's what you're here for." Nes tried to yell to me over the crowd.

"What if you lose?" I hollered back, curious at his overconfidence.

"I have certain advantages in this race. You do what you can to win. It's tradition."

I had a good idea of what he meant. I crossed my arms and watched the huge overhead projection screen hanging at the arch of the stadium. The announcer began the count down and a series of different colored lights on a post at the starting line activated in sequence as the announcer counted.

"Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one! And they're off!" The pod racers slammed the throttle sending them shooting like laser bolts over the starting line, a tail of dirt blasted into the air carving gouges into the race track. Clouds of dust floated up from the wake of dirt obscuring the entire area of the archway and the announcer's tower as it lifted upwards. The thundering cheers of the crowd were drowned-out by the unison scream of the jet engines. The projection screen followed the movements of each of the racers as they emerged from the cloud and sped over the track.

"Team Sincarrii is in the lead followed closely by Bonfiet. Teams Zin-Mohck and Anwangiri in third and fourth. Ooh!! Team Sincarrii takes a brutal swipe from team Bonfiet, almost smearing him into the rock face!" The crowd hung on the words of the announcer like a symphony waiting for direction from the conductor. The audience grunted, groaned and cheered with the movement of the racers. I watched the screen in amazement as the pod-racers battled to get ahead of one another lap after lap. Sparks flew as the over-built, and under-maintained, and operating-beyond-their-limitations ion thrusters collided. The ground beneath them was just a blur as the cameras followed them. The huge rocks of the Tatooine desert passed by just as fast.

I moved my eyes off the screen for a split second to look at the crowd, still in awe of the collective excitement, and then a huge explosion shattered the air. I looked back to the screen and saw what was left of team Anwangiri. A flaming, whirling ball that was once a pod spiraled across the racetrack. The driver was nowhere to be seen. The other three racers flew past without looking back.

"Awww, poor Anwangiri. Looks like the odds for the three remaining teams just got better," said the announcer. The crowd erupted in laughter. How easily and lightly death was treated there. For as advanced as that world seemed, almost every aspect of it was barbaric. The pod-racers sped through the stadium again, crossing the finish line for the ninth time.

"And we are on the final lap with Sincarrii dominating the entire race!" I watched the racers exit the stadium, and enter the first length of the final lap. Sincarrii still held the lead, rabidly side-swiping into anyone who came near him. I could see arms waving, and fists flailing, and more-than-likely, less than polite conversation between the racers. Sincarrii and Zin-Mohck competed for first place slamming into each other repeatedly. They would sideswipe into each other and breakaway swinging in for leverage setting up for another grapple. As the two battlers were opening for another hit, Bonfiet sped into the gap between Sincarrii and Zin-Mohck, but not clearing them in time.

"Ooh! Such a beautiful turn around by Team Bonfiet as he tries to clear the gap and make some headway!!" said the announcer.

Sincarrii and Zin-Mohck came in to ram each other, not reacting fast enough to the unexpected obstacle that came up between them. The three pod-racers collided.

"Uh oh, looks like the three teams are in trouble. They seemed to be tangled up and are now losing speed. Look at the teams ready to duke it out in mid air!" The crowd erupted into another chorus of laughter. The three racers still speeding towards the stadium on the final length still tied to each other.

"They better figure out something soon, there is no such thing as a tie in this race, people!"

The pods rocked back and forth as the racers tried pulling away from each other. The stress was obvious on the battered pods and engines. Sparks, dust, and the occasional metal fragment shot out in all directions from the three pods. They were quickly coming into view on the horizon, at least the dust cloud was. I looked back and forth between their obscured forms in the distance and the screen. Nes jabbed his fist at the screen as if to pound on the heads of the rival drivers himself.

They entered the stadium and would soon cross the finish line at the same time. Each driver tried pulling away from each other, teetering the pods as one when a huge shower of sparks flew from all three pods and they separated. Team Sincarrii headed straight into the stadium. Team Bonfiet and Zin-Mohck went in opposite directions flailing their arms in a panic. Before they had a chance to even consider what mistakes they had made, both pods flew right into the stadium pillars at the entrance exploding on impact, and decimating the pods and racers. Two billowing, black clouds of smoke rolled up into the air and over the crowd like a terrifying storm. The crowd broke loose, and the sound was deafening. They cheered as Team Sincarrii, Nes' team, crossed the finish line. One non-functioning engine was smoking, and the entire pod itself leaned to one side from damage to the repulsor lifts; the driver was bloodied.

"And there you have it people. The winner of the Tatooine semi-finals by one hell of a close call. Team Sincarrii!!" yelled the announcer as the crowd continued to cheer even louder; a few boos could be heard among it.

"That's right! What'd I tell ya?" Nes playfully slapped my arm, and then ran to his damaged pod-racer. I just shook my head and looked around. The smoke from the destroyed pod-racers, lifted out of site into the night sky, the black smear that was once the drivers was the most significant piece that remained. Three people had just died, much to the enjoyment of the mob, but Nes was pleased he won. His driver was lifted out of his pod, and was put on a stretcher. The pod was damaged and looked about ready to drop onto the ground, but Nes didn't seem to care.

"No wonder why this competition was outlawed," I thought. However, despite the barbarous, violent, and unforgiving nature of it, I must admit it was exciting.

Nes walked back over to me, totally ignoring the fact that his driver was in grievous condition.

"Now we collect on our dues, Makaashyya. Keep your eyes open, this is the dangerous part."

"Now is the dangerous part." I smirked at Nes' advice. I followed him as he headed for the announcer's tower just aside the starting line, and connected to the arch over the finish line. At the top of the tower, the entire stadium and the empty, lifeless desert for miles came into view. Several of the, what I assume were the more important people were up there. Dressed much richer than anyone down below.

We stepped into the announcer's tower and made our way to the balcony just below the announcer. A horrifyingly obese, slug looking creature that was lounging on a platform on the balcony overlooking the stadium slithered off and towards us when he noticed us. I couldn't understand its language, and its thoughts were mired in layers upon layers of other thoughts making impossible for me to understand. I could only guess that the creature wasn't at all pleased to see Nes.

"Seems you have won again, Nes." The creature bellowed; his voiced seemed as loud as the announcer's. "That makes the fourth race in a row. You wouldn't be cheating me would you? You know how I deal with cheats in my city."

"Would I cheat you, Jabba? You know how these races are. If you were the one on a winning streak, would you like for me to call you a cheat?" Nes said.

"You wouldn't be alive after making that insult, Nes." The creature named Jabba threatened.

"Yeah okay, well, how about I collect my winnings and be on my way," Nes said, a hint of nervousness in his voice. Jabba laughed a deep, belly laugh mockingly at Nes.

"Now Nes, you just can't get paid and run. Come, have drinks with me. Bring your new bodyguard too." The thing laughed again. It made my fur stand on end. Nes nodded to me and I followed. Jabba slithered, and resumed his position upon his flat throne, and Nes sat in a chair next to Jabba. A serving droid set some drinks on a table in front of them.

"Where did you find this new one? Will it last longer than your last?"

"We have a special arrangement. She ??" Nes started, but then Jabba interrupted.

"She? That must be some special arrangement. And a Wookiee none-the-less." It laughed again mockingly.

"It's not like that, Jabba. She owes me, I owe her. When her debt is paid she'll be on her way."

"On her way where? Wookiees are not very popular with the Empire. Why not transfer her debt to me and I will pay you in kind. I could say that you still owe me," said Jabba.

"I can say a lot of things too, it doesn't make them true." Nes gulped his drink, and set the empty glass down. Jabba grabbed a hose that was sitting next to him and began to puff, smoke billowed from its mouth. Jabba then reached behind his pipe, and pulled out a metal box and set it on the table before Nes. Nes greedily snatched it up.

"I like the arrangement I have now, thanks."

"Very well, Nes. Just don't forget what happened last time. My monster is always needing food."

Nes stood and half bowed to Jabba.

"Good luck at the final next week." Nes smiled and turned to walk away. I remained standing next to the table for a moment. Jabba continued to puff on his pipe looking me up and down and it laughed again.

Repulsed, I walked away.

"I got it, let's get the hell outta here," said Nes.

"I couldn't agree more," I said. We walked out of the tower and back down towards Nes' land speeder. We drove away leaving the stadium on the horizon.

"Jabba has something up his sleeve. We better keep our eyes open," Nes said nervously.

"Not that Jabba doesn't have a reason to be upset. Your pilot cheated didn't he?" I asked, already knowing the answer. I just wanted to hear Nes say it.

"That's the name of the game, Wookiee. You do what you can to win. Jabba would have done no different."

"What were you talking about, a special arrangement?"

"Jabba is very nosey and likes to butt in on everyone's business." Nes' answer was shaky.

"He seemed like he was laughing at you. What were you talking about?" I felt that something was wrong, and that Nes was hesitant to tell me. Nes paused for a moment in thought. I finally started to see some of what was going through his mind since leaving the stadium, but it was clouded and unclear. I couldn't divine anything solid.

"I had a few bad business deals in the past with Jabba. My associate paid the price as a warning to me."

"Your associate?" A quick flash of a dark skinned creature hidden by shadow reaching through bars towards me, or towards Nes rather, came into my mind. The alien was terrified, and then I heard the roar. It reminded me of the fierce predators on Kashyyyk. There was a creature coming up behind the alien who desperate to be free.

I left Nes' mind and came back to myself.

"The one I replaced, I assume?" I asked.

"It's not how you think. He was a friend, and because of a bad deal he was fed to Jabba's monster that he keeps at his palace." I stopped and slowly moved my hand to my lightsaber fully intending to cut Nes in half.

"And is that the reason you wanted to reach a deal with me? So the next bad deal you get into, I'll pay the price?"

"Just wait. This doesn't have to get ugly." Nes brought the land speeder to an abrupt halt, and inched his hand towards the blaster on his right hip.

"Help me get one more job done and our agreement is over, I'll get you enough money to get off planet, or get your own place, or whatever you want. All right?" He moved his hand away from his blaster and I took my hand from my lightsaber.

"I think the faster this relationship ends the better," I said. Nes' mind became shrouded again.

"We'll both get what we want from this arrangement, and we can go about our lives, there's not reason to be unfriendly. I'll drop you off at the room, and I'll come get you when I am ready for you. I'll keep my ears open for any news about your troubles, just so you know there are no hard feelings."

Nes put the land speeder back into gear and we sped off. The trip back to the apartment complex was quiet. Both of us were weary of the other; our brief business relationship had gone sour considerably fast. When we arrived back at Mos Eisley, I went up to the room, and Nes again locked the door behind him on his way out. I flopped down on the couch, frustrated with my entire situation.

I woke with a start, lying in the same position that I had flopped into on the couch. I grabbed for my lightsaber, and with a sharp crack and the familiar hiss I activated the lightsaber, expecting attackers. The crimson glow of the blade barely lit my face, casting a gaunt shadow on my features. The room was dark, not like night, but a clinging darkness, like some black fluid filled the room. I felt something there.

I looked deeper into the black as it writhed and swirled in on itself. Then I heard the faint voice, my name on the wind as it used to be in my dreams. The pitch black was everywhere and nowhere all at once until it faded. The darkness swallowed it. Then I was alone, alone with the darkness closing in on me. I swung my saber in a wide panicked arc. The darkness engulfed the burning energy blade holding it fast. It moved down the blade to the hilt, and then to my hands, then to my arms eating me alive. My screams were drowned out when the blackness poured into my throat.

I woke screaming. My saber sat idly on the floor, and the room was cold and dark, the normal dark of night. I jumped up and turned on the light to chase away the shadows in the room and in my mind. The room was as it should've been. I figured I had fallen asleep moments after I had lain down. After a few more moments I regained my composure. I felt terribly alone in that small room, and with my vulnerabilities manifesting more often.

"These damn dreams. Ambushing me like some coward would, nothing tangible for me to cut down," I said to myself out loud, more for the sake of hearing a real voice. I made myself some food, or attempted to make something edible out of what passed for food in the condenser. I tried to block out the images of my new dream as I ate, telling myself that I was just a little haywire from all that had happened. I finished eating, and realized I had far too much time to dwell on my thoughts and talk to myself.

"What the hell am I going to do once this is done and over with?" I asked myself. "Gethzerion never told me of her plans for us, that witch was always so vague when it came to details. I've escaped from the Imperial prison, I've been trained in the ways of the Dark Side and here I stand, a prisoner in this apartment, making dinner." I went to lay back down with lightsaber in hand trying to keep my eyes open as I stared at the ceiling.

I dozed off again. And again I dreamt.

I don't know if it was a relief to have had the original dream back, or the new one. It wasn't comforting that time. I relived each painful moment in my mind, helpless to do anything about it. The blaster-fire lit up the trees, the bodies hit the floor, a stormtrooper reached for me, and then I woke in shock. A hand was around my throat threatening to choke the life out of me. It was dark and I couldn't see their faces. Two others hidden in the darkness grabbed my arms and held them in place with all their strength. I tried pulling out of their grasp, but they held me tight. I screamed and roared. I tried biting at their faces, but the one holding my throat punched me in the head each time I tried. My lightsaber was nowhere to be found. I tried kicking, but my legs were being hastily tied together. I focused my thoughts onto the one grabbing my throat. I could feel the Force flow through me as I tossed him away hard enough to slam into the opposite wall knocking him unconscious. The other two responded quickly, and slammed a rifle stock into my skull. I lost consciousness.

I woke an unknown amount of time later. A steady, fast breeze was flowing over me. It was bright. My head throbbed, and I could taste blood in my mouth. I then felt the collar around my neck pinching the flesh, and the binders around my wrists and ankles. I thought for a moment that the past six years were a dream, and I was still a captive of the Empire, until my vision cleared and I realized I was laying flat on the floorboard of a land speeder heading to some unknown place. One of my captors sat across from me with a blaster inches from my face, I could smell the oil on it. The other two sat in the front seat.

"It's awake," said the one with the blaster, a human.

"Make sure she doesn't pull anymore of her Jedi tricks. Plant one in her leg if she moves." Not as much to my surprise but to my own gullibility, Nes was there. He turned around from the front passenger seat to face me.

"Sorry, girl, but I didn't think you'd be willing for this last job, so I had to persuade you. See, that race didn't make me quite as much as I hoped. With Jabba breathing down my neck about what I owed him in a round about way, I had little choice but to offer you as a substitute."

I thought of bringing my lightsaber to me, but couldn't see where they had put it. I tried entering their minds, but the pulsing pain in my skull compounded by the ever-burning suns disturbed my concentration.

"Look at it this way," Nes said flippantly, "at least you won't have to figure out where to go or what you'll do once our arrangement ends, you'll have room and board, and a job." He laughed.

"Our arrangement doesn't end here, Nes," I promised. He just shook his head with a big dumb smirk on his face.

"It moved," said the one holding the blaster. Before I could say anything else, the butt stock of his blaster came smashing into my head at the same place as before.

I awoke again to a boot jabbing at my ribs. Blood congealed in my left eye half blinding me. I was face down in the sand, and the suns beat down on my already throbbing head.

"Get up," said Nes.

Stumbling, and weak on my feet, I pushed myself up, still bound by the wrists and neck. I spit out the sand that had blown into my mouth, and blinked to clear my vision. When I was able to see, I saw a huge domed building thankfully blotting out the suns' light. It was covered in the same rough texture and bland color as the rest of the planet, as if the buildings on Tatooine were constructions built from the very sands they rested on. Jabba's palace, I assumed. A sharp pain shot through my eyes as a ray of sunlight hit them, like a knife being pushed out from within. I winced and returned my squinting eyes to the ground.

"Let's go, I want to get this over with," Nes said. I couldn't figure if it was guilt, impatience, or nervousness in Nes' voice when he said that, but something was weighing on his mind. My own mind was in chaos because of the pain from the several large knots on my head. I felt for them, and was surprised by their large size. The slightest touch enraged them even further. I lowered my hands from my head as if it would explode with any sudden movements, and I took some deep, slow breaths. Nes and his goons led me to the front of the palace. One of Nes' lackeys rapped on the ancient, metal door, and spoke in the same language Jabba spoke. After a few moments came loud clicks, and metal on metal grinding, and then the door slowly began to lift from its resting place. It creaked and groaned in protest. The whirring of the motors almost over came the noise of the door itself. I was almost glad to be shoved into the darkness within the palace. It was like being on fire and jumping into the cold, running water of a river. We crossed over the threshold, and the doors closed behind us.

They shoved me down a flight of stairs and into an open chamber that looked like another tavern, only busier and muskier like a campsite. There was also the same familiar alien melting pot, the excited music, and the Twi-lek dancers seductively dancing for the rancorous crowd. Upon a platform at the center of the tavern flanked a black-robed Twi-lek with jagged teeth and red eyes, was the fat worm-like creature Jabba, leisurely puffing on his pipe. Right next to the pipe sat a small tank with nunas swimming inside. Lounging in the coils of Jabba's tail in mimicry of its master sat a beaked, rat looking thing that cackled maniacally when it looked at me with its jaundiced, yellow eyes.

"So, you've decided to settle then, Nes?" Jabba spoke with booming laughter. The entire group of people laughed with him almost like they were afraid not to.

"This makes us even, Jabba. You can have your minions back now, and let me go about my businesses." Nes said impatiently and nervously, like the sniveling parasite that he was.

"Such luck I have been having. Two Wookiees now." Jabba laughed again as did everyone else. "Very well, your debts are settled. Next time Nes, nothing short of your dead body will settle." Jabba laughed triumphantly, the crowd laughed with him yet again like his own personal, portable chorus. I looked up to watch Nes walk back up the stairs we came from. I could see my lightsaber dangling from his belt as he left. It took all the will I could muster to prevent myself from lunging for Nes and ripping his spine out with my claws. I figured I wouldn't make it two steps before I collapsed from dizziness and be beaten again.

Jabba then spoke to me.

"So we meet again, Makaashyya. Nes was lucky to have found you. I hope you will enjoy your stay here, there is much for you to do," said Jabba, trying to make his palace sound like some kind of resort. I tried to pry the creature's mind again in order to grasp something of what he was intending, but either my head hurt too much, or his mind was too well controlled. I couldn't tell which, nor did I have a moment to guess before I was being shoved from behind to a far corner of the bar by a Gamorrean guard, and down another flight of stairs. Jabba, his pet, and the crowd laughed at me as I descended. The stairs ended in a darkened corridor. On either side were rows of jail cells. The guard pushed me inside one of the opened cells, and the door quickly shut and locked behind me with a rickety, metallic clang that echoed throughout the jail cells.

I went to the door and tried looking around outside of the cell, but it was too dark. The other prisoners grunted, snorted and growled. I shook my head and turned away from the door feeling as hopeless as ever, so I laid down on the hard metal platform jutting from the wall of the cell that served as a bed, and closed my eyes. Luckily it was dark, save for a dim red light coming from the top of the cell. I calmed myself, and let my mind drift, trying to ignore the pain. The binders about my neck and wrists dug through my fur to find the soft flesh underneath giving me an enraging reminder of my imprisonment at the hands of the Empire. With nothing left but my anger I let my mind continue to drift. The noise in my brain was like static, loud, thundering static at first. The thoughts from the other prisoners came in multitudes of whispers, and desperate pleas as I wandered from cell to cell. None were left empty.

I tried to find Jabba, only to meet a wall. His Twi-lek servant on the other hand was very open, almost eager to have his thoughts known. He was bitter and contemptuous, and full of bluster. Like several others there, he plotted and schemed against his fellow criminals including Jabba. Jabba's image repeated again and again in the Twi-lek's mind as if he was lusting for revenge against Jabba for something, and then I felt something strange, something I hadn't felt since Dathomir.

To my shock there was another Wookiee in one of the cells. The echo of his mind stood out among the rest of the prisoners where it was hidden from me before. I drifted to it and away from the bar, down the stairs, and to a cell near mine. As I approached and tried to enter his mind it closed shut and pushed me away with Force, waking me from my meditation.

"It's just as well," I said to myself. "Best not to distract myself in the thoughts of another slave." I rolled over, and let sleep take me and resigned myself to my fate for the time being.

I couldn't tell how much time had passed since I had fallen asleep. Sitting up sent shockwaves through my tender skull. The knots on my head had subsided a little, but the slightest movement angered them. I sat there enjoying the fortuitous dark, building the strength to move around. Then the door opened, and another one of the pig-guards clumsily stepped into the cell, dragged me to my feet, and shoved me out the door. They marched me past the cells, and to a room deeper in the palace, the Gamorrean constantly prodding me in the back with his spear all the while. We rounded a corner and came to a room filled with busted droids, wires, and sheets of metal, junk. It was a factory of some sort. Machines separated the assorted junk parts of droids, appliances, and whatever else that had been scavenged or stolen by Jabba's henchmen. Droids worked on the machines, or on other droids. Some looked like they were being tortured. It seemed almost comical if it were not so brutal. A functional droid stood at a podium that the guard shoved me towards.

"Yes, the new laborer." The antiquated droid said in a spiteful, raspy, failing voice. The tinge of emotion from the automaton amazed me. I never saw a droid behave in such a way before. "Your assignment is salvage. You are to disassemble, sort, and transport. You will begin here."

The droid pointed to a heap of busted droids, and electronics tangled in a mass of wires in a far corner of the factory.

"The master has need for parts, and functional machinery. If you resist, you will be destroyed," the droid said matter-of-factly. The droid didn't look very capable and it was weaponless, but the guards were another story, and then there was the matter of actually escaping from the lower levels of the palace. The lack of options frustrated me yet again.

"Work well, and you will be treated fairly," said the droid. The guard shoved me again in the back towards the pile of junk in the corner with a brute snort of simple-minded triumph. Before I could decide to obey or to fight back, the blunt end of the pig-guard's spear met with the back of my head sending me to the ground.

From prison, to prison, to prison I seemed destined. I bided my time, and waited for an opportunity no matter how small, doing the work as I was told within that stifling factory, surrounded by the smells of fire, electricity, and the circuitry of droids. Days bled into weeks. I was kept under close guard at all times because of my misbehavior, which was often rewarded with beatings. The headaches were pervasive. At times a blaster bolt to the head seemed like it would have been a pleasant change of pace. However, from my small home in the prison cell I was gathering much information from the weaker-minded people that frequented Jabba's palace. The layout of the palace was eventually made clear to me from their memory, including how many guards there were, and other interesting things that could prove useful when I made my escape. Nes had yet to return as far as I knew.

A few weeks passed by my guess, and things continued as normal. I worked until my body ached, and my hands raw. I was fed meagerly, and then sent back to my cell. I had yet to make it through a day without getting hit, and it always seemed to be a headshot as well. Little did I know my opportunity was fast approaching.

I was busy tearing the guts from a disabled droid when I saw him enter the room carrying immense metal crates on his shoulders like they were nothing. It was the other Wookiee, the one whose mind I felt when I was first put in the cell. He was tall, definitely one of the tallest Wookiees I had ever seen. His short, black fur with rivers of white fur throughout, lazily bulged and rippled from the thick muscle underneath despite the heavy load he was carrying. He towered over the guards and anyone else, organic or robotic. I didn't realize how long I had been watching him when his pale gray eyes met mine. I turned away trying to ignore his presence, and ripped more wires and circuits from the droid I was working on. The Wookiee dropped his crates onto the floor; the floor vibrated. I could feel him looking at me, smiling at me even as he was prodded away by the pig-guards. I didn't realize that I had been holding my breath the entire time until he left.

Hours passed as I worked, and the other Wookiee kept coming into my mind. I was in conflict with myself. As much as I desired to be around and speak with my own kind, I was repulsed by the idea because of what I had done. "Because of what they had done," I reassured myself.

"You." Enter the annoying, overlord droid. "The master needs his sail barge loaded for a delivery. Follow the guards to help the other one like you."

I figured the droid meant the other Wookiee. I stood and followed one Gamorrean guard, while being prodded in the back by his partner. Then I realized where I was being led, after remembering what I had learned of the palace from the other prisoners. Upstairs through a back way, and then into the blinding light I had not seen in almost two months. The light of the familiar twin suns stung my eyes and enflamed my already pulsing head, but it was welcome. I didn't realize how much I missed the natural light. I actually missed the cursed suns of Tatooine. After several minutes of me blindly walking, trusting the guards to direct me, my vision began to clear.

A repulsor-lift ship hovered in a small bay right outside of the palace. It was shaped like a boat. A cloth-like canopy covered the top as protection from the heat. Next to it sat a similar, smaller craft surrounded by guards. And then there was the other Wookiee. He was standing at one end of a huge metal beam lying in the sand. The guards prodded me to the other end of the beam.

"We need to get this on the barge," said the Wookiee. It had been long time since I had heard someone else speak Shyriiwook; it was comforting and repulsive all at the same time. His voice brought back to my feelings that I had tried to leave in the mud back on Dathomir. Again I had to force myself to break eye contact with him. Easily he lifted the beam as I struggled, and then I heard the echo of his mind. His thoughts were like off of the walls of a cave.

"Throw it, throw it, throw it," he said over and over, and no sooner did it occur to me than we sent it flying towards the guards crushing several of them underneath the beam. The blow to their fellow guards stunned the others for a few vital moments.

With little time to think, I jumped up onto the smaller ship force pushing two guards clear off the cruiser and into the hot sands of the dune sea. The third guard, a wrinkle-faced monster with a blaster, took aim and fired, searing my fur at my side underneath my arm. He didn't have time for a second shot before I had his neck in my hands. I wanted to rend his throat, but I stopped myself in the presence of the other Wookiee. I picked up the guard, and threw him at another, knocking them both out. The Wookiee then climbed onto the craft and went straight for the controls and engaged the thrusters before I could get my balance. Ungracefully, I toppled to the floor. The blaster fire barely missed us as we sped away.

"That was some quick thinking. I was hoping you'd get the message," said the Wookiee with a giant smile on his face, clearly enjoying himself. I sat up and peeked over the side of the craft.

"We're not safe yet. They're coming," I said. He looked back to see what I saw. A landspeeder and two speeder bikes came up fast behind us, a rooster tail of dust billowing into the sky behind them. "Can't you get this thing moving any faster?" I yelled to him as I scoured about the craft for any kind of weapon.

"This isn't a speeder and we couldn't exactly be picky now could we?"

Another volley of blaster fire tore holes into the side panels of our cruiser. The Wookiee jerked hard on the controls veering the ship into a hard turn to the right, skirting around a huge rock jutting from the sands, and kicking up a billowing cloud of dust in our wake. For a moment I thought we lost them until they came speeding out of the cloud as close to us as before.

"You have to do better than that," I tried yelling over the chaotic noise of the wind sweeping past us, the blaster fire, and the protesting whine of the cruiser. Red blaster bolts screamed through the air. Aside from ripping the chairs from their moorings, the craft was bereft of weapons. The two guards on speeder bikes finally caught up to us and took opposite sides of our cruiser. Like some insane daredevil, the guard on our left made a flying leap from his bike with a knife in hand. The Wookiee turned the cruiser hard to the left, and barreled over the rider-less speeder bike. The cruiser lunged on its side as it grated over the speeder bike, throwing the guard right on top of me, surprising both him and me. I pushed him up from me, and put my foot to his chest. With all my strength, I sent him flying back over the side of the cruiser flying headfirst into the blur of ground underneath us. His screams were muffled by a mouthful of hot sand upon impact.

"We still have one on us," I shouted to the Wookiee, hoping he would hear me.

"Don't worry, opportunity blows. Look!" He pointed to the horizon. It took me a moment to see past the bright haze, the blowing wind and the sand.

"What is that?" I squinted my eyes to bring what I saw into focus. I looked, and coming towards us as fast as we were approaching it was a wall of sand that was slowly starting to blot out the suns. "You can't be serious!" I said with near panic.

"You got a better idea?" He steered the cruiser straight for the mountain of dust, a big smile stretched upon his face. I looked behind us. The remaining guard still chasing had started to slow down.

"You may want to close your eyes," the Wookiee yelled, and then ducked to the floor of the cruiser, his hands still holding the controls. I ducked and took one last look at the dust storm feet away from us, and then curled up onto the floor as tightly as I could and braced myself. The dust-filled gale hit the cruiser, shearing off a significant amount of speed. The guard on the landspeeder tried to turn around only to be flipped over by the violent winds as he made his turn. I covered my eyes and mouth with my hands, and waited.

The craft threatened to rattle itself to pieces. It lunged, and rocked, the thrusters whirred in strain and then the sound of metal on metal came as sand filled the intakes. The next thing I knew we were being sent head over heels into the sand, gravity seemed to invert, my stomach churned, the Wookiee laughed joyfully, and the craft came to rest on its side. I couldn't open my eyes to see, the sand storm prevented it. The sand also started to engulf my legs as well, and I was quickly becoming entombed within the cruiser. Then I felt his hand pull me from my position of cover and pulled me close to him, and there we stayed until the storm passed.

Chapter 7

It must have been hours later when the winds finally died down and the sand returned to its home on the dunes. We were buried up to our waist. Sand was embedded into our fur covering us in a sheet that cracked and broke apart as we moved, like a dry lakebed. There was no sign of the other speeder or the guard that was riding it.

"We better get this skiff out and working or we will be in real trouble." He was already tugging at the side of the submerged vessel to turn it right side up as he spoke. With our combined strength we were able to pull it free. He went to the controls and tried to power up the cruiser. I stood there scanning the dune sea as it stretched to the horizon in all directions, the heat waves blurred the horizon, but the wall of sand was gone, as was any sign of the palace. The cruiser sputtered as he powered it up, one engine whined and died, the other screamed like a mynock desperate for food.

"Well, it won't be stylish, but it'll work. Shall we?" the Wookiee said with a flourish of his arm in greeting. The cruiser leaned on its side, the repulsor-lifts damaged, smoke poured from the one functioning thruster, and a few inches-thick layer of sand covered the floor and seats. I got in, and he drove us off further into the Dune Sea.

"Where are you taking us?" I asked as I sat down in the co-pilot's seat next to Echobe, brushing the sand from my fur.

"To a little far out place. Anchorhead. I have friends there." A Wookiee on the planet with friends, the idea to me was laughable. I assumed there wasn't some Wookiee refuge in the desert, and it was hard for me to imagine what type of friends he could have on this scorched hellhole of a planet.

"What's your name?" he asked me, and looked at me. His gray eyes were piercing, and full of compassion and curiosity. I hesitated for a moment, trying not to make direct contact with my own tainted eyes, and was tempted to give him some false name. I decided it was safe.

"Makaashyya," I said. He smiled, and nodded in approval.

"How did you manage to get yourself into Jabba's employ?" He asked.

"I was betrayed by a business partner, and I'll leave it at that," I answered, hoping to end our conversation.

"Okay, then. Well, my name is Echobe."


His name echoed in my mind. Pleasant warmth flowed through my veins driven by my heart to my entire body as he gave me his name. Unexpected, comforting and repulsive all at once, reminders of what once was started to bring to surface the horrid feelings within me. I just wished to be free of his company, or rather have him be free of mine, but I had to remain with him at the very least through the trip to Anchorhead, or so I told myself.

The heat quickly became unbearable. Whatever had created all things certainly didn't intend for a Wookiee to live on Tatooine, I reasoned. The twin suns hung in the sky unforgiving, like the eyes of a fiery, angry god searing the landscape, bleaching it and anything else unfortunate enough to be caught in its path. The only abstract in color were the rocks that sporadically jutted from the surface like the skeletal fingers of the planet itself, buried underneath the sands for all time, desperate for respite from the sands. A few hours passed on our journey. I had begun to think that we would never reach Anchorhead before succumbing to the omnipresent, ineffable heat.

"There, you see it? We're almost there." Echobe pointed. I stood up and looked. Slowly coming into view were some buildings that barely stood out from the rest of the desert. The buildings barely stood over two stories tall, but even after the short time I had spent on the planet I knew the main part of the building was usually below the surface, away from the blazing heat.

The skiff nearly fell apart before we reached the small town. Its crippled side carved a trench into the ground as it began to drag. The smoke started to rise from both engines, metal panels and unknown parts that were once attached to wires started to fly off the cruiser as we pulled up to the town wall.

"Well, safe and sound, what'd I tell ya?" Echobe joked, then jumped from the cruiser and onto the ground not bothering to shut off the almost destroyed vehicle. I followed reluctantly, softly treading as if the cruiser was about to explode. It looked as if it was about to.

"Follow me and I'll get those binders off of you." Echobe gestured to me.

He led me to the largest building within the small town. As we walked in I immediately recognized the atmosphere, the familiar sounds, and smells that identified the place as yet another tavern. We walked to the back of the bar, and around a corner to a door. A human wearing a brown and tattered duster jacket stood in front of it. Echobe walked to him, and they exchanged hushed words. The human looked to me, sizing me up while Echobe talked to him. They finished talking, and the human then stood aside so Echobe could push some buttons on a keypad next to the door to open it. He then motioned for me to follow, and with caution, I did.

We walked down a flight of stairs leading underground. The hallway was dark, as the sunlight had no passage. Particles of sand hung in the air. There was no escape from the sands. We must have descended two stories underground before we reached the end. A small overhead light lit the anteroom that housed several other steel doors. Gray cargo crates were stacked up on both sides of the room; a thick layer of dust covered everything, making it seem as if the area was abandoned. It was wholly unimpressive.

"What is this place, and who are you? Why have you brought me here?" I asked impatiently. I felt as if I was being toyed with.

"We are among friends." Echobe's voice was calm, and firm. "I brought you here so you'd have somewhere to go, and at the very least give you a place to catch your breath and gather your thoughts." Echobe opened one of the crates and revealed a torch tool. "Let me gets those off you."

He cupped my bound wrists in his massive hand and lifted them up to his eye level. I seemed as a child to him. I had to stretch my arms a little to reach him. He then activated the tool, and a bright blue flame ignited at the end with a sharp crack, and he melted the lock on the binders and they opened. I had to keep myself from shuddering as he gently pulled the binders from my wrists and tossed them inside the open crate. I felt almost queasy as I tried to hide my reaction from his touch, especially when he gently moved the fur from my neck to remove the collar. The fur covering his hands was a fluid black, and it shined in the dim overhead light. He removed the slaver collar from my neck with another blast from the torch. I stepped back away from him rubbing my sore neck and wrists.

"Is this your place?" I asked, averting my eyes from his curious gaze, and trying to smooth down the fur that had stood up on the back of my neck from his close presence.

"This place is open to friends. I live here for now, so to speak, but no, I don't own it."

I looked up at him for a foolish brief moment, his gray eyes fixed on mine.

"Your eyes, they looked irritated. Did you injure them?" He asked and he approached me, concern writ on his face. He noticed the unnatural color of my eyes and the change that had overcome the green, an unfortunate side effect that I regretted as he tried to look into them.

"My eyes are fine," I said sharply, and looked around the room, at the crates piled against the walls, anywhere but into his eyes, anything to dismiss his concern and gaze.

"Do you wish to go? You are not being forced to stay, Makaashyya. But I recommend you at least hideout for a few days. We have a jamming frequency so Jabba won't be able to track the collars here. And if you do decide to stay and help ??"

I cut him off.

"So you come to your agenda finally. Help with what?" I asked with forced impatience. I was in fact deeply curious about what he was doing there.

"Everyone has an agenda, Makaashyya."

"So what is yours?" I asked accusingly. He tossed the tool back into the crate, and paused for a moment. He looked back to me and sighed.

"I belong to a group of people who wish to see the end of the Empire. I wish to end the suffering of our people. This place is one of our bases and part of my command. I brought you here for obvious reasons."

"Some command," I said sardonically. "Obvious reasons, such as?"

He looked at me in confusion.

"You know of the fate that has befallen Kashyyyk. It has been under siege for many years now. The Empire is exterminating our people with the help of the Trandoshans. It has to end or our people will die, and Kashyyyk will be plundered to a husk."

"And you seek to free them from a fate they willingly agreed to?" The anger began to build inside me because of Echobe's sympathy for my people I had come to resent. He was undaunted.

"Not everyone had a choice, Makaashyya. I know that some of our people have been complicit, but these are terrible and confusing times for many peoples. We are not the only ones being oppressed and slaughtered, I assure you."

Echobe was confident, resolute, and knew more than what he told me. The compassion flowed from him like a wellspring as he spoke, but the anger within me still had control with blinding hate and rage.

"What do you and your friends here intend to do? Give our people weapons? Help them fight a war against the Empire and the Trandoshans? It would take more than a small group of friends for that." I raised my voice. I wanted to argue with him, to tear his determination apart and crumble it to pacify my own guilt. He instead turned away from me and towards one of the steel doors directly opposite of the stairway.

"If you wish to know more you can follow me, or you can just leave and go wherever you wish. I won't stop you."

I felt as if he was purposely trying my patience. He somehow knew I wished to see more, his mind echoed as much intentionally. I determined then that the Force was playing its own subtle role.

"Suppose I just inform the Empire of what you've told me," I said with a sneer.

"A Wookiee Imperial?" Echobe laughed until he felt me staring at him. I could feel the Force welling up inside of my being. I think he felt it too. He reclaimed his serious tone.

"It's up to you, Makaashyya." And with that he walked to the door, and it slid open as he passed through, and shut on its own behind him leaving me there in the dust-filled anteroom. I stood there for several moments. Again I had found myself thrust into a situation with few options, left to weigh all of them. I looked back and forth between the stairs and the door Echobe had passed through. After thinking of my options for several minutes I decided to walk through the door. What else could I have done?

Echobe greeted me with a smile on his face.

"I knew I'd be seeing you again," he said almost playfully. The room we stood in was large, and spanned beyond the footprint of the tavern above. It bustled with people of many different races and cultures. The tavern above provided excellent cover for the large operation underneath it. Several other sealed doors branched off to other rooms; occasionally one would open, someone would walk through and it, and it would slide shut again. People sat at computer terminals; some worked on repairing various pieces of equipment, others were cleaning blasters. Droids rolled on wheels or on tracks, or walked about on spidery, and human-like legs as they went about completing assigned tasks. Computer terminals hummed, and displayed information that I could not comprehend.

"So you wish to join our cause, Makaashyya?" Echobe asked after letting all that I was seeing to soak into my memory.

"I don't have much choice do I?" I responded with defeat. As if sensing my frustration, Echobe reached his hand out to me with a smile. Foolishly, I put my hand into his, and did my best to ignore the feelings shooting through my skin from his touch.

"We are the remnants of the Old Republic," Echobe began, "the Alliance against the Empire, and we could always use help from like-minded people. It's a desperate situation since the Empire has been clamping down on open society. First was Kashyyyk; soon they'll be taking over all private production, and will continue to blockade systems, rounding people up as slaves. Our people will be the first to die."

"I'm aware of that." I released my hand from his and crossed my arms.

He looked at me with worry-filled eyes.

"You must be tired and hungry. I'll show you where you can get cleaned up and will I have a room made up for you. I'll bring you some food as well. Our droids have gotten pretty good at cooking." He chuckled, and then he led me around the base, giving me a brief tour of the place to show me the necessities. He left me in a room that had been hastily set up for me during the brief tour away from the barracks. It was scattershot, and makeshift, but it was the first safe bed I had seen in years. After showering and eating I went to my temporary room. All at once the exhaustion hit me, the energy ebbed from my body and I was overcome with weakness. I lay down and slept, and dreamt; glad to be free from Jabba's grasp, and a slave no more.

A gentle metal knocking sounded against the motorized sliding door jolting me from my sleep. I could feel Echobe's presence on the other side. How I wished I could have avoided him. It was difficult enough being near to him, and more so trying to avoid his touch, or from looking into his eyes so he wouldn't look too deeply at what was in mine. I liked him, I admitted to myself, but as quick as that admission came I pushed the feelings to a dark corner of my being to be consumed by shadows so they wouldn't get in the way.

"Come in," I said casually after I righted myself on the bed. The door slid open with a sharp whir of the aging door servo. Echobe stood there; his binders had been removed, and he was dressed in a long dark brown coat with a belt around his waist with a blaster holstered on it. Strapped to his leg and connected to his belt on the other side was a large Ryyk Blade, the traditional, and very personal hand constructed swords from Kashyyyk. It was fit for two hands, the blade tapered from the hilt and then bent into a sharp almost crescent curve at the tip.

"Did you come for a fight?" I said with a smile on my face jokingly. A part of me wanted to instigate him to pick a fight, another part of me wanted to shoot myself for being flirtatious like a childish Wookiee-girl.

"It wouldn't do for me to surrender to an unarmed Wookiee now would it?" Echobe smiled at me, and stepped inside the room, the door slid shut behind him as he passed over the door's sensors. "Actually, an Imperial patrol has been spotted too close to the city. Imperials hardly come out here unless they have reason, and considering recent events, I think they may have caught our scent. I came to see if you wanted to join us on this run, get your feet wet. Otherwise, it would be safer for you to be on your way if that's your choice. We can keep them distracted while you make your escape. I apologize for ruining your night's sleep, but now is the best time to decide."

"You're not going to stop are you? Why do you do this? Are you willing to die for what you believe in?" I had doubts. I doubted his valor, his reasons. I didn't want to believe that there was a Wookiee, one that I liked, that defied my assumptions of the weakness I felt of my own people.

He pushed himself away from the wall where he was leaning and stepped closer to me.

"Yes, I am, and I will not be alone. As the Elders have said, you are judged by what you do in life. For too long have our people been enslaved, and now we face extinction, as do many other races from countless worlds. The Emperor's power stretches from one end of the galaxy to the other, laying ruin to everything. You are a part of this, just like anyone else, whether you like it or not. What happened to Alderaan will happen to other worlds if the Empire is not stopped."

Despite the years of my separation from the rest galaxy on blockaded Kashyyyk, the destruction of Alderaan sent shockwaves that rippled through people's very souls, from planet to planet. There wasn't a creature in the galaxy that didn't know what the Empire had done, and amazingly there were still those that supported what the Empire had done. The pain of the day Alderaan died hurt as new when Echobe mentioned it.

"All right, I'll go with you, but I make no promises. I am still free to leave as I see fit," I said. Echobe nodded in approval.

"Everyone here is free to come and go as they please, but we still maintain a chain of command. I do understand you have no commitment to us though. So."


"So, shall we then?" Echobe opened his hand to me again, palm up, inviting, and with that smile of his. I let him lead me to the armory. I was given a small blaster, and a hooded robe that was unmistakably from Kashyyyk, a traditional traveling robe. Somehow Echobe had managed to salvage pieces of home. I didn't ask how, though he looked at me as if hoping I would.

I ignored him.

Echobe, me and three other soldiers went up the stairs back to the tavern with our cloaks drawn over our heads and out into the small town to look for the patrol.

After a quick search of the city, we traveled by foot far out of the city to look. The desert took on a whole new look at night. The lambent, blue moon of Tatooine cast a gentle light on the sands. At night, the desert looked almost serene. Like a placid, glimmering ocean that twinkled as light shone on microscopic crystals.

After we searched the perimeter of the city for a few hours we finally caught site of the patrol miles outside the town wall. Echobe sent a scout with binoculars to the patrol while we waited, lying on the sand. No one spoke until the scout returned. After about an hour and a half, the scout crawled his way back up the dune we were resting on. He took a few moments to catch his breath, and then he gave his report.

"There are six of them; four whites, a gray and a civilian." The scout's breath came in ragged gasps. "Setting up communications it seems, and some shelters, their mounts are tethered. Looks like they are settling in for the night. Possible staging point."

The scout concluded his report and then slumped to the ground. Echobe patted the scout on his back.

"Good, you rest a minute. Can we intercept their radio signals?" Echobe said over his shoulder to one of his subordinates named Scious. Echobe grabbed the long-range viewers off of the back of the laying scout to look at the distant camp.

"No sir," said Scious. "We never received the jammers we were promised." Echobe shook his head in disappointment, and then handed me the viewers, and pointed to the camp. I saw four stormtroopers wearing their usual armor, the four whites as the scout called them, one commanding officer ?? the gray. I almost choked when I saw the civilian. Nes was with them.

"What the hell is he doing?" I thought. "This can't be some coincidence that he is here with Imperials." I decided not to tell Echobe, but getting to Nes had to be done one way or another I decided. I handed the viewers back.

"Contact central, inform them of the situation, we may have to abandon sooner than planned," ordered Echobe, seemingly to no one in particular. Yet, one of the Alliance soldiers started whispering into the radio he had strapped to his back. Echobe then looked to me. "We're going to capture these six, hopefully before they contact others. Our escape may have attracted them here, but the civilian has me curious though. He may be an informant. Imperials don't take civilians on a scouting mission for fun. He knows something we need to know."

I then decided it was as good a time as any to tell some of the truth. "I know him," I said. Echobe and his three subordinates looked at me with cocked eyebrows.

"A little hesitant with information I see, Makaashyya? Who is he?" Echobe asked, with a tormented grin.

"He is the reason I was enslaved to Jabba. He traded me for a debt." Echobe's stare penetrated my eyes, searching in vain for the truth that hid from his prying mind. He was clearly angry with me, and he was using his intentional or unintentional telepathic ability to find the answer.

"Why didn't you tell me this before?" There was a twinge of concern and an overtone of doubt to Echobe's voice. I matched his look with one of indifference.

"I don't trust your rebellion, and I don't trust you, I have no reason to. I do things as I see fit." I gave my answer, not allowing a debate on my motives. Echobe gave me a wry smile conceding defeat. He then looked to his subordinates and nodded.

"The plan still stands; we are to capture these six, alive if possible. The civilian, whose name is?" Echobe looked at me with piercing, annoyed eyes, and waited for me to speak.

"Nes," I answered.

"Nes and the commanding officer must be captured alive."

"Makaashyya, Hase, you stay here. Scious, Rikot, you come with me. Use your inhibitors. Kill only if you have to. Keep them off the radio. Let's move." Echobe stood and started wading through the sand towards the camp, the others followed. Radioman Hase and I, from the small hill overlooking the Imperial encampment, watched as Echobe, Scious, and Rikot crouched their way towards the camp. It took about twenty minutes for them reach their destination on the outskirts of the small campsite, hidden in the shadows on the endlessly rolling dunes. I looked through the viewers, and saw that Nes and the commanding Imperial officer were both looking at data pad and talking to each other, and the others were tending to their mounts, or their firearms. Echobe, Scious and Rikot encircled the camp, slowly coming to bear on their targets. Those inside the camp were totally unaware.

Echobe then stood up and threw something into the center of the camp, and a second later a bright flash of light lit up the desert like a brief moment of sunlight had been summoned to scare away the night, blinding the Imperials. It just as quickly disappeared. When my vision cleared, I saw Nes and the Imperial officer on the ground motionless, but the fight continued. Echobe grabbed one stormtrooper by the arm and punched him in the face cracking the frowning, skull-like helmet in two. Echobe dropped the stormtrooper into a heap on the ground. Scious and Rikot took out the two other stormtroopers with hits to the head from the stock of their rifles. The last stormtrooper had made it to his blaster and started firing in a wild panic, pinning the Echobe and the others behind cargo supply crates, and rocks.

Hase beside me then pulled his rifle from his side and took aim. I watched through the viewers as a single bolt left Hase's blaster rifle and entered the head of the stormtrooper, dropping him dead. Echobe and the other two came out from behind their cover and started scouring the camp. Echobe gave a hand signal in our direction, and Hase started walking towards the camp. I followed. When we reached the camp, the radio had already been smashed. The dewbacks, stripped of their saddles and bags, were sent scurrying off into the desert. Echobe was fixing binders onto the unconscious Imperial officer's wrists. Nes was already bound and lying facedown in the sand. Nes' weapons had been stripped from him the same as the others and thrown into a pile in the middle of the camp. I went to the pile and rummaged through it. I started to get frustrated as I tossed things out of my way looking. I had scattered the pile all over the camp when Echobe walked up behind me.

"A lightsaber? It's yours I assume? It seems you have many secrets, Makaashyya." I stood and spun on my heel to face Echobe. He had the lightsaber hanging loosely from his hand, and dangling it in front of me tauntingly. I snatched it from him before he could blink.

"I'm not required to tell you anything." I was angry that he had found out. I wanted to keep my dealings in the Dark Side secret from him. "The less you know about me the better." I walked away, grasping the lightsaber in my hand; its presence made me feel whole, and safe again. Echobe had already discovered too much and was closer to me than I wanted anyone to be.

"Better for whom?" I heard Echobe add under his breath as I walked away, thinking I wouldn't hear.

It was late by the time we arrived back at Anchorhead. The Imperials we had captured remained unconscious the entire time, and only started to come to sometime after we had arrived back at the base. We took them into an interrogation room sequestered away from the main control room, and furthest away from the exit. Echobe, Scious and I were in the room with the five of them. The stormtroopers, who were bound about the ankles and wrists, sat in chairs. The Officer and Nes were strapped to standing platforms. When Nes had awoken, the surprise and fear on his face was apparent. I had expected him to start begging and sniveling.

"I knew you'd be here, Makaashyya," he said, trying to sound confident, and on the offensive. "I'm amazed you escaped from Jabba. He's not too happy about it and not too happy with me. I had to make some unruly friends to avoid his wrath."

"What did you hope to accomplish by finding me?" I asked. Nes looked around the room. His eyes passed the saber on my waist. The stormtroopers remained silent, their faces as cold as the helmets they wore.

"I knew you had help escaping from Jabba's palace, so I did some digging with the help of my friends here and found something out about your Wookiee friend."

Nes flicked his head in Echobe's direction.

"We found out that he had been seen in attacks on Imperial bases. He's killed a lot of Imperial citizens, people with families." The Imperial officer shot Nes a threatening glance, hinting to keep his mouth shut; Nes didn't take notice. "He's a terrorist escapee from Kashyyyk." Nes looked around the room to each of us expecting anger, or denials from Echobe - as I did myself ?? and then he looked to me as if expecting me to be his defender. Nes cleared his throat, and then continued. "He came into Jabba's employ under some strange circumstances. So I watched, and waited, and sure enough he helped you escape. Its just business, Makaashyya." Nes shrugged against his bonds.

I stepped closer to Nes. Echobe and Scious took a step forward ready to intercept. I wanted to kill the betraying coward right then and there, sever his head from his body and feed it to the creatures in the desert. I grabbed Nes' face and squeezed it between my fingers, puckering his lips in a ridiculous position; his teeth bit into his cheek. He winced.

"What do you mean strange circumstances?" I yelled, seething with anger. Echobe gently forced me away from Nes, and pried my hand from his face.

"I had my reasons, Makaashyya," said Echobe. I jerked my head around to face him. He continued to explain.

"I went to find whoever had killed Imperial officers at the starport in Mos Eisley. We suspected a possible breach in Imperial security and decided that we had to exploit it. After we found out that someone had left the starport at around the time the shuttle had landed, I had an informant follow Nes the following day when we found out those same Imperials were in business with him. Nes tends to talk too much when he's drunk apparently."

Nes scoffed at Echobe.

"I set myself up as a decoy, and was sold to Jabba by one of my men posing as an Imperial trying to fund his spice addiction."

I was infuriated at Echobe's admission. I despised being used and toyed with as a pawn after so long.

"So, you allowed me to be sold to Jabba as a fresh, Wookiee slave?" My hands clenched into fists, my claws dug into my palms. Remembering the forbidden act I had committed did nothing to staunch the flow of hate. I wasn't thinking clearly. I wanted to hurt and kill, to get revenge, a feeling that was coming all too easily and quickly. "Madclaw," I repeated in my mind, the name given to a Wookiee who used their claws in violence against another.

Echobe approached me.

"I had to wait for the right moment, Makaashyya. I'm sorry that you suffered. I would have stopped it if I could, but there was nothing I could do. We just couldn't storm into the palace with blasters firing. Many would have died. Besides, you weren't the only one who was beaten repeatedly." He gently grabbed my arms, and looked at me with all of the compassion and caring I had once known in Syymbacca. I couldn't stand Echobe looking at me that way. I refused to let him replace the memory of my brother. I pushed Echobe away from me, into the wall, with the Force. Everyone in the room looked at me dumbfounded, trying to figure out what I had done and how. They then looked at me with distain after they reconciled it in their minds, like I was some kind of freak. Only Echobe was different. The look of concern deepened in his eyes; he wasn't afraid or surprised, only worried. It made me want to hate him even more.

"Again and again I am caught up in people's games, from the Emperor to Gethzerion, from Nes to Echobe," I thought. I was beginning to believe they were all no better than the traitors at the prison, no better than the Empire. I wanted to kill them all; they all deserved to die, as anyone else who would stand in my way, or try to force me against my will. I turned away from Echobe, and went to walk out, to go back to my room. Echobe put his hand on my shoulder to stop me.

"I know you've suffered, Makaashyya, I know what you've been through. You can't let your hatred guide you. Hate is what has started this war." I flicked his hand off of me.

"Hate has been my greatest ally," I said, and walked through the automated door. It closed silently behind me, but I could hear Echobe's mind calling to me as I walked through the control room and back to my quarters.

Chapter 8

I lay on the bed until the sounds from the control room had died down, and the Alliance had started to go to sleep. After I was sure that everyone had gone to sleep I opened my door to look out into the main room. It was dark and quiet, only a few Alliance staff remained at their computer terminals on constant vigil. An R2 droid mutedly whirred and beeped at the door to the stairs. The door opened and the small droid rolled out. Using the shadows, and obfuscation with the Force, I stalked to the interrogation room where the four Imperials and Nes were being kept. A guard was posted outside the locked door. I was able to size up his sleep-deprived mind. He was weak and willing to obey. I approached him from the shadows, already exerting the power of the Force over his mind. His eyes glossed over, as if his soul fell into the recesses of his mind, primed for suggestion.

"You have been ordered to accompany me in to see the prisoners. I have questions for them." The enthralled Alliance soldier did as I commanded without hesitation; he opened the door to the interrogation room and closed it as we entered, locking it. The five Imperials woke as the door slid shut, and the lock tumblers clicked into place. Still bound to the platforms and chairs. Their mouths gagged. They looked at me in confusion, except for the smuggler. Nes was the only one to realize why I had come back. I ripped the adhesive strips from Nes' and the officer's mouth leaving them pink and raw, and hairless. I would have laughed if I weren't intent on killing.

"So ya come for revenge then, huh?" Nes said as casually as he could. He was not surprised to see me.

"I've come to make you a deal." I looked to the officer, not Nes, as I spoke. Nes looked confused, even more so when I spun around, and knocked the Alliance guard out with a backhand to his jaw. The na??ve, young Alliance guard hit the door, and crumpled to the floor. I looked to Nes, and grabbed him by his collar and pushed against his throat. "Translate what I say, or I'll rip your head from your body right here."

Nes hesitated for a moment, and then nodded. To my satisfaction I finally felt fear in him. Again looking to the Imperial officer, I spoke. "I will help you escape, and I can assist you as a spy." The officer looked at me coldly as he heard Nes' translation. The officer's eyes darted from Nes to me, unsure of whom to address, like he was appalled to be speaking to one of the enslaved races.

"In exchange for what?" The officer finally asked deciding to keep his eyes on Nes.

"In exchange for free passage. I will gather information useful to you. I will help you stop these rebels, and I'll be able to settle my own grievances at the same time. I want to help the Empire in return for my freedom."

The officer's eyes widened the instant Nes translated, and then he squinted at me in scrutiny. His mind was full of doubts and disgust; I could hear it. He wrestled with the idea of being saved by someone he saw as inferior, and with his own freedom and possible commendation for capturing Alliance soldiers.

"What sort of scores to settle?" he asked. I took the blaster from the unconscious guard on the floor, and jabbed it into Nes' chest. The smuggler's eyes went wide in desperation.

"Whoa, wait a minute. I know you want revenge, Makaashyya, but I can help you." Nes talked hurriedly, like an auctioneer, and droplets of sweat started forming on his brow. He sniveled and whined as I hoped he would with indecipherable pleas. His mind weaved the tale of his sad, criminal, and petty life looking for a solution to his survival, but found none.

"You'll help me best by dying," I said. The mercy had been bled from me when I had killed my own people. Nes barely had a chance to breathe a normal, final breath before I sent a laser bolt through his heart, bursting it like an overripe piece of fruit. His body shuddered and convulsed as he gasped. His heart disintegrated, the blood poured freely from the wound, every cell in his body screamed for oxygen. His head lulled to the side to rest on his shoulder and his mind ceased to exist.

I took a step to Nes' lifeless body and released him from the platform, allowing him to fall to the floor; his head cracked as he toppled over. I then released the three stormtroopers and their officer from their binders.

The officer rubbed his wrists, and didn't even look at the body, and neither did any of his minions.

"I will contact you later if we make it out of here." the officer said through squinted, measuring eyes. He nodded to me, and one of his subordinates stripped the rifle from the Alliance guard. I unlocked the door for them. Officer and stormtroopers went to the door and through it as it opened and then closed behind them. I stood there looking at Nes' lifeless body. A sense of fullness came to me that I hadn't felt since the day of the assault on Dathomir. I then looked to the Alliance guard on the floor. I made up my mind that in order to avoid further confusion to my story I had to provide to Echobe, I fired a bolt into the head of the young guard, splattering the wall with blood and pink viscera.

I then pulled the lightsaber from my waist and with a gentle embrace of the pressure pad the blade cracked to life in my hand. I cut the blaster in half, and threw it to the floor. I shut the saber off, took a deep breath, and then rammed the hilt into my jaw, causing blood to well up in my mouth, and a purple swell to grow on my chin. Moment's later blaster fire reverberated in the control room. I stepped out of the bloodied interrogation room to witness the chaos I had caused. The Imperials had managed to wound and kill several Alliance members, and claim blasters from the fallen. They shot their way out to the stairs. The poor R2 droid on patrol was savagely kicked out of the way, and slammed into the wall. The control room came to life with people hurrying to the conflict. Amidst the fighting I saw Echobe ducking, and pushing towards the firefight with blaster and blade in hand.

The blaster fire was heavy for a few moments, and then it died away as the Imperials slipped one by one out of the door to the anteroom with Alliance in pursuit. Minutes later, the Alliance came back from the stairway in retreat, Echobe behind them. The Imperials had made their way to the tavern and into the open, effectively destroying the underground Alliance base.

"It's too late they're gone." Echobe declared to those under his command, trying to be heard over the havoc, the dying and the distressed, humanoid and droid alike. "Start the evac, and tend to the wounded; we have to be out of here before they bring down hell on the tavern owner and patrons. You can bet that the Empire will be on their way soon." Echobe looked around the room and found me standing at the door to the interrogation room. He came to me with anger in his eyes, but he sheathed his blaster and sword.

"What are you doing here, Makaashyya? What happened?" Unapologetically, I told him my story, walling up my mind against any assault Echobe could muster.

"I went to exact my revenge on Nes, but found that they had freed themselves from their bonds, and they attacked me and the guard as we entered. The guard managed to kill Nes, but was killed himself in the process, robbing me of my revenge. The stormtroopers then jumped me, and I blacked out when they took my lightsaber and hit me with it."

I knew that trying to exert my power over Echobe was pointless; his mind, though full of doubt, he was anything but simple. He accepted my story with skepticism that he kept to himself. With the base in the process of a hasty evacuation, several wounded and dead, Echobe was forced to conclude the matter and attend to his command, and to give me an ultimatum.

Echobe shook his head clearly disappointed.

"It's decision time, Makaashyya. We have to evacuate. You either want to come with us, or you will be on your way. I can give you some assistance to wherever you need to go, and some resources to help. So which is it?" he said sternly.

"I'll remain with you for now," I said, trying to blow him off.

"Makaashyya, I know you wanted revenge, but you can't endanger others or our mission to get it. If you are here just to settle personal vendettas, then don't stay."

"I chose to stay. I will help as I can. Don't you need more people?" I looked around gesturing to the fallen Alliance members being put onto stretchers. Echobe nodded in reluctant agreement. Though I knew he hated to admit it, his forces had been depleted.

"Yes, we do."

Echobe split people into groups under cover of the remaining night. By day it would have been impossible for us to escape unnoticed. Whatever equipment that was too large to carry was damaged beyond repair. Databanks were backed up to portable devices, and then destroyed. We were all draped in the earth-tone robes and blankets common among the people of the desert. Echobe and I, and five others were the last group to leave.

"I'd figured we would have Imperials breathing down our necks by now." Echobe spoke idly to me as we left the small town. "We won't be traveling in a straight route, so it'll take a while longer than usual to get there" The five Alliance members each nodded, as they watched the sands passing beneath their feet, their hearts demoralized with the death of comrades and upheaval of their stability, a course often undertaken by the Alliance. I tried watching Echobe out of the corner of my eye as I listened to his subordinate's minds. A few moments passed before I realized I was staring at him with longing. I broke my concentration and shifted my eyes to the sands as everyone else.

"There's another base out here?" I asked to break the silence. Echobe looked to me; I kept my eyes on the ground. I could sense his eyes upon me for several moments while he tried to decide whether or not to give me any more vital information. It made me uncomfortable.

"We have many bases everywhere, and we rarely stay for one place for too long." He stuttered just as he was about to add to his original thought, but then said something different. "The place we are going is more of a hideout than anything. A cave. Oh, I forgot to mention, don't be frightened by what you will see when we arrive. He's with me."

"With you? Who's with you?" Echobe did not elaborate on what that meant which made me incredibly curious. I didn't press the matter.

Several uneventful hours of dunes, sand, rocks, and the occasional wailing of a nocturnal creature passed us by. We walked serpentine through the desert, taking a different path than each one of the other groups had taken, as Echobe said we would, making the trip far more tiring than I had expected with the little sleep I had gotten. We skirted around hills, through passes in between mountains until we finally reached a cave hidden away within the folds of the overlapping mountain ranges. Badlands. The night had faded into hues of orange and purple as the twin suns started to rise into the sky to scorch the planet for another day. The cave was well hidden in the folded blanket of the mountain ranges, shielded from the heat and light, and it must have stretched over a mile into the mountain I assumed. A ship flying overhead would have easily missed its existence. There was nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that would alert someone aerially that it was anything more than desert. That was until I noticed the fresh crater right beside the entrance to the cave, and the clogs of dirt that were being thrown up and out of it in huge, clumsy, globs like a mud geyser.

"You're tunneling around here too?" I asked Echobe.

"Well, not really. That's what I mentioned earlier." Echobe smiled; the other Alliance members barely paid any attention to the subterranean anomaly. The digging stopped as we approached. What stepped out of the hole stunned me beyond all reasoning. Two dark, scaly-skinned hands with four clawed fingers grasped the edge of the hole and lifted its body out. A rancor, a baby it seemed, compared to the ones I had seen on Dathomir, but no less fearsome. It had a black, and dark green hide. Saliva dripped from its mouth, and then it ran right towards us on all fours. I reached for my lightsaber and activated the blade with a sharp crack ready to kill. The Alliance members in our group stepped away. The Rancor ignored me and went straight for Echobe. I was ready to lunge for the monster when it stopped right in front of Echobe, wagging its stubby tail, pawing at the ground like some excited pet. It was almost hilarious to see. Unbelievable if not for what I had already learned of rancors on Dathomir.

"I warned you. Him and me are together, there's nothing to fear. He's harmless to friends of mine." Echobe petted the snout of the beast affectionately. I was amazed to learn that the Nightsisters were not the only ones who were capable of taming such unruly creatures. The bond Echobe seemed to share with the animal further amazed me; the rancor behaved almost giddy. I deactivated my lightsaber, and put it back in its place.

"How did you come upon a rancor for a pet?" I asked. Echobe stopped doting on the rancor and looked to me curiously.

"So you know what he is, huh? More secrets, Makaashyya?" I scoffed at him, still expecting an answer.

"It's a long story, for another time. We should be getting inside, the suns up soon." He chuckled at his pun. I rolled my eyes.

A few of the other groups of Alliance arrived before us, and a few arrived after. The dead were already being buried; the wounded were being operated on, or secluded to the makeshift infirmary inside the deep cave. I helped for sometime to unpack and carry the wounded from the previous night's firefight. I then went outside and slumped against the rock of the cave entrance, almost too tired to keep my eyes open. The twin suns of Tatooine were well into their ascent of the sky; the heat could be seen rolling up from the tops of the mountains back from where it came, but the shadow cast by the peaks did keep the cave and the area surrounding it for hundreds of meters shielded.

Echobe's rancor was still digging in his hole. I figured it was the creature's bed. The rancor would occasionally peek his head over the side, and look at me in the most bizarre way with those black, beady eyes, as if he was going to open his mouth and introduce himself, but he kept silent and then went back to his digging. I closed my eyes and listened to his mind. He was intelligent, much like the ones on Dathomir, but he didn't have the simple, instinct-driven, repetition of thought like a trained animal. It was more random, more thoughtful, I discovered. Thoughts came into his mind about Echobe. The rancor's thoughts were also about me, about the people he had been around over the years. Within him was a wealth of Alliance information. He was aware of what he was involved in at least to some degree, but it was impossible for me to tell how deeply at such a quick glance. He was very curious about me most especially, and very suspicious as he should have been. A wiser creature than I ever imagined.

Digging seemed to give the rancor great joy as he scooped handful after handful and flung it out of his hole to wallow in the moist dirt. I was amazed to see the possibility of water on such a place as Tatooine. He liked the moisture, but he also was aware of the tactical use it could have for the Alliance as well; he was serving a valuable purpose and he was aware of it. The creature offered me a quick glimpse into his mind and some of the time he had spent with Echobe and the Alliance. He was proud of what he had done, and he was fiercely loyal to the Wookiee.

I had never dreamed of seeing such thoughts from one of the beasts from Dathomir. The Nightsisters' pets were afraid to disobey; they did what they did for fear of retribution. Bilebelch did it because ??it cared?

"No, no, that's not right." I told myself. I shook my head to dispel the conclusion. Then Echobe walked up behind me, and startled me out of the rancor's mind.

"He really is harmless. He's like family to me, the only family I ever had really. Well, besides my parents, but they were killed some time ago."

It angered me that I felt a twinge of guilt, and compassion for him, but like the fluttering wings of a dying bird it was gone, and I was glad.

"So now what?" I asked impatiently. I was hesitant to pry too deeply into Alliance business after what I had caused just the night before.

"For now, we will keep an eye on Anchorhead. We'll have to send a few scouts in for supplies and to gather information later, but that's about it. We are on hold until we know it's safe. I can't risk any more lives needlessly."

"What about your pet here?" I began, but Echobe interrupted me with his name.

"Bilebelch. His name is Bilebelch." That was actually the closest translation to basic for a Shyriiwook word meaning bad breath.

With furrowed brow I continued.

"Bilebelch? Kind of an unusual name don't you think?"

"Yeah it is." Echobe said with a half-grin. "But his breath tends to get a little out of hand. He's an omnivore, and when I say omnivore I mean omnivore with a capital everything. He's even gotten a hold of a few unfortunate Imperials before." That thought brought a smile to my face, and with some exertion of will I held back a giggle. I kept the matter serious.

"How do you keep him in line?"

Echobe looked at me offended.

"He's not some mindless, ravenous beast, Makaashyya. He's saved the lives of many people, including my own. Rancors, along with many other creatures, are very misunderstood. They have thoughts, feelings, and they feel pain just like all of us."

As Echobe explained he unknowingly opened his mind to my own, exposing his passions. For the first time I received some glimpse of who he was, but it was not the cowardly, traitorous, betrayer of Wookiee-kind I had expected and hoped he would be in order to satiate my own guilt. Echobe was brave, honest, and cared deeply for his people, and for me. I cast that thought aside. Instead I tried searching deeper while he was occupied in reverie, for some secret I could use to influence the Imperial I was waiting to meet. I hoped for something useful to the Empire to befriend them, but then I sensed something else entirely. It hit me like a jolt of electricity. It was the unmistakable feeling of the power of the Force coursing through him. It was faint and untrained. Wild, but it was there. The more I learned about the Wookiee the more I grew attached to him, and the closer I wanted to be to him. Then the thoughts of the Wookiees at the Dathomir prison overshadowed my feelings again, drowning them out in hate. I tore their throats out. I broke necks. They were traitors, cowards, all of them. I would show them all the mistakes they had made. I came back to myself, and with my heart hardened. I pushed the fleeting feelings I had for Echobe away, burying them in the darkness. I stepped away from him, and spoke over my shoulder as I left.

"If you don't mind, I'd like to be on the team to go to Anchorhead." He didn't say anything in reply, he made not even a sound to acknowledge or deny my request, and so I left him and went into the cave to help finish setting up equipment, and to learn what I could.

It was late in the afternoon by the time the headquarters had been rearranged, and everyone settled in when Echobe approached me again.

"Seems you'll get your request sooner than you thought."

"How so?" I asked while helping to move beds around in the barracks, not wanting to face him any more than necessary.

"One of the groups hasn't arrived and they have failed to report. I fear the worst. I am assigning three groups. Two groups will take different courses to backtrack along possible routes from Anchorhead, and the final group, you, Scious and Rikot, will go to Anchorhead."

"When do we leave?" I asked. Echobe stepped into my line of sight and kneeled to be at eye level with me.

"You leave at nightfall; get whatever gear you may need, but keep it light. I wish we had some transportation, but the sands play hell on engines this far in. Scious is team leader. Remember, you are free to come and go as you please, but while you remain with the Alliance, you will follow orders, understand?" Echobe eyed me sternly as he would a subordinate under his command. I nodded.

"Oh, and I wouldn't be flashing that lightsaber around. It's bad enough how nervous it has made my people here. That's a beacon for Imperials to arrest, and exterminate you, considering that Empire doesn't exactly like Jedi very much."

"I understand. Where do I meet the rest of my team?" I was becoming too anxious, and Echobe always tried looking into my eyes when we talked. It was rude for me to avoid eye contact. I could feel him looking for my eyes, but I couldn't stand how he looked at me.

"They will meet you at the entrance. Be subtle, and report anything unusual. We are still expecting Imps to show up at Anchorhead looking for us after your mishap," Echobe said with disappointment.

"You had to add that in didn't you?" Echobe was purposely trying my patience, testing me, trying to get a rise. I held back.

"Just try to be more careful, we lost six people in that engagement and you could have been a seventh. I am tired of seeing people killed." The concern in his voice was palpable, but I couldn't decipher for whom it was meant, for me or for his Alliance command, or both. He stood and walked away, saying no more. I know he had his doubts about my explanation on how the Imperials escaped, but he seemed more convinced about my story, or less troubled by the details, again I couldn't tell. Echobe was difficult to figure out, and was becoming a constant strain on my firm belief that Wookiees were betrayers in waiting, and weak. With every bit of insight Echobe gave, his doubt-filled, and weary, worrisome mind took it away.

Evening came, and I went out to meet with my team and the other two teams gathered at the entrance to the cave. We all wore basic robes, and showed no signs of being anything more than nomads. Rikot had a small radio he concealed on a belt pouch along with a small hand blaster. Scious carried the same type of blaster. I had only my robe and my lightsaber. After a quick mission briefing by Scious, and the distribution of rations into backpacks we all carried, we went our separate ways. One team backtracked through the path Echobe and I had arrived at the cave through. The other team started climbing the mountain to search the badlands, and Rikot, Scious and I started heading for Anchorhead along the quickest path.

We were well into the night and had received routine reports from the other two teams on a passive radio band. No trace had been found, and the night was quickly wearing on. We finally reached the outskirts hours after we left the base at the cave. About a mile outside of town, we surveyed the area and noticed no Imperial presence, so we headed into town to play out our roles as nomads common on Tatooine while we searched for any trace of the missing Alliance.

The town was quiet, and no one was out. The suns were just beginning to dawn over the sands by the time we arrived. Anchorhead, being a regular stop for desert wanderers, the tavern was open most times except during the most potent of sandstorms. The tavern mirrored the silent town. We attracted some quick glances from two of the patrons, but they seemed unconcerned. We ordered some water, and sat at a table. The tavern owner was nowhere to be found.

"Little strange that Imperials haven't put this town under lockdown? Something must be up; the owner is gone." Scious whispered to us after downing his drink. "We need to split up. Don't ask too many questions. Be discreet. I am going to try and get into the old base. It was supposed to be turned into storage. If things look right, I'll get back to you."

Scious looked at Rikot.

"Scour the town, ask a few questions. Makaashyya, stay here, and keep your eyes open. Listen for chatter. Leave one at a time." Scious nodded. Rikot stood and left first. A few minutes later Scious left and nodded to me, and he headed to the back of the tavern towards the abandoned base. I waited a few minutes. I looked around the bar, and no one seemed to be paying me the slightest attention. I drank the last of my water and got up from the table. I then saw out of the corner of my eye someone in the far, darkened corner of the bar who I had not noticed before. He wore typical earth-tone robes and a wide brim hat. He nodded to me. I peeked into his mind for an instant to make sure, and discovered he was the one sent to contact me. For a moment, I thought it wasn't going to happen, that I had foolishly put my faith in an Imperial in a desperate situation, or that I wouldn't be taken seriously. I was strangely elated to know they were interested in my proposal. I got up and went to the Imperial's table and sat down.

"You were supposed to be alone when I contacted you." The Imperial said from under his hat, harshly.

"I was never given any guidelines," I said flatly. He continued, ignoring me.

"I have been given permission to make a decision on the behalf of my commanding officer. Depending, of course, on the value of the information you provide." The Imperial's mind was difficult to read, but as far as I could tell, he was being truthful. At the very least, I reasoned I would have to kill him should it have been a trap.

"You know there was an Alliance base here, correct?" I asked. He nodded. "I know of their new location. Plus the name of the officer in charge."

"And you want to help the Empire?" he asked skeptically.

"I want to help myself by helping the Empire."

"What do you expect to gain from this?" He looked up at me, as if to probe my thoughts through my eyes. I kept my eyes on the table before us, ignoring his look, as if engaged in a bland conversation with him.

"I expect to gain my freedom." In a round and about way that was the truth. In whole, I wanted to gain the freedom to enact my revenge upon my traitorous people, upon a murderous Empire, using a foolish rebellion, and a bloated galaxy-spanning totalitarian power to do so. The original desires Gethzerion aspired for me had been completely forgotten, and so was she.

"Your success in this operation and your future in the Empire coincide." The Imperial finally said after a few moments of silent contemplation. "It is highly irregular for an alien to serve in the Empire, much less a Wookiee." He looked me over with his eyes and in his mind, thoroughly disgusted by my presence, but I kept myself in check.

"Firstly, your two companions will have to be eliminated, and you will need to be thought captured so your rebel friends will get word. It will be a vital test of your intentions." He dipped his hat lower over his face, stood up from the table, and downed the last of his drink. I saw a quick flash of a blaster under his robe. "I will deal with the one out there. You will deal with the one downstairs. Afterwards, come back to this table and wait so we can stage an arrest." He wasted no more words and left. It was a grave risk trusting the Imperial to hold to his word, but I had set my course. I decided to let the Force guide me. I stood, and walked to the back of the bar, towards the door that led into the abandoned base.

I looked at no one, and made no sound. I half expected Scious to come out of the shadows to ambush me, but I made it to the door and down the stairway without incident. The old base was deathly quiet. Scattered bits of junk and a disabled droid that looked as if it had been in disrepair for years filled the room. Dust drifted on the still air, it even smelled old and stale. The door to the old control room was open. I heard Scious' footsteps on the far side of the dilapidated base opposite the entrance. I carefully made my way towards him, avoiding any bit of scrap that may alert him, concealing myself with shadows and the Force. Scious had a flashlight in hand and was surveying the room looking for any disturbance in how they left it. Then the overwhelming compulsion came over me. I wanted Scious to see me before he died. An evil part of me, born of the Dark Side, desired to see the crushing realization of betrayal in his eyes. I felt the beginning of my revenge was at hand and I wanted to savior its inauguration. The desire bubbled up from within me. I yielded to it.

With the flip of my wrist and a firm grip on the pressure sensitive pad on the hilt, the crimson lightsaber blade cracked to life in my hand. Scious immediately spun around reaching for his blaster, but then saw me standing before him.

"Makaashyya, what are you doing? Did you find something?" He sensed something amiss, or saw the look in my reddened, unnatural eyes. The fear within him took form on his face. A bead of sweat formed on his brow, and his hand, resting at his side, was once again reaching for his blaster. I gave him no time to react, only to process. Before his hand had a chance to reach the grip on his blaster, I swung the lightsaber in a wade arc. The beam of unyielding light burned through him with the celerity of a comet. His arms fell to the ground beside him. He stood there for a moment with a widened look of horror on his face. Then his body fell to the ground into two pieces, cut at mid chest. His eyes blinked erratically, his mouth opened and closed, trying to gasp for air, then he ceased to move. The accusation of betrayal imprinted on his face in a voiceless scream. His blood pooled on the floor and mixed with the dirt. I turned from him and went for the stairwell, and out the door. When I stepped back into the bar, I saw the Imperial standing there, still in his nomadic clothing. He nodded to me.

"Is it done?" asked the Imperial. I nodded.

"Your friends will be reported dead, we will both be arrested and we can go from there. Follow me outside."

I followed him, trusting my fate to the Force, but made ready to strike out with my lightsaber. I figured that at least I would get my revenge upon that one if it turned out to be a trap. As we stepped out into the suns' light a shuttled dropped down out of the sky, blotting it out. It circled the small town of Anchorhead, and then landed in the square in front of us, sandblasting everything around it. The back end of the ship opened and dropped down, forming a platform for a small squad of stormtroopers that began filing out with E-11 blasters in hand. The few onlookers that were on the street scattered for shelter, not wanting to become enmeshed in Imperial business.

The stormtroopers marched straight for us, blasters held low at their side. The Imperial next to me raised his hands in mock surrender. I mimicked him. The group of stormtroopers raised their blasters at us as they got closer.

"You two are under arrest for conspiring with the Rebellion," he proclaimed formally for anyone to hear. They fastened binders loosely to our wrists and walked us away to the shuttle with surprising delicacy. They didn't search me for weapons. When we got on the shuttle with the rest of the stormtroopers the platform raised, sealing off the shuttle and we lifted off the ground.

"Simple and clean. Sergeant, remove the binders," said the disguised Imperial officer to the stormtrooper squad leader who then removed our binders and sat back down.

"Obedient as the rancors on Dathomir," I thought.

"You have to understand," the Imperial commander spoke as he threw off his dusty robe and hat, "that your involvement with the Empire must remain concealed. The regional governor is unaware of your cooperation, and it will remain that way. However, as long as the information you provide to us is useful, my commanding officer and I will accept you as a contractor."

"What guarantee do I have that you will not simply throw me into a camp once you have spent my assistance," I asked.

He chuckled. "You will lead the mission. You will also be given a field commission of Lieutenant as a show of good will between us." He stopped to remove the nomadic robes and straightened his uniform and put his Imperial issue cover on and then continued. "The one you spoke of, the rebel commander, is a valuable prisoner. We need him alive."

"Echobe." I said flatly, successful in masking any compassion I held for the Wookiee.

"Yes. He breached our security, and disrupted our operations here and abroad. The information he has could be very damaging to an important operation. He's been a rather vexing obstacle. With your help, we can thwart this terrorist," he said triumphantly.

"Very well." I didn't care what the Imperial called Echobe, or what he intended to do to him. I had succumbed to the Dark Side fully. I buried any feelings I had for Echobe into the yawning chasm that was becoming my soul. I took the fateful step and accepted the deal.

An Imperial Colonel named Banthsas Mur debriefed me once we reached the Imperial Base in Mos Eisley. The Imperial officer who was arrested with me, Deevers, was there as well. I told them the information I had, leaving out the precise location of the base tucked away in the mountains, and of the rancor. I finished my story, and sat there with the two officers before me. I braced myself for them to either betray me, or to hold to their part of the deal. They leaned into each other and whispered, nodded, and occasionally looked in my direction. They spoke a language I did not know. Their minds were curious, but apprehensive about employing a Wookiee. A caveat easily reconciled by Imperial scheming. They leaned away from each other and faced me. I knew what was going to be said.

"The information you have provided us with will be of great service to the Empire. However, the Empire does not normally accept alien races into its ranks. I am making an exception in this exceptional case." The Imperial, like most of them, lavished his intentions with formality. "You know the position the Empire has on the Wookiee race, I assume. I do not hold similar views." I was a little shocked when he said that, but I didn't have the time to think on it, or anything else save for the coming mission I was promised to spearhead. With revenge having consumed my being, the thoughts of my home world, or any fa??ade of helping my people, or attacking the Emperor's interests slipped further from my desires, holding less and less sway on my intent.

"I understand and I will not fail the Empire." "You have to betray to destroy betrayers," I wanted to say aloud, but didn't. It was easy justification for me then to become allies with the very entity that had caused me so much pain.

"It was a means to an end," I again said to myself, and again when I had been assigned my assault squad of dutiful and loyal stormtroopers who did as they were told, and had no open qualms of following the orders of a Wookiee, because they were, by extension, following the orders of the Imperial officer above me.

Capture prisoners, gather data, and kill any escapees as I was commanded. I was eager to indulge in my lust for revenge against what I saw as pathetic and traitorous terrorists. However, the reality of the mission itself was another story. I did not delight in knowing that I would be facing Echobe, no longer as an ally, but I realized that I had never been his ally. Though the Wookiee had brought out feelings in me I thought I had left behind on Dathomir with the death of Syymbacca, I readied myself for killing.

"After this day he will no longer be a problem," I said aloud. No one under my command took notice.

We circled the cave from the cover of the blinding suns, well out of reach of eyes and out of the range of the aged, passive radar system I knew they employed. The co-pilot verified signs of life within to ensure that the Alliance had not abandoned the cave-base. They either had not expected foul play in my capture, and the other Alliance's death, or the news had not yet reached them, the latter more unlikely.

A stormtrooper sergeant came to me from the front of the shuttle.

"Ma'am," said the stormtrooper Sergeant with a blaster rifle crossed in his chest in obedient salute. "We are descending upon the coordinates now. On your command we will deploy." Being called ma'am by an Imperial was a bizarre experience. Once had I been the Empire's slave to build a prison to house more slaves. Finding myself in that shuttle surrounded by stormtroopers ready to do my bidding even unto their death was surreal and unnerving, but a most reveling experience.

The shuttle fell quickly as the pilot powered-down the thrust, and lowered the shuttle from the white, sun-blurred sky, and then landing us on the ground several meters outside the cave. The jet-wash blew the sand in all directions, but the cave sucked it up in a vortex obscuring all vision. It all happened so fast, as I ordered the stormtroopers to engage, the Alliance had little if any time to react. The platform to the shuttle dropped down, allowing my stormtroopers to pour out in an unstoppable wave. I was last out. The blaster fire started from both sides as I exited. The Alliance unleashed a barrage in stunned desperation from the cave, searing the ground, the shuttle, and anything else the lethal bolts struck, aimed at or no. None of my stormtroopers fell to the Alliance's blaster fire and uncalculated defense they had mustered, but I could hear the screams of Alliance members from within the cave, dying from precise return fire from my stormtroopers.

With the Alliance trapped inside that cave they fought with the desperation of a caged rancor ?? a threat I didn't mention to Banthsas Mur - and then I realized that there was no rancor coming in to attack. The hole that it had dug was empty, but I knew it was small enough to fit inside the cave. I found it hard to believe that Echobe would abandon his command, so I focused my mind on blocking out the fighting around me to search for Echobe and his rancor. In a few moments I felt his presence far beyond the cave, but not within it. I figured him to be hiding in the shadows of the badlands just like the Wookiee coward I wanted to believe Echobe to be, but he wasn't. I separated from my command, and ordered two stormtroopers to go with me to seek Echobe out.

We crept our way over the crest of the hill that housed the cave. I then realized that Echobe wisely didn't trust me as much as he allowed me to believe. I saw a large freighter, its platform lowered, and being loaded with equipment and people from a hidden escape tunnel that undoubtedly extended from the cave. Echobe was shouting orders, and directing people with hand gestures. His creature was with him as well, standing guard over the line of people flowing from the escape route. I was not surprised that we had skimmed over the exit, the entire region was littered with caves, and hills, and jutting rocks for miles.

Then Echobe saw us in the cursed dual suns' light, and shouted for expedience from his command. I pulled the lightsaber from my waist, activated the blade and ran towards Echobe. The stormtroopers at my side had their blasters at their hips, and ran after me, flanking me, and firing at the stream of Alliance escapees. I couldn't wait to exact my revenge upon the imagined cowardice of Echobe, the same cowardice I encountered on Dathomir, the same cowardice that I believed led the Wookiee race to become enslaved. The Alliance had nearly finished loading the freighter, and the last of them ran towards the ship from the secret tunnel. I yelled for the stormtroopers beside me to disable the freighter's engines and to take prisoners, but that the Wookiee was mine.

Echobe, seeing me charging him with lightsaber raised for attack, pulled his Ryyk Blade from his waist in a blinding flash just as I reached him. Our weapons clashed, but his Ryyk Blade didn't cut or melt as I expected it to. I also didn't expect Echobe to meet me blow for blow with incredible speed. Before that moment, I had never witnessed the Wookiee's prowess with the ancient sword, nor was I prepared for him to be my better.

One of the stormtroopers started shooting at the freighter's engines. The Alliance seemed to be in a panic and didn't return fire. Echobe yelled for everyone to get on the ship as we locked blades again and again. The chemical lasers exploded against the hull of the freighter, showering the area in sparks that landed on both Echobe and me. I was too engaged in the fight to care, the bloodlust was evident in my eyes as was the hatred fueled by the Dark Side. Then the rancor let out an ear-shattering roar. With an effortless swing of his clawed hand, Bilebelch swiped at the two stormtroopers, sending a spray of red mist into the air. The stormtroopers flew and landed several meters away, blood flowing, their white armor rent. The rancor's razor claws were covered in blood. Then the rancor came for me, ignoring the battle Echobe and I fought against each other. I took a wide swing at the rancor as Echobe left me an opening. The rancor tried to grab me, but the lightsaber's blade seared his thick hide, inflicting a superficial wound that he easily ignored. He swiped at me again, missing as I ducked, but allowing for Echobe to break off the fight. As I stood back up, the rancor's back swing knocked my legs out from under me, sending me sprawling into the sand, making me drop the lightsaber.

"Bilebelch, let's go!" I heard Echobe shout as I coughed up sand. I got back to my feet as quickly as I could, my eyes blurred by the sand that had been forced into them. I chased behind the rancor taking a swing with all my strength at his leg, cutting into it. Bilebelch gave out a roar of pain and stumbled, slowing him enough for me to get past him and make my way to Echobe, who saw my strike at the rancor. I leapt towards Echobe with the Force, and we locked weapons once again. His skill with the Ryyk Blade again matched mine with the lightsaber. With teeth bared, he met each of my strikes, and was quickly forcing me back towards Bilebelch. I became so focused on the blinding swings of Echobe's blade, that I dismissed his beast until I felt its terribly strong hand engulf me and throw me back like a rag doll to hit the rock wall several meters away from them, knocking me out of my senses. I struggled to get to my feet, and grabbed my lightsaber just in time to see the rancor and Echobe enter the freighter, and blast a storm of dust over the area as they made their escape for space.

I coughed up some blood and spat it onto the sands as I tried to clear my dizzied head.

"I will see you again," I said aloud as I deactivated the lightsaber and walked back to the cave entrance. A stormtrooper was walking towards me as I came down from the hill to meet back up with my squad. Only one other stormtrooper had fallen in the melee, but the Alliance had been suppressed. The rebels that had been left behind, those that still lived were bound and gathered up into the shuttle. I ordered my subordinates to collect the bodies of the fallen just as the communicator on my wrist sounded. The Imperial officer, my superior, my new master, spoke.

"Makaashyya, what is your status? Has the rebel threat been suppressed?"

"Yes. However some have escaped into space on a freighter, Echobe with them, but our losses were minor. Please advise." After a few brief moments Banthsas replied.

"Report back to base with any prisoners, and data you have acquired. Out."

I turned off the communicator. I ordered the hasty gathering of any viable data from the abandoned equipment, and for the base to be detonated. We ascended back into the sky just as the thermal detonators exploded, sending a ball of fire issue forth from the cave entrance and the secret tunnel.

Echobe's escape burned in my mind. I hated him for evading me, for matching me in a fight. I had desired his capture, or his death, but nonetheless Banthsas was wholly pleased with my performance in the raid despite the escapees, and he agreed to allow me to continue working for the Empire on a classified basis. In time, I discovered that Banthsas Mur was far more sympathetic to Wookiees than he was ever willing to openly admit in such a bigoted environment. He came to favor me over all others.

The time I spent as a classified asset further drove me into the well of hate, further eroding any sense of what I thought my revenge was, what I had once believed in, what I had been. I continued my training in the Force alone during that time. I let the Dark Side guide me in my altered conquest, and my ambitions grew bolder. I toiled as a willing slave to the Empire. I weeded out what I came to believe to be traitors and enemies, and eliminated them as I was directed. Some time passed after our very brief confrontation before I was to see Echobe again.

Echobe: Guidance And Light
Book 2
Chapter 1

My name is Echobe, and it should be obvious to anyone with eyes that I am a Wookiee.

It was a few years after my coming of age when my home world became unwillingly entangled in a war that quickly engulfed the entire galaxy. The Galactic Empire that had emerged from the self-immolation of the Republic, and ruled by a human named Palpatine who had been given the powers of Emperor, effectively destroying all that the Republic once was with the bludgeon of so-called Galactic Emergency.

Before the ashes of the Old Republic stopped smoldering, the Empire began to shutdown open society, beginning with the extermination of the so-called Jedi threat, and continuing on to the undermining of the Senate, and then the Wookiee people - with the influence of the Trandoshans who have long been our enemies. Kashyyyk was blockaded, bombarded, and harvested for its abundant resources, including the Wookiee people for slave labor. The Empire and the Trandoshans, hand-in-hand, slashed and burned our world and lives, ruining the landscape with fire, and bombs, and destroying countless families, and with the help of the Empire the Trandoshans set out to conquer us. The Empire soon took the reigns of our enslavement and extermination away from the Trandoshans, while leaving the remnants of our society free to be plundered.

I am the son of former Republic Senators. Former for one, because there was really no Senate after Palpatine came into power, and two because my parents disappeared shortly after the dissolution of the Senate. At the fall of the Republic, more specifically, at the dissolution of the Senate, my Mother and Father disappeared while on Coruscant. Rumors circulated after my parents' disappearance - along with the disappearances of many other members of the Senate, their staff, and other political enemies of the Empire - that they were imprisoned. I heard further rumors that they were killed as part of federalized exterminations, or that they never made it to Coruscant, that pirates had taken them. The one thing that was true is that all trace of their existence vanished after they left me on Kashyyyk. The blockade was implemented shortly after, making it impossible for anyone to investigate.

So without any remaining family, the remainder having been killed in the bombing raids; a grandfather and cousin, I was put upon another family at the request of a once respected Wookiee Elder named Ulchewbuk who I looked upon as the only father I had. Ulchewbuk's reputation eroded during the occupation, and he was seen as a troublemaker, an Imperial instigator. Ulchewbuk, The Elder, never supported what had happened with the Senate on Coruscant. He looked upon Palpatine as the dictator he truly was, and Ulchewbuk refused to accept the official explanation of the disappearance of my Mother and Father who were his dearest friends. The opposition he faced from the Empire, and from his own people, who were cowered by Imperial proclamation, only solidified Ulchewbuk's judgment that Palpatine was corrupt and that war would soon be upon the Wookiee people once again. The Elder was ignored, and many Wookiee leaders throughout Kashyyyk became complacent, relying on public opinion, and the voices in the Senate to keep the Wookiee people safe. Needless to say all of our pillars of hope were crushed, and we were quickly marginalized and drowned out by the rising tide of war under the guise of threats to galactic security.

However, The Elder, Ulchewbuk, still commanded some respect among the Wookiees. Though the family that The Elder had placed me with had little love for me, it was still a home, and shelter. My foster parents' minds and hearts were full of fear, and anger at what was happening to our world. With the deaths of their own family still fresh in their memory, they had no desire for a child being put upon them at such a time, but take me in they did during the occupation at the behest of The Elder. I respected my foster Mother and Father for that, but there was an unexplainable disconnect between my kin and me, there always was.

I used to shut myself away from the ongoing war and from other Wookiee's suffering partly because I was not liked very much by my own people. My true Mother and Father's, and Ulchewbuk's, dissonant attitudes towards the Empire laid the groundwork of disparity between my people and me. Coupled with that, my people saw me almost as a betrayer for walling myself away from the rest of them. They did not openly resent me, but I could see it in their eyes, I could almost hear it in their thoughts. I thought I was going mad, or that the bombs falling over Kashyyyk had damaged my ears making me hear things. My perception at the time had become clouded by the strange feelings and visions I had then began to experience. Only now do I understand.

The Elder, Ulchewbuk, who saved me, the only one who did not look upon me with distain, was the only one who had any compassion for me and what I was going through. I would often visit The Elder at his battle-scarred home, as all the homes were battle-scarred. He was the only other Wookiee I felt comfortable being around. He was my tenuous link to the Wookiee people. The Elder was my teacher. Ulchewbuk instructed me in the grace of dance with the Ryyk Blade, a Wookiee's traditional weapon. The Ryyk Blade The Elder had taught me how to use belonged to my Mother and Father, and had been handed down the family for generations. The Elder would tell me stories of my parents, of their work in the Senate, which may seem like the most mind-numbingly dull thing you can listen to, but I loved every moment of it. We talked for hours during my daily visits to The Elder's ruined home.

He told me the stories that a Wookiee family Elder did by tradition. Ulchewbuk did his best to fill the void in my life that the abduction of my parents hollowed out. Ulchewbuk taught me things that would have been lost to me, and he did his best to invoke hope that the thing happening around us all would eventually pass as it had many times in our people's long history. The Elder was my only real interaction with my own kind back then. At first I didn't understand why The Elder did not take me in as his family, I was even a little hurt by it. I found out the truth behind that later on.

As I said, I was a recluse, and as you also know it was shortly after my coming of age that about the same time things fell apart for the Republic and the rest of us. It was during that same time I found that I had the uncanny ability of communicating with animals, as well as a connection to my surroundings. Let me try and explain. When the bombing raids first began, I would become almost ill, my head would feel about ready to burst, I credited it to stress, or to sensory overload, but it was something else. My first true discovery of my abilities happened while on one my many ventures away from home that I frequently made to stay out of eye's reach of my foster family, or anyone else. I would often climb to the lower levels of the Wroshyr trees, and there just below the city among the smaller life forms such as bugs and small birds, I started to interact with them. They would climb about on me as if I were a part of the tree, causing me no harm, drawn to me by some unseen power. I explored this ability over time, and graduated myself to bigger creatures. The more curious I became, the lower I climbed, and the more confident I grew in my ability. You should have seen the commotion I caused when I brought home a young kliknick from the lower levels of the forest. Ever since then, I have had a bond with creatures that I never had with my own kind to this day. The creatures even sought me out at times, as if they needed a friendly ear. I was all too happy to be around them as they basked in my presence like a pet would, but I treated them as extended family, another reason why other Wookiees looked down on me.

I spent most of my time below the city to get away from those who cared not to see me, which ironically only served to reinforce their judgments about me. Below the city was my escape from the reality of the occupation, to shield myself from what my own people were suffering. The guilt over my foolishness and selfishness weighs down on me now. In my detachment, I took little notice of what was really going on around me, doing my best to ignore the screaming in my head. I paid more attention to the creatures I was so fond of, who did not judge me for being strange. I left my people to their fate as I saw it. Then I witnessed death firsthand, and I saw what viciousness the Empire was capable of.

During the beginning of the blockade, the lines of communication between the cities that dotted Kashyyyk dimmed as the blockade strengthened, and then winked out completely. Fewer and fewer travelers from the cities and villages and beyond arrived. Some just vanished, and any news from the outside galaxy ceased to exist, as if Kashyyyk had been pulled away from the galaxy altogether. The normal Imperial propaganda didn't even filter to us. It was just as if we were made to no longer exist. The Empire then began to gather up Wookiees for slave labor, whilst the Trandoshans took what they wanted from what the Empire didn't lay claim to, including slaves. I just wanted to get away. I wanted to find a way off of the planet. I loved my home world, but I was cynical and bitter towards my people, towards my adopted family. I wanted to distance myself from them and the pain, as if they were the cause of what was happening, as if running away would somehow fix everything. I kept my home in the trees beneath the city, and my family the animals. Remaining around the death and the teetering sanity in the city made me feel empty and even more disconnected. I can't blame my people, they were frustrated and caged and had to turn on someone, and so they turned on me.

Anyway, back at the beginning when the Empire was scarce, the Empire instead did some of their dirty work through the complicit Wookiee leaders who made backdoor deals in an attempt to placate our enemies, thinking that we could somehow remain neutral in the war. It wasn't until the start of the Imperial air strikes that I was forced into reality. When a Wookiee child died in my arms, it changed everything for me. It was already a common occurrence to many other Wookiees.

I was making my daily visit to The Elder when an Imperial bombing raid began. A bomb destroyed the home I was standing next to, turning it into fiery splinters, and knocking me to the floor. After a few moments of dizziness I heard a Wookiee girl cry out from the blaze in her mind with my budding abilities. An unknown force took command over me at that moment and gave me the strength, agility, and ignorance to pain that allowed me to pull the little girl from the blazing wreckage before the flames had consumed her. Her family had succumbed, or must have been blown apart in the initial blast there was nothing left of them to save. There was hardly anything left of her once we emerged from the smoke. Almost all the blonde fur on her body had been singed away. Half of her body was pink and raw like a fetus, and the other half was charred, and crumpled at my touch as I cradled her. Every part of my being came to a halt. I cried over her as she gasped for air, her face contorted in that vile look of pure agony as my tears fell on her tender skin, but she did not cry. Her green eyes looked at me, hoping I could do something for her. I couldn't.

She wilted in my arms, and I stayed there with her lifeless body and watched her house burn to the ground into a heap of glowing, red ash. Wookiees screamed and panicked around me as the raid continued. Bombs and the streaks of blaster-cannon fire tore through sky in a vortex of smoke and light as they descended upon their targets. I couldn't move. I was frozen in that nightmarish assault on my senses as the fireworks of the Empire's invasion celebration exploded around us. The little girl's blood soaked my fur, but had quickly dried in the wind and heat, and cracked like lacquer on a paintbrush when I moved. The bombing finally stopped, and the once grand Wookiee city was remade into a smoldering, scrap heap of matchsticks. Hundreds of Wookiees died that night in our city alone. So many Wookiees I knew nothing of, and had felt no love for, were gone but I cried for them all as if the opposite were true. The life dying around me hurt inside inexplicably, amplified by my growing abilities. I could almost see the life ebb from all the bodies. I felt drained, bloodless. My head ached from their screams echoing in my mind.

The following day was as quiet as the grave the city resembled. There were Wookiees mulling back and forth in a trance, not believing what had just happened the previous night. I had fallen asleep, or lost consciousness, rather in front of the little Wookiee girl's burnt-out house. The girl still lay beside me, her head tilted onto her shoulder, he eyes closed like she was sleeping. The grotesque charring of her flesh marred her innocent, childish beauty. Her furless body made her seem like a human child. I laid her body upon the pyre of her home where her family died and set fire to what remained. I helped burn a lot of bodies that day. I no longer feared my people, nor was I angry with them. I was attached to their pain. Then, in the darkest of times, it was easy to become one with them.

My foster parents did survive that night. They were shocked to see me come into the house covered in dried blood and black soot. To my surprise they were concerned for me; they had spent the night searching for me among the rubble of the city. I was glad to discover that they didn't hate me but simply saw me as an undesired burden, and a painful reminder of what they had lost. I couldn't blame them. Though they protested, I thanked them for their compassion, and I moved out of what was left of their home that night and made my own home below the city. That's just where I went to sleep, however. When I was awake I helped rebuild and clean up as much as I could up above. That first bombing raid was only the first. We all were trapped in a constant cycle of destroy-and-rebuild. It was futile now that I look back on it, but there was nothing else for us to do. Other villages throughout the world were in the same situation, or far worse off. Whole populations were wiped from the face of Kashyyyk back then. We often got word from refugees who, by some amazing skill, made it to our city to pass along information in an underground effort, or to look for help that we could no longer provide. Our own efforts to survive were stretched to the limit.

I did have one solace, one foundation. The Wookiee Elder Ulchewbuk who had always looked after me as a father. As I said, he was originally the sole opposition to the Empire within the city. He never believed the rhetoric coming from the Senate before the collapse, or from the Wookiee appeasers on Kashyyyk. He was still well respected, but he was a target for his dissent. He was seen as a warmonger, a stubborn old has-been of the Wookiee people, an unwavering, panicky or confused Elder unable to accept the terms for peace as required by the new leadership in the Senate. It was after his death that I decided to leave Kashyyyk.

Chapter 2

Shortly after the death of the Wookiee girl, whose name I never did find out, I went to visit Ulchewbuk. His home had suffered from the bombings as anyone else's had. It was scorched and pot-marked from blaster fire, and looked like a dollhouse that had been shaken violently and left to sit on its precarious foundation. My mind screamed as I approached the house telling me something was terribly wrong. I found The Elder lying in a pool of his own blood trying to raise his hand to the ceiling as if he were reaching for someone to help him stand. The Ryyk Blade, the one he had taught me to use, the ancient weapon of my family, was sticking out from his chest. I ran to his side, my hands shook as I hovered over his body. I didn't know what to do. There was nothing to do. I was scared to touch him, fearing he would wilt and die in my arms as well. As the last of my world crumbled around me, The Elder opened his eyes to speak his last words.

"Echobe ??" His voice gurgled as he choked on his own blood. "A man is coming ??he knows the truth ??you must ??." The Elder's voice trailed off as the life left him. I felt it leave him. Ulchewbuk's eyelids half-closed. His eyes became empty, and half-dilated with the same lifeless abandon. I gathered The Elder in my arms and hugged him closely as if to hold his soul into his body. I did not cry, but just closed my eyes and let my mind wander, hoping to wish it all away.

My consciousness raced back into my body when I felt someone approaching, and then heard the footsteps. I laid Ulchewbuk's body gently onto the floor, not making a sound. I gripped the handle of the Ryyk Blade, and mustered all of my strength to force myself to pull the blade free from his body, and I then ducked into the shadows.

I waited with the Ryyk Blade in my hand ready to strike and kill whoever was approaching so I could avenge The Elder. The wood of the threshold creaked slightly under the weight of the person. The light of the dancing fires silhouetted his frame into the room through the many holes in the wall and door. I could see that that he was humanoid. He was skulking, doing his best to not be heard or seen. The light shone for a moment off of the dark metal of the blaster that he had in his hand. He pushed the door open and peeked inside the crack, and that's when I leapt for him. I grabbed him by the collar of his coat, knocked the blaster from his hand, and slammed him onto the ground next to Ulchewbuk's body.

"Who are you?" I hollered at the person, unsure if he understood me or not. I placed the Ryyk Blade at his throat, fully intending to sever his head from his body. I figured that I probably sounded like a roaring monster to him until he responded after a moment of regaining his lost breath.

"I am here for The Elder, where is he?" The human's voice was raspy from my forearm being pushed into his throat. The shadows and I blocked the human's view of Ulchewbuk.

"The Elder is dead," I said. The human's eyes widened in shock as I revealed The Elder's body to him, my eyes widened when I realized that the human understood what I was saying. I answered his question his eyes were asking before his mouth could form the words.

"No, I didn't kill him. He was my Father." The human turned his head sharply away, and muttered something under his breath I didn't understand. He then opened his eyes and looked back at me.

"You're Echobe, aren't you? Ulchewbuk has told me much of you," said the human while struggling against my arm on his neck, the point of the Ryyk Blade pierced his flesh drawing a spot of blood. I slowly released my grip on the human and stood up from him. The human then cautiously stood.

"I found The Elder lying in his own blood. This blade was buried within him. It belonged to him. He told me a man was coming." I did my best to not let the anger and sorrow I was feeling strain my voice.

"You are Echobe, aren't you?" asked the human, again needing to confirm who I was.

I looked at him with arched brow.


"Ulchewbuk was my contact here. There is much to explain to you." The human straightened out his clothes, but did not try to pick his blaster up. I kept the Ryyk Blade pointed at his chest.

"My name is Burmar," began the human while brushing himself off. "I was in the Senate before it was dissolved. I knew your birth Mother and Father, and Ulchewbuk." Burmar then knelt to The Elder's body in reverence, placed his hand upon The Elder's face and drew his hand down over the eyelids to close them. Burmar hung his head. My brow hardened when I heard those two words. Mother and Father. Immediately I had so many questions froth in the confusion of my mind, but I kept silent and let Burmar continue.

"I was there when we voted our power away to Palpatine. We were all so foolish. There were only a few who did not agree with what was happening; I was not one of them. I was against your Mother and Father. I voted for it, but your Mother and Father did not vote for it, so I also bear some responsibility for has happened to them as well. I have been working to try and right some of the wrongs I caused." Burmar said, and looked up at me, removing his hand from Ulchewbuk's face. I gripped the blade tighter. Burmar looked at my arm, and traced it down to the still dripping blade in my hand.

"Please, Echobe. Allow me to finish. I am doing what I can to right this disaster, and I mourn for Ulchewbuk as well." Burmar took a breath and looked around as if to confirm no one else was listening, and then continued. "It was not long after the dissolution of the Senate when your Mother and Father disappeared, as you already know. Many, including myself, have assumed that they were killed. What I do know is that they were abducted by Imperial agents and taken somewhere. There's someone at Coruscant who carried out those orders, I found out. I came to tell Ulchewbuk of the news and hopefully get him off world. Threats to his safety have been mounting for some time. I didn't want to endanger his life anymore than I had already, but it is now too late."

Burmar rung his hands, his brow was furrowed, I could clearly see the grief was aging him, wearing him down, advancing the wrinkles on his face. He breathed in and out slowly, and looked back up at me.

"There are Imperial agents and Trandoshans all over the planet. I had no way of protecting The Elder here, so taking him off world was my only hope for his safety, which he always refused. He wanted to stay with his people, and stay for you." A pang of anger at myself tore through me realizing that I had a part in Ulchewbuk's murder. "I know you want to avenge your wayward father's death, but we are severely outnumbered here and with no allies. It's not safe for you here any longer."

My initial instinct was to dismiss Burmar's suggestion that I actually run away and hide as I had done for too long already. How could I have let Ulchewbuk's murder go unanswered, and let his murderer run free? I started to pace the floor when Burmar grabbed me by the arm.

"Echobe, you cannot stay here. We will avenge Ulchewbuk's death, but you cannot remain, or you could be next. You cannot stand alone against the Empire."

"Tell me this Imperial's name and where I can find him, and I will get the information. I absolve you of any further responsibility, Burmar. This is my fight," I said, sheathing the Ryyk Blade.

"No, I cannot stop here, Echobe, and you cannot do this on your own. I must pay for my sins of helping to bring about what has happened to the Republic, and your parents. I have joined the Alliance against the Empire that was formed by Senators of the Republic. We will do what we can only with their help."

"The Alliance?" I asked, skeptically. News of a Galactic Alliance against the Empire had never reached Kashyyyk, where there was an information blackout.

Burmar nodded.

"Three key Senators formed a resolution against Palpatine's growing power, a treaty between the three organizations under the Senators and a Declaration of Rebellion." Burmar looked around again, as if he were afraid the Empire would come bursting through the front door at any moment, and then continued. "I have a ship hidden in the lower levels below the city. It's the only place where the Empire won't go. You must come with me, Echobe." He let go of my arm and picked up his blaster, and placed it in his holster under his arm. "Please," he added.

I couldn't stop the images of that Wookiee girl, and the murdered Elder before me from invading my mind.

"How could I leave my people now when they needed me the most?" I asked myself. Now that I had been shocked out of my apathy into the reality, what was I to do? Burmar approached me, and looked up to me. I towered over him. Even though Burmar was tall for a human, he was still short compared to almost any Wookiee. Burmar was able to see the struggle going on within me. Apparently, The Elder had told Burmar much about me.

"You cannot stop what is happening here, Echobe," started Burmar. "The Empire cannot be stopped here. The Rebellion will open a hand of friendship to you if you accept it, I will personally vouch for you, but you must make up your mind and decide now. I will tend to The Elder while you gather your thoughts. I prefer not to leave you here, but I cannot force you into anything. Just know that Ulchewbuk was most concerned for your well being." Burmar paused for a moment to let the words sink in. I couldn't tell if the human said what he said to make me feel guilty, but I did anyway. The thought of ruining The Elder's intentions for my safety was the weight that tipped the scales. Burmar then continued.

"I will remain here for a few hours waiting for you. If you have not arrived by then, I will have my answer. I will leave you now." Burmar walked past me and went to Ulchewbuk. I watched the mournful, former Senator stand over Ulchewbuk's body. I couldn't stand being there any longer with The Elder lying there dead while the decision of my lifetime hung there in empty air awaiting absolution. I skulked out of The Elder's house, taking one last look back at the murdered Wookiee whom I looked upon as a father, laying on the ground. Burmar gently, and with great care and reverence, wrapped Ulchewbuk's body in a sheet, being careful to position The Elder with respect. Burmar then started cleaning up the blood from the floor around him.

"I must say goodbye at least. They have sheltered me for years, I must do that much," I said to myself thinking of my foster family Ulchewbuk had placed me with. I turned away from The Elder's house, and walked back through the ruined city and back to thank my foster family, and to say goodbye to the creatures who I called family, and then returned to The Elder's house only stopping briefly at the charred remains of that little girl's house. I swore that day to do everything in my power to fight the Empire, to never become apathetic to what was happening around me again, to stop the murder and enslavement of my people.

When I arrived back at The Elder's house Burmar was waiting for me quietly, sitting in a chair, fingers interlaced before him as if in prayer. The Elder's body was wrapped and bound very ceremoniously at Burmar's feet; Burmar was saying a prayer in what I can only guess was his native tongue to his native deity. I took some time lingering in the house to give the time that Burmar needed to finish his reverie. A river of memories flowed through my mind as I looked over the now soulless, joyless house of The Elder. I took in all of the sights and smells I had experienced over the years I spent there, and finally said goodbye to it all. I went to Ulchewbuk's wrapped body and laid a hand upon his forehead.

"Thank you for being there for me. I hope you can forgive me for not saving you, Father. I will avenge your death." I stood up and stepped away from The Elder. With great guilt, I took the sheath for the Ryyk Blade, a long leather coat, and a belt all belonging to The Elder. I turned to Burmar. "I am ready."

"Very well," Burmar said, and then stood to face me, keeping his fingers interlaced at his waist. "I have a small ship hidden in the lower levels of the trees. There are no Imperial agents or Trandoshans, but there will be animals that could cause problems. The chaos and bloodshed in the city has stirred them up like I have never seen." Burmar patted at the area under his arm where he kept his blaster and nodded in reassurance.

We stepped over the threshold of The Elder's house for the final time. The Ryyk Blade of Ulchewbuk's family hung at my side within its equally ancient sheath from my belt. Sporadic fires burned still, making the shadows of the branches, leaves, and houses dance. A wind was at our backs. We turned to face the house, and Burmar pulled a flare from his belt pouch, and threw it into Ulchewbuk's house igniting the floor. The fire flickered at first, and then slowly spread to The Elder himself consuming him. I closed my eyes and turned away.

We ducked into the shadows fully aware that Ulchewbuk's murderer could have still been near by. We did our best to not let anyone to see us as we made our way to the edge of the city where the lift that descended into the lower levels of the forest was. A few sparse groups of Wookiees mulled about what remained of their homes salvaging what they could. One, a female, was on her knees, her hands embracing her pained face. She wept before a giant pile of ash. Another, a parent, was scavenging through a pile of burnt timber yanking out an unidentifiable, charred toy and then gave it to his son who clasped at it with love. They did not see us as we passed them in the darkness, I don't think they would have paid much attention if they had.

The guilt became overwhelming as we swam through the shadows like thieves, or cowards, watching the Wookiee people piece together what lives they had left. I felt even worse being so disconnected from them for so long, only then coming out of my selfishness. I felt like an outsider again, as much as Burmar must have felt being human among Wookiees. I asked myself over and over what I was doing. I felt like I was abandoning those people, my people. The words echoed in my head like the pleas of the dead, dying, and suffering echoing in a cave. My legs jerked and hesitated as I walked, as if some part of me was trying to force me to turn back, but I forced myself on. Burmar didn't hesitate. My justification felt weak, but I had to find out what had happened to my family and avenge Ulchewbuk's murder. My desire to leave wasn't completely selfish, as I was determined to strike back at the Empire and the Trandoshans for what they had done. I did want to help my people then and there, but I just didn't know how to do it while remaining trapped among them. I felt helpless, not being able to avenge Ulchewbuk's death the moment I witnessed it, or save that little Wookiee girl, or do anything useful for anyone.

"How many can I hold as they die in my arms, how many times can I help rebuild a house only to have it bombed again the next day?" I asked myself. It all seemed pointless to me, and I hated myself for it and still do. The time slipped away while I drowned myself in the storm of justifications. I didn't realize how much time had passed until we reached the edge of the city where it dropped down into the darkness of the jungle. A wooden lift waited. Steel cables attached to a series of wenches that ended at a small rusting motor was the mechanism for descent, and a directional pad connected to the railing of the lift that indicated up or down with two simple arrows was the means to descend.

"Straight down from here," Burmar said, as he stared over the edge looking out into the yawning dark below. He stepped onto the platform, white-knuckled and with a sweaty brow. He pulled his scout blaster from its holster with a shaking hand. The lift swayed and creaked when I stepped on it making Burmar grab for the railings nervously. He smiled at me warily and pressed the down button on the pad. The lift slowly started to descend. The motor hummed angrily and squealed in protest. The sound of the ailing motor, and the remaining light from the city seemed to be repulsed by the shadow that concealed the lower levels of the Wroshyr trees. Both light and sound was drowned out before we were even a hundred feet down. It was like going into space, only that the stars winking in that void were from the life that thrived. It was wild, untamed but I could feel the energy from it all the same. Some of it salivated when it caught our scent. I never had, nor did I then fear what was out there. My family was out there I knew. That foggy, gray connection I did not understand, but was at least partially aware of. Burmar was not nearly as calm. With each unknown squawk, call, hoot, or chirp, Burmar gripped his blaster tighter, his knuckles draining of blood once again. I thought it was pretty funny.

The city, or what was left of it, disappeared into the canvas of the darkened moonlit sky and vertical horizon stretching into space above us. It became increasingly humid the further we descended. The sounds of the jungle echoed throughout the entire grounds rebounding off of the trees. Footfalls from a huge beast could be heard in the far distance heading away from us. When Burmar spoke he stuttered, and I could see sweat on his face.

"We better be real careful. I was almost eaten by some spider on my way to The Elder's house." Burmar jerked his blaster at each new sound like it was a torch to ward away the night. I shook my head and smirked. I found it oddly amusing how scared humans were of what lied beneath our cities. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to be a small and fragile creature as Burmar. I thought humans couldn't survive a parsec in the lower levels of Kashyyyk, but then I thought of how far and wide humans lived throughout the galaxy, the Empire itself mostly human. I underestimated them greatly then, and still do at times now.

Allowing my thoughts flow in the current of feelings and sounds of the jungle quickly passed the time it took to reach our destination at the feet of the Wroshyr trees. The lift met with the ground with a moist thud, and we made our way to Burmar's ship. Burmar was all too eager to be way from the rickety lift. I was so busy dwelling in my own feelings that gave me such calm and unity that I hardly noticed the time pass. After ducking under boughs of tree roots and jungle foliage we made it to the hiding place for Burmar's ship in the break of a young Wroshyr tree that, despite its age, was more than big enough to house the small ship. As we approached the tree I sensed something, and I grabbed Burmar by his jacket, forcing him to stop.

"What? What is it?" he said, looking back over his shoulder to me gripping his blaster even tighter, and pointing it into no specific direction in the darkness ready to fire at the slightest movement.

"There's something inside, wait here," I told him. Once again came that feeling that pulse of life I couldn't explain, but knew it existed. It was like seeing music. I went towards the break in the tree, the image of what was inside became all the more clear the closer I approached.

It was a kliknick, a very common spider-like creature on Kashyyyk. There are untold legions of them scurrying on the floor of the planet and the lower levels of the trees. That one was a young male looking for food, curiously picking at the hull of the strange metal object sitting in its usual feeding spot. The kliknick's hard exoskeleton caught tiny beams of light glowing within the cockpit as it mulled over the ship. When I concentrated I could hear its thoughts, and it was hungry. It then took notice of me. Fear was its first reaction, and its second was to run. I called forth whatever ability I had and called out to it. I reached out to it from my being and received a familiar response. Curiosity. It approached me, cautiously at first. I bent to one knee and waited for it. I called out to it in the strange language in my mind, and it approached, and smelled me on the air. I put my hand upon its head, but it didn't recoil. I stood and walked out of the tree with it following close behind, sniffing at the mud clinging to my feet and chittering calmly.

Burmar was wide-eyed when he saw it. Before he could react by leveling his blaster at the animal I put my hand up, gesturing for Burmar to put his blaster down. I knelt again to the creature and told Burmar to get inside the ship. Burmar did a ledge-walk around the animal and me to get into the tree. When I heard the cockpit open, I stood and calmly walked away from the creature. It watched me with its doll-like black eyes as I walked backwards away from it. It stood there, as if waiting for my cue of what to do next. I raised my hand and made a very gentle shoo motion, and it slowly turned around and then sped away into the darkness. I shook my head to snap me out of my stupor - the elated feelings that I get from interacting with creatures using the strange ability - and I went to the ship. Burmar was already powering up the craft. He spun his head around to look at me when I entered.

"How did you do that?" he asked. "Some Wookiee beast-talking?"

I didn't know what to say, or how to say it. I was never very good at technical explanations. I didn't think Burmar would believe me anyhow.

"It's just what I do," I answered, shrugging. "Let's get going." Burmar shook his head and closed the cockpit as I stepped in and sat down in the small, two-seated cruiser.

Burmar's craft was a triangle-shaped, A-wing looking ship. Large round jet pods sat under the wings. It looked like an old Jedi Starfighter I had once seen on holo-screens that The Elder had shown me, but that one was drastically modified in a makeshift kind of way, and dotted with carbon scoring. It must have seen many battles. Burmar activated the repulsor-lift motor, and backed the craft out of the tree, scraping against the trunk, and then slowly we rose up into the sky dodging around vines and boughs, and slowly gaining speed as the canopy opened before us.

"Now comes the hard part," started Burmar. "I secured a clearance pass from a Trandoshan mercenary, but if they catch on to us we are going to have to go to light speed for a short distance, and then recalculate and jump again to get out of the blockade's blaster range; a zigzag sort of way. Luckily they don't have an Interdictor here ??yet." Burmar pushed many a colored buttons in a dizzying sequence I couldn't have begun to understand.

"An Interdictor?" I asked.

"Yes, some Star Destroyers have gravity well reactors that nullify hyperspace travel. We would be out of luck if there was one in this system." Burmar narrated our trip while I just sat and listened. The blue sky of Kashyyyk fell back and receded, like a settling body of water, as we broke from the planet's atmosphere. It was my first time in space, and it commanded awe as I looked into the void dotted with tiny eye-like, winking stars. I had never thought that I would ever leave Kashyyyk. I assumed that I would meet my death there as I had come into life. The words small and meaningless echoed in my mind.

"Makes you feel small and meaningless doesn't it?" chimed in Burmar in a philosophical tone. I rolled my eyes.

Looking back down to the planet by pushing my face up against the glass of the small and tight cockpit, I could still see the fires burning like faint candles that high above the world. I was lost in the vision as Burmar was about to enter his security clearance when green laser blasts started coming at us from the direction of the blockade.

Space released its dark grip as TIE fighters sped towards us from the distance. I looked up from Kashyyyk and saw the blockade of gray Imperial ships encircling the planet like a ring of metallic asteroids far in the distance from us. The quicker TIE fighters quickly closed in, flying towards us to intercept, calling for us to identify and turn ourselves over. Burmar tried contacting them to transmit his security clearance, but they were jamming the radio, and had no intent of letting us go on our way.

A few green blasts of the TIE fighter's cannons rebounded off of the small ship's shields as Burmar quickly entered short-range coordinates into the hyper-drive computer and we entered the hyperspace tunnel for a few moments to escape the barrage of TIE fighters. The stars elongated like glowing pieces of string, and then the hyperspace tunnel opened in front of the ship and engulfed us. I thought I was going to be sick. When we exited hyperspace moments, but millions of miles later, Kashyyyk could still be seen, but more as a green star far in the distance. The blockade had disappeared against the backdrop of the planet. Burmar began working on new coordinates when green blaster bolts shot towards us again. An Imperial shuttle had followed us, the white, triple-winged, Lambda-class shuttle. It was bearing down quickly as Burmar scrambled to evade the blasts.

"Damn, I was hoping we could avoid this. Hang on!" yelled Burmar. I didn't realize how serious he was until my head hit the glass of the cockpit as he veered the craft into a corkscrew spin down and then arched back up under and behind the shuttle. Burmar jammed hard on the trigger to the single cannon on the ship scoring some superficial hits on the shuttle, which was scarcely agile. The shuttle then took a wide arch to try and turn to face us, but Burmar stuck right behind its vulnerable rear.

"We just have to stall long enough to get into hyperspace. We can loose them when we get to Coruscant!" Burmar punched some buttons on the nav-computer, and yelled his narrative while jeering the small craft to evade the Imperial shuttle with bewildering movements. "Almost there!" Burmar yelled with strained voice as we were slammed into the back of our seats with a quick climb and roll to dodge out of the way of the Imperial shuttle's blaster fire which could have easily decimated the lightly armored, scarcely shielded ship.

The nav-computer beeped.

"I got it!" Burmar again yelled as he quickly punched the coordinates into the computer, and jammed the throttle back on the hyper-drive and we entered the hyperspace tunnel again. This time we were in hyperspace for several hours, safe in the embrace of lightspeed.

Chapter 3

The hours passed all too quickly as we approached our destination.

"When we break from hyperspace," said Burmar, "we're going to have to full speed it to Coruscant without permission. It's crawling with Imperial's but it's easy to hide if you know Coruscant well enough, but we are probably being followed set brace yourself." Burmar snapped a quick look of a map of Coruscant on the screen before him. I just shrugged my shoulders knowing that I was along for the ride no matter what.

"Great," I said with little encouragement. I felt like a passenger being given site-seeing tips on some tourist, travel-tour. It was a little embarrassing and frustrating being jammed around like cargo, helpless to do anything but watch, letting that human turn me into a furry milkshake while he tried to get us a safe escape.

We exited hyperspace very close, unsafely close to Coruscant. The planet's gravity pulled on the ship, and it was mere moments after leaving hyperspace before we had TIE fighters breaking away from formation from their patrols, and showering us with green blaster-bolts. Burmar slammed the throttle down smacking it against its housing, and throwing me back into my seat again as we entered Coruscant's atmosphere and streaked to the surface like a comet.

The radio screamed with the voice of some Imperial in a control tower somewhere calling for us to disembark, that we were violating such and such laws. I'm not entirely sure what the Imp on the other side said. I was too busy watching the ground rush up to us at a frightening speed and wondering how long I would feel the pain upon impact. Burmar had no intention of heeding the calls of the control tower as we passed by the huge buildings and swathes of traffic that make up the upper levels of Coruscant. A trail of smoke grew behind us as the hull of the ship cooled. Burmar flew us deeper it into the lower streets, the ghetto's of the planet. Buildings rushed past us, and I was amazed Burmar hadn't crashed the ship. Through some amazing piloting ability, Burmar brought the ship to a near halt in an instant, introducing my head to the co-pilot's dashboard, and he maneuvered us into a darkened alley. Burmar spun the small ship about, and backed us into a small alleyway hiding the ship in the shadows, like a counterpart to the break in the tree on Kashyyyk. Not a soul was around. No one but the trash and rodents witnessed our landing as far as I could tell. Our smoke trail quickly dissipated in the high, traffic-driven winds. It seemed that everyone was far too busy to take notice, or to care about our arrival. The traffic flowed without interruption. Burmar lowered the ship to the ground allowing the repulsor-lifts to steady it. The ship made a final, almost thankful shudder as Burmar powered it down.

I rubbed the growing lumps on my head, "How did you manage that?"

"I used to live here, Echobe. I know this place pretty well," said Burmar, and he then activated the cockpit hatch and hopped out of his seat as if nothing had just happened, quite the opposite from the white-knuckled fear I saw in him on Kashyyyk. "Let's go, we are close to the safe house."

I jumped out of the ship and followed Burmar, drawing the Ryyk Blade and gripping it tightly. I am sure, if it were possible to see my knuckles, they would have been white.

It seemed as if that entire grid of the city had been abandoned. I was a little disappointed, and fearful. I had wanted to see Coruscant in better times, and a better neighborhood, in a more natural setting that didn't exist on Coruscant. The place looked like a landfill hit by a hurricane, like the trash didn't want to sit in one place for too long, and how could you blame it? The size of the rodents fighting over the sailing garbage was immense. After seeing them I was no longer surprised to see the streets unpopulated. It was also hard to see, the only lights that shone were from control panels and sequencers. The lights from the upper city barely penetrated down there, but you could still hear the constant roar of the unending traffic of speeders up above, like the roaring of artificial wind.

"Come on, it's not much further, and then we can rest a little and get our bearings," said Burmar calmer than I had yet seen him. I couldn't pull my eyes off of the strange new world I was thrust into. It was impossible to see the tops of the buildings towering over us, like steel versions of the Wroshyr trees back home. Every now and then I could see a lighted speeder streak across the sky in between the buildings. I kept watching, expecting to see an armada of Imperial ships coming down on us at any moment. As afraid as I was of being captured, I couldn't help but be excited by the events unfolding around me.

I followed Burmar through the blocky labyrinth of the lower city of Coruscant until we finally came upon a small and dilapidated, gray house. It was made of the same "cost effective" material that all of the buildings down there were made of. The cheap materials only served the shadows in their mission to suck the light from the environment. It was dark, and still no one was around except for the rodents. We walked up to the door, both shrouded in shadow. Burmar entered a code into the flickering, unkempt lights of the keypad, and the door creaked open with noisy and aged servos.

"This is our rendezvous point," said Burmar, over his shoulder to me as we stepped inside and shut the door behind us. "I went underground when your parents disappeared. I did some digging and with the help of the Alliance, found out the name of the Imperial who carried out the order to capture former Senators, staff, undesirables and such. His name is Heth Finissum. He's an Imperial Commander. He controls a lot of policing action here. You can bet that his orders came from the Emperor, but we wouldn't be able to get to Palpatine in one piece so this commander is our next best option."

Burmar locked the aged metal door when we entered and turned on a small light sitting on a table next to a radio beacon that he then switched on. The beacon was silent, but there was a single red light that blinked as it sent out its signal. The hovel of a home again reminded me of Kashyyyk. It was dilapidated, dusty, and uncared for. It looked like it had been in a few battles of its own, probably against corrosion. All it needed was some blaster holes and scorch marks and it would've been perfect. I had a curious thought at that moment of what amenity would be like.

"That is the signal to meet us here," Burmar said, as he pointed to the radio beacon. "We have agents all over this planet. They have found out that Heth is stationed at a newly constructed base adjacent to the old Senate Hall." Burmar trailed off, and then meandered about the shack, checking to see if all was undisturbed and in its place. I was busy watching the dirt smudged, and failing viewscreen connected to the security camera just outside the door. I watched the entire wait.

It was not more than forty minutes or so when Burmar's Alliance friends arrived one after the other in gray robes that covered their entire body, with hoods pulled over their heads. There were four of them, two Rodians, a Bothan, and oddly enough, an R2 droid beeping quietly behind them, not wearing robes of course. I greeted them at the door with Ryyk Blade in hand. Burmar was right behind me to assure me that they were welcome. Each one of them, save for the droid who beeped and whirred at me like it was scared, were a little surprised when they opened the door to find me towering over them, holding a blade in my hand that was nearly as long as a few of them were tall. The Alliance people nodded their heads as they passed me, and their eyes lit up when they saw Burmar. The strange Rodian's honking-like language seemed friendly. The Bothan spoke Galactic Basic, and nodded to me. I locked the door behind them, and followed them to the metal table where the radio beacon lay; the Bothan walked to it and shut it off.

Burmar introduced every one of them to me, he then introduced me to them, and gave a very brief description of how Burmar and had I met, and how we arrived at Coruscant. None of the Alliance seemed the least surprised about our roughshod escape from the Imperial blockade. Burmar impressed upon them to my trustworthiness when he had concluded his brief story. Everyone nodded to me, the droid beeped in approval.

The hours passed as Burmar went over the plan to get to the old Senate Hall involving a trek throw the city sewers and a hasty escape to a nearby hangar where a ship would be provided for us upon our arrival by an ally. When Burmar finished pouring over maps and schematics, and ensuring everyone knew their roles, I could tell that everyone except for the droid were tired when the meeting ended. Burmar fell asleep almost the moment his head hit his rolled-up, blanket-pillow, as did his Alliance friends. I hardly slept that night. I was overwhelmed about what I had gotten myself into, over what had happened the past days. My mind was racing, like compiling the overflow of data to be filed away into memory. Images of that Wookiee girl also haunted me that night. The darkness behind my eyelids did nothing to hide me from the memory. I tried hard to shut the images out and sleep, to try and think of something, anything else. I got maybe an hour or two.

We all woke at dawn to the beeping and whistling of the R2. I stared at the ceiling, groggy and stiff, but that familiar feeling of life, however on a smaller scale, pulsed around me, making me feel more alive. It was nothing like back home where the very ground you slept on was alive with that strange energy. On Coruscant, then the Imperial Center, something was different. I still recognized the same feelings as I did on Kashyyyk, but it was different there. Like looking at the same image but through a dark piece of cloth. Something was constrained and suppressed on Coruscant.

The others were already up and readying weapons, and eating while I stared at the ceiling. I finally forced myself out of bed, but wanting nothing more than to just lay there. I went to the small table where their equipment was sprawled and breakfast was, pleasantly, steaming hot. I fastened the Ryyk Blade to my waist, looking at the weapons on the table, and exchanged nods with everyone. There were so many different devices; many I had no idea as to their purpose. I picked randomly, grabbing an E-11 blaster, a typical, Imperial stormtrooper issue rifle.

The idea of killing, much-less killing with an Imperial weapon, was repulsive to me at first, it still is. I felt as if I was crossing a point of no return in my life as I turned the black weapon over in my hands. I had seen countless siblings to the same rifle threaten and kill my people, and there I was holding one. It seemed fitting to be using just such a weapon against the entity that spawned it. Only a bowcaster would have seemed more fitting, but Wookiee weapons were nearly unheard of outside of Kashyyyk. Even on Kashyyyk during the blockade, they were scarce because they were outlawed. Burmar approached me with a mouthful of food as I was fiddling with the blaster rifle.

"Good choice, Echobe," the old senator said as he tried keeping his food in his mouth. "That's a very reliable weapon. We strip what we can from Imps. ??Never waste a motion,' as the saying goes. The only things we really don't use regularly are uniforms, or vessels." Burmar shrugged, bit off another mouthful, and then continued. "Not exactly the richest or most well equipped organization, Echobe," Burmar concluded, picked up his battered scoutblaster, turning over in his hand as if he was reading an inscription that only he could see. Then suddenly coming out of his daydream he looked up to me, smiled with food bulged cheeks, and holstered the blaster. I became suddenly concerned for him. I wondered how old he was. I was unaware then of human's short lives, and I wondered how long he would be around, or if he would ever see the days of the Senate's return, or of better days for a New Republic.

We all ate and equipped ourselves. The sewer entrance had already been excavated and opened in the dilapidated room that was merely separated by a door-less jam. We entered the hole in the floor one by one. The tunnel dropped a short distance by ladder, and then opened up into the sewer tunnel itself. The sewer was concave, and tall enough for me to walk through without crouching. Burmar took up the lead. I was second to last in line, the droid trailed behind me. It beeped nervously and seemed not too happy about the dank conditions of the tunnel. The droid tried riding as high on the curved wall as it could to avoid the not so fresh smelling, and chunky water that flowed like a stream in the opposite direction, but the droid just slipped back down with each try.

I had no idea that two completely different worlds could exist on the same planet. It reminded me greatly of Kashyyyk, though of very different material. The trees housed the cities of the Wookiees. The layers beneath housed the creatures. Trade off steel and duracrete and you have Coruscant. Only on Coruscant people also lived below the canopy of the skyscrapers with the animals, but the animals were different there. They seemed like they were not native, or somehow out of place. You could see through the foliage of concrete and steel, the endless succession of ships, speeders, and all kinds of craft skimming on the highway in the sky and easily imagine the skyscrapers as Wroshyr trees. The smells differed greatly as well, and Coruscant had more trash.

The oppressive statues of the Emperor lording over the people with grandiosity, wear black robes, and his face hidden, could be seen even from places in the sewer where a grate vented air to the outside. I always thought of Palpatine as a coward since the days he took control over the Senate, after claiming that Jedi had wounded him, almost killed him. It was shortly after that that Kashyyyk was plunged into informational blackout. No one but the Emperor knew the truth. Most of us only knew what happened afterwards. The Senate gave up its power to a dictator and the Republic ceased to be. Alderaan was destroyed some years later. The galaxy became a nightmare as the Emperor tried to pretend he was only hunting down the bad guys of the old, shattered Republic. I asked myself that if what was happening on Kashyyyk was any indication of what was happening on other worlds, and then everything I had come to know of the Rebellion was simply a lie. Knowing that made me feel a bit more justified in what I had become involved in.

Suddenly as I was lost in retrospect, a deafening roar echoed throughout the tunnels snapping me out of my thoughts. We all stopped in unison and looked at each other with muted concern. Burmar explained quietly.

"That would be a Dianoga, I think." I looked at Burmar with arched brow, as did the others, the R2 oohed ominously. Burmar looked to each of us and elaborated.

"Dianogas are used in sewage treatment. They generally don't attack people, but people rarely interact with them. It's best if we give it a wide birth."

I was immediately intrigued. I made my way from the back of the line up to Burmar at the front with questions buzzing in my mind about a new creature.

"Um, about this, Dianoga," I started to ask, but Burmar was quick to cut me off. He looked at me and smiled, knowing full well my curiosity.

"Not now, Echobe. Keep your focus on the mission. We'll have plenty of time to discuss your interest in the local fauna later." Burmar patted me on the back, lowered his head as if trudging through high wind, and kept his pace. I stopped my questioning with disappointment and shook my head, turning my mind back to the mission and stepped up my pace to keep with Burmar.

"So what are our chances of actually getting this Imperial?" I asked a while later after we had traveled a few miles.

"I've been laying the groundwork for this for a while now. We have a few insiders inside the Senate Hall. I paid them to keep the area where we are to break in as clear as possible, so we have a chance to get the Imperial in the chaos of the bombing."

"Bomb? How big of a bomb? Why didn't you mention this at the meeting?" I asked, a little startled by this revelation.

"Big enough to break through the floor without killing the officer, and I didn't want you to worry about it during the night, Echobe. I know you hardly slept as it was." I shook my head, but accepted Burmar's argument of not informing me of that detail.

"He should be secluded in his office," Burmar continued, "at worst speaking with an aid or something, the Emperor is no where near this system, and the Empire is as spread out as they are ever going to be, so this is our best chance to get to this Imp and get him off planet."

Burmar stopped talking and stopped walking simultaneously, and he looked up at the ceiling. He told us that we had finally made it to the section of tunnels that coiled underneath the Senate Hall, and to be cautious. It took a few more minutes for Burmar to locate the Imperial's office. Several tunnels intersected at the point of our destination. The ceiling was wide open of any pipes. The Bothan started planting several charges of explosives around a large circular area on the sewer ceiling to blow the floor out from under the general area of the Imperial's office. After the Bothan had everything wired he handed the detonator to Burmar who then held the detonator up before him and then looked to me for approval.

"Are you ready, Echobe? There's no turning back now." Burmar held the detonator up to our eye level, his thumb hovering over the button.

"I'm ready, let's get this done," I said drawing the Ryyk Blade from its sheath, and the E-11 blaster from its holster. The Bothan nodded to Burmar for the go ahead. There were eight blocks of clay-like explosives attached to the ceiling, yellow lengths of uncoiled wire hung down from each block, and converged into the detonator in Burmar's hand.

Everyone backed away from the blast area, and then Burmar pressed the button. An ear-shattering explosion rocked the duracrete walls, and shattered the roof above us, which was the floor of Heth Finissum's office. A storm of pulverized duracrete and shards of steel cocooned in wire, dropped onto the sewer floor. A large square-like object came crashing down immediately after. The Imp fell rather unceremoniously to the floor still seated behind his desk that came down with him, his chair broke from underneath him, and he landed hard on the ground, splashing into the thin puddle of water of the sewer.

It was mere seconds before we heard Imperial guards shouting, an alarm then sounded that echoed throughout the tunnel adding to the high-pitched ringing I already heard in my ears from the blast. We wasted no time. The two Rodians grabbed the officer, gagged him, and tied his arms and legs. I grabbed the Imp, and slung him on my shoulder like a squirming duffle bag. We took off running, Burmar was right behind me yelling for me to run, the R2 droid beeped excitedly behind Burmar now less concerned about getting wet. The Bothan and Rodians lagged behind firing their blasters into the cloud of dust from the explosion that was slowly starting to settle. Blaster fire shot out of the dust and smoke like a volcano erupting its fury. The bolts struck all around us tearing off chunks of duracrete, and peppering us with shrapnel, like the guards had no concern for striking the officer we had taken from them. Maybe they were unaware that we had taken him at all I thought briefly in between running for my life.

Burmar shouted for the Rodians and Bothan to catch up, but his voice was lost in the chaos of noise echoing off of the sewer walls. I foolishly yelled as well, they didn't understand Shyriiwook, and I only added to the confusion. I didn't look back. My heart pounded. My feet kicked up all of the filth of the sewer floor as I ran. I was terrified, but I kept going. I didn't imagine that that was what being shot at and fleeing for my life would feel like. It didn't feel caged like on Kashyyyk when the danger was less direct, I felt empowered, like I had some control of what was going to happen to me, and that made it all the easier to succeed, but at the same time with the threat being more direct I felt like an asteroid being targeted for removal by an Imperial cruiser.

Burmar's plan called for none of us to stop until we reached the safe point. We had little hope for making it out, and we had gotten much further than anyone of us had hoped already, but we ran with abandon. Burmar had his hand to my back pushing me along if I was to hesitate. He fired over his shoulder with his scout blaster yelling for the others to catch up. The Bothan was the first to fall, being the furthest behind, and all we heard was the splash of his body hitting the sewer floor. The Rodians limped behind us both wounded and helping each other to walk. The R2 was carbon scored, but close behind Burmar and me, and we were still being pursued. The blaster fired died down a little as we rounded turns, but it still chased us in sporadic bursts from the shadows where the Imperial guards were hidden, but still following. The Imperial on my shoulder tried to struggle and make noise as he regained his consciousness. I easily held him in place.

We must have ran several miles through winding tunnels of the sewers as Burmar lost his way a few times in the chaos. I regretted being covered in fur then as all of the smells and objects stuck to me, and made it more difficult to slough through the muck. The R2 struggled to keep up. Its wheels were lacquered in inexplicable funk. I could hear its motors struggling to keep moving. Burmar was helping the last remaining Rodian to run. The Rodian's leg had a gaping wound, and he was pouring blood into the water, the other Rodian must've fallen several hundred meters back, I never found out for sure. Burmar stopped very briefly to tend to the Rodian's bleeding as best as he could, but the wound was just too large and we were too ill equipped. Burmar tried to get the Rodian back onto his feet, but he fell into the water bringing Burmar down with him. The Rodian pushed Burmar away, but Burmar did his best to pick him up from the ground until the Rodian punched Burmar across the face. I heard a tooth clatter off the wall and fall into the water with a tiny splash. The Rodian yelled at Burmar, but I didn't understand what he was saying. I turned to help Burmar and the Rodian, but Burmar yelled at me to move on and get to the safe point, the R2 just ahead of me beeped in encouragement.

Burmar exchanged a few unheard words with the Rodian as I hesitantly turned away. I never saw the Rodian again. The blaster fire erupted as strong as before, but we kept running. Burmar had left the Rodian and was right behind me. We ran for what seemed like hours trying to lose the guards bent on our capture. When we finally made it to the safe house, Burmar climbed the ladder first. I then hoisted the Imperial up to Burmar, and then the droid. We bolted from the house with no time to cover our tracks, and into the street back to Burmar's ship where it remained untouched save for a few rodents scurrying around it looking for food.

Burmar opened the cockpit, and I not so gingerly tossed the Imp, Heth, into the small cargo bay. He tried to call out, but his mouth was gagged. The R2 housed itself into the droid compartment of the ship, Burmar jumped into the front seat, and I into the back. Burmar started flicking switches and pushing buttons on the control panel to power the ship up. I could do nothing but wonder if the small, worn craft could handle the extra load. A few quick seconds later and my worries were blown away with the thrust of the ship as we were sent off into the sky before the cockpit had even closed. Burmar made a few quick turns going full speed upwards, like a complete reversal of our comet-like entry, and out of the lower city creating a whirlwind of trash and terrified rodents behind us. Burmar veered the ship into the flow of traffic nearly hitting a speeder. People honked their horns at us not even bothering to slow. We dodged around traffic at breakneck speed. The lights on the passing speeders seemed like blaster bolts they went by so fast. I tried getting my seatbelt on to stop myself from being slammed side to side as Burmar dodged traffic, but failed. Burmar broke from the other speeders and turned towards an empty hangar. We entered far too quickly, missed the landing pad, and skidded into the hangar ignoring the protest of someone waving us off with two glowing sticks. Sparks and pieces of the hull flew off the ship like confetti as if it was celebrating its final landing.

Chapter 4

The ship came to a stop as it hit the wall of the hangar, the engines sputtered and failed. Burmar jumped out and ran past the human with the light-sticks, and to a surprisingly indifferent hangar foreman who was just standing there watching the entire scene. Burmar exchanged quick words with the Foreman and motioned for me as he ran towards a flight of stairs along the wall of the hangar that led to a small windowless room. I struggled to get Heth from the cargo compartment as he kicked his legs at me. The R2 droid dropped out of its compartment, and when I finally had Heth on my shoulder we followed Burmar into the room he indicated. The R2 had some trouble negotiated the stairs so I grabbed it by its leg and carried it to the room upside down. Heth and the droid protested in unison. It must have been some kind of storage room. Metal shelves lined the walls with assorted bits of junk on them. Burmar stood at the door waiting for us, and ushered us inside looking back out into the hangar to see if we had been pursued only to see the confused traffic controller still standing there, and then Burmar entered the room and locked the door behind him.

Burmar turned from the door holding his hurt mouth. A trickle of blood ran down his chin. The R2 started blasting water out of its circuits creating a disgusting puddle of brown foulness on the floor. I set Heth down into a chair. Burmar plopped down onto the ground holding his head in his hands, gasping for breath, or gasping in desperation, I wasn't sure which. The Imp was covered in grime, he had received a few minor wounds on his face and arms, and the binders had dug into his wrists and ankles making the skin underneath raw and bleeding. I did what I could to clean the droid and myself off with a rag that I picked up off the floor as I tried to catch my breath and calm myself. After a few moments Burmar spoke, still breathing heavily.

"This was supposed to be our ticket out of here after making it back to the safe house. I didn't have a choice," Burmar continued, talking more to himself than to me, "I had to make a snap decision, I hope they can forgive me," he said with a stuttering voice, and still holding his head in his hands. I remained silent for a few moments, but when I finally thought of something to say to ease Burmar, he looked at me.

"There was supposed to be a ship waiting for us that we were going to use to make it off planet when things had cooled down a little. The Foreman is an ally, we just have to time it right and wait for things to cool down a little." Burmar was incredibly shaken by the loss of his friends. I didn't say anything.

Just then there was a knock at the door. Burmar jumped up with blaster in hand, and opened the door slightly. The Foreman was standing on the other side. They mumbled to each other, then the Foreman turned around and left. Burmar closed the door.

"He's going to get us some towels and some food. We'll be staying here a day or two until we can secure a ship." Burmar then stepped to Heth with blaster in hand. The Imperial looked up at Burmar in disgust and with overwhelming arrogance, a look that seemed to be hardwired into Imps. Burmar grabbed some wire sitting on one of the shelves and roughly tied the Imperial to the chair.

Burmar's Foreman friend came back with food, and drinks, and towels and water to clean ourselves off with. Burmar quickly ate, I took my time and munched while cleaning the crevices on the droid from the gunk it picked up in the tunnels. Burmar went to Heth and started questioning him. He remained silent meeting Burmar's questions with all the responsiveness of a stuffed bantha. The Foreman brought us back a box full of preserved food packets, and some more towels and water and he took the dirty towels. I tried cleaning the Imperial off after I had finished with the droid, but he only fought against me so I gave up. I am not sure why I tried to help him. He didn't deserve the kindness.

A day passed while we waited in hiding inside that small closet space. Burmar's friend the Foreman with his unsettlingly quiet, and calm manner did what he could do to make us comfortable, and gave us regular updates on Imperial movement in the city, but we all, droid included, started to get frustrated being trapped in our little isolation cell. I thought Burmar was about ready to tear the head off the droid and use it for a soup bowl, as it was always beeping and whistling. That's when Burmar's friend, the Foreman, came back to the door that night. Burmar opened it hurriedly, and they mumbled something to each other and the Foreman left. Burmar left the door cracked open. Stagnant joints creaked and popped when I stood, and reflexively pulled the Blade from its sheath.

Burmar turned to face me.

"It must have been a huge embarrassment losing a commander like that, they may want to keep it quiet. The Imperial patrols have died down, and there is a perfect vessel sitting in the hangar. I think this could be our best chance to get out of here," said Burmar, with an unusually large smile on his face.

"Where can we go where the Empire isn't already?" I asked, and sheathed the Ryyk Blade and tried to brush my fur off. I looked like a blockage pulled from a drainpipe, not too far from the truth I realized. Burmar wasn't even concerned about how filthy he was, he was happy to finally be away.

"We have bases all over, but getting away from here is going to be the hard part. I won't say anymore while in his presence." Burmar jerked his head at Heth. "When we get to the base he will be debriefed."

"You think he will give you the information we need?"

"We'll get it one way or another," said Burmar, eyeing Heth dubiously.

"You mean torture?" I could tell from Burmar's glare that what he had in mind wasn't a pleasant chat.

"Look, we have to do whatever it is we have to do. It may be wrong, but I am willing to do it."

"How can you justify something like that? What kind of Alliance is this?" My doubts were building.

"Do you have any better ideas? This officer knows of your parents, wouldn't you do what you had to do to find out what happened to them? He won't give the information willingly I assure you, Echobe."

Burmar's eyes widened with the desire for revenge. The question ran through my mind.

"My parents were taken from me, and this Imperial quite possibly knew where and by whom. Is it right to torture someone like that? How could I justify such a thing?" The thoughts raced until Burmar broke me from them.

"It's not even for us to decide Echobe, it's for command to decide. Let's just get there, okay? We can argue about this if we even escape." I agreed just so we could stop arguing.

Burmar went to Heth, stood him up, and went into a quick explanation of the ship the Foreman had waiting for us.

"There is a smuggler in town. He frequents Coruscant, and he leaves his ship in this hangar. The paperwork will be mixed up with a different hangar, and he'll think it has been taken by Imperials." Burmar tugged on Heth's bonds to make sure they were tight. I was just relieved to have an opportunity to get off of planet and far away from Imperial control, or at the very least to be blown up in space and be free from that tiny room and from all our worries all together.

The about-to-be-stolen ship sat in the hangar resting over the very skid marks we created on our unannounced entry. Burmar peaked out of the door first while I put a sack over Heth's head and lifted him onto my shoulder. Burmar turned and nodded to me, and then stepped out. I followed with the R2 rolling behind me. When we stepped out into the open hangar the elation that free-flowing air brought to me was brief, cut short, and replaced with unbridled curiosity when I saw it.

It was a beautiful, shiny, new ship. A celestial creature with grayish-white segmented skin that grasped every bit of light the environment had to offer, refusing to let it go, letting it gleam on its polished hull like a picture frame. It was a freighter of the YT series. A brand new YT-1930. I couldn't take my eyes off of it. It was somewhat similar to other more popular YT models. Though the cockpit was centered in the middle of the forward hull. The ship had a similar circular design as other YT's, but was shaped more like a triangle. Gorgeous is the best word I could think to say when I saw it.

"Must be a rich smuggler, these things aren't cheap," said Burmar in passing, looking from left to right for any disturbance while walking towards the ship not noticing my enthrallment. I, not knowing what it was at the time, was full of questions about the spectacular thing.

"How do you know that? What kind of ship is it?" I asked as we walked towards it, the Imperial on my shoulder still struggled to be free. I ignored him.

"It's a YT-1930, released this year. Supposed to be best of the series," Burmar paused for a moment to look at the traffic outside and then continued, "And that smuggler is not likely to be happy to find out it's missing, but at least he won't lose his cargo."

"Is this how we get by, by stealing and torturing? We seem a little bit too much like terrorists to me." I managed to ask after tearing my eyes away from the YT to look at the flowing traffic outside.

Burmar didn't answer me, just shook his head. My constant questions and doubts were obviously wearing on him over the past day. Luckily for Burmar, I was too fixated on the ship to press him for any meaningful answer just then. Though in the back of my mind was festering the trouble of sorting out and coming to terms with the justifications. For that moment though, I had to willingly ignore my doubts and focus on making it out alive from Coruscant, in between looking at the YT of course.

Burmar lowered the rear platform. When we entered, I noticed the plaque just inside the platform showing the ship's designation as Starscream. The inside of the Starscream was as equally immaculate as the outside. Burmar went straight for the controls. A ship was a ship to him; he wasn't nearly as impressed as I was.

I sat Heth down in one of the four chairs in the cockpit, he mumbled and tried to blurt out what I am sure were expletives. The R2 was busy connecting to the ships computer, beeping and whistling merrily as if making a new friend as the droid circumvented the YT's security. The lights in the cockpit winked on as the droid lifted the security. And like a cloud lifting from the sky to reveal the stars, the cockpit lit up, reflecting off of the smoky color of the cockpit glass.

Burmar brought the thrusters online. Burmar's friend, the hangar foreman, stood before the Starscream waving at us as lazily and as calm as if nothing had ever happened the past day. Burmar activated the repulsor-lifts, and the Starscream floated as if on a sea. Burmar backed us out of the hangar. He then gunned the ship's thrusters and sent us into the heavy traffic. Burmar took a quick pace to put some distance between the hangar and us in the hope to avoid getting the Foreman into even more danger than we had already. After a few miles, Burmar sent us up into the atmosphere above the din of traffic. We lifted up and above the skyscrapers that covered the surface of the planet.

The clouds of Coruscant engulfed the Starscream until we reached the upper atmosphere, then the clouds dissipated, and we passed beyond the limits of the planet's gravity. Lines of Imperial ships skirted around the planet much like the same blockade around Kashyyyk, only more numerous. There were Star Destroyers and TIE fighters everywhere, being in the heart of the Empire. I sat back and watched the ships float through space like insects in the distance, becoming larger as we sped towards them. Burmar ordered me to jettison into an escape pod with our prisoner should anything go wrong, and meet the Foreman back at the hangar. I nodded to Burmar, but I had no intention of obeying. I didn't even want to consider leaving anyone else behind to die. I held the hilt of the Ryyk Blade, gripping it tensely to ease myself.

The Imperial officer saw my nervousness and laughed. I had gotten used to the demeanor of his type. I just sat and listened to him, and watched him, if nothing else but to take my mind off the barrier between freedom and us, it was all I could do to keep myself from losing it over not knowing what Burmar had in mind for our escape. Burmar continued for the line.

The radio sounded. It was a captain from a Star Destroyer, (an Interdictor to be exact), directly ahead of us. Burmar responded with a clearance code and submitted to a security scan. Luckily the spice was left in the dock, so as far as we knew the ship was clean. I looked back and forth between the Star Destroyer hovering before us like a skyscraper, and the radio expecting to hear orders for our surrender. There was an uneasy silence as the scan commenced. Burmar fingered the controls ready to get us away as fast as possible when the order came. Heth laughed, though muffled by the cloth tied over his mouth.

The Captain then came back over the radio.

"Ship Starscream, what is your cargo and destination?" he demanded. Burmar stuttered and shrugged trying to come up with something to say quickly. The Captain started to repeat his question when we heard faint radio chatter in the background on the Captain's end. We listened in close and overheard it on their radio. They were receiving reports of a disturbance. Strangely enough it was from the hangar we had just left. We both smiled and looked at each other. The Captain then spoke to us over radio. "Move along, ship Starscream." And the radio cut off. I smiled at Heth. His smile disappeared from his face. Burmar hit the throttle and we flew past the line of Imperial ships and further into open space and into hyperspace.

"We will have to zigzag on our way to the base. Once they get word of this ship being stolen they'll probably be after us."

I released my grip on the Blade, clenching my hand to get the blood flowing again.

"Good, maybe you can take a few moments and teach me how to fly this thing." I nudged Burmar in the ribs. He coughed from the blow.

"I see you have taken a liking to this ship," he said, rubbing at his side, and looking at me out of the corner of his eye.

"I've never seen anything like it, it's beautiful. I may have to steal it back from the Rebellion," I said with a chuckle. Burmar was as responsive as stone.

"Well, for starters, this is the control stick," started Burmar, tapping the lever with his finger.

Burmar hurriedly explained the basic functions of random instruments while he zigzagged us through hyperspace, occasionally stopping for new coordinates, not making a straight path to the Alliance station. He quickly explained the basic functions of the nav-computer, and the reason for our zigzagging pattern.

"It's an old hunting move where we hyperspace a short distance and hyperspace back right over it and then hyperspace again in a different location to throw off our path enough to hopefully confuse anyone who would follow us," explained Burmar.

It was all very confusing, and Burmar hardly had the patience of a teacher as he quickly explained what he was doing and how. Randomly he would break off his instruction to tell a short story from his days in the Senate as if he couldn't keep a straight thought. His stories offered scant details about my Mother and Father that made it worthwhile. Burmar explained how he had voted against my parents many times, as he alluded to before. Burmar told me that my parents cared not for businesses, capitalism and such, but for the well being of the people above all, and the preservation of the Republic, and that they strongly opposed the vote to give Emperor Palpatine emergency powers to deal with the so-called Jedi threat. They hated war, Burmar told me. They spoke out vehemently against it all, which Burmar assumed is why they were taken away.

Burmar told me how much he was sorry for not seeing the signs, for not listening to those who didn't agree with the Emperor, but he had always been dubious of Jedi influence, as many had. Burmar once thought of them as a corrupt shadow government, that was until the Jedi purge and the dissolution of the Senate, when all of his fears were confirmed. Burmar went into hiding shortly before the Senate was dissolved. A once respected member, and ally to Palpatine, he was now a wanted man for joining with Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, and Garm Bel Iblis shortly after the formation of the Alliance. So Burmar's story went, what he told me of it, anyway.

After Burmar's story telling, I was the first to use the shower.

"Well, we're almost there, deep in the Dalonbian Sector. Not the friendliest of places, but good for hiding." The radio signaled with a computer generated, unintelligible howl like some kind of interference. Burmar then entered in some code only known to him and transmitted it. A few seconds later, a group of X-Wings emerged from the gaseous cloud engulfing the sector. Burmar put us into formation with them, and we followed. I couldn't tell where we were going.

The radio came on, a pilot on one of the X-wings spoke.

"Ship Starscream, you are clear to proceed to bay four."

"Acknowledged," replied Burmar, and he upped the throttle as the X-wings peeled off and vanished back into the cloud. Just as they did the Alliance space station emerged directly in front of us. Not surprisingly, the station look beat up, carbon scored and badly in need of preventative maintenance as did most Alliance equipment. The door to our landing bay opened, and Burmar landed us expertly on the deck and shut down the Starscream.

I turned to the Heth. The R2 unit was sitting right next to him beeping almost tauntingly.

"Well, time to get you on your feet," I said, as I stood him up. The strip covering his mouth became stripped from his face as I moved him, just enough for him to speak out of the corner of his mouth.

"You may have made it this far, Wookiee, but you will not ??" Before the Imp could get fully into his dogma I cut him off by stuffing the strip into his mouth, and then lifted him onto my shoulder. The R2 whirred past me, beeping, glad to be nearer to allies and dry. We went to the rear of the ship, and Burmar pressed a button on the nearby console next to the mirror-finished hydraulic arm, and the platform extended and landed with a sure thud on the deck. The R2 unit whistled curiously and rolled out. The Imp on my shoulder wiggled irritably. I shook him to get him to stop.

When I stepped out into the open I was amazed at the vastness of the operation going on in just that one station. There was hundreds of Alliance going this way and that, and half as many droids. The hangar seemed to hum with energy. The walls echoed the noise of people, droids, engines and welders. There were X-wings, Y-wings, and even some captured TIE fighters lined up and ready for instant take off, or secluded away from the functioning ones to be repaired.

"Burmar!" a human male yelled from across the hangar with a raspy voice, like he had rocks rattling around in his lungs. He was wearing a thick leather jacket, a faded orange jumpsuit underneath, and the Alliance symbol on the left of the jacket. A blaster hung lazily on his left side at his hip. The man was dark-skinned, blonde-haired with a thin beard and grizzled face, like he had seen too much sun. His face was scarred and lined from age. He walked towards us with a warm smile on his face that didn't complement his features.

"I'm amazed to see you, friend. I see you got the package we asked for," the human said with a big smile, and reached out his hand and shook Burmar's. "And I see you brought back my R2 as well!" The man knelt at the R2 droid and patted it like a pet. The R2 turned its head back and forth and whistled. The man then looked up the empty ramp to the Starscream and then looked to Burmar. "The others?" he asked with concern. Burmar just shook his head. Then the man, his smile replaced with a cold certainty, looked at me. Everything became clear to him it seemed except for my presence.

"I see you picked up a stow away," said Burmar's friend, looking back and forth from me to Burmar, his eyes asking for an explanation, and making me feel a bit uncomfortable at the same time.

Burmar put his hand on the arm of the man, his friend, and said, "We have to talk, but your men can take the prisoner and debrief him, and if they can't get the info we need, I will," said Burmar with finality. Two Alliance guards walked towards me at Burmar's signal, they looked up at me uneasily. I took Heth off my shoulder and stood him up in front of them.

"There you go," I said foolishly, realizing just then that they probably didn't understand a thing I had said, but they took Heth away regardless.

"Echobe," Burmar started saying, and gesturing to me. "We have some talking to do." Burmar's friend had already turned and started walking away.

"Do you trust him?" I whispered to Burmar.

"Yes, I do. Let's not waste any more time."

I followed Burmar, his friend, and the droid to a back room away from the hangar, taking one last longing look at the amazing ship I had become infatuated with. I sighed in spite of myself, and wished I had some time to learn to fly it. Burmar's friend closed the door behind me as we entered what I assumed was his office. A large metal table with several chairs arranged around it sat in the middle of the room, a computer terminal at the head, maps were strewn everywhere, and a holo image of the Alliance station spun slowly in the center of the table. Burmar's friend went to the table and sat down, and so did we. The droid rolled up alongside the man.

"So," began the man, "start from the top."

Burmar took a breath and began.

"I went to Kashyyyk to get Ulchewbuk safely off-world. The Imperials had just bombed the place. When I got there I found Echobe," Burmar gestured towards me, "there instead. The Wookiee Elder was dead. Someone killed him with his own Ryyk Blade. Echobe now carries it." I felt a bit awkward being spoken about in the third person, and about possessing the weapon that was used murder The Elder, but I kept my eyes on the man, and kept silent. Burmar continued.

"Echobe was ready to kill me as I approached, thinking I was The Elder's killer, but I explained who I was. When Echobe told me his name, I needed no further explanation. The Elder had told me all about him. Echobe is the son of Elyya and Obechukk.

When Burmar's friend heard those words, his expressionless face twisted as if stung. He crossed his fingers in a pyramid in contemplation.

"I see, go on," he said after a moment.

"I explained to Echobe what I was there for, and who I was, and offered for him to join me, to join the Alliance. Eventually, reluctantly, he agreed." Burmar nodded in my direction. "We left Kashyyyk, but were pursued by ships from the blockade on our way, and had to make a crash landing on Coruscant. We made the rendezvous with the Alliance soldiers at the safe house and went through the plan. We were able to get the Imperial officer out, but we lost Buiddo, Gwileck and Drom in the firefight. We made it back to the safe house, but had to abandon the original plan. We met ahead of schedule with our contact at the hangar where we found the ship." Burmar thumbed towards the landing bay over his shoulder. "We waited a day, and were able to use the security clearance to get off planet. However, I fear that our passage will be soon detected if it wasn't already, there was a disturbance in the hangar we had just left, and I believe that was the only reason why we were allowed to leave. I'm sorry, Desco."

Burmar concluded, and I felt a bit more comfortable finally learning the name of the man glowering before me, and his learning of the reason for my becoming involved in their operation.

Desco's expression lightened.

"The mission was understood by all, save for you." Desco stood and extended his hand to me. I stood as well, hitting my head on the light fixture, the undersized chair still stuck to my butt. We shook hands and sat back down. Desco and Burmar both had smiles on their faces.

"We owe you our thanks, Echobe. The mission may have very well failed if not for your unexpected help. You have safe refuge here, and hopefully you will decide to continue to help the Alliance." I cleared my throat, and looked to Burmar. I was about to speak when Desco beat me to it.

"Speak freely, Echobe. I can understand you."

I paused for a moment in surprise and then continued. "Actually, I want to be there when the officer Heth is questioned. I want to know what has happened to my parents from his mouth." Desco arched an eyebrow when I called the Imp by his name. Desco then looked to Burmar, and they both nodded.

"Very well. Follow me, Echobe."

Desco led Burmar and me from his office after I detached the chair, and to an elevator in the hangar, and we descended to the bowels of the station. Desco led us to the interrogation room where guards stood around Heth who was still bound and sitting in a chair in the middle of the room. All of the soldiers saluted Desco and Burmar as we entered. One of the guards whispered to Desco who nodded in response.

"Are we ready to begin?" asked Desco.

"How do you plan on getting the information out of him?" I asked.

"We'll start first by asking," Desco said and knelt beside the Imperial. "Tell us where the prisoners were taken." Desco asked Heth, simply and calmly. Heth faced forward and didn't say anything. Desco grabbed Heth by the cheeks and forced the Imperial to look him in the eyes. "Tell me where and this won't have to get difficult." Desco then shoved Heth's face violently away.

Desco stood slowly looking away from Heth, his mouth was pursed, anger filled his eyes, and then without warning Desco hit Heth across the face, sending blood from his mouth to splatter across the floor. Heth groaned in pain and hung his head, but recovered quickly and straightened himself, and faced forward again. I jerked, and took a step forward unsure of what to do. Desco grabbed the Imperial by the face again.

"Tell me what you know, and this won't have to get worse." Desco spoke, completely indifferent to the Imperial's pain. Heth remained silent, the look of righteous indignation steeled in his face.

Desco hit Heth again. More blood splattered on the floor, he groaned again, a bit slower in recovering. This process was repeated over and over for over and hour. I started to feel sick with what was happening, and with myself for not stopping it. Heth was covered in blood, he gasped and coughed, and had spit out several teeth. His face was bruised and had swollen grotesquely. The light glistened off his sweat-soaked, bulbous face.

"That's enough, get the droid in here!" yelled Desco, finally losing his patience, his fist was red and swollen. A few moments later, a round droid hovered into the room, it was covered in prongs and diodes and other instruments I had no idea as to their use. Desco ordered the Guards out, Burmar and I remained.

"What are you going to do?" I asked, moving myself between the droid and Heth.

"What I have to," Desco said flatly, "please move."

"But you can't. It's just as bad as they are. That's what they do to prisoners, that's how they treat Wookiees, you can't have your New Republic start like this!"

Heth hung his head, still gasping.

"You will soon learn what needs to be done, Echobe. Guards! Escort the Wookiee out!" Two Alliance guards came back in and gestured for me to follow them, they had blaster rifles in hand. I let them usher me out, all the while wrestling with thoughts of overpowering the guards and taking their rifles to rescue the Imp, but that was insanity, as was leaving Heth there to be tortured.

I stood in the hallway outside the door walking back and forth with my arms crossed, listening to the sounds of the torture droid being drowned out by Heth's muffled groans and screams. Images of Kashyyyk came back to me as I let my mind wander in an attempt to shut myself away. That Wookiee girl dying in my arms while her family smoldered in the wreckage of her house came back into my mind, how I wished then that I could forget. Her skin crumbling like a dried rose under my touch as she breathed her last breaths on me, looking to me to fix things, it brought it all back and I hated it. I closed my eyes and tried to shut it out, but it penetrated the darkness. Heth's screaming echoed in the hall a while longer, and then all went silent. The Imperial stopped screaming. Burmar stepped out, quickly glanced at me out of the corner of his eye, and went walking down the hallway with a lowered head. Desco came out next, looking me straight in the eye.

"We have the information. Follow me, I will discuss it with you and Burmar," and Desco turned from me and walked back to his office, no apology from him.

I peeked my head in the door. The interrogation droid hovered silently in a corner behind Heth. His head hung low, blood and spit oozed from his mouth. Then he looked up and into my eyes. He was pale, he had darkened circles around his eyes, and his faded skin glistened with sweat. He just smiled at me with that same arrogance, and then looked back to the floor like he had won somehow. I felt sick and disgusted with myself for having done nothing to stop it, but they did get the information we needed, that I needed. I left the room and went to Desco's office, wanting to be far away from that place and the Alliance. Burmar did not look away from Desco when I entered, but Desco looked at me without remorse as if he had forgotten what had just happened. He just started talking.

"The Imp gave up the location of an Imperial station in deep space, right here." Desco pointed to a spot on the holo map in the Unknown Regions in Chiss space, on the outskirts. "He says he did not know why the Senators, and staff, and others were taken, but that he was only assigned to round them up and send them there under secrecy. The Imp says that he held them on Coruscant for a team of special ops who took them to this location in Chiss space."

Desco pushed a button on the control pad of the holo-projector bringing the Csilla system into closer view, and then he continued.

"He claimed to have no further intel on this installation, but it would be safe to assume that it is well guarded, and not easily accessible. Our objective is to retrieve the prisoners, and destroy, or disable the station if possible. We will first send a small recon team to inspect the area and pinpoint the exact location, and if they return with good news, we will send a small strike team to infiltrate the base and complete the objectives." The holo-projector intuitively conveyed Desco's words in diagrams and schematics as he spoke. I sat there with my arms crossed glaring at Desco.

"All right. Now what of my parents?" I asked when Desco had finished.

"You two will be the primary strike team." Desco pointed to us both. "Burmar knows the faces of many of the prisoners that may be there. You, Echobe, despite your feelings for me, I feel that you have a place on this mission. This is the most likely place for your Mother and Father to be found." He jabbed his finger at me, commandingly, almost condemningly.

"You think they're still alive?" I asked, uncrossing my arms and leaning forward, I was nearly as tall as Desco while sitting down, and since his torturing of the Imperial, the thought of beating the small human down occurred to me more than once. Desco then took on a more solemn look after noticing the way I was looking at him, but I had to remind myself that he wasn't my enemy, as perhaps he was also reminding himself at that very moment.

"I hope they are, Echobe. I knew them, they were friends of mine," Desco said, as if reminiscing. He opened his mouth to say something else, but stopped himself and looked away from me and to the table. Burmar remained silent, not looking at me. I stopped glaring at either of them, though still struggling over how to feel about the whole situation. I did gain new understanding of Desco's motives, which only made me question my own drive, and myself, and resolve, if I was willing to do whatever it took to save the innocent, if I would have done whatever it took to save my family, to have saved Ulchewbuk. I tried not to dwell on what I could have been willing to do.

"It could be a while for the recon team to gather necessary information and report back," continued Desco, breaking the silence. "We are in a holding pattern until then. In the meantime, if you wish Echobe, we can give you a training crash-course." Desco smiled at me, trying to be as congenial as possible, alluding to my newfound love for the ship that Burmar and me had borrowed from that unfortunate smuggler. I guess you could call it an extended loan by now.

A recon team of four X-wing fighters and two B-wings left that same day. As I watched the pilots make the final preparations and say goodbye to friends, or relatives, or lovers, it became illuminatingly clear to me how the Alliance treated all missions. There were prayer services that I could not begin to understand, describe or explain. Every Rebel prepared for a mission by preparing to die. It made me brutally aware how desperate the Alliance was then. Friends, and perhaps lovers exchanged hugs, kisses, handshakes, and pats-on-the-back. There were no tears. Instead there were straightened spines and lifted chins, handshakes, and hugging. The recon team got into their crafts, and one by one they were ushered out of the landing bay by flight controllers and into space.

When the Alliance recon team left, I went to see Heth Finissum, who was still being held in the brig. No longer strapped to a chair, but within a cell, alone. His face was battered, bruised and welted from the beating he received the day before. His color was not as pale, but he still looked horrible. When I walked up to his cell, he was sitting up in his bed, his head hanging low as if he himself were in prayer. He looked up at me as I stood there, the same damn steely expression of arrogance, like it was branded into the flesh of his face. He scoffed and lowered his head.

For a brief moment I regretted wanting to stop his torture, and felt almost stupid for checking on him to see if he was all right for some bizarre reason. I just shrugged his pathetic attitude off. Ulchewbuk taught me better than that. I wanted to hate the Imp, I wanted to put the Ryyk Blade into his heart, but I knew it was wrong, I knew I could be better than that, but I also knew then that it was foolish to have wanted to rescue him. That Imperial would have betrayed me no matter what I did, no matter how right I thought I was. Because I am a Wookiee, he would have sent me away to that station in the middle of the unknown to rot as he had so many others.

I walked away.

I had about two weeks worth of training during the painful wait for the recon team to return. Desco later explained to me the procedure, and the reason of the length of their mission when he saw me pacing around the inactive landing bay. After the first day had passed I decided to take full advantage of Desco's offer.

I trained some with blasters, which I was not completely inept with being somewhat used to a bowcaster back home. The Ryyk Blade I was already pretty well versed in thanks to The Elder, and there wasn't a droid or a Rebel on the base that could stand against me in a blade fight, to which I quickly earned a reputation for. Burmar, after a few days of strained silence between us, approached me for my flight training. My true interest was learning to fly, he knew. I had quickly, and truly fallen in love with that huge, beautiful ship. Burmar helped me learn the basic ins and outs as much as he could during the short time. I hardly spent any time within the temporary quarters I was given, instead spending nearly all the time within the ship Starscream. I was actually getting pretty good at using the stock laser cannon emplacement during target practice on the rocks drifting outside of the base. It took awhile though to get used to power consumption as I was constantly overheating the coils.

I crawled my way through every passageway I could find like a spelunker. I admit I became obsessed with it. It gave me something to do with my time. I knew it wasn't mine, but on the inside I was devising a way to take it for my own, even the evil thoughts of stealing it from the Alliance came into my mind, which I tried hard to ignore. I cleaned the ship, and kept it immaculate, and I even slept in it when I wasn't training. People started to look at me a bit strangely, and much to my satisfaction some even referred to it as my ship, or when the name Starscream was mentioned, my name soon followed.

Burmar was pleased with my progress, and Desco was as well. Desco ordered a new weapon emplacement to be added to the ship with two more main guns added to the forward cockpit area, and a missile launcher as well turning the ship into a force to be reckoned with and something far more useful for our coming mission. I was there for each addition, and learned what I could about the mechanics the whole time. Burmar was amazed with how quickly I had begun to learn the inner workings of the ship while it was being fitted for combat. The two weeks passed by far more quickly once I became involved instead of just pacing the hangar. I had become a quick study and had a firm grasp upon the basics, and on even more advanced mechanisms of the ship. I even successfully replaced a malfunctioning circuit board in a control unit a day before the recon team arrived.

There were cheers and hoots of joy when the recon team arrived in its entirety, unscathed and undetected. The squad of X-wings and B-wings slowly banked into the landing bay by twos. The tears flowed from a few of the people who had been waiting for the safe return of their loved ones. Desco was on hand to debrief them. Burmar motioned to me and I followed him with the rest of the recon team into Desco's office.

"Welcome back, now let's get right down to it," said Desco, not wanting to waste any time. The leader of the recon team began his report. The name read as ??Yaminul' on his orange colored jumpsuit. He still held his helmet underneath his arm, his sweat-laden, blond hair stood on end. He cleared his throat and spoke in an accent I never could place.

"After a slow sensor sweep, doing our best to remain hidden from any hostiles, we were able locate and surveil the Imperial station. It is located in a gas cloud far from Csilla. There is scant traffic, but is unguarded, civilian transport."

"Transporting prisoners, to be less noticeable I'd bet," said Desco.

"We assumed the same. It looks like this is where at least some prisoners are being sent. The information from the Imperial captive seems to be valid. But it's quiet for an Imperial station. No markings, no designations. The radio transmissions in and out are encrypted. There's definitely something going on, and they are doing their best to keep it secret," concluded Yaminul.

Desco folded his arms across his chest and assumed his usual grim expression.

"The only thing that makes this more unusual is the fact that the Empire is shipping prisoners there. Making a new weapon perhaps? Slave labor?" Those words rung in my head, and I once again questioned why I had been kind to someone like Heth Finissum.

"We thought at first, but it seems far too small of a complex. There are no large hangers, and no room for large construction, and no asteroids anywhere close by that could house another station," Yaminul said, then set his helmet on the desk and rubbed his reddened knuckles, wincing slightly as he did so.

"How many transports arrived, how many gun placements are there, any large energy fields in the area?" Desco asked in rapid succession.

"There are six turrets that we count. We cannot be sure that there are no ships in the area cloaked and waiting, but no large energy sources other than station. All sensor sweeps were passive, but the cloud disrupted the scan. We remained in the gas cloud to avoid detection, but also made it impossible to confirm the bases defenses. Just about everything was visual."

"Very well," started Desco, nodding to Yaminul. "Echobe, Burmar. You will attempt to take over one of the transports. The problem will be cutting their radio chatter so they can't warn the base. Burmar will lead a small strike team onto the transport, and Echobe will fly the Starscream with a secondary team. When Burmar has successfully infiltrated the base, Echobe will drop off his team inside, and he will proceed destroy the gun emplacements and board the base."

I suddenly got a twinge of anxiety, like all the hairs on my body has just been electrocuted. It made me quite happy to know I would be piloting the Starscream, and I think Burmar had something to do with that, but the realization that it was actually going to happen had hit me, and the two weeks of waiting felt like they had passed too quickly. I had no time to vent my concerns, or ask any questions.

"Gather your teams and equipment, you leave at 1000 hours tomorrow, hopefully we have not drawn attention to ourselves. Dismissed." Desco then turned away from us and sat at his desk to pour over a stack of paperwork. The recon team piled out first, and started taking off their flight harnesses as they walked to their barracks. I followed Burmar out.

"Well, you're in the thick of it now, Echobe," he said to me with a pat on my back.

"I know, and I can't wait. I feel like I am finally going to be doing something useful to my people," I said nervously, more to build up my own confidence.

"I'll pick the teams if that's all right, I am familiar with almost everyone here."

"I would like to be there when you do, though."

"I expected as much." Burmar briefly halted. "Oh! I forgot. You have been given a field rank of 1st Lieutenant. Desco asked me to tell you." Burmar nodded to me in approval, and continued his walk to the barracks. I lagged behind him overtaken with a moment of pride, not able to suppress the huge smile growing across my face until someone passing by looked at me, and then retreated after seeing my bared teeth, like I was going to eat them. I turned my head from their startled gaze and caught up with Burmar. We went to the barracks where many of the ones that had just returned from the recon mission were. They were busy putting their equipment away into their individual lockers. Their call signs were marked upon each door.

Burmar stepped into the room first, and one of the soldiers immediately hollered, "Officer on the deck!" and they all stood at attention with pride, chests puffed out.

"At ease," ordered Burmar. "There is a mission that Lieutenant Echobe and myself have been tasked with. I cannot give specifics to you all, only to the teams, so I am looking for volunteers. We need two groups of six each. Who's game?" Burmar put his hands behind his back and he had a reassuring smile on his face. I stood there just behind him, crouching as I came in the door to the barracks, frustrated with the fact that Alliance construction was not intended for a Wookiee.

"Maybe I can get them to cut an arch in all of the entrances."

I stood before the brave Alliance who were a combination of soldier and pilot, and found a new respect for them and what they put themselves through for the belief in building a New Republic from the shattered remains of the old. One by one, twelve stepped forward, including the still tired looking, but showered Yaminul. Several of those as well as Yaminul who volunteered had only just arrived from the recon mission.

"Very well," Burmar nodded to each one of them, "meet us inside the Starscream for a meeting in twenty minutes." Burmar said and walked away. I followed him, nodding to the volunteers who then saluted me. I found the whole experience to be uplifting, and somehow amusing that I was being saluted. I didn't laugh though as much as I wanted to at the absurdity, I only went back to the Starscream alone to wait for the meeting.

I waited back at the ship, and reviewed some of the functions in the Starscream's cockpit to pass the time. It felt a bit strange having a rank in the Alliance, and having people under my command that I felt I had no business leading. I felt trusted at least to some degree by Desco and the other Alliance, or maybe Desco just felt guilty. Either way, it was a good feeling, but the doubts in myself were strong. I worried about what I really knew about leading people. I feared that I would fail them, and fail Burmar, and Desco, the Alliance, and my parents as I felt I had failed my foster parents, The Elder, and my people. I wondered how much longer I could rely on the luck I had survived on thus far, and when it would run out and kill those around me.

Chapter 5

The volunteers arrived exactly twenty minutes later in their basic, but clean uniforms with no helmets, or flight harnesses. Burmar arrived with them. He nodded to me taking on a more formal attitude towards my rank when he entered. The volunteers for the mission saluted me and I saluted them back as well. Burmar stood in the center of the ship's lounge surrounded by everyone, and addressed us all.

"We have been ordered to take over an Imperial transport that is mostly likely hauling prisoners, and to infiltrate the Imperial station that Yaminul's recon team found. We take over the transport, and we transmit landing clearance to the station, and we assault. I will be leading the main squad to board the transport, and the main assault on the station. Lieutenant Echobe will lead the second squad within the Starscream for the secondary assault. We," Burmar thumbed towards himself, "will be taking R2-L7. When the first squad, from now on referred to as Alpha, takes control of the freighter and successfully make it inside the station, the second squad, now Zeta, will be the back up once Echobe unloads Zeta onto the station. Then he will set up a perimeter, and disable the turrets and communications array. We will attack in a spider pattern. Do not release any prisoners until the station is secured."

One of the soldiers raised his hand interrupting Burmar.

"Search and destroy, sir?" asked the soldier when Burmar nodded at him.

"No. Do not kill unless necessary. Incapacitate as many Imps as possible." Burmar looked to me, I nodded in approval.

"As I was saying," continued Burmar, "kill only if necessary. When the station is secure, we will begin the recovery of prisoners and essential material, disable or destroy the station outright, and head home. Simple enough." Burmar looked around the room. "Any more questions?"

Everyone just looked at Burmar in grim silence. I stopped myself from rolling my eyes and mocking Burmar's nonchalance.

"All right, we leave at 1000 tomorrow, dismissed."

The soldiers all stood, I stood with them. They saluted Burmar and I on their way out.

I slept in the Starscream that night after completing a diagnostics with the help of the R2. It was late in the night by Alliance time when I finally fell asleep in the pilot's chair while looking over the Starscream's schematics. I woke to Burmar prodding me in the arm.

"Time to get ready, Echobe."

We all met back in the Starscream's lounge shortly after Burmar woke me. The Alliance soldiers all arrived at the same time. Some carried T-21 rifles, and some only had blasters, all with lightly armored jump suits, and padded field helmets. After quick greetings were exchanged, they took seats in the lounge. I went to sit in the pilot's chair, and Burmar took up as my co-pilot.

We received clearance from the tower and I hovered the Starscream out of the bay accidentally knocking a Y-wing from its landing skids on the way out. After holding my head in my hands for a moment and wishing I were dead, and after being yelled at over the radio by the tower, and Burmar's head shaking in disappointment, I brought the ship into hyperspace a little too close to the Alliance station, but sent us on our way to the Imperial station hidden within gaseous clouds inside the Csilla system.

The trip took several hours, and I was nervous the entire time and my clumsy exit did not help me, or probably anyone else's confidence. My fur was standing on end, but I tried to push doubt from my mind, and tried to smooth my fur out. Burmar was kind enough not to make loud mention of my obvious anxiety. When we got close to our destination, the Alliance soldiers readied themselves for arrival. The R2 unit was busy running a final diagnostic on the ship, and I was reviewing the mission in my head, muttering to myself, making sure I hadn't forgotten anything.

"Relax, Echobe. Everyone knows that most of the missions they are sent on are a gamble. Just do your best, lead your squad, and everything will be okay," Burmar said with a reassuring smile. That's when I finally let go, and relaxed. I loosened my grip on the controls and leaned back in the chair. I closed my eyes, and let my mind wander. After I had quieted my mind, I suddenly had a feeling of empowerment, something warm and comforting. I still can't explain it with words to this day, but I was suddenly in control, I felt connected with everything, and one with myself. When I let myself go, I could feel, and almost hear the natural flexing of the hull under the pressures of travel through hyperspace. I dwelled on those feelings for several minutes, and then opened my eyes.

The last minutes of the trip were quiet like the silence in between the claps of thunder during a storm. No one was in the mood to talk. It was as if everyone was preparing for death, a constant ritual when you are in the Alliance. The only sound that could be heard was the low, steady hum of the ship's engines. Somehow, I knew then I wasn't going to die. Just as I had realized that in my mind, we reached our staging area, and according to the information the recon team gathered a freighter was due to arrive at around that same time. I powered down the ship and made like an asteroid drifting within the gas cloud, and we all waited relying purely on visual contact, as the gaseous cloud disrupted all sensors.

An hour or so passed and we all were getting nervous. I looked back into the lounge often to see how they were holding up. The soldiers were polishing their rifles, sitting with their head hanging between their legs as if they were sick, one paced back and forth, anxiety filled the ship. Burmar and I started contemplating contingencies should the transport not show up, or incase we were discovered. Returning to the Alliance station empty handed seemed just as bad as getting captured, and we knew that somewhere out there people were being held prisoner, and as nervous as we were none of us wanted to leave with nothing.

We were running through plans on our other options when the collision alarm came on and a red flashing light overcame all other lights inside the ship. The Imperial transport broke from hyperspace almost right in front of us, its subspace distortion made the Starscream shudder. I heard rifles clatter to the ground followed by colorful references to hell and excrement. I did a double take and almost accidentally fired off the forward laser cannons. The R2 squealed in surprise and almost knocked itself over.

Burmar hit my arm and yelled for me to "GO, GO, GO, GO!" jabbing his finger at the Imperial transport hovering just half a mile in front of us like it was adrift. I mashed the throttle, and brought to cannons online, and jammed the transport's communications. We completely took them by surprise, as they did us.

They had no shields raised, and couldn't even return fire until I had made a full strafe upon their hull like dusting a crop and taking out one of their turrets. Burmar didn't even have time to gather his equipment off the floor beside his chair as I veered the ship around to hard dock with the transport. In my inexperience, I slammed into the hull of the undesignated Imperial transport, knocking the Alliance soldiers from their feet. The transport finally started to fire back scoring only superficial hits on the hull of the Starscream. The shields easily deflected them.

I was ecstatic to not have gotten us killed because of my novice piloting ability. It was like something else took over me. I kind of fell inside myself, like I was watching someone else do it, and I only came back to myself as Imperials started putting up a defense.

"Go, go, go!" shouted Burmar again as he grabbed his blaster rifle and rushed out of the cockpit behind his squad, nearly knocking over the R2 that had just righted itself. Burmar and his team rushed into the airlock and over to the Imperial transport closing the hatch behind them. It was a painful silence waiting for Burmar to report back. We could hear no weapons firing, no explosions, nothing. Several minutes passed until I heard Burmar's winded voice crackle over the radio.

"Echobe, come in," he said quickly, breathing heavily.

"I'm here, what happened?"

"We have secured the ship."

At that everyone in the lounge cheered. I looked back at them for silence, and Burmar continued.

"Send over the R2 so we can slice the databanks. I will begin questioning the prisoners. We have five in all, two were killed. Everything looks smooth so far. They didn't put up much of a fight." Burmar paused a moment, yelling could be heard in the background. "There are no troopers onboard, just officers." Burmar finished, trying to catch his breath.

"Contact me when you have, um, sliced," I said awkwardly, "and are ready to proceed. Echobe out." I flipped a switch and cut the radio off shaking my head in spite of myself, and then told the R2 droid to head over to the transport. I fixed my eyes on the yawning space around us half expecting the collision lights to come on, and another transport to nearly crash into us. Luckily, no other ships arrived. Which was a good thing, because I would have torn both ships to pieces I later realized, because the docking clamps had to be manually released.

I was leaning back in my chair fidgeting nervously with the controls when Burmar came back over the radio.

"Echobe, come in."

"Echobe here, what's going on?" I asked hurriedly.

"Almost finished up here, the R2 unit is downloading. There's something strange. We scoured the ship top to bottom, there are no prisoners here." A few moments of silence passed as we both contemplated what that could mean.

"Well, that's a good thing isn't it?" I shrugged.

"I'm not sure, just get down here and see what you can make of this," and he cut the radio off. I was a bit nervous after that ominous signoff. I went straight to the airlock and crossed over to the Imperial transport. A member of Alpha was waiting there on the other side for me. The soldier led me to the cargo hold where Burmar waited at the doorway.

"Take a look," Burmar said, when I entered. When I stepped into the cargo bay what I saw confused and worried me. There were drugs, medical supplies, and gurneys, literally tons of medial equipment, and most of it I couldn't identify. I turned to Burmar.

"They scanned all the previous freighters for life signs, right?"

"Yes, each one contained prisoners."

"There's something strange going on, but regardless this is still our way in." I said. Burmar nodded in agreement.

"We proceed with the mission then," ordered Burmar. "Inform your squad."

I nodded, and went back to the Starscream through the lounge and told the waiting squad of the situation, and then went back to the cockpit and disembarked from the Imperial ship, remembering to disengage the docking clamps and taking note of my mistake and its consequences hoping no one else noticed. The transport started to make its way to the base under Burmar's control while we waited for him to contact us again.

About thirty minutes passed before Burmar came over on the radio passively, telling us they had arrived at the Imperial station and were transmitting security clearance, and to standby. Of all the waiting and silence so far on that mission, the next few seconds of silence dwarfed it all. We waited for our fates to be decided. It was make or break, and we had scant chance of running if we were discovered. I hovered my fingers over the laser cannon power-up sequence and watched the radio in anticipation when it crackled, and Burmar whispered through.

"Code clearance accepted, we are entering the landing bay now. Standby." A few moments later, Burmar was yelling for us to proceed with the assault.

"Zeta team, we have a green light!" I hollered as I mashed the throttle against its housing, and we shot off towards the Imperial station like a comet. We cleared the distance in moments after emerging from the gaseous cloud. The station, though small, considering the Empire's desire for gigantic, oversized monstrosities, quickly grew to engulf my entire field of vision. It was rectangular shaped, one landing bay in the center, and had a stem like structure underneath the main structure like an antenna. I quickly sent the Starscream spiraling at the station towards the landing bay hoping for things to proceed as planned, but wishing we had brought more soldiers.

I trusted to Burmar's timing and sped towards the landing bay doors that opened just before the collision alarm sounded. The automated Imperial turrets started to move, coming online. I spun the Starscream into the landing bay so the cockpit faced towards the open bay doors and the entire squad poured from the half-open platform and into the bay quickly taking up their positions. I didn't wait to see what happened next, I throttled back out into space and started to work on my part of the mission.

Their defenses crumpled like paper as I bombarded them with blast after blast of cannon fire until they were all destroyed. The automated turrets scored superficial hits that hardly made the Starscream's shields flicker. I was amazed at how easy it was, but didn't give myself time to worry about the possibilities of the entire operation being a trap. Burmar came back over the radio breathing heavily; voice was starting to fail the old Senator.

"Echobe, Echobe come in," said Burmar, in between panting into the radio.

"Echobe here." I responded after taking out the sixth and final turret in an explosion of metal fragments and superheated dust.

"We have secured the bridge, I sent both squads to fan out and secure the rest of the ship. Do we have any company?"

"No, it's all quiet out here, the turrets are gone, all seems well, and this seems a bit too easy."

"I agree. It is possible they were totally unprepared for any kind of opposition to their operation. Perhaps they were overconfident. We'll discuss this later. Secure the perimeter and then meet me in the landing bay. I'll have the Imp captures transferred to the Starscream." The radio then went silent.

I circled around the base a few quick times to make ensure I hadn't missed anything, and even did a scan sweep in the sector as far as it would go despite the interference of the obscuring, gas cloud and still nothing. I expected to see Imperial ships to come bursting through the cloud towards us with cannons firing, but no.

So, reluctantly, I circled back around and ducked the Starscream back into the landing bay, set the ship down, and looked around the bay from inside the cockpit before heading to the platform. I could see Burmar coming down the stairs from the communications tower and towards the ship. I shut the Starscream down, and lowered the platform and went out to meet Burmar.

"The squad is still securing the base, they have yet to fully report, but all seems well so far. Save for the few personnel, the station is empty. We are looking for the prisoners now," Burmar said, then turned back towards the communications tower.

"I have a bad feeling about this. Something's not right," I said, looking around the unusually dark surroundings of the landing bay. It was like the station was a ghost ship. If we had stumbled upon a station in this state it would have easily been mistaken for abandoned. I felt strange, almost queasy, and enshrouded somehow.

"I am not very comfortable about this place either," started Burmar, noticing my anxiety. "It was too easy, plus the medical supplies, no prisoners. What the hell is going on here?" he asked as if questioning the air. I think he actually didn't want to say what he thought. That's when someone from Alpha came in over the radio.

"Sir?" asked the soldier on the radio.

"This is Burmar," he said, taking the radio from his hip.

"We have scoured the ship. Only thing we found so far is a locked door."

"A locked door?"

"Yes sir, we need the R2 unit."

"Very well, we'll meet you there."

Burmar changed a signal on the radio and sent an alert to the R2 still waiting inside the Imperial transport. A few moments later the R2 rolled out of the transport and followed us through the corridors of the Imperial station to the locked door, more like a blast door, where several members of both squads waited. The R2 unit rolled up to the door, and started interfacing with the computer terminal next to it. We all stood quietly and watched the R2 unit do his work to open the door, whistling merrily as it searched the station's databanks. The R2 exclaimed its victory with a few hoots, and the metal door slid open from bottom to top. The door was unusually large, and thick like it was designed to hold something out, or in, I wasn't sure which. It slid open with the squealing of powerful servos that seemed to echo throughout the whole base, scaring away the silence that permeated the station that was as thick as the shadows.

Chapter 6:

It was dark inside as well. Metal cargo crates of medical supplies were stacked all around the room. The contents in the crates were the same as what Burmar and his team had found on the transport. Another door was on the opposite side identical to the previous one. I approached the door and impulsively put my hand upon it. The shock that came with the touch made my head split with a headache, like someone was screaming in my ear. I stepped away from the door fearing what was on the other side, everyone else noticed my reaction and did the same. The soldiers switched on their lights attached to the underside of their rifles in rapid clicks, readying themselves for what lie behind. The R2 unit then went to the second door and unlocked it as well with the same prideful flourish. The door slid open same as the first, and the first thing we saw were several empty stretchers, giant, glass bacta tubes, and literally tons of computers and even more medical equipment. The room itself was huge, and obviously made up the majority of the station.

We passed through a small hallway and the room opened up into a lab of some sort, and the moment we saw what was inside I could feel the tenseness, the horror, and revulsion that filled everyone one of us. Everyone couldn't pull their eyes away from what they saw to notice how I reacted to all that was happening in that laboratory. I though I was going to be sick. It was like the feelings I had just began to experience and learn about had turned necrotic, blackened and evil.

After a few moments the pain subsided, but still the aftereffects gnawed at my mind like a nightmare. I squinted my eyes and looked. More bacta tubes further in, but inside were prisoners, rows and rows of them like crops, Burmar's mouth agape, and his inability to utter a word confirmed several of the victim's identities. Strapped to tables and stretchers were more prisoners, several were split open. There were Humans, Wookiee's, and peoples of many different races. Some were attached to machines that monitored their vital signs, pumping vital oxygen and sustenance into their deformed bodies. Others lingered in the bacta tanks, dead. Their blank stares called out to us in agony. It was difficult figuring out who yet lived and who was dead. The disfiguration of many of the prisoners made it seem impossible for them to live on, but some did. More bore the scars of surgery, some old and some new. Some were freshly stitched up no more than a day before. Some of the prisoners had robotic, droid-like machinery grafted to their naked bodies. Some had arms, legs, and one even had a robotic head. Another had a complete robotic torso.

It was a sadistic mingling patchwork of flesh and machinery. We couldn't believe what we were seeing. The room was dead silent, save for the random beep of a machine, or sequence of a computer. As we walked through the gallery of twisted flesh, we looked upon each one that passed our eyes, in awe at the evil that committed such acts. One of the squad members puked on the floor, others barely held it back. I kept wandering, enthralled, long after the other Alliance had stopped. I walked through the entire room. The dark, coldness of space seemed like a day on the beaches of Naboo compared to how that laboratory made me feel.

Then I came upon them as if the force, dark or light, led me there. Burmar had caught up behind me. He couldn't even speak, the saliva choked in his throat. Then I saw them for myself, allowing my eyes to focus on them, their dead bodies called out to me, demanding I find them. I stopped at the tanks, and slowly turned my head. There they were in separate tanks hanging in the green, yellowish, putrid color of bacta gone vile. They were stitched up in several places, and furless. Their bodies housed some of the robotics we had seen already, and their faces were contorted in a way I thought impossible for a Wookiee. They were facing each other. Burmar spoke their names as if to confirm in his mind who they were, like he didn't recognize them.

Elyya and Obechukk.

Burmar walked away unable to take anymore. But I remained, and stared at them, transfixed by their fate. Suspended in that glass shell. My vision blurred, the ache in my mind turned into a brain-searing fire. I looked around at the horrors filling the place and stopped to look again at my Mother and Father. I pulled the Ryyk Blade from my waist and turned to Burmar.

"Find out what this place is," I said.

Burmar turned to the soldiers leaving the R2 beside me. Burmar went with the soldiers to the first room. I stood there for what seemed like forever, staring at my parents clenching and unclenching my fists. It was some kind of freak show. I couldn't believe what was happening around me, I had found their hell, it was out there waiting for us to find it and we were far too late.

I raised the Ryyk Blade and swung in a wide arch in front of me breaking both bacta tanks. The putrid smell poured out onto the ground, and my Mother and Father spilled out with it. Their limbs nearly fell out of their sockets, and their flesh was the color of soured meat, and malleable as clay. I kneeled to them, doing my best to straighten them out without tearing their bodies apart. The foul bacta poured through the grate in the floor to some well hidden underneath. I knelt there staring at the bodies of my parents trying to remember how they looked the brief time I had known them before they left Kashyyyk to take up the fight against the then Chancellor Palpatine.

Burmar returned moments later talking low and solemn as I knelt there, locked in the dead stare of my Mother and Father's tortured faces. I kept thinking of that little girl on Kashyyyk, her skin burnt, brittle, and crumbling. My parent's skin, waterlogged, stitched together and falling apart, everything the Empire touched turned out like that Wookiee child, or like my Mother and Father. Burnt, ruined, decayed, decrepit and corrupt.

Burmar gently put his hand on my shoulder as if to sooth a wild animal.

"L7 has tapped into the computer logs, there's a ton of data to sift through, but we haven't found an official name for this facility yet." I stood and looked at Burmar. I wanted to go into a rage, or cry or something, but I could do neither. It was as if nothing was happening, it was surreal, like it was happening to someone else and I was only watching. Even to this day, I feel guilty for not doing something, anything, reacting in some way. I felt disconnected somehow, and now looking back I felt I had dishonored them.

How I wish I could have told them I was sorry for not saving them, and for what they had endured that ultimately lead to their deaths. Burmar spoke again after a few moments.

"We will gather the data, load it into the Starscream and sweep this place, there may be more survivors."

"I'll start collecting the bodies," I said emotionlessly. Burmar nodded.

"I'll get Alpha to help you get them onto the freighter. We will identify them all and give them all a proper burial." I only nodded back. Burmar turned from me, spoke some words into the radio. Some members of Alpha started breaking open bacta tanks and releasing the dead from gurneys. I found a stretcher with wheels, and as carefully as I could I set my Mother and Father's frail bodies upon it, and wheeled them towards the Starscream. I grabbed some sheeting on the way out and covered them. As I was wheeling them to the back of the cargo bay of the Starscream and among the crates of supplies, someone from Alpha yelled out over the radio.

"We have survivors! I need some help back here!" I didn't think twice, I turned away from my parents and ran back towards the laboratory. Everyone was standing around a similar door that was hidden by crates, and equipment. The R2 unit was busy trying to slice the lock on the door when I ran up to Burmar.

"The R2 has found some life signs behind this door. He says there are about thirty."

I pulled my Ryyk Blade from its sheath on my hip, and my blaster from the other side.

"Be ready, there may be Imperials on the other side," I said.

Actions on blasters cocked, and energy magazines clicked into place in a chorus of anticipation for a gunfight as everyone readied their weapons, and slightly crouched as if ready to rush the line of an oncoming cavalry. Every one of us was ready to drop some Imps. The thirst for redemption between Human and Wookiee alike was unstoppable. The R2 unit beeped encouragingly as it sliced the coded lock and opened the door. We all quickly poured in and took positions behind more supply crates that filled the room. After scanning the area, and panning back and forth with our blasters in search for any hint of a gray uniform, or white suit of armor finding nothing. In rapid succession each person shouted, "Clear!"

We lowered our weapons to hip level and began looking for survivors. There was even more computer equipment, and all kinds of unexplainable surgical tools, monitors and other gadgets filling the area making the entire station look like some kind of deep-space, swap-meet for mad scientists. We rounded a corner as a group, jumping to cover positions. There were no Imperials, but the survivors were there, thirty of them just as the R2 discovered. They were in a single holding cell, like a common room. We could see some of them mulling about back and forth past the small, turret-like window in the door. I peeked into the tiny glass window slit in the door. Some of them were crouching, some were lying down, and none of them noticed me. They had dark circles around their eyes and their hair was unkempt. Once regal and professional clothing was torn, soiled and encrusted with filth. They looked already dead.

Burmar ordered the R2 to unlock the door, which it quickly did.

The people inside, of all kinds of different races, reacted when they heard the noise of the computer being sliced. They looked up to the slit in the door and backed away towards the opposite wall, those that could move anyway. L7 broke the code and the door whirred open. Burmar walked in first, and I followed right behind. The rest of the two squads filed in behind me in a slow, trance-like walk. We kept our weapons pointing to the floor. Immediately, the prisoner's faces lit up with joy, and at the same time a cloud of desperation and sadness came over them. The dreaded silence of impending doom was replaced with stuttering voices on the edge of crying, solemn wails of elation mingled with heartbreak. Sorrow and joy culminated, and transcended species lines. The few that were still standing approached us, and pawed at us as if to confirm that we were real. Several of them grasped at the bird-like symbol of the Alliance. We all sheathed and holstered our weapons, and started helping to prop up those that were able to stand, and gather up those that could not.

"You are safe now," Burmar announced as formally as he could. I could hear the strain in his voice as he looked upon familiar faces that did not recognize him. I went to the far corner of the cell and gathered up a weakened person from the ground, she lolled her head back and forth in a delirious haze. She was a Twi-lek, her blue skin had gone quite pale like a hazy morning on Kashyyyk, and she had dark rings under her eyes, and her Leku looked withered and unhealthy. I carried her out of the laboratory and towards the Starscream. She was barely conscious, lulling her head about and moaning some unintelligible words not even knowing she was being carried away to freedom.

The rest of the Alliance soldiers followed shortly after me with the other survivors carrying them on gurneys, or in their arms. Survivors propped up other survivors in desperation to be free from that hell. I heard yells of horror and screams of terror echo throughout the base as those that were aware made their way past the laboratory. We took the survivors and made them as comfortable as possible in the Starscream's sleeping quarters for those in the worst condition, and the rest in the lounge and cargo bay, and wherever we could. The dead we put into the refrigeration units. Burmar spoke with me on the platform of the Starscream as we crossed paths.

"Go ahead and get them back, Echobe. Brief Desco, and ask him to send reinforcements so we can destroy this place. We'll remain here. You don't need to see anymore. Help those people, Echobe," Burmar said, putting a hand on my arm. I readily agreed and got back onto the Starscream and went to the cockpit. I was all too happy to be away from that place. Two squad members, one from each team and the R2 accompanied me. I powered up the Starscream as my crew of three attended to the survivors in the cargo bays, and engaged the takeoff thrusters. I backed the ship slowly so not to jostle the survivors, did a half-turn, and made the jump to hyperspace as the computer-computer brought up the calculations.

Chapter 7

We arrived at base several hours later.

"Echobe to HQ, Echobe to HQ come in," I called out over the radio to the Alliance station.

"Echobe, this is Desco, over," Desco answered, he sounded relieved.

"We have secured the base, and downloaded the databanks. Ready for debriefing, it's not pretty. We found survivors, and something else."

Desco's mood soured at my brief description. "Understood. Medical teams will be standing by, I will meet you in my office for debriefing."

"And Desco ??I found my parents."

I didn't give Desco a chance to respond; instead I shut the radio off. I hardly felt like talking as it was, and didn't look forward to going over all that had happened. I banked the Starscream into the landing bay, landed and deployed the platform. A medical team rushed into the ship carrying stretchers and their medical equipment. The Starscream filled with crying, laughter, and incredible elation, but also wails of pain and sadness and horror when the Alliance medical team saw the condition of some of the survivors. I paid little attention to it. I headed straight to Desco's office. He greeted me with a grim look and a gentle pat on the back.

"Please sit down, Echobe. Are you sure it was your Mother and Father?" He asked. I nodded.

"Burmar identified them. There's something else. It was not just some usual station it was a laboratory of some kind. We found all kinds of experiments. Most of the prisoners were killed."

I rambled on trying to put to words what I had seen.

"They were suspended in bacta tanks, mutilated with robotic parts, they were operated on, experimented on, tortured. We downloaded the databanks, and Burmar ordered me back with the survivors to request reinforcements."

Desco stood there looking at me. His grim look deepened as he listened, but no real shock passed over his face.

"I understand. We will get a team working on the data immediately and will send reinforcements." Desco congratulated me on my first command and for my part in rescuing the survivors, and then he politely dismissed me. His praise felt empty. I didn't see it as much of a rescue, and I wondered if the so-called survivors wouldn't be better off dead after what they had gone through. I didn't talk about what I was thinking. I went back to the Starscream passing the survivors as they were being carefully taken out of the ship by medics. Some of the survivors stopped to thank me, some reached out to me to embrace them. Being a Wookiee and probably looking like some kind of animal to them, I was glad to see that the Imperial hatred of Wookiees had not found a place to live within their hearts. I smiled at them, lowered my head in respect and grasped their hands gently in return while walking towards the cargo bay's refrigeration units where all the bodies had already been removed save for my parents who still lay together on the stretcher.

I made sure they were well covered, though the bacta had soaked through the sheet and pressed itself against their waterlogged bodies revealing their ghostly visage underneath. I wheeled them out and into the landing bay back to where the other bodies were being stored in a temporary morgue secluded from general areas. I wheeled them inside along with the rest of the dead and left them, passing by a medical droid taking pictures of the dead on my way out.

I went back to Desco.

He had just dismissed an Alliance soldier who was preparing to leave for the Imperial station to assist Burmar and the others. I lightly tapped on the door and walked in. Desco motioned for me to sit down.

"Echobe, I have sent a group of B-wings to turn that station into dust." He paused for the door to close and then continued. "I am sorry for your loss, Echobe, and despite it you did well, and you saved a lot of lives today." Desco leaned back in his chair and ran his hands over his face scrunching his wrinkles together, exaggerating every line. "There wasn't much hope, we're lucky that any of them are alive at all. If nothing else, try to take something away from this."

I could think of nothing to say at first that could possibly be of any worth. I got up and turned to walk out when something suddenly to mind.

"I wish to be involved in the analysis of the data we gathered from the laboratory, and perhaps speak with the survivors." Desco nodded and smiled at me in approval. I walked out of Desco's office and to the main computer command station. Small teams of Alliance techs were already busy downloading and filtering through the information from the R2-L7. I stood there and waited until it completed, and then sat down at a computer terminal right behind one of the techs and watched. His name was Nudil I think. Him and I spent hours upon hours watching the data scroll through the screen. Little of it made any sense to me. There were mostly diagrams and schematics of the station, some of the names of Imperial personnel, much of it was bureaucratic formalities and memos and such. And then we got to what did make sense me. What I saw brought the darkness back.

A methodical plan was laid out spanning across thousands of corresponding documents, audio and video files and transcripts focusing on experimentation of mostly non-humans in order to weed them out and change them into something more useful to the Empire. To turn them into mindless automatons, alter their brains, make them obedient, turn them into soldiers, or thoughtless slaves, or whatever the Empire wished. There were detailed files on each of the experiments. One was a test subject to see how many robotic limb transplants the body could tolerate before succumbing to the multiple surgeries while measuring time and cost effectiveness. Another was experimented on to chemically remove the body's pain receptors, and to mutilate the patients body to see how long the mind would last before succumbing to madness. The experiments were ghoulish, sadistic, cold and cruel.

And then we found my parents' file.

My mother and father were two of the many test subjects of mind alteration. They were chosen because they were a couple with quote "strong emotion bonds." The theory behind it was to see if a couple's connection between each other would have any negative or positive affect on the alterations in their minds. My Father's brain was altered with robotic machinery, and my Mother's was altered with drugs, suggestion, and electromagnetic shocks. Final assessment of the experiment, that I still remember word for word, read as follows:

Test subjects responded moderately well for the first week after the final permanent alterations. After seven days, two hours and forty-nine minutes, the implants in the male subject began to deteriorate. Likewise, the mind and soft tissue of the female subject deteriorated nearly in sync, which raises the possibility of cognitive links between certain bodies and minds. Intellectual deficiency, mental illness, motor-skill degradation were progressive. All cognitive abilities ceased at approximately 1201-3507.

The Wookiee male and female couple subjects died at approximately 1203-3507. They have been selected for dissection and recycling.

Recycling. I stared at those words. The words are still seared into my eyes, burnt into my very retinas. I still see them in my sleep like the glare of a sun after having looked at it for too long. I continued to read on through file after file, and on through the night. I felt a crusade of purpose building within me. At first I felt as that I had done all that I could have done and still came up short. The more I read, the more I vowed to myself I would do. Then we found an encrypted file that the Alliance tech quickly deciphered.

After several minutes, a dizzying barrage of keystrokes, and a few sighs of frustration by the masterful Alliance tech, the encrypted text of the file was converted into something legible. What was an unreadable collection of unidentifiable glyphs became an unofficial Imperial memo mentioning the existence of two other laboratory prisons. The document detailed specific coordinates, and names of two Imperial officers who were assigned with the supervision of the other two prisons. As if the people being captured were expendable commodities that the Empire trafficked across the galaxy like so much ore in an asteroid, or grain harvested from a crop. The memo's description was cold, and deliberate, lacking even the emotion a programmer gives a droid. Apparently the prisons were being kept secret save for a few Imperial officers and their staff, two of which the document named, but no direct mention of the Emperor's knowledge, or acknowledgement of the prisons' existence. One of the Imperials was a Grahm'tuli Jermar on Tatooine and another was a Jimers Anthalsan on Corellia.

By the time we had read through the document, Desco arrived. A small team of two analysts and I remained after the hours of looking over the databanks of the Imperial laboratory. The rest of the Alliance techs had fallen asleep. Burmar also had long since gone to sleep since arriving from destroying the prison. I didn't want to hear anymore about that place. Moving onto the next step was all I could do to try and forget what I had seen.

Desco approached me; looking at the computer screen over my shoulder, and watching the Alliance tech sift through the data. Desco pulled up a chair alongside of us.

"Why are they classifying this as an unofficial program?" he asked, more to himself than to me. "We have to take those prisons out," Desco said, again more to himself. He looked to the floor with his arms resting on his knees, his hands dangling.

"We'll have a briefing in the morning with the COs. Try to get some sleep Echobe, you've had one hell of a night." Desco stood and made to walk away when he stopped and put his hand on my shoulder. "You did everything you could, Echobe. Your parents would be proud of what you've done. Their suffering is over, and they are in a much happier place now." He patted my shoulder and walked away.

Desco's words felt hollow. I know he was just trying to help, but I also know that there is nothing you can say that can really help. Only time. Nevertheless, I took Desco's advice, and decided to go to sleep. My eyes were sore and could see the image of the computer screen burned into them when I blinked. I had learned my Mother and Father's fate and my quest had completely changed because of it, and became raveled within a far bigger plot.

I went to the Starscream and plopped down on the bed in my quarters. The ship was empty of people, but the ghosts of the dead lingered on if only in my mind. I lay there looking up at the ceiling. Thoughts of what had happened that day danced through my mind as it subconsciously reviewed everything that had happened in fast forward as if looking for anything we may have missed. It was maddening after a while until I just closed my eyes, and let my mind drift. Everything then went dark and I finally fell asleep.

I woke about an hour before the briefing. I tossed and turned that entire night as my mind kept reviewing the discovery of my Mother and Father. I sat up, and cleared the cobwebs by shaking my head, as if it would actually help, and then lazily stumbled over to where I had set my coat down. I picked it up, threw it on, grabbed something to eat from the condenser, and went to Desco's office.

I was the first one to show. I sat down in a chair at Desco's huge desk. My head ached from staring at the computer screen all night. I had my hand covering my eyes, shielding them from the lights overhead, and munching on the food when Desco entered, surprised to see me sitting there.

"Oh, good morning, Echobe. I hope you slept well on your adopted ship," he said jokingly.

Burmar and several other officers filed in a few moments later. Desco turned the holo-projector on, and a face of one of the survivors spun slowly in hues of blue over the desk and then switched randomly between other faces of the survivors as Desco spoke. Some of the images were obviously taken by the medical droid I passed by who was photographing the dead. It was a grim, but tempering reminder of what we were doing and why.

"Good morning. As you already know of our current situation," Desco nodded to us all in acknowledgement, "much of the data has been analyzed, so this is just a preliminary meeting pending any new revelations."

Desco paused to clear his throat.

"First of all, the survivors that were rescued from the laboratory will be sent to Mon Calamari for their own safety. Many of them are still in shock. A few have agreed to assist the Alliance, and they will decide where to go from Mon Calamari. The others are too scared to get involved, understandably. I will assign a team to transport them after this meeting."

Desco paused and took a drink.

"Like I said, you all know the situation on its surface. What we discovered last night is that there seems to be at least two more of these type of facilities somewhere in the galaxy."

Any smile, or elation of the previous day's victory disappeared.

"I spoke with command on Mon Calamari and they have advised us to do whatever can to find the remaining Imperial laboratory prisons." The dark circles around Desco's eyes, and the way he rubbed at his face with his hands showed the fatigue and lack of sleep. I began to think that the scruffy beard on Desco's face was not a matter of preference, but for lack of opportunity.

"We have the names of the two remaining Imperial officers who are linked to the two remaining laboratories. Jimers Anthalsan who is on Corellia and Grahm'tuli Jermar on Tatooine. I want Echobe and Burmar to spearhead the mission to discover the location of the remaining two laboratories, rescue the survivors and destroy the goddamn things. Burmar will select a team of four, so recommendations from CO's would be appreciated. Corellia is first on the list. The necessary data packages and resources will be loaded onto the Starscream. There will only be the one vessel for the mission. I will inform operatives on both planets that you are coming."

Burmar and I nodded to Desco.

"I will keep you all updated on the progress of the data filtering. That's all for now. This meeting stands unless informed otherwise. Dismissed." We all left Desco's office, casually saluting on our way out. I went back to the Starscream not wanting to look at a computer screen ever again.

It was not until later that night that the downloaded databanks had been fully screened, and with no real new discoveries. Desco met with Burmar and I to confirm our mission and departure. We were scheduled to leave the following morning. I slept in the Starscream again that night, though it felt a bit odd knowing that just the previous morning my parents were lying in the cargo hold. I lay in bed wondering what Ulchewbuk would have said, what sage advice would he have had for me. What words of peace and wisdom would he have spoken to my Mother and Father that would send them off into the next world peacefully, as an escape to the pain they endured. I let those thoughts drown me until I fell asleep.

The following day by Alliance time, and Burmar was shaking me awake.

"Rise and shine. It's time to get ready to go," he said and walked away. I stood up and got my usual morning drink and food, and went to the cockpit. Burmar was already running a diagnostic on the ship.

"Hey there, captain," said Burmar, without looking away from the control panel in front of him.

"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked, sarcastically. "I'm a Lieutenant."

"I thought it was appropriate. After all we took it or rather you took it. The Alliance has no claim on the ship. I don't need a ship ??so." I continued Burmar's thought with my own.

"So? Desco won't let this ship out of Alliance hands. I sure as hell wouldn't," I said, taking a sip of my hot drink.

"Actually, Desco has officially given ownership of the ship over to you, with a little persuading of my own." Burmar smirked.

I choked on my drink, but the idea was already in my head to get ownership of the Starscream somehow anyway, still I was shocked.

"Doesn't sound like such a bad idea. Captain, huh?" I repeated the Captain moniker in my head. "I like how that sounds. By the way, you're in my seat," I said clearing my throat as I went to sit down, trying to nudge Burmar out of the way.

"Everything checking out?" I asked, taking another sip and trying to sound captainly.

"Looks good. Supplies packed away, data package has already been uploaded, and crew is aboard and set. You slept through all the noise."

"Terrible. About our teams? Did you get Yaminul?" I asked.

"He volunteered. He was eager to be on another mission with us. I picked out the other three last night after you went to sleep. Actually, I better go make the final preparations."

Burmar stood and walked out of the cockpit. I hollered at him as he walked away.

"You just love bringing up my sleep habits don't you?" He brushed me off with a wave of his hand in the air. I faced forward and finished my breakfast. I watched Burmar walk across the landing bay floor shouting some orders at a private. I sat there for a few moments, enjoying my hot drink, and munching on my food. My mind drifted to my parents. I started thinking about seeing them in the bacta tank again, but I shook my head to fling the thoughts away. It was no time to be in poor spirits. I saw Burmar walk back towards the ship after speaking to Desco just outside of his office. He then took his place in the co-pilot's chair.

"The crew is all here, R2 is here. Looks like we're set," Burmar said, looking back over his shoulder and eyeing a quick mental inventory.

The radio came on, and it was Desco from his office.

"Command to Starscream." Burmar flipped the switch to the intercom. "Starscream here," I responded.

"Just wanted to give you guys a final good luck."

"We'll see you soon, I hope."

"You'll be fine. Just find those prisoners, and try not to get yourselves killed."

"We will, err, I mean we won't." I stumbled.

"Starscream out," interrupted Burmar, and then switched the radio's band to contact the control tower. He then looked at me for what to do next.

Hiding my smile of joy and embarrassment from Burmar, I nodded to him for the go ahead.

"This is Starscream, ready to disembark," Burmar said.

The tower operator responded.

"Control to Starscream, you are clear for launch. Good luck."

"All yours, Echobe," and Burmar shut the radio off.

I took the controls, and ignited the thrusters. The ship shuddered from the unleashed power of the dual engines. I backed the ship up and out of the landing bay via repulsor-lift, spun the Starscream around to face the yawning open space that was being held back only by a force field, flinging everyone's heads on their necks like bobble-head dolls by spinning too quickly. I received ugly looks for that. I allowed the Starscream to drift several hundred yards, and we passed through the hangar's energy barrier, and away from the base under impulse power before kicking the thrusters into full throttle and off we went. A few moments later the nav-computer signaled the proper coordinates with a melodic beep and then we entered the hyperspace tunnel.

We were in hyperspace for about twelve hours traveling to the other side of the galaxy from the outer rim near the unknown regions. I remained in the cockpit while the others were asleep, or playing some odd card game, or cleaning their rifle. I instead spent my time looking through the cataloged wildlife, the fauna and flora of Corellia and Tatooine. I was mystified at what I saw. The creatures I read about seemed like farcical creations from a dream. Much to my delight though they were quite real. I started to feel guilty for letting my passion for such things be forgotten. Much had happened in the short time since I left Kashyyyk that there seemed no time for anything else. My mind started to review all that had happened since the bombing raid that night on my home world, but I pulled myself from it again. I was tired of seeing death.

So I instead escaped into a world of life, if only through a computer screen. I was fascinated, and hoped for the opportunity to interact with some of the animals I read about. I dozed off in the cockpit hours later, and woke to Burmar shaking me yet again. He had a hot drink in his hand. The steam waved and curled from the cup, riding a microcosmic breeze generated by the life-support system. I gladly accepted the drink. Burmar called it hot chocolate. I couldn't get enough of it. I shut the computer off and watched the hyperspace tunnel roll and fold about the ship like a tornado painted in hues of blue and white.

"At least we still have the element of surprise," Burmar said in passing, watching the hyperspace tunnel, as was I, and sipping his hot chocolate.

"You know anything else about my parents that you haven't mentioned?" I asked after a long silence, hoping for a different memory of them than the final one I was given by the Imperials.

"I'm sorry, Echobe. I don't. We were a bit of rivals, often in disagreement in our voting and policy, I told you. I never got the chance, nor had the desire to know them."

Burmar paused for several moments, sighed and added, "A mistake." He took another sip as if to use the warmth to ward off the cold he felt inside.

"I regret it, Echobe. Had I believed the dissenters, or had any idea things were destined to spiral out of control as they did I would have done things so much differently."

He then looked at me searching for my eyes, looking for some measure of forgiveness. I looked up and met his with my own.

"Would you have, really?" I asked of the old Senator, trying to hide my bitterness. Burmar looked at his drink instead of my eyes and cradled the cup, sensing my desire to take some of my frustrations out on someone who was, even in his own small way, partly responsible for what had happened.

"I'd like to think I would, Echobe." Burmar then went silent, and it remained that way the final hours of the trip.

I brought the Starscream out of hyperspace as we made our approach into Corellia space. The planet rushed up towards us as we exited the tunnel reverting to normal space and a slower speed. The planet grew out of the darkness of space as we came upon the purple and blue rolling, cloud-filled, skies of Corellia. Water covered at least half of its surface, but there were huge tracks of land like splatters of mud on a milky-blue ball. There were a few large cities, but no oppressive presence of the Empire there, in fact scant compared to Coruscant. There was no blockade, no multitudes of Imperial vessels, only a small Imperial station hovering a safe distance from the planet. A lookout post if anything. Immediately upon entering Corellian space, an Imperial greeted us over the radio.

"This is Imperial Station Corellia. State your ship designation and business."

Burmar leaned into the radio.

"Landspeeder purchase, ship Starscream," and then he shut off the radio.

"I wouldn't be too worried about this planet. Corellia is not aligned with the Empire, but they do have a small presence here. Let's just hope this ship hasn't been identified on the holo-net as stolen."

"A lot of hope, and amazing luck of circumstance is about all that has kept us alive so far, right?" I said, irritated.

We only waited a few moments when the Imperial Guard responded.

"Clearance accepted, you're landing bay is 102, Kor Vella."

"Perfect." Burmar nodded in satisfaction as if he knew everything was going to be all right.

"These guys aren't very good with security are they?" I mused.

"With an organization as large as the Empire, it's hard to plug up all of the holes. It's a vital weakness for them, and usually our only opportunity."

We entered the atmosphere of Corellia. The flames of reentry licked at the hull, and slowly died down as we descended and broke from the thick clouds that reformed back into place behind us like the planet's gatekeeper. We went straight into the landing bay 102 in Kor Vella, which was just north of our objective, as luck would have it.

"Okay, Echobe. You're gonna have to do some acting while we're here. You know how it is for Wookiees, and we can't afford to take any chances of running into some Imps." Burmar said, putting his hand on my shoulder and setting a pair of binders on the dash before me as I was powering the ship down. I waved him off with my hand. I knew what he meant, and I knew it was our, and my only choice. Otherwise I had to wait in the ship, which would have driven me nuts.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Be the good little slave, I get it." I stood up, pulled my hood over my head, and made sure my blaster and sword were covered. I looked at the binders sitting on the dashboard before me and snatched them up angrily. The bite of the cold metal was all the more painful knowing there were slaves languishing somewhere still. It was even more painful getting my fur caught in the hinge. I used that to temper my determination, and to keep me nice and irritable incase we walked into a fight. The other four rebels were waiting, checking their gear and their civilian clothing to look as casual as possible, perhaps as some businessmen working out a deal with some local.

"Okay, the name of the Imperial officer we need to locate is a Jimers Anthalsan. According to the memo he is stationed about forty miles south of here."

Burmar paused for a moment reading the face of everyone.

"I know what you're thinking, and yes, the randomness of all of this is cause for concern. I do not understand why there are three separate Imperial officers for this scheme, other than the likely fact that they want to keep some kind of plausible deniability in this whole thing. I wouldn't imagine the people reacting to news of this and the Empires' direct involvement with glee, but we can't discount the possibility of a trap either. Especially considering the ghoulish and bizarre nature of these experimentations, but we have no choice. We either make the attempt to save these people, or we leave them to languish in an Imperial, laboratory hellhole."

"Sir?" asked the familiar face of Yaminul. He was a human with blonde hair, blue eyes, chiseled features, and an implacable accent.

"Yaminul?" asked Burmar.

"Sir, after the destruction of Alderaan, why would the Empire fear to be found involved?" asked Yaminul.

"Secrecy. Believe it or not, there are Alliance sympathizers everywhere. However, most of them are just too afraid, but some only need that extra push in our direction. That's the best explanation I can come up with."

We all nodded in agreement with Burmar, but we knew that was just one of the many possibilities concerning the sinister operation the Empire was engaged in.

Burmar continued.

"So, we capture this Imperial and get the hell off planet, simple right? Depending on how much attention we attract, we'll make a split decision on whether or not to return to base after the capture to report, or to proceed to the next objective without stopping. We have been ordered to radio silence, so in affect, we're on our own. Everyone clear?"

Burmar looked to each one of us, who nodded, or casually saluted in return. Burmar looked at me last with a serious frown and nodded. I knew what he was saying as if telepathically. I handed Burmar the electronic key to the binders. He smiled at me and pocketed the key. Yaminul took point and lowered the platform of the ship. We all filed out, but the R2 stayed behind, plugged into the computer, keeping the ship locked and secure and monitoring Imperial traffic around Corellia, ready to communicate anything back to us.

The lounge of the starport was quiet. There were a few humans standing and sitting about waiting for their transport, and a single R4 droid rolled along to some unknown destination, no Imperials. We walked out of the port, and an automated recording welcomed us to Kor Vella as we passed the doors and out into the open city. The city however was the opposite. It was very busy with people, mostly human, walking about on their daily business. Kor Vella was made up mostly of somewhat small, but brightly lit buildings reached into the sky, but nothing nearly resembling the towering structures on Coruscant. There were more trees, and less traffic, and smaller building, and even less Imperials. There were a few Stormtrooper patrols, but like nothing I was expecting or used to.

The sunlight turned the early morning sky a purplish red. A storm was brewing on the far horizon, ironically enough, to the south. The clouds as well were very different compared to what I was used to. They looked like a hurricane in the high atmosphere swirling, and wrapping around each other, and giving off the distinct purple glow that surrounded the planet. There was plenty of greenery as the city was surrounded by tall grass and brush, and there was a forest surrounding the city on the near horizon. I was fascinated, and anxious to see what creatures lived there, but Burmar brought me out of my daydream.

Burmar leaned in and whispered to us all.

"We have to get some transportation. Echobe and I will get a land speeder, the rest of you keep an eye out for Imperial activity, anything out of the ordinary and we meet back here."

Burmar and I walked across the open yard of the city looking for a landspeeder merchant. No one seemed to pay much attention to us. It seemed like mostly farmers, and small businessmen, and lots of tourists and citizens were out and about. We ended up finding a small dealership and bought a used landspeeder, a rather cheap and ailing thing that seemed to lack necessary maintenance, and covered in faded blue paint, but with a cozy interior. We gathered everyone else up and made our way across the rolling hills of Corellia, south towards the storm. Burmar drove, and I sat in the passenger seat with my knees knocking on the dashboard. The rest sat in the back and were far more comfortable than I.

After we had gotten a few miles from the city Burmar handed me the key to the binders that I happily removed and threw them onto the floorboard.

"How do you plan on getting us inside this place without L7? It's probably well guarded, I would think anyways considering the last one. And won't they wonder what we're doing way the hell out there checking out the place?" I asked as I looked up from the wheat-covered ground I had been idly watching a few minutes. Bugs flew out from their resting place and into our wake of dust.

"We'll have to figure out something. Maybe we'll get lucky. Yaminul can slice reasonably well," Burmar said, shrugging as if he had just thought of it.

"Not very confidence inspiring, Burmar." I went back to watching my surroundings and basking in the force all around me.

We arrived at the outpost after a short and uneventful trip, uneventful for everyone but me. I couldn't believe how alive I felt on Corellia away from the city, away from a cold space station in cold space. There was life everywhere and I could feel it. We stopped on a tree-covered hill a few miles from where the Imperial Jimers Anthalsan was supposed to be. When we looked through the long-range viewfinders, what we found was a small, square, and wholly unimpressive, gray building resting forty miles south of Kor Vella just as the memo indicated. The small building had a communications array protruding from the top like antennae, and a solitary door in front. Burmar sent the others to scout around the perimeter. When they returned, they had found no motion sensors, no cameras, and no apparent security. They deduced that the whole of the outpost was underground considering the communications array atop such a small building, and that we had no choice but to go ahead with our plans. At the very least I figured, we would stir the nest, and perhaps something would lead us from there.

We decided to wait the through night to observe. We made no campfire, keeping our weapons at the ready as we watched the outpost. Ultimately, after hours of watching and waiting for something to happen, we made camp just inside the trees. By the time the morning sun was about ready to break on the horizon, it was my turn to watch the building when I felt a grouping of life near us. I readied my blaster. And the others, just stirred from their light sleep grabbed their weapons and took aim at the same area as I when something came bursting from the brush. It was an ikopi. A hoofed and horned, herbivorous creature native to Corellia. That's when I got my idea.

I told the others I would be back soon, and I followed the ikopi a little ways into the woods to his herd. I returned to the camp a little while later with a small herd of about ten ikopi in tow, enthralled. Everyone stood there looking at me, opened mouthed and unbelieving of my ability to control the creatures. I explained my plan, which we quickly put to use.

I was able to persuade the herd of ikopis to charge through the clearing towards the outpost. With a simple wave of my hand in the direction I wanted them to go, and that strange language inside my mind, they did as I asked. They started at a leisurely gallop, and then broke into a full run at my command. We followed in their wake and made our way to the door as the herd offered a distraction, and some cover from the eyes of anyone that could have been watching. That, and with the darkness of night not yet having conceded to the day we made it to the door seemingly unnoticed. Yaminul went to work immediately on the door, but compared to L7, whom I desperately wished was with us at that moment. Yaminul took forever but did finally slice the door open, and we prepared ourselves for blaster fire that never came.

We all rushed in and took up positions on the inside of the outpost that immediately turned into a narrow flight of stairs heading deep into the ground as the others suspected. When we finally reached the bottom there was another door that opened without needing to be sliced. The door slid open, changing the air pressure inside, forcing a thick layer of dust to rush towards us. It was like a grave. The room was small, and before a small chair was a wall of computer terminals. We scoured the room. The equipment had been disabled and wiped clean of any data, and even the chair looked like it hadn't been used in years.

Among our confusion, the thoughts of a trap rang like an alarm in our minds. We backed out, up the stairs and exited the gray, now ominous looking outpost with our weapons drawn, jerking at any slight noise. We got back into the landspeeder and cautiously, but quickly drove back to the city keeping at eye out for an ambush at any moment, gripping our weapons in white-knuckled anticipation the entire time. None of us said what we were all thinking.

But nothing happened on our way back. No Imperial patrols stopped us, nothing, and we were all on the edge of anxiety at what that implied. We entered the city and went to the bay where we hoped the ship still waited. We all felt as if we were to be set upon at any moment by stormtroopers. When we entered hangar, the Starscream sat where we had left it, apparently unmolested. The R2 lowered the platform when Burmar contacted him, and with weapons drawn we went inside, and still nothing. We wasted no more time with caution. I went straight to the cockpit and brought the ship online, ignited the thrusters and blasted us off and away from Corellia unimpeded. We transmitted our security clearance to the Imperial Guard, and went into hyperspace. Burmar's thought was the same as mine, and probably everyone else's. We set course back for Desco's base. Palpable worry shared by us all kept the trip silent.

It was not until evening - going by Alliance Time - when we got close to our destination, Desco's space station. Burmar was in the cockpit with me sitting in the co-pilot's chair, the rest of the crew was in the lounge talking quietly amongst each other in an attempt to deflect their fears. We had spent the last several hours trying to come up with conclusions as to what had gone wrong, trying to keep ourselves calm, trying to convince ourselves that maybe it was just a fluke, or the intel was bad, or something other than the horrible possibility we dared not speak. I began to feel strange the closer we approached, and couldn't understand what my feelings were trying to tell me.

Chapter 8

The computer-computer signaled as we approached, and I brought the ship out of hyperspace. The swirling tunnel faded away and the stars reverted back to normal. We expected, and hoped for a congratulatory greeting over the radio, or at worst a scolding for failing to complete our objective.

Instead, a Star Destroyer sat in open space waiting for us where Desco's station had once been, decimated to scraps of debris floating in space and making a lazy orbit around the colossal Imperial ship. We had no time to react before the Star Destroyer set upon us with its laser batteries, pounding our shields like a child pounding on a dirt-clog with a hammer. The alarm for shield collapse sounded in just seconds, and the cockpit flooded with a red warning light. A circuit ruptured and sparks flew from a control panel to my left filling the cockpit with a brief shower of fire, but the automatic fire extinguishers eliminated it. I could hear the others in the back being flung to the floor as the Starscream rocked from the impacts of laser strikes. They hardly had time to brace themselves and were at the mercy of the Star Destroyer's assault. Another circuit ruptured, this time in the lounge showering the soldiers with sparks. They hollered in frustration and fear. Pieces of the inner hull broke loose and were thrown about the ship like shrapnel.

"Get us out of here!" yelled Burmar as he tried to redirect power to the shields before they completely failed. I put the thrusters to full power and did a corkscrew-arching turn in the opposite direction of the Star Destroyer. I brought the nav-computer online with my freehand, and in a flustered hurry I requested the calculations for Tatooine that were preloaded into the computer in the assumption that that was our next destination. The ship heaved and rocked like a boat on a turbulent, and unforgiving ocean that threatened to overtake us. I gripped the controls tighter trying to summon up whatever ability I possessed, almost tearing the controls from their moorings. My muscles tenses, my mind heaved with the ship. Burmar kept hollering directions at me, sparks flew, and the entire view of the outside from the cockpit was filled with the red blasts of turbo laser-cannon fire.

"It's not an interdictor, just go somewhere! Anywhere!"

I could hear the soldiers in the back becoming more and more frightened, and being slammed around as we were hit again and again. Two of them headed to the gun pods and started firing back at the Star Destroyer in an attempt to buy us seconds. An alarm sounded for imminent breach in the cargo bay. The thrusters began to stress and overheat. Then the nav-computer brought up the calculations for the hyperdrive in those eternal few seconds of bombardment. Just as I was about the activate the hyperdrive a laser blast found its way through the collapsed shields, passing through the damaged hull, and making its way into the cockpit. A gust of the chemical laser exploded, and ripped into Burmar's body, throwing him out of his seat and onto the floor behind me. That's the moment when I felt as if I left my own body, like I was looking in from the outside. I fell into myself, and the force took me over. I maneuvered the Starscream out of the way of the Star Destroyer's laser batteries and underneath it, skimming just meters from the Imperial ship's surface. Nothing else hit us. I saw myself bring the hyperdrive online and we entered the hyperspace tunnel leaving the Star Destroyer without its kill.

I leapt from my seat after entering hyperspace and when I came back to myself and realized what had happened. Ignoring everything else, I went to Burmar's limp body. He was burnt and smoldering from the laser blast that penetrated the hull of the cockpit on the co-pilot's side. The chair was partially charred, melted and still smoking. There was a dark, charred line from the top of Burmar's head that spread down to his torso and ended at his hip. His blackened skin gave off a strange blue smoke and an electrical odor. His one eye was closed, and the other was fused shut and the hair on his head was completely gone.

He was dead.

My ears began to ring as if someone had screamed into them, and my head ached. The cockpit had the acrid odor of electricity, burnt flesh, and melted wiring. I picked Burmar up. My eyes were blurred with tears. Yaminul, bloodied and bruised from the jarring of the ship, ran into the cockpit and nearly ran into me as I held Burmar's body. He stared at me openmouthed, unable to say anything.

I don't know how many hours passed before we arrived at Tatooine. We were not pursued, and if not for Burmar's death I would have had the presence of mind to be worried, but all of us felt beaten and stranded and hopeless, and had just begun to realize what had happened.

We landed at one of the many landing bays within Mos Eisley, and sent a long-range communication to Mon Calamari, hoping they would receive it. We informed them that our base had been destroyed in a surprise attack, and that as far as we knew everyone on board was dead. In the message we gave a brief explanation about what had happened on Corellia not using any specific names or locations, and what happened when we tried to return to report to Desco, and that Burmar was killed in the escape. When we received a reply we were advised to remain low, and out of Imperial site. We were also advised to find Imperial officer Grahm'tuli Jermar, and confirm whether or not he existed, or if it was also a trap. The deathblow to any confidence we had left from our first victory was dealt when Mon Calamari informed us that no survivors had yet to arrive as scheduled.

The small outpost on Corellia was a trap, and I realized how foolish we were to believe that destroying the Empire's plans would have been so easy. One had to be blind to not be able to figure what had happened when we left for Corellia. Our abduction of the first Imperial officer, who the Empire more than likely killed when it destroyed Desco's station, spurred operatives within the Empire to plant that memo on the Imperial laboratory's databanks incase we made it that far. We were tricked into leaving Desco's space station on false assumptions to hunt for the rest of the Imperial commanders while the Empire ambushed Desco, killing all of those people and sending the remains of my parents to be scattered into the vacuum of space.

We left the Imperial-heavy presence of Mos Eisley behind, and instead found Anchorhead to be free of Imperials, and remote enough to be relatively ignored. It was more of a waypoint for desert nomads, and for people not wanting attention drawn to themselves. We landed the Starscream in the small landing bay of the town of Anchorhead, which was their biggest landing bay. We stayed in the ship for a few days before going out into the city to grieve over the loss of our headquarters and everyone on it, and the loss of Burmar. Luckily, no one in the town seemed to care about our occupying the landing bay. There wasn't significant air traffic to cause issue anyways. Those first few days of near silence were difficult in coming to terms with what had happened. It was not just the loss of Alliance soldiers who were prepared to die for their cause, but more so for the survivors of the Imperial prisoners. It hammered down on us to be reminded of the precarious situation the Alliance faced, that we faced personified. I figured it was safe to assume then that the Empire knew of our exploits at the laboratory, and more than likely, that they knew about Corellia as well. After a few days of allowing the others, and myself to grieve, I finally took command as everyone was waiting for me to do.

"We need to contact any Alliance operatives on this planet, and I think we need to hide the ship. We just can't sit around like this, we have laboratories to find and friends to avenge."

The loyal Alliance soldier, and one who would come to be my second in command and a very dear friend, Yaminul, snapped out of his hard stare at the blank floor, and shook his head as if to remove the thoughts from his mind.

"Yes, um. Well. We have an operative in Mos Eisley, one that I know of. Burmar," Yaminul stuttered the Senator's name, "knew him better than I, but I will go to Mos Eisley and try to find him. I will need to use the land speeder."

"Take someone with you," I said. "Keep radio silence unless in an emergency." Yaminul nodded to me, and selected another to go with him. The other two looked to me for orders.

"We need to see if Yaminul gets anywhere before we make any firm or rash decisions, but we can scout this place out." I turned to the lounge computer and brought up a map of Tatooine and zoomed in on a map of Anchorhead.

"Here is where we are." I pointed at the screen. "This surrounding area to the east is badlands. Mountains, canyons, and caves. If nothing else, we can set up a temporary base there. Remember, there are many more Alliance out there, we aren't alone." I added to try to boost everyone's spirits. I then turned the computer off. "Meanwhile, while they go to Mos Eisley, the rest of us will scout the town to get a pulse. From what I have learned so far, this place seems to be a bit friendlier to Alliance, or at the least neutral. I'll take care of Burmar's body come nightfall. All right, lets get going."

They all stood up at my command. Yaminul and the other soldier, Rikot, went to the back of the ship, got in the speeder, and went down the platform and out of the landing bay and sped off into the distance. Me and the other two, Hase and Scious went out into the city of Anchorhead leaving L7 behind to secure the Starscream.

It was quiet. Few people were out. A sandblasted speeder drove by leisurely. We walked around the small city watching the people and keeping our hoods down, half watching our surroundings, half watching the ground. There was casual interaction between some of the people that walked the streets, but no one paid any attention to us. I supposed we were less seedy than what those people were used to. There was also an abundance of diversity in the races, and most importantly, no Imperial patrols, no ships overhead, nothing. It was like an island of freedom amidst the sea of the Empire. We arrived back at the ship after a walk through the city, and no one so much as looked at us with curiosity. We got back into the Starscream, and waited for Yaminul to return.

In mimicry of how the Senator treated Ulchewbuk's remains, and in homage, I positioned Burmar's body as if he had merely been sleeping. I took a blanket from the supply closet and folded it around him as he did to Ulchewbuk. The solar system shaped Corellian Engineering Corporation symbol on the blanket covered Burmar's burnt face.

At nightfall, I snuck Burmar's body out and buried him in the sands on the outskirts of the city in an unmarked grave. I wish I could have given him more, but it was more than many fallen Alliance have received, or will receive. I reasoned that it would suffice to know where his final resting place was.

I busied myself studying the flora and fauna of Tatooine trying to take my mind off of things, settle myself a little, and did my best to ignore the charred and empty co-pilot's chair. R2-L7 groaned drearily whilst making some repairs about the ship, as if it was depressed as well, and the two soldiers who stayed behind where lying down resting their heads, or occasionally checking scanners, or getting something to eat. I was enamored in the lore and history of Krayt Dragons through the rest of the night, and ultimately fell asleep in front of a picture of a Krayt Dragon on the screen. It was not until that following morning when Yaminul and Rikot returned.

"We're back. Drop the platform," Yaminul whispered over the radio. I opened the platform and they drove in, parking the landspeeder in the cargo bay. Pounds of sands flowed off of the speeder and onto the floor as well as off of the two Alliance soldiers.

"We found the operative," said Yaminul as he hopped out of the speeder and tried to shake the sand from himself. "We informed him of the situation and ask for any help he could provide. He suggested we stay here, and out of trouble. He said the tavern owner is friendly to Alliance and to speak with him, he may be willing to provide some shelter."

"All right. Yaminul, go and speak with the tavern owner, whose name is?"

"Jaffron," offered Rikot as he stepped out of the speeder.

"We'll remain here. We're not taking any more chances. First hint of a problem and we're out of here."

"Where though?" asked Yaminul, as he was about to leave.

"Out of harms way, anywhere. I won't lose someone else to a trap," I said. Yaminul nodded, and then saluted me on his way out.

Yaminul later came back with news that Jaffron, the owner of the Anchorhead tavern, was willing to help us, and that he had a large basement for storage that we could use as long as we needed.

The tavern owner turned out to be very supportive, and vocal advocate of the Alliance's cause, and as most people, he hated what the Empire was doing most, definitively since the destruction of Alderaan. Jaffron also had a small but effective smuggling operation that later assisted us in getting equipment and supplies into Anchorhead. Jaffron would often go on anti-Imperial rants during our many conversations. I later found out that he had a son who joined the Imperial Academy and was killed in an accident. His son, Jakeben, was on routine patrol when his TIE fighter had a critical failure and re-entered the atmosphere over Coruscant. Jaffron resented his son's desire to join the Academy and came to hate the Empire after his loss, blaming the Empire for the accident.

Over the span of a several weeks we set up a makeshift base in Jaffron's basement that was once filled with empty crates, broken droids and stock for his bar. The basement spanned beyond the footprint of the main building itself, with several rooms adjacent to the main room. With a radio connection established, and some bedding facilities we had ourselves a base of operations. The operative in Mos Eisley met with us shortly afterwards and gave us all the information he had on Imperial movement on Tatooine, but he had no information on our target Grahm'tuli Jermar or any information regarding the prison. Our mission went cold and we were forced to move onto other things.

After making the extensive repairs to the Starscream with L7's help, who actually did most the work as I just watched and learned, and with Jaffron's help, we set up a second base in the badlands away from Anchorhead as a place to regroup incase anything went wrong again, and as a place to store the Starscream in an emergency. I had found an empty cave among the many that marked the mountainous badlands while on one of my solo-scouting missions into the wilderness. With some slick maneuvering, and after some scraped hull, I was able to fit the Starscream inside. Over the next several weeks we had a somewhat stable base of operations within Anchorhead, and a growing second base in the cave hidden in the badlands to the east to shield us from the sandstorms of Tatooine and from the prying eyes of the Empire should we be raided.

Without anything to lead us to the Imperial prison, and really no solid evidence other than a forged Imperial memo, we had to expand our scope. With a growing group of Alliance recruits and allies over time, our operations against the Empire grew and expanded from break-ins of Imperial outposts to more bold attacks on stormtroopers and Imperial supply lines flowing into Tatooine. A particular such raid changed things for me dramatically some time after our arrival on Tatooine.

Chapter 9

About a year passed after our escape from the Star Destroyer that destroyed Desco's space station and everyone on it. Still with the four originally under my command -Yaminul, Hase, Rikot and Scious ?? my command grew to hundreds, with many scattered across Tatooine.

The Empire already had its hands full keeping order on Tatooine, but since we had begun our operations, the Empire had started to beef up security in response, and not just to our attacks, but also to the criminals who didn't hesitate to overtake a weaker Imperial force and disappear into the dunes. Many Imperials' were never seen again. I, on the other hand, had ordered those under my command to use deadly force only if necessary, and we often returned our Imp captives half-naked, with black sacks over their heads to Mos Eisley where Imperial presence was the strongest. As much as I hated the Empire, I hated unnecessary killing, and I found it far more amusing to embarrass Imps that way.

But one particular day changed everything.

While in our main base of operations still located in Jaffron's basement, Yaminul intercepted an Imperial radio signal requesting a large shipment of stormtrooper armor to replace suits damaged from the constant battering it received from Tatooine's harsh climate, and I saw it as too good of an opportunity to wreak further havoc and have a little fun with Imperial stormtroopers consigned to patrols. Still with just the Starscream, I took a small strike force of ten Alliance soldiers to board and take over the Imperial freighter that was being escorted by two TIE fighters on their way to Mos Eisley to deliver the shipment of armor.

The raid that was intended to be a costly annoyance and a bit of humor at the Empire's expense was destined to be something else entirely.

We proceeded as planned, and everything went accordingly. We were able to disable the TIE fighters and board the freighter without any casualties. I left Yaminul at the helm to control the Starscream as I lead the charge into the Imperial freighter. After subduing the Imp crew without a shot fired, but with plenty of knocks about their heads, I sent my small strike force about on their pre-assigned duties. Two took control from the Imperial freighter's cockpit, and some gathered up the unconscious Imps. I lead everyone else to the cargo bay to begin extraction of the armor shipment.

From the beginning I had a strange feeling about that mission. Not the feeling of warning I felt in the past, but something much different that I hadn't felt since I was on Kashyyyk last. I warned Yaminul just in case something did go wrong.

As I approached the cargo bay with my soldiers behind me ready to strip the freighter clean, that feeling rang in my mind the closer we got to the cargo bay doors. I knew then that there was something alive behind the doors. I opened the cargo doors with my soldiers at my back, and they took up flanking positions around me. They took several steps backwards when they saw my reaction to what I already knew to be there before I ever opened the door, though it didn't detract from my surprise when I saw it with my eyes.

A cage sat directly opposite the door and surrounded by crates full of armor. Two clawed hands grasped at the bars and shook them in anger when we entered. He hid his face in the shadow of the cage when I stepped closer. He was terrified. I was fascinated. Never did I think I would see such a creature so far from its home. I went to his cage and knelt. He was a juvenile, no more than a year old. I watched his mind replay what had happened to him out of fear. Imperial stormtroopers captured him on Dathomir. His pack, his family were all killed by the laser blasts of several AT-ST's that were with them.

He was tested, poked and prodded as Imperial scientists studied him. That is all that he remembered before being loaded onto the freighter. I called out to him with my mind. He was scared at first, but dropped his guard in exhaustion. I could see that he had been struggling since he was captured. He was underfed, and out of his element just as I was, and covered in small scrapes and scratches, and old experimentation wounds on his young hide.

The soldiers, who were looking at me like I was insane, raised their rifles at the rancor when I went to open his cage, so I ordered them all out until I secured the creature. I was determined to not let the animal linger any longer in his prison. I opened the cage and released him. He stomped out, running on his pudgy legs and long muscular arms. He ran to the other side of the cargo bay knocking over crates, watching me the whole time. I stayed on my knees and waited for him to relax. I kept calling out to him in my mind. Slowly, and cautiously, he dropped his guard and approached me.

He growled, as he put his face right at mine, no more than an inch apart. His mouth was closed, but his needle-like teeth jutted out from his mouth in a few places. His eyes scanned me, and he took in my scent, and he bared his teeth at me feigning ferocity. I could feel something much different in his mind. He was scared, but was curious. I reached my hand out to set it upon his head. He flinched at first, and made a snapping motion at my hand. I didn't stop at his threat and placed my hand on his head then stroked the side of his face and scratched under his chin. He stooped, and lay down on his stomach, and then sighed. I remained on my knees petting him.

I spoke to him and he responded with his feelings. After a few moments of communicating with him, I stood and walked out of the cargo bay, beckoning to him. He was cautious as first, and then was eager to follow me to be away from his cage. I could sense joy grow in his tortured mind. The soldiers stared at us in opened-mouthed awe as we walked past them. The rancor followed me into the Starscream and there I fed him what food we had on board, which he ate ravenously, including the Imperial military rations that we seized. After much needed nourishment and a lot of water, he let go of his fear with the help of the force flowing from me, and he nudged his face at my side. He stood nearly as tall as I when on all fours. I kept him occupied as the soldiers stripped the freighter.

That was not all that changed everything.

The information we obtained from the Imperial officer on board the ship came like a ghost from the past year, which also explained the reason why they had a rancor onboard. The rancor was being sent to Tatooine to an undisclosed location to be altered and programmed. For what and for where the databanks, nor did the officers know or say. They were just assigned to meet a classified Imperial squad in Mos Eisley for pickup. Yaminul and the other original three soldiers and I all thought the same thing. I could hear it coming from their minds without even trying. That information had been the first hint of the Empire's secret program since we had escaped the ambush at Desco's station. The once cold trail warmed up with that revelation, and with it, I found a new friend, one who would be, as close to me as anyone I would ever know.

Our fated raid upon that Imperial freighter was the first in a series of events that were to come.

We met up with the covert squad of Imperial's at the designated drop point, taking them by surprise and captive. After interrogation, the name that I had been hoping to hear from an Imperial's own mouth, or to see in stolen databanks, was spoken by the Imperial who led the covert squad.

The Imperial officer we captured told me that they were ordered to hold the rancor and the supplies and wait for Grahm'tuli Jermar to contact them for the next rendezvous.

Oddly, it wasn't until several months later when Grahm'tuli made contact with the covert Imperial team we still had in our custody. The very day that Grahm'tuli made contact was the same day he planned on returning to Tatooine after being in hiding since the destruction of the first Imperial prison. So we set ourselves up to ambush Grahm'tuli Jermar merely an hour before he was to arrive at Mos Eisley and add him to our collection of Imperial prisoners. I was eager to complete the mission that Burmar had died for, that Ulchewbuk, and my Mother and Father and so many others lost their lives over.

It was not to be that easy, however.

Grahm'tuli Jermar was found murdered as we were on our way to intercept. He and his co-pilot were found dead on an Imperial Lambda shuttle in the wrong landing bay in Mos Eisley. Rumors quickly circulated that it was some kind of wild animal, or even Tusken Raiders. All of the rumors I heard were ridiculous. What the Empire did not know, and what we later found out, by bribing some seedy characters that frequented that area of Mos Eisley, was that a shrouded humanoid was seen exiting the landing bay. The hooded person tried to go into hiding, but ended up in a deal with a local criminal and smuggler named Nes. When this hooded suspect connected with this smuggler Nes, I found out that it was a Wookiee girl. I then had my doubts about the validity of the information we paid for. I thought it impossible that a Wookiee would act so violently, even against an Imperial, things just weren't adding up.

I followed this Wookiee girl around and the smuggler Nes as well after Nes made his deal to help the Wookiee girl in return for his spice delivery that was lost on the same shuttle Grahm'tuli Jermar was on. What the smuggler Nes had in mind was slavery for the Wookiee girl after setting her up at his housing unit in the city. While she was locked up during the day, I watched and waited in the shadows, and sent some of my personnel to watch Nes. After finding out Nes' intentions to sell the Wookiee girl off to Jabba The Hutt as a slave, I arranged myself to be captured by an Imperial officer played by Yaminul so I could meet up with her and help her escape.

It seemed simple enough.

Star Wars The Redemption
Book: 3
Chapter 1

With Makaashyya's betrayal, and the capture of many of those under his command, Echobe and those who remained were forced to leave Tatooine in the canvas of space for safer ground.

Echobe tortured himself for not acting upon the instinctual warnings coming to him of Makaashyya. He allowed the emotions and compassion for the lost Wookiee girl to cloud his vision. He knew of the convoluted darkness within her when he first sensed her presence within Jabba's cells deep in his stolen palace. Echobe took pity on Makaashyya because she was a Wookiee, and because of the guilt he felt within himself for his complacency on Kashyyyk that he believed resulted in the deaths of Ulchewbuk and the Wookiee girl he pulled from the fire. Echobe too felt a great sadness and bitterness just as Makaashyya did, but as terrorized as she had been by the Empire, she had chosen the dark side.

Echobe was forced to see her as an enemy, and did his best to push aside his feelings for her. His hesitation had cost lives, and had served as a boon of potential lab womprats for the Empire's miasma of sadistic experiments. Undoubtedly, Echobe surmised, it was widely known by the Empire what Echobe and his small contingent of Alliance had been pursuing.

It ate away at Echobe that he had yet to free the remaining prisoners and destroy the Empire's prison laboratories. After the destruction of the first, he thought it would be merely procedural, that the pieces would fall into place with little heavy lifting on his part and it would all be over. It would not be so easy Echobe realized, after his defeat on Tatooine at the hands of Makaashyya and her newfound Imperial allies. Fleeing to Mon Calamari felt more as returning to his corner of the ring to lick his wounds and less like any kind of triumph. Echobe needed time to gather his thoughts, his strength and figure out where to go and what to do next. He refused to abandon what he and Burmar had begun, and what so many had died for already.

Even though Echobe had accomplished much with his small command, there was so much more he felt he needed to do. The deaths of Ulchewbuk, his Mother, and Father, Desco, the survivors they tried to save, and Burmar hung over him like a specter calling out for justification and for a reason that they did not die in vain. Echobe did not want to put anyone else in danger, so he decided to find Makaashyya on his own and capture her, steal her back from the Empire, and through her, rescue the captured Alliance and bring Makaashyya to face the consequences of her actions. Echobe's superiors on Mon Calamari were reluctant for him to return to Tatooine without help. Echobe did not request it, even refused it. He had R2-L7, Desco's old loyal droid, and his counterpart Bilebelch, the unusually small, fiercely loyal, and uncommonly sentient rancor. It was all the family Echobe could ever have hoped for, and all that he felt he would ever need.

It had been over six months since Echobe's escape from Tatooine, and the Wookiee felt that he had regained his confidence and strength while serving with Alliance allies on Mon Calamari at Mon Mothma's behest. Echobe woke with the sunrise breaking over Mon Calamari's watery surface. Echobe, not waiting to enjoy the spectacle, or pay any attention to the gleaming sea of diamonds as the sun reflected on the ocean planet's surface, he immediately went to the Starscream and busied himself ensuring that all the supplies he needed were stocked as he requested.

Bilebelch lay lazily on his stomach on the floor of the cargo-bay of the Starscream. Although Bilebelch was unusually smaller than his kin, the rancor's thick, and sinewy body took up a large portion of the cargo-bay. The rancor's eyes gleamed, and he almost seemed to smile as Echobe walked into the Starscream and to the cargo-bay. Bilebelch's mouth was agape, and his tongue lolled to the side as he cocked his head with curiosity. The rancor watched every move made by the contemplative Wookiee as he checked and double-checked the cargo, the integrity of the ship, and everything on his mental checklist.

Echobe then stopped and looked about as if he had lost something or forgotten something, then noticed Bilebelch watching him. Echobe gave up his efforts and walked to the rancor and put his hand upon the animal's forehead. Bilebelch closed his black-pool eyes and savored Echobe's touch and the connection that they shared. Bilebelch, ever ready for anything Echobe would put him through. The animal did his duty for Echobe out of love, being hardly aware of the greater struggle across the galaxy, or his significant role in it. The rancor was loyal without fault, and as brave and fierce as any within the Alliance. Bilebelch's mountainous hide that had been cratered and canalled with the scars of blasters, and more recently, a lightsaber's cauterizing blade were ignored. Bilebelch thought nothing of it. The fight, and protecting those he cared about was all he knew. Bilebelch had become selflessly devoted to the Wookiee since Echobe had released the rancor from his cage, and spoke to him in his mind, and provided the care that his slain mother should have provided were she alive. Echobe's fight was like any other for the rancor. He would follow Echobe into the Deathstar if Echobe was headed there, and like the many scars, he thought nothing of it.

Echobe affectionately petted Bilebelch on his forehead as the Wookiee thought back over the experiences he and the rancor had shared over the brief time they had been together. Echobe then left the rancor and went to the corner of the cargo-bay. Bilebelch's eyes followed him as he opened up a crate, one of many, and scooted it over to the rancor. An assortment of meats, grains and milk sloshed around inside like quicksand. Bilebelch drooling with excitement and hunger, lapped at the concoction hungrily. Echobe left the rancor to eat, and then walked back to the cockpit. R2-L7, Desco's old droid, was connected to the ship's computer running a final diagnostic. The little droid beeped in welcome to the Wookiee. Echobe patted the droid on the head and sat in his chair, then flicked a series of switches to bring the Starscream online. Echobe raised the platform not seeing Yaminul, one of the few rebels that escaped with Echobe from Tatooine, a friend and loyal subordinate, jump into the ship at the last moment before the platform locked and pressurized.

Echobe took a last look at the hangar sprawling out in all directions on the watery planet of Mon Calamari, wishing that he could stay, but his drive to finish what he had started and to avenge those who had sacrificed already was too strong. Just then, Yaminul snuck up on the Wookiee bringing him out of his reverie and startling him. Echobe pretended to not have been startled, but couldn't help the smile from growing on his face when his Alliance colleague sat in the co-pilot's chair.

"Think you were to leave without me?" asked Yaminul in his implacable accent.

"I was trying to. Weren't you assigned to another squadron?" asked Echobe, feigning his disapproval of Yaminul's decision.

"I got someone else to cover for me. I told Mon Mothma I would resign if necessary. You not going to be able to have Bilebelch tag along with you at all time anyhow, so I think you could use someone of the human persuasion, and a translator since hardly no one knows what you're saying half the time."

Echobe laughed and slapped the human Alliance officer jovially on the back. Yaminul coughed and squinted his eyes at the pain, but forced a smile.

"Besides, I had some intel to deliver before you left."

"And what if I had left before you jumped on?" Echobe asked.

"I don't know. Good thing I made it on board, isn't it?" mused Yaminul.

The thrusters made the Starscream shudder with their immense power as Echobe mashed the throttle. The repulsor-lifts activated, hovering the ship just above the deck of the hangar. Echobe spun the Starscream around and sped out of the still opening hangar doors nearly knocking Alliance personnel from their feet in the jet wash. The clouds opened their hands invitingly, accepting the Starscream as a child as it drifted into and beyond, and seconds later, miles into the atmosphere and then into space. When they reached a safe distance from Mon Calamari, Echobe brought up coordinates on the nav-computer, and in the blink of an eye the Starscream entered the hyperspace tunnel to Tatooine.

Hours passed as they traveled through hyperspace back to that familiar, but dreaded territory. Echobe squinted as if the twin suns were already blinding him as he watched the hyperspace tunnel, lost in thought. Makaashyya was well aware of Echobe hiding somewhere in suspected Rebellion space, but she was not aware that the Wookiee was on his way back to face her.

"Makaashyya," said the Imperial Colonel, Banthsas Mur, the Wookiee girl's superior, sitting behind his desk. "You are being reassigned."

"What is my assignment?" asked Makaashyya in a straightforward, cold manner she had adopted. Any warmth in her voice had been assimilated by the dark side-driven hatred festering within her. Makaashyya had come to understand her abilities, and had become quite confident in herself, and totally blinded by it. Her eyes no longer the emerald green of her youth, but now filled with spidery red veins, her pupils enlarged and rimmed in an orange-red, like a fire. She had given herself over to the dark side fully when she betrayed Echobe and his Alliance command, and she had accomplished much since their last meeting over six months ago. Her surrender to the dark side had imbued her with abilities she never thought possible, that Gethzerion her old master, never told her about. Since her betrayal of Echobe, Makaashyya had become quite adept at capturing other rebels and political prisoners, and sending them to her superior were they were then taken somewhere unknown to her, and equally of no concern to her as well.

The small contingent of Imperial troops she commanded had come to respect and fear her, more so the latter. She did not tolerate insubordinate soldiers under her command. She only once had to deal with a dissident soldier once before. The blasphemous presence of a Wookiee seemed to be the only thing to break the adamant will to follow orders possessed by an Imperial stormtrooper. That stormtrooper did not like taking orders from a Wookiee. She left his body for his bones to bleach in the sun as the whiteness of his armor. She gave him to the endless sands and whatever fortunate predators that happened along. Her superior was never made aware and the rest of her stormtroopers were wise enough to remain silent on the matter.

"There is a program under my responsibility that needs a new arbiter." The Imperial, Banthsas Mur, stood and approached the Wookiee. Makaashyya stood motionless, as if unaffected by the visceral, planetary forces that affected everything else. "This prison needs a new warden. Only you and I are to know its location. From now on you will be personally responsible of keeping its cells full."

Makaashyya had long since justified her actions, even though she was completely in service of the Empire, her original desires had become corrupted like her soul and she willingly submitted to its will.

"Where is this prison?" Makaashyya asked, now as an Imperial, as an agent of the dark side would, her desire for revenge had become clouded and turned inwards to suppress the pain, and outwards to inflict pain on the wrong people.

"It is deep within the dune sea." The Imperial brought up the holoscreen upon his desk and showed Makaashyya the exact coordinates, hundreds of miles from any known city, in the land of Sandpeople and womprats.

"It is hidden underground. You will take a shuttle there, travel only by night. I will upload the clearance codes to your datapad. I want a status report and then return to me, there is to be complete radio silence. You begin immediately in rounding up prisoners, I need non-humans most especially, Makaashyya. Dismissed."

The Imperial finished and sat back into his chair facing away from the Wookiee. Her superior's order for non-human prisoners did nothing to awaken the silenced conscience within her. Makaashyya turned and walked away with potential prisoners in mind.

Makaashyya walked to her shuttle. A familiar triple winged, white shuttle such as the one she used to escape Dathomir, a memory pushed herself into a dark corner of her mind. But she could not push aside her nightmares. Each night for years she had a different variation of her original dream. Syymbacca and her family each time, and she would wake with renewed disappointment, turned to frustration, turned to hate, she let it fuel her. She thought of them as visions, not as the corrupting nightmares that they actually were.

She boarded the shuttle and took her place in the pilot's seat and took off, headed for the location of the prison using only her memory of the holoscreen image her superior had shown her. It was night, and soon she was far into the dune sea skimming across the surface of the sands. Temperature readings were still high. The sands still gave off heat waves that distorted the light of the moon on the horizon. When she finally made it to her destination, she saw no structure of any kind. No indication that there was anything around her but sand. Only a silent beacon signaled her on a secret Imperial channel as she approached.

She transmitted her clearance and a few moments later a gigantic platform like a tongue pushed up from the sands, high enough to allow the shuttle to enter. The sands flowed like water off the back of the platform and into the prison itself and down through a vent grate built into the floor. The platform sealed airtight upon Makaashyya's entry. The winds took little time to cover over the bald spot left by the platform.

Makaashyya touched the shuttle down, and walked out with a translator in her hand. She approached the white-coated scientist that was coming towards her. He was human, his hair unkempt, his face unshaven, his uniform hardly regulation, his clothing bore no insignia. Makaashyya tossed the translator to the doctor and pulled back her hood, her lightsaber gleamed in the faint light on her belt. Makaashyya then spoke without hesitation to the scientist. The Wookiee girl, now an Imperial officer stood before the scientist with hate in her eyes. He was uncertain of what to think.

"I am here for a status report," said Makaashyya. The translator scrolled text of what she spoke. The scientist hesitated a few moments, looking from Wookiee to the translator. Makaashyya stepped forward looking down on the scientist, she was short for a Wookiee, but taller than most humans.

"Status," she repeated.

"Follow me," the human scientist stuttered. He led Makaashyya to the computer room and uploaded information to a data pad, and then handed it to Makaashyya. She nodded and turned away from the scientist. On her way back to the shuttle, she stopped and said over her shoulder that she was to bring more prisoners. The scientist eyes widened in anticipation, or horror, Makaashyya didn't care which. The scientist clasped his hands together and watched Makaashyya board her shuttle and she took off as quickly as she had arrived.

Makaashyya later delivered the data pad report to her waiting superior, Banthsas Mur. He promptly dismissed his aide when Makaashyya entered his office unannounced. Though, she kept her hood covering her face at all times, and you could tell she was a Wookiee when she revealed her hands. The length of her robe successfully covered any other hint to her race.

"Very good," Banthsas said as he read over the information on the data pad. Ever since Makaashyya had disrupted Echobe's plans, things had gone quiet. Attacks on Imperial convoys and stormtrooper security teams had all but come to a halt, and it seemed that his Wookiee underling had nearly quashed dissent on Tatooine.

Banthsas looked up from the data pad to Makaashyya.

"There is a shipment of prisoners coming in to Mos Eisley, Rebellion prisoners, captured in a raid. You will transfer them to the laboratory, understood?"

"What bay and what is the name of the officer in charge of the transfer?" she asked without remorse or concern of the fate of the prisoners, completely forgotten was that she shared their fate in the past.

"It will be bay 10-02, the officer's name is Major Trury Jinard. Collect the prisoners and deliver them to the prison."

"It will be done," Makaashyya said and quickly turned and walked out. She then contacted her small team of stormtroopers on her communicator.

Makaashyya met her squad leader waiting for her, upon her orders, at the entrance to her shuttle. Her sergeant saluted her on her way inside. Makaashyya gently nodded, not even looking at him. She had become quite popular with the small squad under her command despite the fact that she was a Wookiee, unknown to all the Empire outside of her small contingent. She boarded the shuttle and at her command they took off, headed for Mos Eisley.

Yaminul described to Echobe of the capture of Alliance soldiers a few days prior, and that they were conducting a supply raid on an Imperial convoy, and that no word had been heard from since their capture. The Imperial convoy, however, rendezvoused with an Imperial patrol on its way to Tatooine.

"So according to information, the best guess seems to be that our soldiers were transferred to the patrol, and that means Makaashyya may be involved. It's our best shot," explained Yaminul. Echobe agreed and followed the directions given to him by Yaminul on their way back into Tatooine space on an intercept course of the Imperial patrol.

"So when is this patrol supposed to arrive?" asked Echobe.

"There's no word on that. Last report is that they were headed back to Tatooine hours ago." Echobe huffed and crossed his arms, impatiently looking outside into space as the asteroid carried them tumbling in high orbit around Tatooine.

Hours passed until a distinct blip came up on the Starscream's radar. Echobe almost jumped out of his chair and brought up tactical of the new ship coming into radar range. Yaminul scooted in and looked as well.

"I think that's it. We better ??" Yaminul began, but was cut off by Echobe who had the ship powered up and shooting like a laser bolt towards the incoming patrol before Yaminul could brace himself. It was a single Imperial freighter, much like the one Echobe had first encountered on its way to the first laboratory-prison complex.

The freighter had no escort, and minimal weapons that Echobe quickly destroyed while Yaminul jammed any transmissions. They quickly crippled the unsuspecting Imperial freighter. It lacked any official designation, which was a promising sign, but it was unmistakably Imperial. They hard docked and wasted no time in boarding the Imperial vessel. The Imperials were clearly unprepared and not expecting any sort of problems on their way into Tatooine space. Leaving L7 behind, Echobe, Yaminul, suppressed the three Imperial officers inside without a single shot being fired, as they were too busy trying to contact reinforcements in vain.

After they captured the Imperials on board and transferred them to the Starscream, leaving Bilebelch to terrify them, Echobe found and identified the captured Alliance soldiers from a few days before as Yaminul had detailed. All of them recognized Echobe, who then released them and they quickly took up the fallen arms of their captors. Echobe then went back to the Starscream flanked by the Alliance soldiers. The freed Alliance soldiers didn't expect to see Echobe's rumored, almost legendary pet, to be standing there towering, and hungrily slavering over the three Imperial's sitting on the floor with their hands bound behind their backs, turning their heads away from the fierce rancor. Echobe checked the insignia on their uniforms and identified the commanding officer.

With Yaminul translating, Echobe questioned him.

"What is your name?" asked Echobe, allowing Bilebelch to edge closer to the groveling Imperial. Drool poured out from between the gaps in Bilebelch's teeth, draping the Imperial's face with thick, syrup-like goo. He tried to scream, but closed his mouth as the viscous slobber rolled down his face leaving a trail behind. He shook his head to try and fling the drool off but it only rebounded with elastic tenacity. Bilebelch growled, and Echobe smiled, knowing that the Imperial was in no real danger of being eaten, but enjoyed the bluff nonetheless. When the slobber finally passed the Imperial's mouth and hung dangling from his chin refusing to yield to gravity, he spoke in gasps like he was out of breath.

"My name is Trury Jinard. Major Trury Jinard."

Trury Jinard then described his orders after a few more minutes of intimidation by the rancor.

Yaminul took Trury Jinard's Imperial uniform, and two of the Alliance soldiers took the other two Imperial officer's uniforms and assumed their roles. Echobe split everyone up into two teams. Echobe remained on the freighter with most of the freed Alliance soldiers. They continued the descent into Mos Eisley with the Starscream following closely behind. Echobe squinted his eyes from the light of the twin suns as he looked out of the cockpit, forgetting how bright Tatooine was, but he could not forget the whispers coming to his mind. The Wookiee expected to see Makaashyya, and he hoped that she wasn't expecting them as well.

Chapter 2

Yaminul touched the freighter down in the designated landing bay, 10-02 and extended the platform. Yaminul straightened himself as he stood from his seat, doing his best to look Imperial, trying not to laugh at himself as he tried to emulate the arrogant demeanor. Echobe glowered at Yaminul impatiently until his friend finally got his act together.

Trash and forgotten cargo boxes were strewn about the landing bay, a mirror copy of most other starports on Tatooine. Yaminul walked out, and stood at the foot of the platform with his two Imperial officers. Echobe waited just inside the platform out of sight. He had his blaster and Ryyk Blade in hand, doing his best to shield his thoughts and suppress his anxiousness and desire for Makaashyya to arrive. He kept the radio on passive, ready to contact the Starscream hovering in low orbit at a seconds notice.

Suddenly, a robed figure flanked on both sides by two Imperial stormtroopers entered the starport from the shadow of the entrance, and then strode towards Yaminul as if carried by the breeze. The fake Trury lifted his chin in mock arrogance. Sweat glistened on his forehead. He hoped it would be attributed to the hot suns in the sky beating down on them. When Echobe saw the dark, robed figure enter he immediately felt Makaashyya's presence, but then shut himself away from her prying mind. He could sense no kind of alert, but had to be careful not to pry too deeply or risk alerting her to his presence.

Makaashyya approached Yaminul without hesitation or fear. The trooper on her right stepped forward.

"Trury Jinard, we are here for prisoner transfer, do you have the proper clearance?"

"I will need to see yours, of course," said Yaminul. They exchanged data pads, and confirmed each other's identity. Echobe anxiously gripped his Ryyk Blade, still forcing his mind shut. That's when Makaashyya flinched. Echobe felt her mind flinch, her face hidden within the fold of her hood jerked. The troopers at her side reacted instinctively to Wookiee's reaction. Echobe signaled for L7 in the Starscream as the troopers started to lower their rifles. Then Echobe burst from the freighter not giving the two troopers at Makaashyya's side a chance to fire back, or the her an opportunity to save them before he unloaded his blaster killing her stormtroopers. Echobe then fired at Makaashyya to distract her as Yaminul, who without a firearm, ducked away from the blaster fire. At the same moment that Echobe burst from the darkness with blaster firing, and Ryyk Blade in hand, Makaashyya had already ignited her lightsaber, flinging aside the blaster bolts aimed at her back to Echobe, narrowly missing him, but singing his fur. Echobe had no time to ponder if it was intentional or not. He paid no attention to the bolts as they scorched the hull of the Imperial freighter behind him he only focused on Makaashyya. Echobe lunged for Makaashyya tossing aside the blaster and bringing the Ryyk Blade down hard on Makaashyya's head, but her lightsaber met his blow.

Hate burned in Makaashyya's eyes accentuating the hard tinge of red-orange that had scarred them. They connected and blocked each other's blows gaining no ground on each other. It was like a flashback to that fateful day outside the cave in the mountains outside of Anchorhead. Echobe had no intention of running from her. They fought each other without restraint. Blood flew from Makaashyya as Echobe cut her leg, fur was singed and skin seared as she thrust at Echobe's neck nearly severing his head from his shoulders.

The Starscream descended into the adjacent starport kicking up a dust storm that flowed in through the entrance. Within moments the remaining Alliance soldiers poured out and secured the area. They could not restrain Bilebelch as he dashed out of the cargo-bay towards Echobe ready to tear Makaashyya apart. Yaminul barely escaped the stampeding feet of the rancor after diving out of the line of fire.

Saber and Blade locked. The Wookiee's faces nearly touched, close enough to feel each other's breath when Bilebelch grabbed Makaashyya, ripping the lightsaber from her hands. The rancor squeezed her in his long clawed fingers, ready to crush the life from her. She let out a scream of pain as ribs popped, and the wind was knocked from her. Echobe rushed up to the rancor and with great effort, he calmed Bilebelch down and made the animal drop the Wookiee girl to the ground. Makaashyya was already unconscious and bleeding from several small cuts on her body and from her mouth.

They left the bodies of the Imperials where they lay, and Echobe carried Makaashyya in his arms following behind a calming Bilebelch as they boarded the Starscream and left Tatooine.

Echobe lowered Makaashyya onto the floor and bound her hands behind her back, and her feet together. He put a blindfold over her eyes and searched her for any other weapons. He then lifted her up, and strapped her to a chair in the lounge. Echobe then plopped down in a chair beside her, still breathing heavily from the encounter. Echobe took a reassuring look at the lightsaber now safely in his possession, and wiped at the wound at his neck that was cauterized on impact, a painful reminder of how close the Wookiee girl had come to killing him.

Yaminul went to Echobe still dressed in his Imperial uniform, dusting himself off.

"What are we going to do with her?" he asked quietly, almost afraid she'd hear him.

"We have to find out what she knows, and then we'll go from there. Not a word of this to command yet, they may want us to bring her back to them." Echobe said trying to catch his breath. "No one is to go near her."

Echobe stood and went to the cockpit.

"Find a place nearby where we can hide for awhile, an asteroid belt or something. We might not be done here yet." Echobe ordered to Yaminul.

"If you says so," Yaminul started to say as he extended the Starscream's landing skids and looked around at the many free-floating asteroids that encircle Tatooine, "but how are you going to get to what she knows?"

Yaminul knew that Echobe wouldn't torture someone, but the pressure of time weighed down on all of them, and Echobe had much more to consider than his, Bilebelch and Yaminul's lives.

"I'll get her to talk." Even as Echobe said it, he didn't know how he would get the corrupted Wookiee to tell him what he needed to know. "I'll lock her in my quarters with me. If anything happens, don't let her out. Don't try and engage her if she gets past me. Depressurize the cabin if you have to."

"I hope you know what you do." Yaminul said, but knew that he wouldn't follow such an order. Then something occurred to him about Echobe's suggestion. "Can we even do that?"

Echobe had already carried Makaashyya into his cabin by the time Yaminul asked. Echobe grabbed the unconscious Makaashyya in his arms and took her to his cabin, locking them inside. Echobe then set the Wookiee girl on the bed, and untied her, and re-tied her legs and hands together at the front of her so she could sit up.

Makaashyya woke several minutes later.

As she tried to sit up, her cracked ribs grinded painfully against each other making her wince and reach for her side. She looked up at Echobe after clearing her eyes. Her hood had been pulled away from her head. Her eyes glared at Echobe with murderous rage.

Echobe was standing across from her, leaning against the locked door, his arms crossed in front of him. He gave no appearance of emotion, keeping his mind closed to the manipulative Wookiee. He allowed her baleful stare to wash over and beyond him like a harsh dust storm. They stared at one another fighting, motionless. Makaashyya broke her gaze first knowing she could not force Echobe into doing anything. She realized that she had limited, if any options left to her at all. She looked at her bound wrists and ankles and tried to wipe the dried blood from her mouth. She then looked at Echobe, but without the hate burning in her eyes, though unable to hide the corruption.

"So what do you have in mind, Echobe?" she asked sardonically. "Are you going to hand me over to your superiors? Maybe release me into space?" she taunted, raising her hands in mock supplication, but Echobe felt his jacket being tugged at, desiring to meet Makaashyya's outstretched hands. Echobe gave her threatening use of the force little concern. There were no weapons for her to call out to.

"I need information from you," Echobe said, taking a step towards Makaashyya.

Makaashyya lowered her hands into her lap, her face creased for a moment from the pain in her chest.

"Good luck," she growled.

Echobe continued, ignoring her further threats.

"You were there for a prisoner transfer. I need you to take me to this prison, and tell me anything you can about it." Makaashyya remained silent, just looking at Echobe with emptiness, but Echobe could feel her trying to look into his mind.

"Do you have any idea what's happening at these prisons?" Echobe asked rhetorically. Makaashyya remained silent. "They are experimenting on people. My family was taken to one of these prisons. They were mutilated, drugged and murdered. There are thousands of others who have suffered similar fates, many of our own people." Makaashyya's motionless stare bored into Echobe, still trying to probe his mind. He brushed off her efforts with the force.

"Have you always been like this Makaashyya? What turned you against your own people? Why would you help the oppressors who have destroyed our way of life and killed so many of us and others?" Echobe used the common term for the Empire, one she and her family had used themselves. The oppressors, as the Empire was nefariously known on Kashyyyk. Echobe took another step towards Makaashyya as if to throw his words at the defiant Wookiee. She remained still.

"What happened to your family, Makaashyya?" Makaashyya's probing mind hesitated like a skipped heartbeat. Echobe then knew he had found the right line of attack on her darkened soul. She pushed harder at his mind, but he resisted.

"The Empire did something to your family as well, didn't they? They hurt all of us in one way or another. None of us escaped it. What did they do to you? Why have you let them use you against their own? To betray our people? To betray me?" Echobe asked question after question and exerted all the will he could through the force to penetrate her mind.

Makaashyya then made a fatal error. She opened her mind for a moment and allowed Echobe to see quick glimpses of her dreams and her memories. The hundreds upon hundreds of different incarnations of the nightmare she had had since the day Syymbacca was killed, since she fled into the jungle to escape, the constant repetition of the horrible nightmares, like some nocturnal predator that fed on her compassion and hope, and left behind hate and fear. Echobe latched onto the memories, he closed his eyes and tried connecting to some part of her former self that still lived.

"What happened to your brother?" Echobe's mind asked Makaashyya's, as he knelt before her. Echobe felt a wave of anger, like heat off of a sand dune flow over him and swirl around the small room. "Did they kill him too?" Echobe asked, pleading for her to open up to him. Her mind shut away again, but the wall she had built around her feelings was cracked and failing quickly. Makaashyya still looked at him with hateful burning eyes, he saw his death in them. Echobe looked at her, trying to meet his soul with hers, trying to regain the feelings they had begun to feel for one another. Realizing what Echobe was trying to do, she quickly closed her eyes in desperation to once more shut Echobe out. She turned away from him, but Echobe put his face inches away from hers, and she could feel his breath on her face, her fur gently swayed. Echobe let his words spoken and not spoken seep into the darkness within her that was gasping for light.

"Tell me what happened Makaashyya?" Echobe plead further. "They killed him didn't they?"

Her mind was quickly losing grip, her heart was softening like the parched earth that drinks the water after a downpour. Memories started to escaped one after the other.

"You were imprisoned. They took you from your family." Echobe began retelling her memories like a storybook. He himself began to relive her experience through her escaping memories. "They took you from your home after killing the rest of your village, your mother and grandfather. They took you and Syymbacca and the Wookiee children from the village away in a ship like cattle and sent you to a prison."

Echobe looked for the answer to her pain, to what ultimately turned her against herself. Makaashyya's mind could no longer remain closed while Echobe chipped at the wall separating the two of them brick by brick.

"They took you to Dathomir where they made you build your own prison." Makaashyya kept her face turned away from Echobe, but tears welled up in her eyes. She clasped her eyes shut and covered her face with her bound hands, not able to keep her mind locked away any longer. "You were laughing with your brother when you dropped a tool from the tower and they beat him for your mistake. And then came the day that you were late and didn't realize. They shot him and you ran away into the jungle." Echobe recalled in quick, blurred glimpses as the images came to him. Makaashyya choked back her cries, but tears escaped her tightly closed eyes and ran down the red and blonde fur on her face. She squeezed her eyes tighter to stop any more traitorous tears, but Echobe knew that he had found the true Wookiee girl, the deadened part of her that the dark side had tried to bury.

"The witches of Dathomir found you and took you in as one of them. That's when the corruption began." Echobe spoke to her mind as he continued to look deeper into Makaashyya's mind. The tentacles of the dark side that had wormed their way into her soul were shriveling and dying, but he could still feel the anger and hate, but backed into a darkened corner like a desperate animal.

"Gethzerion used you, she channeled her hate into you and sacrificed her own people to try and escape that place. She was willing to leave you behind as well." That's when Echobe saw the turning point and the vulnerability that the dark side latched onto in Makaashyya's heart. Echobe saw what happened through her eyes.

Two Wookiees approached Makaashyya and her dark master Gethzerion, holding Imperial issue blasters. Makaashyya became confused and assumed that they were prisoners trying to escape in the chaos. She asked them to escape with them, but they turned on her. The Empire had employed them, the two Wookiees explained. Makaashyya couldn't believe what she was hearing. The Wookiees, a male and a female, tried to take Gethzerion and Makaashyya back to the prison yard. That's when the anger and corruption and fear instilled in her by the Empire, and everything else surfaced. The male and female Wookiee fell to Makaashyya, to her claws. She rended their flesh, and let them crumple to the ground to choke on their own blood.

Echobe could search no longer after seeing those images in Makaashyya's mind. She was a Madclaw. She had done the unthinkable to her own kind. She ran not just from Dathomir, but also from her own people. She had committed the unforgivable act. Afraid to go back, to even come into contact with any other Wookiees, she fled. That hate and anger and fear she felt about herself turned inward and turned her to the dark side.

Makaashyya opened her glistening eyes and faced Echobe. His face mirrored the sorrow and compassion he felt, but he looked upon the confused Wookiee without judgment. Makaashyya's corneas were like a bloated dying star, the red veins irritated by the tears she had held back for so long. Echobe looked closer and could see spidery darkened veins running in her eyes and around the scant bare skin surrounding them. The dark side had done its damage to her body. Echobe saw the memory of the iridescent emerald glow of her eyes when she was young on Kashyyyk, before fate had destroyed the young Wookiee girl, before life had come down crashing upon her. How different they were now.

Makaashyya dropped off the bed and sank hard to her knees and collapsed in front of Echobe as if kneeling in humility to a god in prayer. She doubled over and wrapped her arms around herself. Her tears fell into the metallic embrace of the Starscream. She then began to sob, and begged. Begged for forgiveness from Echobe as if he were her dead mother or grandfather, or brother, or the nameless Wookiees she killed in the prison, or all the others she had killed; the Alliance soldiers in the tavern, the prisoners she had sent to the laboratories, the Imperials she slaughtered in the shuttle when she first arrived on Tatooine, she begged and pled and repeated I'm sorry over and over echoing herself as her mind throbbed in pain and grievance.

Echobe pushed aside his own anger and rage that was building inside of him over the whimpering, confused Wookiee sobbing at his feet. It was a byproduct of being so close to her deranged mind; the dark side ebbed from her tortured soul. Echobe held her and let her cry. Her body wracked with sobbing just as the day when her brother Syymbacca was killed, when she collapsed in the muck of the jungle. Makaashyya cried until sleep claimed her again, her body exhausted from everything she had to relive and release to the Wookiee before her. Echobe lifted her up in his arms and set her onto the bed, covered her with blankets, and removed the restraints on her wrists and legs and he exited the room locking it behind him.

Echobe leaned against his cabin door exhausted by the trip he had just undertook with Makaashyya. Yaminul approached Echobe and was a little taken back by the expression of great and overwhelming sorrow on Echobe's face. Echobe had no idea that such turmoil could exist in someone. Yaminul hesitated and then put his hand on Echobe's shoulder and waited a few moments before informing him.

"We have latched onto a nearby asteroid, we should be invisible to radar. The only way they could find is if they stumbled on us," Yaminul said, mutedly.

Echobe nodded and said, "We will remain here until Makaashyya wakes up. She has to lead us to the prison, she knows where it is, the prisoners she was to pick up were headed there."

"So she told you that then?"

"Not in so many words," admitted Echobe, rubbing his forehead in weariness.

"Do you think it good idea to let her have any kind of freedom? Many have died because of her. She's a murderous betrayer."

Echobe knew that to be true, and he questioned his own decision in removing Makaashyya's restraints but his resolve to help her did not sway.

"She's been corrupted by the dark side, but there is still something of her old self in there, you must trust me my friend, I have to do this." Echobe placed his hand on his comrade's shoulder. Yaminul shook his head and shrugged.

"I hope you know what you do."

Echobe walked away, his head lowered and deep in thought as he went to the cockpit. L7 was interfacing with the Starscream's computer, and beeped in welcome when Echobe entered to sit down in the pilot's seat. Echobe looked out into space unsure of what to do with Makaashyya, unsure if he was ignoring the danger she presented to them and their mission, all because of his feelings and sorrow he felt for her. How easily he could have been like her he realized. They had both suffered and seen atrocities. Both had their lives torn apart by the Empire. Echobe could not stop thinking of his parents when he saw them hanging in that putrid fluid, and what they must have endured in their final days. Echobe's revenge was the destruction and annihilation of any other laboratory prisons that existed. Anything else was a bonus for him, it never occurred to him to inflict pain on those who were guilty, only to stop them from inflicting more on others.

Echobe sat up that almost entire night pondering on all that had happened in the very short time since he left Mon Calamari. Echobe woke a after a few hours of restless sleep, his dreams were tormented with everything he had seen and was forced to relive in his mind, and with Makaashyya in his thoughts, hiding in the shadows with her head hung low. When he woke, he went to the room Makaashyya was locked in. She was sitting up in the bed, her hands sitting in her lap, her head lowered. She had bandaged her chest in the night. She did not sense Echobe when he approached and he did not sense her usual prying mind. It was silent. Echobe entered and Makaashyya raised her head, but was scared to make eye contact with Echobe again, so she hid her eyes in shame. The fur on her face was streaked with dried tears. Echobe walked to her and sat down beside her on the bed. Makaashyya spoke before Echobe could think of anything meaningful to say.

"What am I to do now? I have done horrible things, I have changed so much." She looked down at the floor. Echobe thought of the only thing that could make some difference.

"Help me, Makaashyya. Help me right the wrongs that are being done to people now. Help me find the rest of the prisons and destroy them before they kill anyone else."

She paused and looked at her hands.

"I can never go back to Kashyyyk can I?" she asked, on the verge of crying again, her voice shuddered.

"If we make it through this, I will take you there myself and be with you no matter what happens," Echobe promised.

For a moment, Makaashyya forgot the blight that had been done to her eyes by the corruption of the dark side. She looked into Echobe's pale, gray-blue eyes. There was no hate or fear in them.

"I will do anything I can. Please give me a chance to make things right."

"You'll get a chance," said Echobe. He stood and walked out, not locking the door behind him. Yaminul approached Echobe just as he closed the door.

"Do you really trust her? Are you sure you're not making a huge mistake."

"If I am, don't hesitate to shoot her down, even if I am in the way. I'll ensure that I will be the only one to pay for my mistake this time." Another order Yaminul had no intention of following.

Echobe went to the ship's condenser and took some food out and brought it to Makaashyya. When he entered, she looked up at him with anxious eyes. A caring in them he had never seen before. Her mind had stopped wandering, stopped scheming and prying. She was calm, but not yet at rest. Echobe handed her the food, which she hungrily ate. When she had finished, she thanked Echobe with a nod and a smile, and set the tray aside on the counter next to the bed. She didn't wait for Echobe to ask. She already knew what he needed to know.

"There's a prison in the desert of Tatooine. I know the coordinates. But now that I am missing, it may be a problem getting in. They may even have moved the facility, but I doubt they would be able to do it that quickly. Chances are that they reinforced the place before considering a new one to move to."

"Well, you know their tactics better than any one of us. What are our options?"

"I can go back to the prison and say I escaped capture, that my guards were killed and that the prisoners had escaped. Not too far from the truth. I will need to go back to my superior first though, and clear things up with him to make it believable."

Makaashyya paused for a moment to think and then continued.

"You can plant a beacon on me so you can track me, and when you arrive I will do my best to cause some confusion. There may be some information about the others you're looking for as well."

Echobe thought for a moment. He was anxious, desperate to be done with his mission, but didn't want to send Makaashyya into harms way.

"Do you think your superior will know the location of the final base?"

"It's possible, but getting it out of him could be a problem."

"And if we assault the prison, we probably won't get another chance to get near him. So we need to capture him at the same time, or forget it entirely."

"I will do whatever you want me to." Makaashyya said again, pleading with Echobe. She reached out to him with her mind, he could feel her desire for him to be closer, but he ignored it. He was still not completely convinced of her loyalty, but one way to find out for sure was for Makaashyya to capture her superior and bring him to Echobe.

He decided.

"You will need to capture your superior. It must be done quietly or all is lost," said Echobe, making the mistake of not guarding his thoughts. Makaashyya stood and looked Echobe in the eyes. She was much shorter than he was, and had to arch her head back to look up at him.

"I will prove my loyalty to you by bringing my superior before you, Echobe," she then said with finality. "I won't fail you."

"I will inform the crew." Echobe pushed aside his reemerging feelings for Makaashyya, and his desire to embrace her. He instead turned, and exited the room again not locking the door behind him.

Echobe's small crew all felt uneasy about Makaashyya's being on board the ship, but they trusted Echobe and that was enough. They all agreed. The plan was set for the following day. Makaashyya would go back to her superior as if she had escaped, and capture him, and then she would lead them to the prison.

After the brief discussion of their plans, Echobe went to the cargo bay where Bilebelch was laying down, facing the wall, almost pouting until he noticed Echobe enter. The rancor jumped from the floor and trotted over to Echobe, nudging his nose into him.

"You're going to have to stay on the ship for the most part tomorrow. If things go bad, if she betrays us, we will need to make a quick getaway. This is our last chance to make things right," Echobe said to the beast, who seemed to understand.

Echobe lazily petted the rancor on the top of his head, and lost himself in thought when he felt Makaashyya approaching. The rancor opened its black, void-like eyes and saw one who was once his enemy, someone who tried to harm Echobe. A growl grew in his throat, and he reared up ready to attack, or to defend depending on what Makaashyya did next. She did nothing but stand there looking at the two of them. Echobe immediately calmed the beast down. Echobe did his best to explain to the rancor that she was a friend, for now. Bilebelch's growling died down, but he glared at the Wookiee girl and bared his teeth.

Without fear, Makaashyya approached, like she was anxious to be judged by Bilebelch. Bilebelch growled ferociously at her as she stepped towards him, but she didn't stop. Her eyes never left the rancor. Her eyes were full of sorrow. She knelt down, and found the place where she had scarred the beast in their violent first encounter. She put her hands on the scar on his leg. The wound had already healed and looked like the rest of his craggy hide. Makaashyya channeled her thoughts towards the rancor, ignoring the snarling protests. She repeated that she was sorry over and over in her mind until the rancor stopped growling, bent and took in Makaashyya's scent. Grudgingly, it then stomped off into the corner of the cargo bay, but still glared at the Wookiee with mistrust.

"He really is quite intelligent. He'll come around eventually," Echobe said, as much to himself as to Makaashyya, hoping to convince them both.

"I know you don't really trust me, Echobe. No one probably ever will again, I can't blame anyone but myself." Makaashyya paused for a moment, hesitant as always to reveal her blighted eyes.

"After we destroy these prisons and free the prisoners, I'll go with you to Kashyyyk to face our people, or wherever you wish to take me. I have a lot to answer for. I'll accept whatever fate I am given."

This time Echobe avoided looking into her eyes. He wanted so very badly to believe her and to tell her everything would be okay, that she wasn't evil, but the memories were quick to remind the Wookiee of what wrongs Makaashyya had committed. Echobe forced the doubt out of him, hoping what she said was true, believing it as much as he could allow himself to believe.

"Everything's going to be okay." Echobe then looked back to Bilebelch one last time, and walked out of the cargo bay leaving Makaashyya behind in the dark with the rancor staring back at her as if in warning.

Chapter 3

The following day, hollering awakened Echobe and Yaminul, who had fallen asleep in the cockpit as they were going over details in the night. Echobe and Yaminul with guns and blades drawn, rushed to the noise coming from the lounge. Makaashyya was sitting in a chair surrounded by the Alliance soldiers who were yelling profanities and oppression driven hatred at the Wookiee girl. Makaashyya only nodded, and kept her head lowered, and her eyes averted. She was not crying, but had a steely, yet compassionate expression on her face. She was taking in all that the Alliance soldiers had to offer her, knowing she deserved it.

"Hey, enough!" roared Echobe. Yaminul was quick to translate. The rancor, Bilebelch, could be heard stirring from Echobe's raised voice, and tromping out of the cargo bay.

"That's enough, spread out," yelled Yaminul. "Shut the hell up!"

The yelling died down, and the Alliance soldiers stepped back and away from Makaashyya as Echobe approached her seated form, her hands set in her lap.

"What is going on here?" shouted Yaminul.

One of the soldiers stepped forward.

"She's an Imp, a traitor. She's the reason we were captured, she even betrayed her own people and now she thinks she can just mingle with us like she's one of us?" The soldier jabbed a finger at Makaashyya, the veins in his neck bulged in fury.

Yaminul translated what Echobe then said.

"She is one of the group. We can still drop you off at the nearest base if that's what you want." Echobe crossed his arms and looked to each one of the soldiers.

"No, I want to get my part done in this," insisted the Alliance soldier, the rest nodded, or spoke in agreement.

"Then you will follow my command. She is with us until I say she isn't. Get used to it, because you may be fighting along side of her soon," Echobe said dismissively and let Yaminul finish translating. Echobe didn't look in Makaashyya's direction as he turned away knowing that she did deserve their ire, and that the Alliance soldier's anger towards her was justified.

"Get ready to move. Makaashyya is going to lead us to the prison today, you have an hour to get ready," Echobe said as he walked away.

They left the drifting asteroid and set course for the outskirts of Mos Eisley when the hour passed. After planting a beacon on her, Echobe gave Makaashyya back her robe, some water, and one of the communicators taken from her dead comrades when they dropped her off. Makaashyya never looked back at Echobe who stood on the platform to watch her leave.

Echobe tracked Makaashyya as she walked back into Mos Eisley, and contacted her superior as planned. Banthsas was not happy that she had failed, but sounded glad that she had escaped. Banthsas arranged to have Makaashyya picked up at the same hangar where she was captured. Her own squad came for her and took her to Banthsas. Makaashyya found it difficult and repulsive to reassume her Imperial role, and maintain the mask of arrogance and hatred that she felt just a day before. What was left of her small squad was glad to see her return, she having earned their respect because of her ruthlessness, which made the matter all the more confusing knowing she would betray them as she had once betrayed Echobe.

Makaashyya was picked up on schedule and taken to Banthsas Mur, her superior. Makaashyya walked up to the doors of her superior's office and took a deep breath before entering. She made sure that the tracking beacon was functioning and well hidden within the fur of her forearm. She then opened the door of Banthsas' office and walked with her hood pulled over her head. The Imperial commander was standing in front of his desk facing her as she entered.

"I want a full report, Makaashyya," said Banthsas, not with suspicion, but with annoyance. Makaashyya ran down the planned story. Her ambush at the star port, and her capture and the killing of her men and her escape. Banthsas seemed to believe her as best as she could tell without prying into his mind. Banthsas' reply surprised her.

"I am just glad that you are back and safe." Banthsas' expression softened. Makaashyya was surprised to hear such a thing from an Imperial of all people, she wondered briefly if he was sincere. "As for the prisoners, that's a shame," he continued, almost sarcastically it seemed. Banthsas unfolded his arms and his expression loosened as if he were tired. "I did not want to send anymore prisoners to that place anyway."

Makaashyya blinked and shook her head in disbelief. What was he saying, she wondered. She had always considered Banthsas as the typical mechanical Imperial, doing his duty without question. Banthsas then straightened up, the compassion hidden once again underneath the uniform as he reassumed his role as an Imperial agent.

"I will accompany you to the prison this morning, Makaashyya. We will both let them know what has happened and I will take full responsibility for the losses. I will need to report this to my superior as well.

Makaashyya also never realized that Banthsas had a superior to report to just the same. She always thought that the operation was as separate from the official Empire as was her own presence within it. She had never thought to pry his mind so deeply, and she was afraid to pry for fear that her powers in the dark side were lost to her.

"We will take my shuttle," said the Banthsas, and he strode past Makaashyya and out of his office. Makaashyya made an absentminded, reassuring check for the beacon buried in her fur and followed him. She hoped that Echobe, watching the blip on his radar screen within the Starscream moving into the sea of Tatooine, wouldn't think she had betrayed him. She desperately wanted to reach out to him, but the loss of her arrogance, her anger and hatred was replaced by uncertainty and doubt about herself and her abilities. She felt the force dwindle within her, and felt powerless to manipulate it, so she hoped for the best. Banthsas ordered his shuttle ready, and he and Makaashyya stepped aboard and sat down in the passenger seats next to each other. She kept silent, doing her best to maintain her demeanor. The trip into the dune sea was completely silent between them, save for the hum of the engines.

When they arrived at the location the wind was blowing, kicking up dust and carrying it on the air. Waves of heat could be seen coming off of the sands and Makaashyya remembered how much she missed home. She was tired of seeing sand. She hoped secretly to see her home one last time, even if she were to face execution at the hands of her people. A fate she was prepared for, and deep down, wanted as a way to set her free of the life that had caused her so much confusion and pain. She pushed the thoughts of mile-high trees and evergreens from her mind.

The huge door buried beneath the earth raised and a platform extended like a tongue from the maw of a beast buried in the sand. Makaashyya followed Banthsas out of the shuttle and to the open prison, and met with the scientist in charge, the same scientist Makaashyya had seen earlier. Banthsas explained the situation. Makaashyya stayed silent, keeping her head low in some form of subtle shame. Just then a wind kicked up and blew sand into the bay of the prison. A vortex of sand was kicked up into the air, and before it cleared Makaashyya could sense Echobe as he landed next to Banthsas' shuttle. Makaashyya tackled Banthsas to the ground to shield him a millisecond before blaster fire erupted from the swirling cloud of dust, and found its way into the bodies of Imperial guards and scientists. Makaashyya kept her body over Banthsas who was yelling at her to get off.

Echobe and his group of Alliance soldiers emerged from the Starscream and ducked into cover positions with blasters firing. Imperial personnel dropped dead before they could react. Makaashyya stood and picked Banthsas up from the ground, and told him to cooperate and he wouldn't be harmed. He struggled against her for a few moments, angry at her betrayal. Banthsas was still yelling at and cursing her when an Alliance soldier came and restrained him, and bound his hands behind his back, and dragged him back against the wall.

The Imperial's quickly recovered and had started to return fire, forcing the Alliance soldiers to make use of their cover positions.

"Split into three groups, secure the prison, and make sure they don't purge any data. Suppress them, kill only if you have to!" Yaminul hollered to everyone after Echobe gave the order. Makaashyya went to Banthsas and held him against the wall.

"Alliance scum," began Banthsas, looking at Echobe first. "And you, Makaashyya. I took you in and gave you a chance to survive when all your kind are enslaved and you betray me for a group of terrorists," Banthsas spat his anger at the Wookiee girl.

"I had to make things right," she began to try to explain amidst the roaring blaster fire around them. Makaashyya no longer felt loyalty, but did feel some compassion for the human Imperial who did give her a chance when it was unthinkable to do so, when it was well within his power to do away with Makaashyya as so many of her people had been done away with already. "People are suffering, and I have done horrible things." Makaashyya stole a glimpse into Banthsas' mind. "You don't care for what's going on here either, why do you let it happen?" Makaashyya asked after she had confirmed what she had suspected of Banthsas.

"It's my duty. I am following orders despite the fact that I may not like them I serve the Empire and do what I have to do. Some of us are loyal," he said, accusingly.

"It's over now, help us end this and regain some honor," Makaashyya pled.

The sound of blaster fire dwindled as Echobe and his troopers pushed the resisting Imperial's back into the prison. A few bolts still streaked across the bay. Then, a stray blaster bolt sped out of the darkness from a dying Imperial guard and ricocheted off the of the wall behind Makaashyya's head barely missing her, but searing the fur on her head, and exploding into the body of the Banthsas, dropping him to the ground onto his back. His hands, still tied behind his back, crunched underneath him. His head hit the solid metal floor.

Echobe heard Makaashyya cry out. He looked to her kneeling over the prone body of Banthsas, and then he saw where the deadly projectile originated. Echobe shot the dying guard and then went to ensure there were no more trying to get off one final shot, and then he rushed back to Makaashyya. Banthsas' blood pooled onto the ground from a wound in his chest, and his eyes rolled into the back of his head. His breath came in sharp pained gasps. Makaashyya was silent and her eyes were closed. She was searching Banthsas' dying mind trying to find any information. She pushed the regret for her betrayal, and her negligence for not telling the only human who may have cared for her that she was sorry aside. Banthsas gave up his struggle to breathe, his eyelids hung half-open, his blood stopped in his body, but gravity lazily pulled it from the wound.

Banthsas was dead.

Makaashyya set Banthsas' head onto the floor and stood up. Her eyes lingered on the body. Echobe stood beside her looking down at the Imperial. Suddenly, like a pot of water come to boil, Makaashyya had grown tired of death at that moment. She turned her head away from Banthsas' blank stare, her eyes still tainted by the scars of the dark side, but also red from the tears she had shed. Echobe went to her side and put his hand on her shoulder, and drug his hand down her arm and grasped her hand. Makaashyya turned and faced him, her red-orange eyes looked into his.

"I have the name and location," she said mutedly.

"I'm sorry, Makaashyya. I am sorry I made you do this." Makaashyya stopped Echobe before he could say anymore.

"I have to do this, Echobe," she said, and then stroked his face with longing. Echobe's radio sounded, interrupting the moment they were sharing.

"Sir?" said and Alliance soldier on the other end.


"We have them suppressed. Five captured, the rest wanted to go out fighting." Echobe shook his head in disappointment. "We have found the prisoners, you better come look at this, there's been some horrible things going on here," said the Alliance soldier who was not prepared for what Echobe had already explained to them. Echobe had no desire to witness it all over again.

"I've seen it. Gather up the dead, keep them separate from the prisoners, and get L7 to download the databanks, clean this place up. We have one more of these places to take care of. Out."

"Roger," said the soldier, and the radio went silent.

The Alliance soldiers carried out Echobe's orders. Once again the familiar scene played out before Echobe's eyes, reminiscent of the nightmares Makaashyya had endured for so long. Some of the prisoners had survived their horrific experiments, many were missing limbs, and some were in toxic shock from the myriad of chemicals that had been injected into their bodies. A few passed out from fatigue, or shock. One was being kept alive with life support, his head and upper respiratory system had been entirely replaced, only his brain remained and was incased in a metallic case, robotic eyes circled about his surroundings, the artificial eyes unable to convey the absolute terror the person was feeling. It was impossible to identify visually what, or who he once was.

Screams of joy and horror resounded throughout the prison halls. The Imperial dead were left behind, the databanks were all but destroyed by a now dead Imperial scientist who had the forethought, but a distress signal was never sent in time. The Alliance gathered the victims up, and tended to the wounded as best as possible. The dead were stored in the refrigeration compartments as before, and the survivors were loaded into the cargo-bay away from Bilebelch. The Imperial prisoners, the five of them, were bound and locked up in the makeshift brig on the Starscream, the empty crew quarters.

Once everyone was on board and stabilized as best as possible, they left the planet behind. The entrance to the prison was left open, and the wind had already started sweeping sand into the structure. The prison eventually would become overrun with creatures escaping the heat, or become a home for Tusken Raiders. It was the end of that prison. All the equipment had been destroyed inside, all of the bodies were left for the scavengers, except for Banthsas whom Makaashyya brought on board with the rest of the dead recovered from the prison. She kept his body uniformed, wrapped, and secluded from the rest.

They made their way through hyperspace to Mon Calamari. A few of the victims died on the way and were moved to the refrigeration unit with the rest of the dead.

They arrived at Mon Calamari the following day. A team of medics already standing by unloaded the survivors. Alliance guards took the Imperial prisoners to a debriefing room, and the dead were taken last after being catalogued by Alliance personnel. The Starscream was later cleaned of the blood and smell of the dead. L7 was taken by Yaminul to command to have what little information the droid had gathered from the prison uploaded to the Alliance database.

Echobe bound Makaashyya's wrists and took her to the brig secluded away from the Imperial prisoners. Echobe then went and met with Mon Mothma, one of the leaders of the Alliance and authors of the declaration against the Empire. Echobe explained all that had happened since he arrived at Tatooine, leaving the special circumstances of the situation with Makaashyya for last.

" ??And Makaashyya helped us get into the prison and secure the information we needed to find the third." Echobe went on to explain, in an attempt to exonerate Makaashyya if he could. Mon Mothma listened to Echobe's story without expression.

"It's obvious she took great risk," began Mon Mothma after Echobe's passionate recital of Makaashyya's redeeming actions, "by helping you complete your mission, Echobe. However, she is still a criminal, an Imperial war criminal who must be subject to the same laws as the rest."

"Wait," Echobe interrupted, "her corruption started on Kashyyyk. Her first crimes were against her own people. Let me to take her to Kashyyyk to be judged by her own people before we judge her. Give her this one final dignity. What happened to her started there, and the Wookiee people will be no more kind to her than we will," Echobe argued.

Mon Mothma reluctantly agreed to Echobe's request, but also requested that Makaashyya be brought back to Mon Calamari to face trial before an Alliance tribunal. Echobe swore to fulfill that promise, and bowed before Mon Mothma and left her office. Echobe then went to Makaashyya. She was sitting in a temporary holding cell guarded by Alliance personnel.

Chapter 4

Echobe, Makaashyya, and L7 left a day after he had spoken to Mon Mothma. Bilebelch was left behind in case something happened on their way to Kashyyyk, or if they were intercepted by Imperials while trying to make it through the blockade. The trip to Kashyyyk was a tense one for both Echobe and Makaashyya. Echobe quickly undid her bindings after they left Mon Calamari, but neither of them talked to one another. L7's beeping and whistling was the only noise most the time.

Both Wookiee's memories were of a Kashyyyk filled with pain and sorrow, but both of them still felt a longing to return and to see the place of their birth again. The only city with some semblance of a Wookiee government, and not some Imperial installation, or Trandoshan tyranny, was the very city Echobe had left years ago. Echobe was amazed to see that the city had been rebuilt to some degree. The bombing raids had lessened in recent years allowing reconstruction to commence. Though, Makaashyya's village could no longer be found. As far as she knew she was the only survivor.

Echobe flew the Starscream towards the planet, and with one of the many security clearances the Alliance had stolen they were allowed access to the planet through the Imperial blockade, prisoner transport was the ironic and official business Echobe stated. They landed deep into the forests very near to were Burmar had hidden the tiny battered A-wing-like shuttle to pick up the elder Ulchewbuk and take him to safety, the day Echobe found Ulchewbuk dead and took his place instead, the fateful day Echobe joined Burmar and left Kashyyyk.

The memories started flooding back into Echobe's mind when the Starscream touched the soft moist soil of Kashyyyk. Makaashyya was also forced to remember once again all the terrifying moments she experience. Echobe led Makaashyya out of the Starscream, and L7 remained behind to provide some kind security for the ship.

The two Wookiees walked along side one another looking at the forest floor passing beneath their feet. They were both silent at first. Echobe felt for the lightsaber, Makaashyya's lightsaber at his side. The fleeting thoughts came into his mind of giving it to her to make for a quick escape if necessary. Echobe took mental inventory. He had his blaster and Ryyk Blade. He tried to remember the layout of the city since he was last there, hoping it hadn't changed too much. Then that old feeling he had all but forgotten, that pulsating energy of life buzzed in his mind like electricity, and clouded Echobe's thoughts. He reveled in it, not realizing until that moment how much he had missed home.

Makaashyya was silent as well. Her head hung low, but her eyes were closed. She listened to Echobe's footfalls, and a picture emerged easily in her mind of the Wookiee beside her and the path he walked. She followed willingly. She embraced the memories, bad and good alike. She realized as well how much she missed home, as horrible as was her last experience there was, she had long desired to see it again and experience the feeling of life that she once felt when she was just a child. The dreams she had, the dreams that had tormented her waking hours like a specter hanging within her mind day and night was losing its grip. Now that she had to face the reality of what she had done. The feelings she had for the tall Wookiee walking along side her that brought her from the darkness was the tenuous connection she had to the light.

Echobe could have killed her, Makaashyya realized. He could have left her to the fate desired by his Alliance allies, for her imprisoning of Alliance and civilians in that prison. She gave herself freely to the fate as she thought of her family, and was comforted by them, though they had long since faded away into dust and dreams. Her dear brother Syymbacca met the same fate on Dathomir at her expense. She tried to flee from that pain, but it found her and consumed her that day and she welcomed the retribution that now found her. She felt afire inside, she felt alive, but her body trembled in fear as if it was preparing for the final act. She could see on the horizon the end, the blissful end to the pain, she welcomed it.

The two Wookiees made their uneventful way to the city where Echobe had once lived. According to reports from Alliance operatives that traveled regularly to Kashyyyk, the bombings had been eased. The blockade remained and prisoners were still being gathered, but the ferocity that once threatened to destroy the Wookiee people subsided somewhat. They reached the lift, and Echobe could feel Burmar's presence, an echo of the past or something else Echobe wasn't sure. It was very lift that Echobe and Burmar had used, as Echobe hoped it still would be there and it was, just as it was. Still rusting, still struggling to take passengers up into and down from the city. It had seen far more use that it was ever designed to. Echobe activated the control pad and they waited as the lift hidden in the canopy above descended.

Makaashyya then broke the silence between them.

"Everything's going to be okay now, isn't it?" she asked as not so much as the Wookiee she now was, but more as the child she had left behind in her village. Echobe turned and looked at her with guilt, and compassion. He wanted to free her, but he had made a promise and had to keep it, but he also swore to be with her as long as she needed, to help her as much as he could. He was just as familiar with her betrayal as anyone. Only Bilebelch helped him escape the fate that Makaashyya had planned for him, but he found no pleasure in what he was taking Makaashyya to face. Echobe gently nodded his head and wished she would look into his eyes, but she kept them closed.

"Everything will be fine ??one way or another." He felt strangely confident in those words. "One way or another," he thought again. The platform finally reached the forest floor with a moist thud, as before. They stepped onto it and the whirring, squealing motor lifted them up with protest into the trees with the press of a button. When they reached the city floor in the trees, Echobe looked out over his old home. The city was war ravaged that was clear, but the fires did not burn as they did. TIE fighters could not be heard screaming overhead. Wookiees, though far more sparse than he remembered, walked about, not happy, but at least alive. There was sporadic construction. Wookiees carried materials this way and that, and each one looked at Echobe and Makaashyya as if they themselves were Imperials, their eyes were wide with disbelief. And so too did Echobe's eyes widen when he saw his foster Mother and Father rebuilding a small home that had been charred by fire. They saw Echobe out of the corners of their eyes and climbed down from the building, their claws scraping against the wood as they descended. It reminded Makaashyya of her horrible crime, the one that started her downward spiral, she kept her hands hidden in her robe.

Echobe's foster parents looked stricken. He did not know what to expect, and did not expect what happened next. They ran to him with open arms. Both shorter than he, they hugged him and asked him where he had been, if he was okay, and for forgiveness for the way they had treated him. It was an unusual turn of events for the acceptance he once desired before he left Kashyyyk to beckon to him with open arms. Ironically, back among his people, he felt like he no longer desired and longed for that acceptance. The reasons for returning cast a shadow over everything.

After a teary-eyed reunion, Echobe briefly summed up what had happened the night Ulchewbuk died as he hugged his foster family, and leading up to Makaashyya's capture. He left out the all too gory details of the fate of his birth parents, his foster parents were horrified enough to know that they were truly dead. They lavished him in pity, and bereavement, and care that they once denied him.

Echobe explained that he was reluctantly returning a criminal, and that he must see whatever governing council was left. His foster parents told him that a small council existed, with only two village elders that remained. The rest had been killed, or died of famine or disease, or were taken. His two foster parents were on the small council as well. They called for a meeting that same day to begin to discuss Makaashyya's crimes. She decided she would speak for herself.

Makaashyya stood before the small council surrounded by dozens of spectators, undoubtedly what remained of the once large city's population, hidden away in one of the tallest buildings that still stood. The war torn faces of the Wookiee people were oppressive, angry and tired. Each one had lost loved ones and their freedoms, some even their sanity. They were vengeful, and seeing a Wookiee criminal stand before them sent ripples of hatred through the air that Makaashyya and Echobe could easily feel. Makaashyya began to feel sick to her stomach as she began her story.

"I was taken by Imperial stormtroopers from my village that I can no longer locate. My brother," Makaashyya almost spoke his name, but the pain was still too great, the name choked in her throat, "me, and several other children from the village were taken as slave labor, the rest were deemed unfit," she told the council.

"The stormtroopers killed all who remained and decimated the village. We were taken to a planet called Dathomir where several other Wookiee slaves were being kept. We were assigned to build a prison there. Punishment for tardiness, or mistakes was the random killing of a Wookiee. Several were killed while I was there. My brother suffered the consequences of my clumsiness with a beating." Makaashyya explained with starts and stops as she tried to tell her story with clarity, but each sentence struck her like a laser bolt.

"During one of the routine punishments I was chosen from the line, but my brother attacked the stormtroopers to save me. They beat him, and killed him. He died to save me, and like a coward I ran. I had to get away, and I could not watch as Syym," She accidentally started to speak his name, but stopped herself again.

"I couldn't watch my brother fall, so I ran into the jungle as they shot at me. I ran until I collapsed." Makaashyya paused to catch her breath as if winded from running through the course of memory. The Wookiees surrounding her in the crowd, and before her in the council whispered and gasped, whether in horror or sorrow Makaashyya could not tell, nor could Echobe. He feared it was the former. Makaashyya continued her sorry tale.

"I woke to some human females prodding me with spears. They took me before their leader, and she took pity on me. She had powers, strange powers I didn't understand. She seemed to know my very thoughts and desires, she also knew of what happened to my brother, she taught me how to use these powers."

More whispers. The words force and dark side could be heard rippling through the crowd like raindrops. The council called for order, and the whispering slowly died down. Makaashyya continued.

"This leader taught me to use a lightsaber." Echobe stepped forward from Makaashyya's side and put the ancient lightsaber, once belonging to Gethzerion, preceded by Allya an exiled Jedi Knight from long ago. The whispering began again, but was quickly silenced by the council.

"She taught me how to use the force, the dark side of the force, all in her planning to raid the prison and secure her passage from Dathomir. She hated the Emperor, and spoke of revenge." Makaashyya took a calming breath, still keeping her hands low and close to her body. "Her plan went forward several years later telling me that my training was near enough complete. She said she wished to release the prisoners to save them and to punish the Imperials, and in my desire for revenge I willingly obeyed. We assaulted the prison shortly after."

Makaashyya stopped for a moment to let her words settle into those around her, doing her best to not let her sorrow overwhelm her.

"When we entered the prisoner yard, an alarm was sounded. Gethzerion ordered her Nightsisters to release the prisoners to cause confusion, and she told me she would leave me behind if I did not follow her orders. I obeyed. Stormtroopers poured out of the prison and fired upon the Nightsisters and the prisoners killing many of them. I was scared and confused. Gethzerion paid no attention to her dying sisters, she would have let them all die for her own safety. We got inside the prison and started to make our way for the hangar where we saw a shuttle waiting."

Makaashyya paused again. Echobe could see that she was in anguish, he could hear it in her mind, but she continued on to the apex of her crimes and downfall.

"That's when two Wookiees, a male and a female came upon us. I do not know their names." Makaashyya shook her head with closed eyes in shame. "They approached us carrying Imperial issue E-11 blasters. They said that they were allowed their freedom for their service and then they ordered us back to our cells."

Makaashyya looked down at her hands palm up in her lap. No one spoke as they waited for Makaashyya to continue, a hush permeated the area and all sound seemed to be silenced. Echobe knew that she was being overtaken with the memories, and was desperately trying to focus. The council grew impatient and demanded that she continue. Makaashyya drew in her breath, looked back up at the council and spoke the horrible truth she wished she could bury. Only Gethzerion, Echobe and her knew up until that moment, and now her people would know, and her fate would be sealed, she knew.

"I lost myself. I lashed out at them as if they were the ones who killed my brother. I slashed them with my claws." Tears started streaming down her eyes, her voice became more and more distressed as she spoke. The council and all of the surrounding Wookiees save for Echobe gasped, whispering turned into yells of outrage and astonishment. The council themselves couldn't hide their contempt. All but Echobe glared and scowled at her, and the council did nothing to restore order. Echobe kept his head low and stood by Makaashyya. The horrible name of Madclaw started rippling through the crowd, Makaashyya cried into her hands.

"I killed them," she continued, as if pleading to an angry god for forgiveness. "I killed them in the most unimaginable way possible, and I left them there to bleed onto the floor as we escaped the prison." Makaashyya paused again, swallowed hard and continued despite everyone's raised, angered voices.

"We made it to the hangar, but we were fired upon. Gethzerion was injured, and I alone made it onto the shuttle after killing one Imperial officer, and knocking another unconscious. I left Gethzerion behind after a laser cannon had struck her, throwing her against the wall, leaving her bloodied and unmoving, and then the cannon turned on the shuttle. The Imperial pilot still sitting in his seat started screaming at me that the ship was going to be destroyed, so I made the Imperial pilot take us off planet. I left Gethzerion there to die. We were the last ones to leave. The planet was quarantined. The Imperial pilot's superior ordered him to Tatooine and to forget that the prison ever existed, so we went to Tatooine. I didn't know what else to do. When we arrived, I killed him and his unconscious friend. I left them there as well."

Makaashyya recounted the details of the deal she made with Nes, of Nes' betrayal and when she first met Echobe, their escape and Echobe taking her in. She told them of her betrayal of Echobe and the Alliance, and the murders she committed at the tavern, and of her siding with the Empire secretly in order to capture Echobe and those under his command. Makaashyya hesitated to speak any words that may have given her sympathy. She stopped trying to plead with the council to make them understand, she only recounted the facts, coldly. Makaashyya could feel the anger of the council and the spectators seething at her.

"I betrayed him," she said over and over as her voice died away. She looked up at Echobe who looked back at her with pity and love, abstract of what was flowing throughout the building. "Echobe escaped my attack upon his base, but many of his personnel did not, and those who didn't were sent to a secret prison. All the prisoners I captured were taken to this secret prison, I later found out." Everyone went silent again as Makaashyya recounted the sorry ledger of her fall to the dark side. They were even more astonished at the sight of her eyes, and how they had changed. It was evil and unnatural, and served as physical evidence of the dark side with her.

"Echobe brought me back into the light. He saved me," Makaashyya plead to everyone surrounding. "He risked everything to bring me back from the abyss, so I agreed to help him find and destroy this prison. We did, and I agreed to come here and face trial as I am now. I am at your mercy." Makaashyya held her bound hands up before her in supplication. Echobe took her hands in his. Everyone gasped and was repulsed by Echobe's compassion for the evil Madclaw sitting before them. The council leaned into each other and whispered, each looking in turns upon Echobe and Makaashyya. Makaashyya and Echobe's eyes were locked as they prepared for their fate.

The wait seemed as forever. It was not how Echobe wished to return to Kashyyyk. He wished to come back with the destruction of the Empire, to help rebuild his world, he hoped to be received as a true Wookiee of Kashyyyk. The turn of events, finding Makaashyya had turned everything on its head, but Echobe accepted it nonetheless. He was all that she had left, Echobe knew, and he would risk nothing to take that away from her after all that she had lost. The wait for the verdict gave the critical moment in time to help the two Wookiees realize how much they cared for each other. Feelings they had both ignored and pushed aside to fight against, and eventually for each other came clearly into their view.

The council finished delegating.

"Makaashyya," began the leader of the council, an elder Wookiee, and paused for a moment to consider. Echobe's parents sitting at the council table held hands, and looked upon their foster child with sadness. The pained expressions on their faces told him what was coming. Echobe lifted his head and braced himself. Makaashyya did not look at the council. She instead stared at the floor. She stood, releasing Echobe's hand.

"Makaashyya." The Wookiee council leader said again. "By your own admission, you are guilty of the crimes of a Madclaw, murder, betrayal, and of consorting with the Oppressors against your own people. Though Echobe's desire to suffer a part of your fate for his support for you, the council will be lenient for Echobe's sake." The council leader paused as if he throat tried to fight back the words he had to speak. "You will be forever known as Madclaw. Sparing you the penalty of death simply because of Echobe's support of you. Therefore you both are banished from Kashyyyk forevermore. Even upon your deaths you will not be honored among Wookiee dead. You are banished in life and death from Kashyyyk. Go back to your ship, and be gone from this place." The leader of the council slammed his fist onto the table before him.

There were some angered jeers and hushed cheers from the crowd. The council all stood at once and slowly filed out of the building. Echobe's foster parents went to walk towards him, but Echobe halted them by putting his hand up to stop them. He smiled at them with love and grasped Makaashyya's hand. Makaashyya's eyes seemed empty and she continued to stare at the floor. The fate that was given to her was far more painful than the death she expected and partly hoped for. She had gotten Echobe banished for his compassion, betraying him again. Her own banishment she could have lived with, but what was decided was far too painful. She collapsed to the ground, begging the council to reconsider their decision for Echobe, but they ignored her, everyone ignored her. She may as well have been a ghost calling out to the living for help. She was shunned, as Echobe was. They were both effectively Madclaws and dead in the eyes of Wookiees, though Makaashyya carried the true title.

Echobe picked Makaashyya up from the floor, but she crumpled in his arms. Echobe forced her to walk. Makaashyya sobbed. Her heart broken again the same as the day Syymbacca died. She hollered back at the council and the leaving crowd, "Forgive him! Forgiveness! Please!"

All went ignored.

Echobe took one last glance back at his foster parents and smiled at them, and then drug Makaashyya from the building forcing her to walk back the way they came, back to the lift.

The walk was done in silence. Echobe had not yet grasped what he was sentenced to. Makaashyya cried and cried as she walked behind Echobe, too ashamed to be in his line of sight. Her face was streaked in tears again. She could not imagine feeling so much pain, and not be numb to it yet. When they arrived back at the lift, Echobe activated it and they descended to the forest floor. Echobe later regretted not taking in each sensation, each smell and sight in as his last, he was almost delirious and wished he could have spent more time at home.

Makaashyya crumpled at his feet grasping onto his legs, begging for his forgiveness.

"I didn't know," she cried. "I'm so sorry. Please forgive me." Her pleas came in sob-choked gasps. "I didn't mean for this to happen."

Echobe knelt to her and lifted her face to meet his. He looked her in the eyes, and spoke to her as much with his voice as with his mind.

"This is how things must be. This place is not my home, and it's not yours either. Everything is going to be okay." Echobe said with robotic seriousness, cold and matter-of-factly, but doing his best to make Makaashyya believe in spite of himself.

Makaashyya stood and wiped her eyes, doing her best to halt her heaving chest and sobbing. The lift hit the forest floor and they stepped off. Makaashyya walked behind Echobe. She could hear the thoughts racing through his mind. He was taking in, for memory, the pulse of life around them, taking one last picture as if for his mind to see. As they approached the ship, L7 lowered the entrance and they stepped in. Small jungle rodents scurried away from the ship as it came alive. Makaashyya waited at the bottom of the ship's platform hesitant to step inside, unsure if she was welcome. She wanted to run into the jungle and let the wilderness take her. She wanted to die for what she had done to Echobe.

"It's time to stop running, Makaashyya." Echobe said to her before the thought could run its course through her mind. "Let's go, we have work to do still." Echobe beckoned for Makaashyya to board the ship. She reluctantly walked inside and closed the platform behind her. Makaashyya followed behind Echobe into the cockpit where L7 waited. Echobe, not wanting to linger and allow regret to take hold, powered up the thrusters and they blasted off lifting up and away from the jungle floor, over the canopy, into the atmosphere and towards the blockade, away from Kashyyyk and into exile. Echobe used the same clearance codes that he used to enter to escape the planet one final time back to Mon Calamari.

The trip back to Mon Calamari was as quiet as was their walk through the jungle back to the Starscream. When reaching the watery planet, they descended into the hangar and landed. Guards were standing by near the Starscream's landing bay. Bilebelch could be seen from the cockpit sleeping in a pit he had dug for himself on the beach. Echobe walked out with Makaashyya, her wrists were already bound of her own doing. Mon Mothma arrived as Echobe was walking off the ship. The Alliance leader halted the guards for a brief moment to speak with the shunned Wookiee.

"I see my trust in you was not misplaced, Echobe. Please, come to my office so we may discuss what happened," said Mon Mothma and then walked away, seeming to glide in her gentle walk. The Alliance guards then stepped forward and without harshness, took Makaashyya from Echobe's side. He smiled at the Wookiee girl, and she smiled back. Echobe reluctantly left Makaashyya to the Alliance guards and went to meet with Mon Mothma in her office.

The Alliance leader was a little surprised that Echobe had returned as promised from Kashyyyk, thinking Echobe may have allowed Makaashyya's escape, or that she would have been taken into custody by her own people. Echobe explained to the ever-patient Alliance leader about the council meeting, of Makaashyya's trial, and of the council's decision to exile them both as Madclaws. He explained that they were both considered dead to the Wookiee people, and they were never to set foot on Kashyyyk again. Echobe told his story with as little emotion as he could to hide the pain. Mon Mothma listened intently and silently, but the sympathy could be seen in her eyes. Echobe then quickly changed the subject not wishing to think of what had happened any longer, just wanting to move on to the next objective.

"There is still one more laboratory out there that we know of," Echobe began, not letting Mon Mothma offer any words of hope, or condolence, "and Makaashyya is the best chance we have of finding it. I need her help to end this. Please give her a chance, let me be done with it."

Mon Mothma hesitated, but she was fully trusting of Echobe's loyalties and commitment to his cause, and realizing that his very reason for leaving Kashyyyk had resulted in his exile from the home he wished to save.

"Very well, Echobe. She is under your direct supervision. I still have not decided whether or not she will face a tribunal. Take what supplies and personnel you may need, be discreet and careful. We cannot afford such losses as with Desco and all of those aboard. The Empire will stop at nothing, even genocide. Be vigilant and may the force be with you."

Echobe, though stung by Mon Mothma's words of caution, bowed and thanked her. He wasted no time and went to the brig to gather Makaashyya. When Echobe arrived the same two Alliance guards were watching over her. Makaashyya was sitting on her cell bed, her head lowered. Echobe reached under his coat and pulled out Makaashyya's lightsaber. He then informed the Alliance guards of their orders, and they proceeded to unlock the cell to allow Echobe in to bring the ancient lightsaber up before the recoiling Wookiee on the bed. Makaashyya looked at the lightsaber with indifferent eyes. She let her feelings have control for a few moments, but watched over them like a sentry to see for herself if her impulse to kill, to turn back to the dark side would overwhelm her again.

It didn't.

Makaashyya hesitated, almost scared to touch the weapon, fearing it would somehow make her revert to what she once was, but the look on Echobe's face of pride and compassion broke down her resistance. Echobe held it closer to her, and she reluctantly accepted it, rolled it around in her hands a few times, and attached it to her belt. In a strange way, she felt whole, like a missing piece of her body had been reattached. Despite the deaths that the weapon had assisted the young force user in, its presence was uplifting to her.

"We have to find the last prison. Mon Mothma has agreed to put you under my responsibility, and we may be able to win you sympathy with an Alliance tribunal."

Makaashyya nodded, but she didn't really believe, nor was she concerned for any possible sympathy for herself, she was worried for the Echobe who had sacrificed everything for her. Makaashyya stood at attention and faced Echobe with a weak but sincere smile, and nodded.

"Now we find Zav-halis Nij," said Echobe as he turned and started walking back towards the hangar. Makaashyya followed and slowly caught up to stand by Echobe's side, her hand brushing against his.

The two Wookiees walked out into the hangar and ignored any looks that were thrown at Makaashyya. Bilebelch was splashing around in the ocean surrounding the hangar, and several Alliance personnel were standing at the shore, beckoning timidly for the creature to return to the Starscream, but the rancor ignored them blissfully. But when Bilebelch sensed Echobe's presence, the rancor ran out of the ocean towards Echobe with glee, totally unconcerned for the battle to come. Water sloshed off of the creature in buckets, drenching the Alliance personnel that tried in vain to rein the beast in. The rancor ran up to Echobe and skidded to a stop on all fours. Echobe petted the animal on its snout, spoke to him with his mind and with a pat on his head, Bilebelch excitedly ran back into the Starscream almost knocking over various crates, droids and Alliance personnel on the way.

Yaminul spotted Echobe and approached him. L7 was with the weary Alliance soldier.

"The data from Tatooine has been uploaded to the Starscream," said Yaminul, not looking at Makaashyya as she stood behind Echobe.

"We still have the body of Banthsas?" Echobe asked.

"It's in the morgue, why?"

"We'll need it. We'll also need an Imperial shuttle. Banthsas feels the need to report in to Zav-Halis Nij." Echobe said sarcastically. Yaminul's eyes widened, knowing what plan was brewing in his friends head.

"And where is this Imp?" asked Yaminul with doubt.

Echobe knowingly looked to Makaashyya, and she then looked to Yaminul.

"He's on the Executor," she said.

Yaminul's eyes widened.

The Executor. The flagship of Darth Vader, and the last place anyone, Alliance or Imperial would want to go.

"You must be kidding. We'll be caught, if not killed outright." Yaminul raised his voice in exasperation.

"That's possible," Echobe responded nonchalantly.

"Especially with Wookiees on board," Yaminul added.

"Exactly," Echobe said with indifference.

Yaminul looked Echobe in the eyes and worry threatened to overwhelm the Alliance soldier.

"What do you plan?" Yaminul asked, unable to discern exactly what Echobe had in mind.

Echobe smiled.

"You'll use Banthsas' uniform to get in. You've gotten good at play-acting. Tell them that your orders are explicitly for Zav-halis Nij's ears only. If, and hopefully when, they take you to him, explain to him that the prison on Tatooine was ambushed and destroyed, and that you barely made it out alive.

"Gee, should be easy." Yaminul raised his hands in the air with frustration.

Echobe continued, ignoring Yaminul.

"Say that you found the body of a Wookiee inside the prison. Makaashyya," Echobe looked to the Wookiee girl, "will play dead. Are you capable of being dead?"

Makaashyya nodded and smiled back.

Echobe continued.

"We have some details of the Executor's schematics don't we? While you are speaking with Zav-Halis, Makaashyya will escape from wherever they move her to and she will have to disable the power and the radar for as long as she can so I can pick you guys up in the Starscream." Yaminul looked at Echobe with disbelief as Echobe expanded his plan, but he was unable to even mutter an argument against it.

"After she has done that, you will need to suppress Zav-Halis Nij and bring him to the hangar, and hopefully," Yaminul rolled his eyes, "there will be a fair amount of confusion. Makaashyya will find you via locator beacon. You two will go back to the hangar, program the Imperial shuttle to take off as a distraction, while I pick you up and take off. Bilebelch and I will create an extra diversion if necessary. If all goes well, we'll be back to Mon Calamari before the day ends." Echobe smiled again, clearly satisfied with his idea.

Yaminul looked at Echobe, mouth agape, and speechless. Makaashyya stood behind Echobe with a confident nod and smirk.

"I hope you know what you do." Yaminul said after a few moments. Echobe smugly nodded with his eyes closed.

"Gather up the necessary supplies, get that Imperial uniform and ID. Requisition an Imperial shuttle. You'll have to batter yourself up a bit Yaminul, to make it look like you escaped." Echobe reached over and ruffled up Yaminul's blond hair, to which Echobe received a sharp slap to the hand and some cursing in Yaminul's native language that Echobe didn't understand.

Makaashyya stopped herself from laughing. Despite Yaminul's doubts, she was ready and willing to go along with any idea Echobe had, even if it was suicide, she thought it necessary.

Echobe left Yaminul to ponder what he was in for. A short while later, Yaminul delegated, and ordered up the necessary supplies. Yaminul was offered a battle worn, and just plain worn-out Imperial shuttle, and with L7 and Makaashyya in the shuttle, and Echobe with Bilebelch in the Starscream they wasted no time and took off towards the last known coordinates of the Executor, according to Alliance reports, within in the Hoth system.

Chapter 5

Yaminul, once again acting as an Imperial officer, and Makaashyya acting as a dead Wookiee captive, left for the last known position of the Executor; the Imperial Flagship commanded by Darth Vader that was supposed to be in Hoth space. Echobe followed closely behind to take refuge in the nearby asteroids field to wait for the signal to proceed with his part.

While Echobe waited in the Starscream waiting for a signal beacon to be activated, Makaashyya put herself into a near death sleep within the cargo hold of the Imperial shuttle, the common triple-winged white Imperial shuttle. It was an aged and battered thing, and scorched by Alliance blaster fire during its capture.

Yaminul was in no hurry to rush to where Darth Vader was believed to be, so he flew slowly towards the capital ship. Yaminul knew that the dark lord of the Empire could very well be on the wedge-shaped ship, and Makaashyya knew she didn't have the ability to face such an opponent. So she put herself into the dead-like sleep and let go of all thought and time to hide her presence. It was as if being in suspended animation, in hibernation, totally unaware of anything going around her.

Yaminul sped up as he got closer to the Executor, not wanting to show any kind of hesitation. The huge ship engulfed his entire view outside the shuttle before he was even within firing range. He swallowed hard with anxiety, and looked back at Makaashyya lying in the back of the shuttle. Yaminul uncomfortably fidgeted with his Imperial uniform that once belonged to Makaashyya's former commander, and he was sweating far too much for comfort constantly wiping his brow and adjusting the air-conditioning on the shuttle, and doing his best to look proper and adopt the typical arrogant demeanor of an Imperial officer that, to his own surprise, he was able to pull off when he had faced Makaashyya. But Yaminul' greatest fear was the possible presence of Darth Vader. The arrival of the dark lord would surely end any hope for the operation of succeeding. Yaminul had no delusions that any of them had a prayer on a star of defeating him. And with Makaashyya effectively dead to the world, he had no backup. Yaminul hoped that they would just take his word at face value and obey his orders, and take Makaashyya straight to the morgue. Just then another thought troubled him.

"Would they just eject her into space?"

He continued to sweat, and turn up the air-conditioning.

The Executor hailed the small Imperial shuttle. Yaminul was wise enough to answer immediately knowing he had dozens of laser cannons zeroed in on him the moment he became a blip on the Destroyer's radar.

"This is Colonel Banthsas Mur," Yaminul responded, "returning from Tatooine to report directly to Zav-Halis Nij." Yaminul flinched in spite of himself for being so direct, and near panic set in, thinking he had just ruined everything. Yaminul kept his hand hovering over the nav-computer to make the calculations for lightspeed as quick as possible if they decided to start firing.

A moment of silence passed, and Yaminul sweated some more.

"Shuttle Zabraxis, please hold position and wait for landing clearance."

"Zabraxis?" Yaminul said to himself. "Would have been nice to know that." Yaminul kept his hand in place over the nav-computer and looked back at Makaashyya lying motionless. Yaminul had grown tired of the short waits where survival hung in the balance, the little waits that were in abundance when around Echobe.

"Shuttle Zabraxis, Zav-Halis Nij has been informed and will meet you in hangar 5B."

"Acknowledged." Yaminul cut the radio off and breathed a sigh of relief, and shook his head as if he had been holding his breath the entire time, and he had been. Yaminul banked the shuttle into landing bay 5B as instructed, and landed rather roughly, scraping the deck with the skids. He looked out of the cockpit at the hangar as it stretched out in all directions, and crawling with Imperial stormtroopers, droids, and security cameras. Being in the presence of the grandeur of the Empire, inside the flagship, was intimidating, and it took all that Yaminul could muster to not sweat himself even soggier. Yaminul lowered the platform, programmed the shuttle to act as a decoy when they attempted their escape, grabbed one of the remotes to the shuttle, and walked out with as much air of confidence and dignity as he could muster. A small group of Imperial stormtroopers quickly flanked him on either side of the platform. An Imperial officer then approached him.

The officer stood at attention and nodded, Yaminul nodded back.

"Banthsas Mur?" asked the Imperial.

"Zav-Halis Nij?" asked Yaminul in turn. They both nodded again. "We must speak," started Yaminul, "but first I have a dead prisoner aboard, evidence. It must remain on board the ship until I have decided what to do with the remains." Yaminul said, as a spur of the moment decision thinking it safer and easier for Makaashyya to escape the shuttle. Zav-Halis waved the concern away.

"Let us speak somewhere more private then," continued Zav-Halis, and he started walking towards a door on the far side of the hangar, and to the left of the shuttle that sealed the interior halls of the ship off from the hangar. Together, both officers walked to the door and then down a long run of hallway meters from the hangar door, and then they entered an unmarked office secluded from the others. No one else was inside, and there were no security cameras.

"You can speak freely here, there is no surveillance," said Zav-Halis, as he went to sit at his desk.

Back inside the shuttle, Makaashyya was just coming out of her self-induced coma. She squinted her eyes and noticed that she was alone in the dark. She thought at first that it was the morgue, but a flash of memory came to her of the first time she ever stepped inside an Imperia shuttle and she then realized where she was, but she quickly shut out the rest of the memory. She wondered why she was not inside the morgue, or why she wasn't take off the shuttle. She hoped that things hadn't already gone wrong, but it was comforting that the shuttle was unmolested, and she hadn't been disturbed. She assumed and hoped for the best. The platform was still lowered, and she could hear the chaotic noise of the busy hangar outside.

She held her head in her hands for a few moments and focused her energies, and then stood up. She checked for her lightsaber on her belt, and then found the beacon hidden on her body. Makaashyya went to the open platform and peaked out. Stormtroopers flanked the ship on both sides. She then called up her powers, and looked at their minds. They were obedient, young and impressionable, but not entirely foolish. Using her powers, she entered into each of the stormtroopers minds and did her best to cloud their vision, and blur her image from their mind. She hoped that she had not lost her abilities since turning her back to the dark side. She concentrated a few moments, and when she was confident that she had done all that she could, she entered into the shadows and exited the ship, ducking underneath the lowered platform, and then she ran as fast as she could to a grouping of cargo crates about a hundred feet away from the shuttle. She bumped the crates harder than she expected, the unintentional noise stopped her heart, making her breath stop in her throat. She waited for someone to investigate, but a minute passed and nothing happened. She then located an access vent and ducked into it, letting out a sigh of relief safely inside the darkness of the ventilation system. She then began trying to find her way to the power conduits that powered that section of the ship by the schematics that she had read from the Starscream's computers.

"Freely then," said Yaminul, placing his hands behind his back trying not to expose the sweat stains underneath his arms. "The prison was discovered."

The Imperial behind the desk squinted his eyes and folded his hands into a triangle before him.

"Discovered?" Zav-Halis said with doubt.

"Yes." Yaminul's voice faulted as spittle clogged his throat, and he fought from clearing it. "During a prisoner transfer. My top lieutenant was captured and tortured until the rebels discovered the location."

"Your lieutenant?" said the Imperial standing before Yaminul with eyes that seemed to pierce his story to its lying heart. Zav-Halis unfolded his hands and placed them palms down on the desk, leaning his weight forward. Anger creased his brow. Yaminul flinched, knowing he had done something wrong.

"You were assigned to keep the prison under total secrecy." Zav-Halis said with a boiling rage. "You were ordered to kill anyone who knew of the complex outside of your staff within the prison and yourself," he went on.

Yaminul unfolded his hands from behind his back defensively.

"If we were not aboard the Executor, I would dispose of you here and now!" threatened the Zav-Halis. "Do you have any idea what high command would do to any one of us had they known we were conducting such an operation without their knowledge and consent!" Zav-Halis stood from his desk. "Do you know how many credits I had to secure for this project?" His voice crescendoed. Zav-Halis reached under his desk while glaring at Yaminul. "I will not suffer the consequences of your foolishness."

The ventilation system was clearly not designed for Wookiees, Makaashyya thought. If not for Makaashyya's fur, a furless, sweaty human would have been sticking to the smooth metal walls of the ventilation shaft. She was doing her best to squeeze through the ever shrinking passage hopefully to reach a, or get as close as possible to, where the power conduits would be according to the schematics that she hoped were accurate. Makaashyya traveled for what seemed like miles before she reached the point where she had to cut through the wall of the vent shaft to reach the power conduits.

She squeezed her hand to her side and grasped her lightsaber with her fingers and activated it above her head. Then bringing the crimson blade down, she began to cut diagonally into the wall. The lightsaber didn't pass through as easily as she expected, but still it cut fairly quickly. She cut an oval shaped hole, and flung herself out and into the room that was almost completely devoid of light save for the sparse twinkling of electrical equipment filling the room like starts in the night sky. She could feel a draft and that told her that the room was much larger than the schematics detailed. She started making her way along the grated floor, feeling with her feet, and watching the lights blinking all around her in some unknown sequence until she reached the far wall meters from the hole she had cut. After feeling around on the wall and making her best guess as to the location of the power conduits beyond, she pointed the lightsaber at the wall to cut a final hole into the thick steel that was far thicker than the vent shaft, taking several strokes and the removal of several heavy pieces to reach the conduits hiding behind. She peered inside the hole she had just made, and could hear a constant, electrical hum like the buzzing of a hive of smothered insects. She reached inside and felt huge tubular structures forming another wall that were the conduits.

Makaashyya hoped that it was what she was looking for, and that the schematics were correct as she drew her lightsaber back to swing as hard as she could into the conduits, at the same time readying her mind for the sequence of events that would follow the violent reaction of the severed power, and hoping all the while that Yaminul had completed his task on schedule. The shut down of the lights was the intended signal to Yaminul to move forward with the plan.

Just as Makaashyya's muscles jerked to swing the lightsaber forward a droid sprung from the shadows and grabbed her from behind like a spidery predator, knocking the lightsaber from her hands to clatter to the floor, deactivating the blade and snuffing out the most significant light in the room, and nearly falling off of the grate to the unknown depth below. The unseen droid grasped Makaashyya's limbs and wrestled with her. She grabbed at what she thought was its head in an attempt to rip it off, then something sharp pierced her abdomen and quickly pulled out, rearing back for another stab. Blood started to flow from her punctured side.

Zav-Halis reached and activated a silent alarm underneath his desk. Yaminul dropped all pretenses and pulled his small blaster that he had concealed under his uniform, and leveled it at the Imperial.

"What do you think you're doing?" shouted Zav-Halis as he started to slowly raise his hands.

"I figure if you want dispose of me, I may as well beat you to it." Yaminul stepped towards the Imperial and jerked the blaster at him in a come hither motion. Zav-Halis reluctantly obeyed. Yaminul was unsure how much time he had. He sweated profusely, his finger slipped on the trigger. He then fumbled with a small explosive from his pocket, and placed it on the door. Yaminul then grabbed the Imperial and stood behind him, using Zav-Halis as a shield from the blast. Before the Imperial had a chance to protest, Yaminul activated the small explosive via a detonator. The small but powerful explosion went off and sent a hard shockwave through the walls and the floor, and blasted the door from its moorings. Immediately, the general alarm sounded, red lights started flashing drowning out the normal lighting. Yaminul pushed the Imperial forward into the cloud of smoke and debris, ducking through the mangled door and started running down the hall with his blaster to the Imperial's back.

Makaashyya felt the droid rear back to stab again, its aim precise. She looked around frantically for her lightsaber, but couldn't locate it. She grabbed its spidery legs, and pulled them from her body as the bladed arm came at her. The droid loosened just slightly. Makaashyya used that moment and summoned the force and pushed the droid off of her and inadvertently sent it flying with more force than she had intended. The helpless droid flew across the room, synthetic voice screaming, into the hole she had just cut into the wall where the power conduits were. The droid slammed into the power conduits like the boulders Makaashyya had been taught to throw by Gethzerion on Dathomir. The metal tubes housing the electrical wires tore, exposing bare wires beneath. The electricity that erupted from the pipes sent the droid into frenzy, activating all of its servos in a rancorous flailing, puncturing more conduits and sending more sparks into the air, temporarily blinding Makaashyya with a flash of lightning-like blue light.

Electricity arched out of the conduits and lit up the entire room with a blue, moonlight-like strobe. Makaashyya, barely able to see, but just enough to see the shining of her lightsaber, called it to her. She used the other hand to cover the wound on her side that flowed freely.

Just as hundreds of Imperial personnel, stormtroopers, and officers, and even droids started pouring out into the hall reacting autonomously to the alert, the lights all at once shut off like an eclipse, plunging that section of the Executor into darkness.

Yaminul pulled out his communicator, and using the small light emanating from its display, he found Zav-Halis Nij who was on the floor having tripped when the lights went out. Yaminul grabbed him by the neck of his uniform, and jabbed the blaster into the small of the Imperial's back forcing him to stand. In a desperate balancing act, Yaminul guided Zav-Halis through the hallway with the small interface of his communicator over the shoulder of the Imperial, while keeping the blaster jammed into his back. Yaminul pushed Zav-Halis as quickly as he could, desperately trying not to trip and fall in the chaos and make it to the door and back to the hangar.

The hangar door was half-open. Imperials were trying to pass through the half-closed door pushing and shoving in what seemed like a panic. Yaminul and Zav-Halis squeezed through in the confusion. An alarm sounded ship wide, and battery powered emergency lights lit sparse, but vital walkways through the hangar. There was so much confusion that no one took notice of two Imperials stumbling towards a lone shuttle with its platform extended. The guard surrounding it had disappeared. Yaminul then activated his beacon.

Makaashyya activated her beacon to signal Echobe. She staggered, still trying to hold her gaping wound as she limped to the ventilation shaft she had entered through. She kicked a twitching, blood-covered arm of the droid out of her way. She then climbed into the hastily cut hole in the shaft, and started squirming her way through. It was completely dark, forcing her to travel by memory, and she had to let go of her wound and use both hands to crawl her way through. The passage seemed smaller, threatening to collapse in on her. The blood flowing over her fur was quickly drying making her stick to the metal tube. After what seemed like forever since she had started her trek, she emerged from the entrance to the ventilation shaft, but lacking the strength to jump down. She tried to lower herself as far as she could, but her blood covered hand made her lose her grip, and she fell to the floor. Her breathing labored, and her vision blurring, she looked for the shuttle hoping to see Yaminul, and if they were really lucky, Echobe and the Starscream at any moment.

Yaminul, with the help of the emergency lights, saw a form fall from a shaft in the wall next to the shuttle, and onto the ground. Yaminul pushed the Zav-Halis towards it and saw Makaashyya looking back at him from the floor where she landed, a smile growing on her face. Yaminul couldn't help but smile himself.

Zav-Halis tried to struggle, but Yaminul hit him over the head and knocked the Imperial senseless and let him fall to the floor next to Makaashyya. He then went to the wounded Wookiee and they both revealed their blinking beacons to each other, and smiled even wider at one another hoping that Echobe had heard the signal. Yaminul sat at Makaashyya's side and did his best to stop the bleeding as they waited partially hidden by the cargo crates. Yaminul then pulled out the shuttle's remote ready to activate the pre-programmed shuttle to take off the moment Echobe arrived. That's when a small group of stormtroopers ran by. Yaminul and Makaashyya huddled into the shadows as best they could, but one stormtrooper noticed them and stopped in his tracks. He didn't immediately level his blaster at them, but instead was a little perplexed by what he saw; an unconscious Imperial officer lying at the feet of another Imperial officer who was tending to a wounded Wookiee.

The stormtrooper cocked his head in animal-like confusion, and then leveled his blaster at the strange trio. Yaminul feebly tossed aside his small blaster and raised his hands in hesitant surrender. Makaashyya raised her one hand, keeping the other over her wound. They moved as slow as possible hoping for Echobe to arrive. Several more stormtroopers stopped to look at the spectacle, and all went through the same phase of confusion at what they saw, and then leveled their blasters.

"I'm sorry," Makaashyya said in a whisper.

She blamed herself. She felt that had she not gotten hurt and needed Yaminul's help they would not have been seen. Yaminul dismissed her concern, knowing what the Wookiee girl was thinking.

"You cut the power, and did your part. I told Echobe it wasn't very good idea, like all his other ideas. I'm surprised that I lived this long around him," Yaminul said jokingly.

"Stand up!" ordered the first stormtrooper who had spotted them. Yaminul stood slowly and steadily, and reached out for Makaashyya to help her stand.

An explosion threw them back to their feet. Yaminul hit the floor hard, and Makaashyya came down on top of him, the unconscious Zav-Halis slid across the floor. It was like an angry whirlwind entered the hangar, blowing everyone in the near vicinity off their feet. Spinning out of the vortex was the Starscream that then landed in a skid towards the shuttle, its platform lowered.

The bleeding Wookiee and the stunned Yaminul recovered as quickly as they could just in time to see the clawed fingers of a rancor reaching out of the Starscream, proceeded by a gaping mouth full of teeth, and a roar that would have made the hardiest of Imperial stormtrooper's soil their armor.

Bilebelch almost flew out from the Starscream, lunging from the ship and landing surefooted on the deck. His dark, beady eyes and acute sense of smell was easily able to locate the prone forms of Yaminul and Makaashyya. The rancor ran on all fours, knocking aside any would be Imperial attackers like they were tumbleweeds, and scattering them across the deck. Blaster fire lit up the hangar like fireworks opening up with a single volley from hundreds of confused stormtroopers in bolts of red. Bolts struck, and rebounded off of the rancor's armored hide, the rancor wouldn't have bothered to notice even if they did penetrate. The animalistic tenacity to capture his targets overcame him. Droids, docked TIE fighters, stormtroopers; nothing could stop him.

Bilebelch skidded to a stop, his claws digging gouges into the deck, his great bulk shielding his charges from any blaster bolts. One sweep with Bilebelch's long arms threw aside the stormtroopers that stood between him, and Makaashyya and Yaminul. Yaminul stood and grabbed up the prone Zav-Halis in his arms, and Bilebelch quick to understand, stooped, allowing Yaminul to climb onto his back, and the rancor picked up the bleeding Makaashyya in his clawed hand, she was quickly losing consciousness.

In a dash, the rancor went for the Starscream with blaster bolts ricocheting off of his hide. Echobe was inside controlling the turret and shooting almost at random to cause as much confusion as he could. The hangar was in swirling chaos, stormtroopers were being thrown left and right, officers were yelling orders to try and regain control. Makaashyya was bleeding profusely and the world was beginning to dim to her eyes. Sounds were becoming muffled to her ears, like she had her head buried. She was hallucinating that she was the young Wookiee girl not yet of age, burying her young face in the chest of her brother back on Kashyyyk after waking from a nightmare. She dreamt of happier times when Syymbacca was still alive on Kashyyyk, and then everything went dark as the fighting raged around her.

The rancor stopped just before the platform of the Starscream, allowing Yaminul to drag the prone body of Zav-Halis Nij off the rancor's back to fall into Yaminul's arms, and then to drop just inside the ship. Blaster bolts threatened to kill them all as the firing started to concentrate on the saucer-shaped freighter as the fight started to take shape. Echobe then fired off a missile into a stored grouping of TIE fighters. The fragile Imperial ships exploded, flattening anyone nearby.

Yaminul scrambled to his feet after being knocked down from the blast. Bilebelch, with Makaashyya cradled in his hands, crouched back into the ship. Yaminul then pulled the remote from his pocket while grasping onto the platform's hydraulic arm, and activated the pre-programmed route of the shuttle. The platform of the shuttle retracted, and the engines kicked on.

Yaminul took a final glance at the shuttle to ensure that it was behaving as programmed when a blaster bolt finally found its mark and pierced Yaminul in the neck, knocking him onto the Starscream's platform. Blood shot out from the wound and his mouth when he hit the floor.

The world stopped for Yaminul, a veil fell over his eyes blurring all that was happening around him. The blow knocked the senses from his mind. The world shifted, everything became muted. He didn't even feel Bilebelch grab him by the Imperial uniform and drag him back onto the Starscream. The platform closed behind them.

The triple-winged, white shuttle powered up, and slowly left the deck and half-spun towards the hanger entrance revealing the gigantic arena of space waiting outside of the immense Imperial flagship, and towards the space it drifted. Blaster bolts from angered, or recovering stormtroopers bounced off of the armor of the shuttle like harmless pebbles as it glided towards the entrance and then quickened its pace the closer it got to freedom.

The Starscream also rose from the deck and quickly flew out before the Imperial shuttle. Echobe directed the Starscream to drop down like a stone caught in gravity from the hangar to avoid fire. The Imperial shuttle lagged behind in lazy surrender to its final program, serving its final mission.

The power within the Imperial flagship was redirected from the severed conduits, and the lights came back on inside the hangar. The Executor's turbo laser-cannons came online as the Starscream's nav-computer brought up the calculations for the jump. Stormtroopers scrambled to their TIE fighters. The turrets fired first on the shuttle in the vital seconds the Alliance saboteurs needed to plot a course through hyperspace back to Mon calamari. Echobe then hit the throttle sending the Starscream into hyperspace and out of the reach of the quickly recovering Imperial destroyer. The Imperial shuttle buckled to the blasts of laser cannons, and exploded into dust as the Starscream entered the hyperspace tunnel.

The interdictor gravity-well generators of the Executor failed to come online in time before the rogue ship fled. The scanners came online just after the Starscream escaped, and for the poor commander of the Executor, he eventually had to answer to the dark lord.

Echobe set the autopilot for the several hour-long journey back to Mon Calamari, and then ran from the cockpit to the loading platform. Bilebelch was hovering over three prone bodies on the floor. The rancor's bony hide bore new blasterbolt scars, but was unharmed. L7 whimpered sadly. Echobe approached Bilebelch who then stepped back revealing what he was protecting.

Echobe saw the prone body of the Imperial officer, Zav-Halis Nij, the barely conscious Makaashyya, her head lulling about in a stupor, and the whitened, blood-covered, convulsing body of Yaminul. Echobe hollered for the R2 to get medical supplies as Yaminul's body went still. The droid beeped and sped off towards the supply closet. Echobe looked at Yaminul in horror. The wound in Yaminul's neck had stopped spurting, and just oozed blood as the Starscream's artificial gravity pulled it from his body to the floor. Yaminul's eyes were frozen in a half-open stare at nothingness. His skin had gone pale, and the warmth had quickly drained from his body and felt as cold as the Starscream's floor. The remote control for the Imperial shuttle that had acted as a decoy for their escape hung limply from Yaminul's hand.

Echobe brushed Yaminul's face with his hand, and closed the soldier's eyes forever, and then Echobe went to Makaashyya. The R2 rolled quickly over to Echobe, his robotic arm full of bandages, sterile water, and blood clotting agent. Echobe spread her sericeous skin to open the wound. He then washed it out and shook the sand-like clotting agent into it, and then he lifted Makaashyya and moved her to his quarters, kicking obstacles from his path. L7 followed. Bilebelch hung over the body of Yaminul as if he were guarding it, and watched Echobe walk away with Makaashyya in his arms.

Echobe lowered the unconscious body of Makaashyya onto his bed. Her blood ran and smeared, painting the sheets. Echobe's white fur was also smeared with blood, that of Yaminul's and Makaashyya's. The Wookiee took his Ryyk Blade from his side, and in a few quick motions, shaved clean the wounded area of Makaashyya's abdomen. The bleeding had slowed as the clotting agent did its work, but Echobe couldn't tell the extent of her injuries as the blood continued to flow. He spread the wound open with his fingers, grabbing a suction tube from the little R2 droid, cleaning out any debris from the wound, and then he flushed it with water. With a small searing extension from the droid, Echobe did his best to seal the internal wound, leaving the surface wound open to watch for any more blood to flow. He put more clotting agent on the wound, and put a self-adhering bandage on. He then checked Makaashyya's pulse. Her breathing was steady as was her heart beat, and then hooked up a machine to monitor her.Echobe stood up from the bed and breathed deeply. He grabbed his face, and shook his head in despair at the cost of the mission he had planned. His friend Yaminul was dead. The last of the original group he began with, and one of the few people who could understand him, who had been with him since the beginning, and Makaashyya was injured, perhaps mortally. As the tears welled up in Echobe's eyes, a sudden burst of levity made him laugh. The thought of the reaction from Lord Vader after being told that Alliance agents had sabotaged the Imperial flagship, and escaped with an Imperial officer while causing sizable damage to numerable TIE fighters, and the hangar, and the capital ship itself compounded the storm of emotions he was feeling. Echobe dwelled on the savage retribution that would be inflicted on Vader's subordinates by the Sith Lord. Echobe felt like he was losing his mind.

He breathed deeply again, and tried to calm himself, and to remind himself that there was still more for him to do. He went back to where Bilebelch was still guarding the body of the fallen Alliance soldier and the now conscious Zav-Halis who was cowering in the corner to distance himself the hungry glare of the rancor. The Imperial quivered.

Yaminul was unmoved, still in the position Echobe had left him in. Echobe knelt at the fallen Alliance soldier's body, his friend, and took a quick glance at Zav-Halis, who was trembling in fear of being eaten. The Wookiee then looked back to Yaminul. He pushed aside the remote that hung from Yaminul's limp hand, and picked the body up from the floor. Reaching under Yaminul's head and legs further smeared even more blood, and Echobe was now covered from head to toe in the blood of his friend and Makaashyya. Echobe deadened himself to what was welling up inside of him and choked back the urge to cry. The death of anyone affected him more than he cared to admit, but he realized that it had been some time since a death affected him as much. The blurry-eyed Wookiee remembered Burmar at that moment.

Echobe took Yaminul's body to the refrigeration unit, cleaned up the blood as best he could, and wrapped it in the sheet as Burmar had wrapped Ulchewbuk, as Echobe had wrapped Burmar. Echobe lingered a few more minutes, saying a prayer over the brave soldiers body, stood up, shut the light off, and walked out leaving Yaminul in the dark. When Echobe went back to the platform, Bilebelch was less than a foot from the Imperial, pinning him against the wall. Bilebelch didn't move his eyes from the terrified human as he tried to hide his. Echobe called Bilebelch off, and approached Zav-Halis with a set of binders in his hands. Echobe looked menacing covered in blood, and did nothing to pacify the Imperial's fear. Echobe tossed the binders to Zav-Halis. He flinched like he was going to be struck, but opened his eyes when the blow never came. He quickly took the hint and put the binders tightly onto his wrists.

Echobe made a come hither motion to the Imperial, and Zav-Halis obediently stood and carefully scaled the ship wall away from the rancor and to Echobe. Echobe moved Zav-Halis to the lounge and prodded him to sit down. Echobe then bound the Imperial to the chair. Zav-Halis was unusually quiet without a tapped mouth; he had no insults or threats to offer. Zav-Halis had stopped trembling, but still looked just as fearful as before. He just looked forward with not even the typical upright look of arrogance on his face, just a sweat covered brow, and pale expression like he too had been drained of blood. Had Echobe not have been grieving, he may have noticed, but he was too worried about Makaashyya, and he was mourning his friend, regretting having brought any one of them. Though, he was thankful that Bilebelch wasn't harmed, and could hardly imagine what he would have done if the animal too had been wounded or killed. Echobe banished the thoughts from his mind before the fear could find purchase.

Echobe went to his quarters where Makaashyya lay sleeping, still breathing steadily. She was stable, but still unconscious. Echobe checked her vitals one final time.

Zav-Halis stopped Echobe by breaking his silence.

"You are after our experimental program aren't you?" asked Zav-Halis. Echobe stopped in his tracks and turned around to face the Imperial. Echobe looked at the sweat-covered officer, crossed his arms over his chest and waited, lifting his eyebrows impatiently. Zav-Halis looked to the ground in thought, then continued.

"So you know of what has been happening?"

Echobe nodded.

Zav-Halis paused again, preparing himself. Echobe just watched him, expressionless.

"It wasn't my idea. It was my CO's idea. It was his brainchild, and he called up his closest allies in the Empire to do it. He was rabidly anti-alien, he hated them all. It was his idea to find a way to make them more useful to the Empire besides slave labor. He wanted to remake them into an entirely new species of the Empire's own, so he tasked us with setting up prisons, locations, and hiding the appropriations for them. No one outside of our group knew anything about it."

Zav-Halis breathed, as if he were relieved to be telling his secret.

"We were scared to let anyone else find out, we didn't want to be associated in any way if they were ever discovered, I didn't want my family to find out either. The Emperor and Lord Vader's vengeance would be terrible if he were to discover what we had done without his permission. It will be terrifying enough to know what will happen to the commanders on the Executor for allowing rebels to infiltrate. I cannot go back now. I will tell you everything I know, the location of the laboratory, anything. I cannot go back to the Empire now." Zav-Halis lowered his head in shame, but whether it was genuine Echobe didn't care, nor did he care about the Zav-Halis' plight. All that he cared about was destroying the last of the prisons for good.

Echobe didn't say anything. He wasn't sure that the Imperial would understand him anyways, so he went to the cockpit and grabbed a recorder, and went back to Zav-Halis, activated the recorder, and set it down on top of the round table in front of him. Zav-Halis nodded and began to recount everything as he had promised.

Zav-Halis spoke into the recorder his full confession, and the location of the last prison, a large mobile base that was cloaked, and that once orbited Corellia. But when word reached the conspiring Imperial's that a small band of Alliance had discovered the program a cloaking device was installed and the mobile base moved into orbit around Kashyyyk.

Echobe couldn't believe it, and was astonished that he had quite possibly passed it on his way there for Makaashyya's trial. Zav-Halis went on to explain that it was the main base of operations where the entire program originated. The commanding officer, Zav-Halis' superior, that he spoke of delegated authority to all the other prisons. It was the largest and oldest installation, and since Burmar and Echobe had started to meddle in Imperial affairs, it quickly became the best protected. Zav-Halis explained that it had since been reinforced, and remained cloaked and was in the shadow of the planet, only de-cloaking when giving landing clearance for transports carrying more prisoners or supplies.

Some time passed as Zav-Halis confessed to the recorder. Echobe then saw out of the corner of his eye Makaashyya looking out from Echobe's quarters. She had been listening the entire time. The lines of wires connecting her to monitoring devices were still connected. She stood holding her hand over the bandaged wound. She looked ill, either by the Imperial's confession or loss of blood Echobe couldn't tell. Echobe quickly went to her. She went limp in his arms when he reached her, and Echobe walked her back to the bed. He turned the light on, and checked her vitals and her wound. The R2 beeped happily as it noticed that the Wookiee girl was conscious. Makaashyya stopped Echobe's worrisome checking and asked about Yaminul. Echobe could only shake his head, and she quickly understood that Yaminul was gone.

"I'm sorry," she said mutedly. Echobe silenced her with a wave of his hand and stroked her forehead. His fur and hers were still covered in blood that had dried and turned brown, but they paid it no attention, they only saw each other. Echobe released his hold on Makaashyya and then went back to the Imperial who had stopped talking, but his head remained lowered. Echobe picked up the recorder and put it in his pocket. Zav-Halis leaned back into the chair and consigned himself to the agreement he had made with Echobe. L7 rolled back into Echobe's quarters where Makaashyya had laid back down to doze off into a blood-loss induced sleep. Echobe then went to the cockpit and sat there for the remainder of the trip back to Mon Calamari.

Chapter 6

Several hours later, Echobe brought the Starscream out of hyperspace a considerable distance from Mon Calamari, a precaution to ensure that they were not being followed by Imperials. He waited awhile, and then continued onto Mon Calamari and landed at the same hangar he had left from.

A medical team was standing by after Echobe had informed them of the situation. They took Makaashyya out and tended to her at the infirmary. Yaminul was taken out on a stretcher, and placed in the morgue to await a proper ceremony. Guards took Zav-Halis out and placed him in a cell. Mon Mothma was waiting for Echobe in the hangar, and she lowered her head in silence when she saw Yaminul's body taken off of the Starscream cocooned in sheets. Alliance personnel in the hangar lowered their heads as well when they realized who it was. Some cried. Many of them looked at Echobe with concern. The Wookiee was still covered in dried blood and looked weary from battle.

Echobe stood at attention when he stepped off the Starscream to approach Mon Mothma. The Alliance leader glided over to Echobe and greeted him. She told him she was sorry for the loss of Yaminul, that he would receive full honors, that Yaminul knew full well what it meant to be in the Alliance, and that all of their lives could be forfeit at any time, Yaminul knew, she told the Wookiee. Echobe only nodded in acquiescence not wanting to think of it anymore. Echobe pulled the recorder containing Zav-Halis' confession within its memory out of his pocket so he could change the subject.

"I have a full confession from the Imperial. He only wished that he not be returned to the Empire for fear of being put to death."

Mon Mothma's response was cold.

"That's if he does not face death at our hands for his crimes."

Echobe shrugged.

"I want to end this, I don't care what happens to him." Echobe held the recorder up suggestively.

"Very well, let us go and make the final preparations."

Echobe followed Mon Mothma to a briefing room where several Alliance generals had gathered at Mon Mothma's request. The Alliance generals went silent as Mon Mothma entered. She then beckoned for Echobe to stand before everyone. Several gasped when they saw the bloodstained Wookiee, but Echobe ignored them. Instead he started the briefing by bringing up Kashyyyk on a rotating holoscreen for all to see. Then he plugged the recording into the holo projector, and began the program. The confession of Zav-Halis narrated as the computer assumed the information and converted it to hologram. The holo-projector followed the motions as the spectral voice of Zav-Halis spoke as if he were already dead, but describing where the base was cloaked, how well armed it was, and when it de-cloaked for shipments. The program ended and Echobe shut off the holo-projector.

"I will need a squadron of fighters to assist me, considering the armaments we are up against." Echobe spoke haltingly so that the computer could translate to everyone.

"I figure the best way to get close enough to the prison without alerting them to our presence is to hoist a drifting piece of rock. There is a small asteroid belt near Kashyyyk. We will ride the rock into the general location of the base, and with an EMP charge on the Starscream I will take out the cloaking device and the shields. The squadron will commence a frontal assault." As the robotic voice of the translator finished the generals cocked their eyebrows and shook their heads in disbelief, Mon Mothma was the only one who remained still and unsurprised. Echobe ignored the generals and continued.

"I will take two teams with me inside the Starscream for the boarding party. As long as things are done quickly enough, and the squadron can keep any Imperials off of us, we will destroy the prison and hyperspace out of there before the Empire figures out what happened." Echobe paused, going over the thought in his head and committing himself to it. "Otherwise, if all fails. I will order a retreat and detonate the Starscream to take out the prison if all else fails." The generals broke out in a muted chorus of protest when the translation completed.

Mon Mothma halted the arguing with a raise of her hand.

"Echobe, I understand your ??passion for this," one of the generals said carefully, "but we can't allow you to commit suicide. We need all the soldiers we can get and cannot allow you to throw your life away," he said. Echobe stepped forward.

"It's my choice to make. So many have died, are dying because of this. It finally has to end."

The generals each shook their heads in rejection.

"No, we cannot support this plan, I'm sorry," said one and stood from the table and walked out. The remaining generals stayed seated, their heads lowered to mourn for Echobe as if he was already dead. Echobe turned to Mon Mothma, her expression was sorrowful.

"Makaashyya must come with me," started Echobe.

"She must face trial now, Echobe," said Mon Mothma matter-of-factly.

"Without Makaashyya, once again, we would not have succeeded. I have kept my promises to return her each time. She must do this to redeem herself in her own eyes before she faces her death, or life imprisonment. Please, Mothma," Echobe pled. "This is almost over. Let me be done with this. One way or another the mission end for me with this last prison."

Mon Mothma raised an eyebrow, but shook her head in grudging acceptance.

"I will gather a squadron and form the mission plan." She then left the room, the rest generals followed behind her leaving Echobe alone.

Echobe snatched the recording from the holo-projector and went to see Makaashyya under guard in the infirmary. She had just been released from the bacta tank. Her fur was damp but clean, catching the light of the sun streaming in through the window revealing the red highlights in her fur as glowing, crimson streams. Her wound was closed, but pink and raw. She had her robe on, and was looking out of the window of the infirmary with her back to Echobe as he walked passed the Alliance guards.

"I hoped you would come," said Makaashyya before Echobe had even made a sound. Makaashyya turned around to face him. Her eyes were reddened and glistening with tears. "I'm sorry for Yaminul. We couldn't have done it without him, he saved me."

Echobe didn't feel like thinking about his lost friend.

"Mon Mothma has agreed to allow you to come with me this final time before you face trial here." Echobe lowered his head. Makaashyya walked away from the window and approached him. She looked up into his eyes while he looked down on her.

"I could not have hoped for more. You have given me a piece of what I used to be before the dark side. You have redeemed me. I will face trial happily, and I will pay for my crimes. I will confess to everything I have done, and hope for forgiveness, but I will be happy knowing I have done at least something to make things right. Maybe you will be pardoned back home at the very least so you will be able to return to Kashyyyk."

Makaashyya looked past Echobe towards the future, his future, but she did not see herself in it. The gossamer image vanished as quickly as it revealed itself to her. Echobe just looked at her, unable to see such things. He nodded and held Makaashyya in his arms. Echobe stayed with her the rest of the day, sleeping by her side while she remained under guard.

Echobe woke by Makaashyya's side. It was dark, and she was sleeping soundly in his arms. Echobe stirred from the memory of the past day playing itself in his sleep. The loss of Yaminul, Makaashyya wounded, and the capture of the Imperial, but in his dream they did not escape. Echobe dreamt of the Starscream being turned to dust while the Imperial shuttle drifted along into open space like a ghost. After taking a few moments to ensure he was really awake and not dreaming, he slipped out from Makaashyya's embrace and sat up on the side of the bed holding his head in his hands for a moment and then moved his hair out of his eyes.

Two Alliance guards fresh in rotation stood by the door. They saluted Echobe on his way out to the surprisingly quiet hallways considering that in just mere hours a squadron would be leaving for Kashyyyk under the Wookiee's command. However, the hangar where the Starscream rested was entirely different. Droids and Alliance personnel were going this way and that running diagnostics on ships, fixing missiles onto X-wings and B-wings and A-wings, and Y-wings for the coming assault. Blue sparks shot out like falling stars from the craft as techs worked on them.

Echobe looked around as he went towards the surrounding lake and found Bilebelch lying asleep half in the water. The rancor was slumped in a freshly dug hole, covered in mud. Echobe went to the sleeping rancor and stood by him. When Echobe put his hand on the sleeping giant, the creature stirred. His eyelids lifted back to reveal the beady eyes that were as black as space itself, but the spark of life contained within them was like a star that shone out of that darkness. Echobe stroked the creature's forehead as it growled in comfort. Echobe looked the rancor over. The multiple hits by blasters from the assault on the Executor had further carved his thick, armored hide, but did nothing to penetrate the soft tissue beneath.

"Soon," Echobe thought, "they will scar over with new armor." Bilebelch thought nothing of it. The rancor did as Echobe asked, without question. Echobe felt guilty for using the creature in that way, but Echobe could feel the elation the rancor felt as it carried out Echobe's wishes. Echobe spoke to the rancor's mind.

"You ready to go again?" Echobe's mind echoed, "Ready to finish this? What we started back on Tatooine?" The rancor lifted himself from the moist, sandy beach with his powerful arms, stood, and shook off the dirt from his hide, and let out a deep throaty growl. Echobe patted the rancor on his leg and that made Bilebelch dash into the lake to joyfully wash off the mud, and throw water all over anyone nearby and drenching a droid that curiously got too close. Everyone looked over to Bilebelch, but quickly went back to their work shaking their heads. Echobe left the eager rancor to play a while longer, and went back to Makaashyya's room. She had woken, and had dressed in her cleaned, black robe. She looked one last time out of the window that faced over the lake and then turned to Echobe.

"You ready?" he asked solemnly. Makaashyya nodded. Echobe turned to the guards and asked for Makaashyya's lightsaber, then handed it to Makaashyya who called it from Echobe's hand into her own with the force. She smiled playfully. Echobe pushed her, and they embraced, laughing happily as they walked out of Makaashyya's room in each other's arms.

They walked back to the hangar together. The Alliance soldiers were starting to do final checks on their ships by that time. Mon Mothma was there as well walking among them and lifting spirits. Makaashyya fell back behind Echobe as they approached. Mon Mothma nodded her approval, and wished him and Makaashyya luck and to be careful, and assured Echobe that his requests for the EMP charge has been met. When Mon Mothma left the hangar, Echobe stood before those under his command and ordered them to listen up.

The Alliance pilots and soldiers quickly fell into line, and Echobe walked slowly and deliberately up and down the ranks. All of the Alliance pilots looked at Echobe with approval, but seemed to take no notice of Makaashyya standing some distance away. Echobe spoke with each individual squad leader about their objectives, and when he was satisfied that things were in order Echobe raised his hand and signaled for everyone to board their ships. Droids were then loaded into battle worn Alliance vessels, and engines started to roar to life. Bilebelch crawled his way into the Starscream, and Alliance soldiers filed in well behind the rancor, and then lastly, Echobe walked beside Makaashyya to the Starscream. Echobe approached the platform, and took Makaashyya's hand, and squeezed it reassuringly.

The soldiers all saluted Echobe as he walked in. Echobe didn't allow Makaashyya to fall behind him again. He held her hand as they walked to the cockpit. L7 was already connected to the computer, and beeped in greeting as the two Wookiees entered. Echobe guided Makaashyya to the co-pilot's seat, the seat Burmar had once occupied. Echobe sat down in the pilot's seat. Two other Alliance soldiers were in the cockpit sitting at their stations, and two other soldiers scrambled to the turrets. The radio tower then hailed the Starscream.

"Starscream, take-off confirmed, you are clear for launch. Good luck."

A soldier sitting at communications responded.

"Starscream acknowledged, we are ready for take-off," and then he looked to Echobe with a smile and a thumbs-up.

Echobe brought the thrusters online, and retracted the landing skids. The Corellian freighter hovered for a moment, and then Echobe quickly spun and flew out of the hangar and up into the upper atmosphere of the watery planet of Mon Calamari. Right behind the Starscream, by twos, the squadron followed. They flew in formation a short distance from the planet, and engaged the hyperdrive for the several hour-long passage to Kashyyyk. They talked casually amongst each other, doing double checks of hardware and systems as the automated travel commenced.

After engaging the hyperdrive Echobe got up from his seat and went back to the lounge where the Alliance soldiers had gathered. He walked and talked among them, making sure each of them was loaded and ready, and to spend a short time with Bilebelch incase something went wrong.

Echobe figured that of all the moments of near death, his final mission would be the most likely to deliver. He hoped that he didn't feel that way now that he had found some understanding, and a place in the galaxy, and possibly someone to share it with. He knew he wouldn't allow Makaashyya to face the death penalty, he told himself, even though he promised to bring Makaashyya back, he would give his own life if he still had it after the mission if only to give some leniency to Makaashyya. He shook the wandering thoughts from his head. How selfish he felt hoping that he would make it out alive, knowing that possibly many under his command would not, that they won't live to see their loved ones again. He remembered once again how much he hated death, but trying to justify deaths and his desire to evade that fate, he felt almost like Desco and how he had wanted revenge against Heth Finissum. How easily justification comes out of desire, Echobe knew. He gave one last reassuring pat on the head to Bilebelch. The animal growled in blissful ignorance.

"If only I die," Echobe told himself, "and the rest make it out safe all will be well."

Echobe walked slowly back to the cockpit past the soldiers who were talking, cleaning their rifles, checking radio communicators, grenades, or looking at photos they kept in one of the multiple pockets on their combat vests. They were all dressed the same. A padded combat helmet covering most of their head, brown leather vests held their equipment. Black pants, and thick black shoes. Some had E-11 blasters, some had T-21 rifles, all of them had a backup vibro-knife for the possible close up fighting as a last resort, they all carried a pistol, some carried two, the more zealous carried more than two, plus grenades and extra ammunition.

Echobe stopped for a moment and looked into the cockpit from the lounge. The hyperspace tunnel folded and embraced the ship. The three sitting at their stations in the cockpit were busy checking ship systems, save for Makaashyya. She was watching the tunnel outside through the thin sheet of transparisteel that separated them from the vacuum. Echobe wondered if she were enjoying the site, knowing that she would quite possibly never see it again after being locked up in a prison somewhere after facing trial. Echobe could not probe her mind nearly as well as Makaashyya could view other's, but he could sense a feeling of calm and happiness coming from her that he never felt before when they first met.

Echobe went to the cockpit to take his seat. He scrolled up Kashyyyk on the computer screen before him, and idly looked through the different forms of life. The Wookiee had almost forgotten the creatures he so loved and missed. He wondered what would have happened if he had stayed on Kashyyyk, allowing Burmar go on alone. He wondered if Burmar would had still been alive, if Desco, if the Alliance and all of the survivors from the first prison would still be alive if he had not agreed to go with Burmar in the first place. Echobe felt as if he had made a mess of things, that he failed them all, and for a moment he let those feelings permeate his being, but he pushed them back into the shadowed corner of his mind where they lurked and waited for the sustenance of doubt. Makaashyya looked away from the tunnel and to Echobe and smiled. She could feel his mind running, and she grabbed his hand briefly in reassurance, and then she continued looking outside at the tunnel with a smile on her face.

"What will you do when this is over?" Makaashyya asked to break the silence.

Echobe was stumped. He never really thought of what could be next for him, nothing really solid, just a vague idea. The completion of his mission was the culmination of all he had set out to do for his people and his parents. He had set his parents free and he would avenge them, and save others from sharing their fate. Echobe was unsure of what else he even could do, knowing he could never return home. Makaashyya looked at Echobe after listening to the doubt and confusion in his mind. Her red, burnt-orange eyes were overtaken with the compassion she had found once again, which did not mirror the dark side corrupted eyes. Echobe didn't see the taint of the dark side despite the physical corruption. He saw hope and love, and a sorrow that no longer fueled her hate.

"Don't give up on me," she said, and said nothing more the remainder of the trip. Echobe was unsure what to say, if he should say anything at all. He decided to keep silent.

Chapter 7

The nav-computer beeped, signaling that they were reaching their destination. Echobe brought the ship out of hyperspace far from the glowing, green-blue planet. The squadron came out of hyperspace just behind.

"Commander Echobe," crackled the radio. An Alliance soldier sitting at the communications station replied.

"Starscream here."

"This is Alpha 1. We are in position, and awaiting orders."

"Standby," replied the soldier, "Scanning area for suitable asteroid."

The soldier scanned the nearby vicinity for a piece of rock suitable to hide an entire squadron of ships, plus the bulky, triangular freighter. It took several minutes until he found one, several thousand miles from their location. Slowly, under Impulse power, they moved as one towards the drifting, dead, space-rock. It was like a mountain drifting through space. It lazily rolled and tumbled in the darkness in no particular orbit, being tossed this way and that through the eons by whatever gravitational forces it stumbled upon.

"All squadrons attach to the asteroid and await orders," said the soldier at communications. One by one the ships found their places like bees on a honeycomb. The Starscream was the last to set down. Then, on order, all engines were cut off, and they became one with the asteroid as far as Imperial radar was concerned. Echobe fed the coordinates of the approximate location of the base to all of the corresponding ships.

At Echobe's command, the communications officer sent the orders to the squadron and with a single, heavy push of the thrusters of all the ships at once they pushed the rock towards the nondescript location where the laboratory was supposedly drifting. The asteroid no longer tumbled aimlessly as Alliance pilots fought in a symphony of thruster blasts, to keep the rock under control. With a group effort, like a crew paddling a boat to get it ashore against the surf, they pushed the mountainous rock towards the shadow of Kashyyyk, the engines fired in a synchronized algorithm to keep the asteroid stable, and to hold the shadow over them to hide in.

"We're going to look pretty ridiculous if we get caught like this," mused Echobe.

Makaashyya laughed.

Echobe wished at that moment that Yaminul were there. He thought of how Yaminul would have translated what he would say to the others and the protestations he would have offered. Instead, Echobe had to mostly rely on hand signals, and the faith in those under his command to understand the mission. The soldiers under his command were loyal, and they respected Echobe he had no doubt, but there was a shadow being cast, as surely as the shadow that was hiding them, and that hid the Imperial laboratory-prison. There was a bleakness, and unnerving quietness between everyone.

The soldiers and pilots talked in hushed tones as the rock tumbled with them on it. They reminisced, and laughed, others went over procedures, but there was something wrong that Echobe couldn't pinpoint. Echobe rectified in his mind that it was a combination of the late Yaminul, and the fate that awaited Makaashyya, and of finally reaching the apex of what he and Burmar had started that was ultimately overwhelming his thoughts. One way or another, Echobe knew this was the end of the Empire's program. He would avenge Ulchewbuk's murder, his parent's murder, all of those who have been killed. If his plan failed, the Starscream had been loaded with enough explosives to destroy a Star Destroyer. Echobe was determined to end it one way or another.

Everyone knew of what Echobe intended, and all agreed with it beforehand if they faced failure. They all knew that the base must at least be destroyed even if they all died doing it. Which, to Echobe, was an abhorrent justification, and killing all of those in the prison, enemy or not made him sick. But Echobe convinced himself that he would not let it come to that, that one way or another everything would be okay. Echobe thought somehow by letting himself be sacrificed, he would insure the safety of everyone else. Echobe stepped onto the Starscream fully accepting that it may be his final trip, he was resigned to it, and the feeling that he knew he was going to die gave him a sense of calm.

"As long as everyone else makes it out it will be worth it," he told himself.

The asteroid then shifted, jarring squadron, and bringing Echobe out of his wandering thoughts, and sounding a sensor alarm. A quick scan by the soldier sitting at the communications told them that the asteroid wasn't entirely stable. Echobe rolled his eyes. The mountain-sized rock had started to release gas into space. No longer tumbling on its axis, the one side facing the sun warmed, and caused frozen compounds to thaw and release. Echobe brought up a viewscreen from a camera atop the Starscream. He panned the camera side to side. They were still hidden within the asteroids shadow, but when Echobe looked to the rear of them the rock was developing a tail. Echobe could see vapor escaping from over the horizon of the asteroid facing the sun. The fumes coiled and rolled over the ships, while not flammable, the tail was steadily growing out into space behind them making the asteroid an interesting site to anyone who happened to look.

"Wonderful," said Echobe, clearly not surprised that things were going wrong. Echobe turned the viewscreen to the soldier sitting at the console.

"Wonderful," said the soldier.

Echobe alerted all of the ships of the situation through his second in command sitting in the cockpit. Even without Echobe's order, everyone one of the Alliance pilots were already watching their radar for Imperial ships.

The rock required little more encouragement from the engines of its Alliance companions to drift evenly towards their location. On the sensors, blips of the blockade could be seen on the far side of the planet like a predator waiting on the other side of a tree waiting for its prey to break and run. The Alliance squadron knew that they only needed to make it into the planet's shadow, and they would be safe from being noticed by the blockade. The tail of the asteroid turned comet stretched miles and miles behind them. Had Echobe seen from the safety of the planet as a sky watcher he would be impressed, but being on the comet made him despise it for conspiring to undo their plans.

Time passed, and so did thousands of miles of space between them and their destination. Soon they would be in the shadow of Kashyyyk. Makaashyya sighed as she looked out the windshield. A few lights were lit in the once grand cities of Kashyyyk. She wished she could go back, that she could live out her life with Echobe and die there, but she had ruined any chance of that back on Dathomir. She wished even more for Echobe to be able to go back and see his home. If throwing herself into the atmosphere would pardon him, she would have done it.

"Nearing the shadow of Kashyyyk," said Echobe's second in command.

Echobe continued to look out the windshield and took quick glances at the viewscreen as he panned the camera all around the ship. The next few minutes passed all the more slowly for the anticipation of some cover in the planet's shadow. The tail of the comet stretched hundreds if not thousands of miles behind them. The ships were covered in moisture from the defrosting chemicals in the rock. Echobe quickly reminded the squadron to be weary of possible freezing of ship components, another problem that Echobe shook his head at that could possibly cause their downfall. Failed thrusters or clogged exhaust ports would cause huge problems for them, he knew. Slowly and slowly they drifted by the inch it seemed into Kashyyyk's shadow, and they all breathed a sign of relief as the shadow of the planet overtook them in its blanket of dark.

Echobe breathed a sign of relief and looked away from the camera, as did everyone one else in the cockpit. The soldier sitting at communications plotted out the comets course, verifying the trajectory. When the path was deemed suitable, Echobe ordered all ships to go into shutdown, leaving only backup systems and system heaters on.

They then began the slow trek through open space, all the while hoping that the information Zav-Halis provided was valid. Before them space spread out like a calm sea, the stars winking in the distance. Rays of the sun flanked Kashyyyk, and in the shadow of the planet one hardly needed a cloaking device, it was nearly devoid of all light. The only anomaly was the comet that came into being where one was wasn't before. Slowly they drifted into open space like a ghost. The tension had eased a bit, and even some casual whispering conversation broke out among the pilots. Makaashyya broke the silence in the cockpit of the Starscream.

"Back on Tatooine," she began. Echobe looked at her and nodded.


"I killed people under your command, your friends. You suspected me from the beginning. Why did you give me a chance?"

Echobe breathed and thought for a moment.

"I remember hearing your mind in Jabba's palace. The feelings I felt were fear. I felt how scared and alone and confused you were. Anyone else in your position that had been lied to by an insane witch would have done the same. Everyone deserves a chance." Echobe and Makaashyya smiled at each other, then a proximity alert lit up the cockpit.

Echobe jerked his head to look at the radar screen. Emerging out of the blackness of space was a small three-ship convoy, an Imperial freighter flanked by two TIE Interceptors. Immediately, Echobe ordered all ships to go into complete shutdown and radio silence. All at once, as if there was a power outage, the lights in the cockpit of the Starscream and all other ships winked out like spent candles swallowed by the eternal night of space.

The convoy approached from seemingly out of nowhere and was fast approaching their location. The convoy could barely be seen. Everyone was turning their heads about trying to get a look. It was like an impression moving underneath the dark sheet of space, the Imperial vessels were barely visible, only slightly more so as they approached. Everyone was as silent as the asteroid they were riding on as the convoy approached dangerously close to the comet. A passive scan swept the area from the Imperial ships. Beams of invisible energy bounced off of the comet and returned the results of various minerals and chemicals. Everyone held their breath as they watched the convoy pass them by. They came to a slow stop, adjusted course a few degrees and entered the hyperspace tunnel.

Echobe immediately plotted the course of the convoy from where they had come from, which was in the general area where the prison was supposed to be. Echobe sent the coordinates to all ships. With a small course correction of the comet they tracked from where the Imperial convoy emerged.

They continued meandering on their course, following the invisible trail the Imperial convoy had left for them for what seemed like hours, until a small gravity blip appeared on the radar of the Starscream. A passive scan revealed nothing, but the unmistakable presence of a gravity-creating object occupied the space where the prison was supposed to be. In agreement with everyone in the cockpit, Echobe notified the squadron, and then hurriedly went to the cargo bay where the EMP device waited. Echobe activated it, and slid it into the bomb bay doors and dropped the EMP onto the surface of the comet where it then dug into the rock with its robotic arms.

Echobe ran back to the cockpit, and told everyone to brace for the explosion. Slowly they approached the gravity well on the radar screen until they were mere miles away from it. The gravity well then shifted position slightly to veer away from the strange comet coming towards it, and that verified for the Alliance squadron that they had indeed found their target. Echobe ordered a final shutdown of all ships to avoid EMP burnout.

Echobe waited until the comet was almost alongside the prison, and on command he ordered all ships to detach, giving the comet one final thrust in the direction of the prison. The squadron of Alliance ships drifted off of the comet like debris and drifted along in the tail. The gravity well on their scanners stopped moving after having safely cleared the rock coming towards it, and that's when EMP bomb went off sending waves of blue energy coursing out into space like surf of an ocean. An electrical current slammed into the gravity well shorting out the cloaking device, and revealing the anomaly for what it really was, but also destroying the cloaking device of the turret emplacement orbiting the Imperial laboratory prison, that immediately began to search for a target.

Immediately, the Alliance ships that were drifting in the tail powered up except for one that was still attached to the piece of rock. Its systems had frozen and failed to come online, its landing skids failed to retract, the EMP blast had destroyed all of the ship's circuitry and it drifted along helpless with the comet. The pilot screamed into the dead radio for help. The turret emplacement started firing at the comet, chipping off pieces like a chisel until it turned it and the stranded Alliance pilot to dust. All of the other Alliance ships powered up and broke away from the comet's tail. The Starscream went headlong for the prison flanked by two Y-wings. The rest of the ships started attacking the turrets on the prison, and others attacked the turret emplacement.

Alliance ships spewing red cannon bolts flew about the large Imperial prison like an angry nest of hornets attacking an enemy hive. One, then two Alliance ships vaporized from the laser blasts of the defense turret. Two Y-wings came at the turret and unloaded their missile payloads into it, the heavy armor of the turret shredded, but the weapon emplacement continued to fire without pause destroying the engines of one Y-wing and sending it drifting off into space helpless. A second Y-wing was scorched by hot laser bolts but was undamaged. Several other ships came about and attacked the heavily armored turret. Though the shields had been destroyed by the blast of the EMP bomb, the damage being done to it was insufficient.

The remains of the comet coalesced into a lazy orbit around the Imperial prison forcing several Alliance pilots to veer out of the way. Ship sized boulders whirled about into the path of turret fire acting as a natural shield, and saving the lives of several Alliance pilots. Groups of A-wings darted at incredible speed drawing the fire of prison itself and forcing it to accidentally attack their own defense emplacement further damaging it.

The Alliance gunners in the Starscream started by trying to disable the turrets of the Imperial prison while keeping an eye out for reinforcements. Makaashyya was steadily targeting the turrets with the forward laser cannons and the missile turret on the Starscream scoring several hits disabling a few, but the number of cannons housed on the prison seemed innumerable. One exploded, but it barely tore a seam in the endless curtain of laser fire. A-wings easily avoided the onslaught with their incredible speed, but Y-wings had the most trouble swooping in for a bombing run and pulling back before they were overtaken. Echobe spun the Starscream in wide-arching strafing runs on the hangar doors of the base. Though its shields down, the heavily armored doors took volley after volley without buckling.

"Take out the hangar doors, Starscream has you covered," said the communications officer repeating Echobe's orders. A few seconds later, the Y-wings banked around and came at the scarred blast doors of the laboratory, their laser cannons spitting volatile bolts of red and streaming missiles. The Starscream flanked them to protect the Alliance Y-wings with stronger armor and shields. Makaashyya unleashed the full force of the Starscream's forward lasers. At the last second before collision, Echobe pulled pack hard on the controls and skirted up the hull of the laboratory. The Y-wings then unleashed their payloads into the buckling hangar doors finally destroying them.

Echobe looped the Starscream back towards the Imperial laboratory, and went full speed into the hangar. The emergency force field came up just as the Starscream barreled in. Echobe used the emergency thrusters to stop the big freighter before it collided with the opposite wall. He then spun the ship around, and quickly set it down platform facing inwards.

Outside, the turret emplacement was on its last legs as it was bombarded by blast after blast of the quicker and far more agile A-wings. The turret could hardly keep up as they picked at the remains of the barely functioning turret like piranhas, biting pieces of metallic flesh off. The squadron flew in groups of two and circled the prison making strafing runs trying to wear down Imperial defenses. An A-wing succumbed to the blinding streak of laser fire coming from the Imperial base, but the remaining A-wings dealt the deathblow to the turret, sending shards of scrap into space. They then focused their attention on the prison.

Far in the distance behind them, sunlight glinted off of incoming metallic shapes. It wasn't until the objects appeared on the Alliance's shorter-range assault radar that the objects were noticed. Red warning lights inside Alliance cockpits flashed just as a group of TIE interceptors followed by groups of TIE fighters, destroyed two Y-wings, turning them into metallic dust. A group of interceptors joined the fray, birthed from the much larger object coming to join the fighting.

Echobe lowered the platform and ordered everyone out to begin securing the prison. They ran out from the platform to cover positions. The hangar was empty. Blast doors on both sides of the control tower that lead into the station were closed. The force field shielding the hangar from the vacuum of space held. Echobe ran out, Makaashyya followed, and so did the remaining Alliance soldiers in the cockpit. Echobe unsheathed his Ryyk Blade and his E-11 blaster, and Makaashyya her lightsaber. Bilebelch the small, but ferocious rancor followed the group out of the Starscream. L7 trailed behind them all. The Alliance soldiers waited for Echobe's orders.

Echobe scanned the hangar and found it empty of life signs. With a two-finger sign, and a point motion towards the blast doors, soldiers separated into two groups. Makaashyya went with one group. Echobe and Bilebelch went with the other. They gave each other a longing look before they separated. Makaashyya activated her crimson lightsaber, and lead the charge for the door and stabbed her lightsaber into the middle of it. Echobe's team went for the other door. The roaring rancor already knew what to do, it gathered speed and with its shoulder, it rammed into the blast door making it bulge at the point of impact, and opening a small crack. The rancor ignored all else, and reached into the crack with its clawed hands and began tearing the door from its moorings. With a final pull the rancor ripped the blast door open. The blaster fire immediately began from defending Imperials behind the door. The Alliance soldiers put their backs to the walls and started firing blindly inside. Bilebelch was stunned by the initial volley of fire as a few bolts found softer spots on the animal, but Bilebelch shook them off and squeezed into the door, his mouth agape, his roar drowning out the violent sound of blaster fire.

Makaashyya let the door melt around her lightsaber, and with shot from a blaster the door blew apart and sent molten metal inwards towards the waiting Imperial soldiers severely burning many of them that stood too close. Makaashyya flung aside all bolts that came at them as she cleared the way for Alliance troops to enter and return fire. The blaster bolts quickly started to overwhelm the lightsaber-wielding Wookiee and found their mark in Alliance soldiers. Imperial stormtroopers funneled into the passageway in a torrent. The blaster bolts were like falling stars, scorching and scarring the walls, another struck an Alliance soldier in the arm. Makaashyya pushed forward, despite the projectiles threatening to overcome her, to get the Alliance soldiers past the door to take cover in the doorways that lined the hallway.

Echobe followed alongside Bilebelch firing blaster bolts from his old E-11 blaster as fast as it would repeat. Bilebelch was stung in the face by a few bolts, but they only served to further enrage the rancor. Alliance soldiers and Imperial soldiers fired back at each other in a blinding barrage, the whites of the walls glowed red and green with blaster bolts, and were quickly being scorched black. Hundreds upon hundreds of blaster bolts shot to and fro from enemy to enemy in violent dance until the stalemate broke with the death of an Alliance soldier, then an Imperial soldier, and another Imperial and another, and then another Alliance soldier.

The TIE interceptors danced around the slower B-wings, while the remaining A-wings followed up behind interceptors. An X-wing exploded from enemy fire. Two interceptors collided with one another after being hit by an A-wing. The remaining turrets of the Imperial prison lost their effectiveness trying to avoid firing upon their own ships. Then in the distance, more TIE fighters started to come into radar range. The remaining Alliance pilots formed into groups of two, trying to do away with the first squad of interceptors, and readying to receive the incoming.

By groups of two, Alliance pilots flew on each other's wings unleashing a barrage against their Imperial enemies. Another TIE succumbed to Alliance fire sending it flying into a turret of the prison and destroying both. An X-wing took out an interceptor, flew through the fiery debris and took out another. Each side fought to dominate the other, but the weak and unshielded TIE fighters were no match for the superior Alliance ships, and the interceptors were dwindling. The battle was in Alliance's favor as Imperial ships blew apart and numbers dwindled.

Bilebelch didn't stop his charge into Imperial fire that began to penetrate his flesh, his thick blood started to splatter the gray walls. The rancor let out a roar that echoed throughout both passageways making the Imperial soldiers throughout hesitate for one fatal instant. Alliance soldiers unleashed a barrage of fire and downed several distracted Imperials. Bilebelch grabbed one in his massive hand and slammed the unfortunate Imperial against the wall. The white armor did nothing to protect the bones that shattered in his body, the life left him before he even hit the ground. Bilebelch reached for another, swinging his claws at the Imperial's midsection tearing through the white armor like paper. Bilebelch was in blood frenzy, ignoring blast bolts and shredding Imperial soldiers to pieces. Alliance soldiers shot around the rancor knowing to stay out of the animal's way. Echobe tried to draw the rancor back for fear of his safety as the amount of blood the rancor started to lose was beginning to worry him, but the rancor could not be stopped easily.

Makaashyya pushed past the door and Alliance soldiers poured in behind her closing the gap. Makaashyya cut the first Imperial in her way in half at the waist, the second she severed his arms from his body, leaving him to flop helplessly in pain on the floor when an Alliance soldier finished him off with a blaster bolt to the head, but caught one to the chest himself and dropped dead. Makaashyya dealt with that Imperial by beheading him and she slowly walked on, swatting away blaster bolts and doing her best to protect those behind her all the while. Then a turret dropped out of the ceiling and pinned the Alliance to the walls, but Makaashyya flung off the first few bolts, and then caught one in the leg. She called up the force as she stumbled back, and with great concentration, she ripped the turret from its moorings and sent the turret spinning and spitting out sparks into the group of Imperials forcing them draw back.

Another ceiling turret dropped out of the ceiling onto the rancor's head, further enraging the animal. He reached up with his mouth and bit it from its fixture. Just then, an Imperial shot an EMP beam at the rancor, knocking the creature to his knees for a few moments. Echobe leapt onto and from Bilebelch's knee and jumped at the Imperial, bringing the Ryyk Blade down on his head splitting the helmet in two, then Echobe himself was violently slammed back by a blaster bolt to his shoulder, knocking the breath from him. Echobe coughed and gasped trying to catch his breath, but it failed to come. Bilebelch shook his head and recovered, but not before a volley of Alliance fire took out several more Imperials, and then Bilebelch was back up and in the battle, running again into the fray. Echobe was dazed for a moment, but his breathing slowly turned to normal. He had dropped his blaster, but his Ryyk Blade was still in his hand, his mind was cloudy, but a few moments of blinking his eyes and trying to breath deeply and he lifted himself back up to his feet, grabbed his blaster and went back into the fight.

Makaashyya was still clearing the way for Alliance soldiers. The Imperial's were quickly drawing back unable to penetrate the Wookiee's defenses. Alliance soldiers behind her were still dying, but not as quickly as Imperial soldiers. She cut them down or pushed them into each other, or into the wall with the force knocking them senseless. Alliance soldiers flanked her, shooting the ones she downed and providing cover fire to suppress the stormtroopers that seemed to stretch down the hallway into forever.

An Alliance soldier and R2-L7 at Echobe's rear guard were busy trying to slice a computer at one of the doors to get a floor plan layout.

The Alliance pilots thought that the battle had started to turn in their favor when the stars in the distance were blotted out. They were still working to disable the prison's turrets after the destruction of the last of the TIE fighters. Then their radar revealed a triangular blip dwarfing all others, and coming in from the distance behind them from where the TIE- fighters had emerged. The gray monolith hidden by Kashyyyk's shadow was ominous, but every Alliance pilot knew what it was, and they scrambled to get into some kind of defensible formation. The lead pilot radioed to Echobe's second in command.

The radio on Echobe's second in command's belt buzzed loudly with the Alliance pilot's voice. The blaster fire and Bilebelch's roaring drowned out all noise and it took several minutes for Echobe's second to hear the faint squawking on the radio. By then the Alliance pilots outside were in combat with Star Destroyer.

"Sir!" yelled the Alliance soldier to Echobe. "Sir!" he repeated, and ran with radio in hand towards Echobe who was ducking behind a doorway in the endless hall. "Sir! Radio communication sir!"

Echobe grabbed the radio.

"Star Destroyer engaged, we will hold them off as long as possible, hurry up!" screamed the radio. Echobe hand-signaled for the Alliance technician next to L7 who was slicing the computer to speed up.

The soldier put his finger up.

"One second!"

The look on Echobe's face would have made everyone laugh if they all were not facing death. Blaster fire raged about as Echobe gave the Alliance technician a grim look. It took more than a second before the tech ran to Echobe with a layout of the base on a datapad. Echobe snatched the datapad from the oddly calm Alliance technician, then picked up his radio and contacted Makaashyya.

Makaashyya answered her radio hearing Echobe trying to talk over the background of blaster fire, yelling, Bilebelch's roaring, and the cries of the dying.

"We have a layout. These passageways extend to a freight elevator. Down is the prisoner cells and laboratory; up is the command stations and bridge. Split your team up into two, we will meet yours at the elevator. Teams two will merge and get the prisoners out. You and me will go to the control room and do what we can to disable this place and help outside, a Star Destroyer has shown up."

"I got it," said Makaashyya hurriedly and loudly, but the radio had already been cut off. Makaashyya split her team up into two uneven groups, quickly and breathlessly explaining the situation to her translator and then he to everyone else. Most just shook their heads in exasperation, the shadow of defeat crept upon them.

Echobe had his second in command explain the orders. Imperial stormtrooper bodies littered the hallway, as did Alliance. Blood smeared the walls from Bilebelch's ravenous and unrelenting attacks on unfortunate Imperials, and his own. But they pushed forward with renewed vigor and desperation, knowing that their friends outside were dying and now up against something totally unexpected and unprepared for. In one big push to get to the elevator both teams surged forward. Several more Imperials were killed. A few more Alliance soldiers fell as well.

Makaashyya slashed at her enemies with calculated fury. Bilebelch crushed, slashed and shattered Imperial bodies with all the ferocity of the most ferocious of rancor one could ever hope to not cross paths with. They all fought, as if they were already dead. The Alliance soldiers fought along side their clawed, lightsaber and sword-wielding comrades, decimating Imperials with abandon.

Echobe forced himself to ignore his distaste for killing.

With the prison's defenses destroyed, the remaining Alliance squadron faced a far greater threat, but the Star Destroyer did not deploy the hundreds of TIE fighters the Alliance pilots knew were waiting within the belly of the beast. Either because the captain of the Star Destroyer was confused about the presence of Alliance pilots in the area, or confused about an unmarked, unregistered, undoubtedly Imperial base hanging lone on the opposite side of the blockade, or both.

Alliance and Imperial hesitated, each waited for the other to make the first move. The Star Destroyer started to turn its flank in an offensive maneuver. The Alliance pilots took advantage of the prolonged hesitation on the part of the Imperial Star Destroyer and formed into a star pattern ready to break at the huge, wedge-shaped target with all that they had left.

Seconds passed as both groups hung there in space, like a moment trapped in the iciness of time and space waiting for the other to blink, when the Star Destroyer flinched, and started firing their weapons batteries at the Alliance. The Alliance pilots immediately went into action before the bolts reached them. They swarmed at the Star Destroyer from all angles in a star formation, battering the interdictor gravity-wells, the communications tower, the engines, and the shield generators all at once. The shields of the giant ship held, but lost power from the initial blast and were unable recover to full strength in time to repel the second wave of fire. The Alliance pilots swarmed about the ship like hungry predators, trying to force the Star Destroyer to drop its shields for mere seconds to unleash support TIE fighters giving the Alliance their chance at attacking it unprotected, but it did not, and the Alliance continued to batter the Destroyer, dodging out of the way of any and all bolts that came near them. They seemed unstoppable.

Echobe could see the end of the hall approaching, and the platform of the elevator waiting to receive them. The Imperials were being driven back. Their numbers had been depleted, and reinforcements stopped coming.

The Alliance all breathed a sigh of relief that the battle was starting to slow. They walked over and past the dead, kicking some out of their way. Echobe did his best to restrain the rancor. A massing of stormtroopers gathered at the end of the hallway near the elevator for a final stand. They held their fire until the Alliance got closer, and then they released, pinning Alliance against the walls once again. Makaashyya and Bilebelch didn't relent. They led the charge into the line of stormtroopers. Blaster bolts bounced harmlessly off of hide and lightsaber, and with the Alliance soldiers following behind, the two walls of soldiers collided like opposing waves on an ocean.

Makaashyya swung, and severed a stormtrooper diagonally. Bilebelch swung and sent a stormtrooper flying into the wall with a sickening, wet thud. Soldiers collided with soldiers, and the firefight turned into a brutal hand-to-hand battle for victory. Rifle butts slammed into white helmets, fists connected with unprotected Alliance jaws, blades flashed and blood spilled. Bilebelch tore through the line of stormtroopers and made it to the elevator, then turned around for another run.

Makaashyya cut down Imperial stormtroopers like tall grass. They fell to her feet in gruesome heaps. The Alliance was winning on the inside.

Alliance pilots were still busy trying to force the Star Destroyer to lower shields, which had been significantly weakened at soft points from constant bombardment. Turbo laser cannons were failing to find their targets, but opposing fire was beginning to penetrate the shields protecting the thruster cowl. Then, in a panic, the shields were lowered for a brief fatal moment, releasing support TIE fighters into the fray.

The Alliance had enough time for a strafing run on vital points of the Star Destroyer during the lapse in shielding before the barrage of TIE fighter return fire came in a curtain of green. Incredibly, the blaster bolts went straight for their targets but missed, striking the unprotected Star Destroyer before it could re-raise shields. Explosions broke out along the surface of the giant. The Alliance pilots didn't stop their assault despite their dwindling numbers. They used the incompetence of the Imperial fighters to strike their own. The Alliance caught the Imperials up in a game of cat and mouse, staying close enough to the Star Destroyer to use their own fire against them, and close enough for the fire of the Star Destroyer to provide dangerous obstacles for TIE fighters. They hung on the Star Destroyer as close as they could, pecking at the growing wounds of the great ship.

One thruster caught fire and was immediately shut down. The communications array was hammered by repeated fire from Alliance and accidental Imperial fire. A piece broke off and drifted into space, almost colliding with an Alliance vessel.

The gravity-well interdictors were quickly shredding under the fury of Alliance fire, the metal armor shredded exposing the gravity core to space after a final blow of torpedoes, and rendering the Star Destroyer's capability of creating its anti-hyperspace gravity field useless. TIE fighters dropped like dying bugs, many were pulled into the Star Destroyers gravity-core, and others drifted into the even larger prison. The concussion of the gravity-well's collapse could be felt throughout the prison.

The floor of the prison shuddered. The entire complex creaked and swayed. The hand-to-hand fighting had subsided, and only a few now remained of the once large Imperial resistance. Those still alive were bound and thrown aside, and knocked unconscious. Makaashyya and Echobe had separated their teams, sending two groups down towards the cells and laboratory to rescue the prisoners, the other two smaller groups up to the bridge.

The team sent to rescue prisoners converged when the separate groups reached the lowest floor. Unlike the passage above, this one was shrouded in darkness. Red lights flashed in alarm all over. The team quickly raced along to the end of the corridor in the opposite direction they came down the original hallway from, where a blast door separated them from the cells and laboratory. L7 rolled up to the door on command, and plugged into the computer and started to slice it.

Echobe followed Bilebelch off the elevator with his group and met up with Makaashyya and the last team, and now in the upper hallway then they backtracked in the opposite direction of the lower one they had just conquered. The halls were white and unstained. There was no resistance; only red, flashing warning lights greeted them. At the end of the hall was a door, unlike the blast door from below, just a standard door, and didn't seem to be locked. They took cover against the walls, with Bilebelch standing just behind them. Echobe activate the door's control panel and it opened unimpeded, and with no firing in response.

The fight against the Star Destroyer was steadily falling into the hands of the Alliance. They hooted and hollered as explosion after explosion, and TIE fighter after TIE fighter went up into a fiery ball. They fought like they had nothing to lose, and with the calculation and determination that made them feel invincible. The few Alliance pilots that fell during the battle were not considered during the fight. Alliance pilots died, but the living continued to batter the Imperials with relentlessness. They smelled blood, and were going to feast on the remains of the Star Destroyer.

With the excited beeping of L7, the door lifted slowly into its housing revealing the room, and the stench behind it. Like the same scene of the other two prisons, this one was just on a much larger scale. The bodies were everywhere. When the doors opened, the Imperial doctors and scientists cowered in the corner, terrified for their lives. The Alliance soldiers quickly secured the area, and bound the scientist's wrists. It took a few moments for the uninitiated Alliance soldiers to realize what they were surrounded by. The bodies stared out at them with empty eyes, pleading for release from their misery. Patients strapped to tables grasped at the horrified Alliance soldiers with what limbs they had left as their robotic limbs squirmed and flopped about of their own volition, like they were being eaten alive, assimilated by a mechanical parasite. Several Alliance soldiers got sick. The others couldn't help but cover their mouths as their rifles dangled limp and useless in their hands.

L7's panicked beeping, whirring and whistling helped bring them back into focus, and they then started gathering up the survivors. Screams of pain, and relief filled the laboratory as the prisoners saw their saviors and were released. The Alliance team gathered up survivors and the dead, not wanting to leave anyone behind. The squad leader contacted Echobe, informing him of the situation, and they began transporting the victims. The Alliance tech hotwired a repulsor-lift freight mover sitting in a corner to transport the victims who were far too numerous to be taken with the few hands the Alliance had left. The tech hovered the repulsor-lift mover just outside the doors and they all started loading it up with prisoners.

The scene was chaos.

Victims that had been totally mutilated started going into heart failure with the move. Alliance soldiers carried stretchers as a medic tried to resuscitate them. Full life support systems had to be loaded onto the mover. The bacta tanks were busted open and the dead were collected. The survivors screamed with grief and horror at what they were seeing, but they held together and did their best to help their Alliance rescuers to gather up victims and help keep them alive and calm, even though many of them were far too weak to stand on their own.

When they had loaded everyone, and regrettably stacked up the dead like wood on the rear of the freight mover, they started to slowly make their way out. The mover too full to hold the soldiers, and several mobile survivors, instead ran along side, blasters drawn and ready to attack anyone who got in their way. They made their way to the freight elevator and back to the original hallway, and then back down the hall towards the hangar gathering their dead, and the unconscious Imperials along the way. A few stormtroopers who were late to the fight had backtracked and started taking shots at them, killing a victim, and wounding a soldier. The Alliance fired in rage at the stormtroopers and killed them and moved on into the hangar.

L7 was first onto the Starscream and wasted no time, rolled straight into the cockpit to power up the ship. The freight mover hovered up slowly towards the Starscream's lowered platform, a few alliance soldiers took cover positions to protect the victims while the others, victim and soldier alike started getting the multitudes of immobile survivors onto the Starscream, and connecting those with life support systems to the ships internal power. The bodies of the dead, prisoners and Alliance soldiers, were moved to the refrigeration compartments loading them to full. The Starscream quickly filled up with the bodies of the living and the dead, leaving little room for the Alliance soldiers and rancor yet to return, and despite the losses they had already sustained. The ship started to smell of bacta, blood, and sweaty desperation. Several victims died during the transfer, soldiers and survivors did their best to revive them, most attempts failed. The leader of the squad updated Echobe of the situation. Cover positions were taken upon and around the Starscream, and they waited for Echobe, Makaashyya, and the rest of the team to arrive.

The Alliance pilots continued to whittle at the failing Star Destroyer, but it still fired though in a wild panic trying to fend off the hungry ships that threatened to kill it. TIE fighter numbers dwindled, had broken formation and were scattered and confused at what to do to stop the hemorrhaging Star Destroyer. The shield generator began to fail, its support structure collapsed, several thrusters destroyed, and sections of the Star Destroyer's hull had been breached bleeding its contents into space. Electricity arched through the hull of the ship as main power conduits vaporized.

The doors blocking Echobe and Makaashyya's team opened lazily revealing the huge, rectangular transparisteel windows lining the upper deck of the command bridge that showed the raging battle outside. They could see the Star Destroyer failing, and venting plumes of fire into space, and the remaining Alliance pilots struggling to stay alive, or at least bring the Imperial command ship down with them.

The command bridge opened up like an auditorium, a railing separated the upper deck skirted by windows, below that was the main control deck with computer terminals and empty seats before them. One lone Imperial officer stood before the rows of computers with his hands behind his back and looking up at the battle outside. Next to him stood a tall droid-like thing facing away from them. It was obviously the finished product one of the many experiments that had been conducted within the prison. It stood next to the Imperial, straight and as motionless as a plank. Most of its body was gone, but some pieces of raw pink flesh could be seen in between the patches of thin and mangled fur that still remained, in between that could be seen exposed pieces of robotic machinery.

Echobe held Bilebelch back, calling to the rancor's mind to subdue him. The rancor scorched, bleeding, and angry, reluctantly obeyed, but growled fiercely. The Alliance soldiers secured the area and aimed their blasters at the Imperial and the thing, and waited for Echobe's orders. Echobe and Makaashyya slowly approached the Imperial. The Imperial watched the battle a few more seconds, ignoring those behind him. Just before he turned to face the Alliance invaders, Makaashyya reeled with a stabbing pain in her mind. Her heart skipped beats, and felt as if someone was crushing it under their foot. Her breath stopped in her throat like an invisible enemy was trying to strangle her.

Echobe went to her side and picked her up from the floor where she nearly collapsed. The Imperial turned to face them as Echobe knelt to the Wookiee girl. Makaashyya's mind raced as she immediately recognized the Imperial officer. The images, much like the nightmares she used to have before Echobe saved her came to her mind in a flood. Standing there before them was the Imperial officer from Dathomir. The one who commanded the construction of the prison, the one who ordered the killing of so many Wookiees, and the sundering of Wookiee families, forcing them to labor, and destroying their lives and freedom. The one who had ordered the Wookiee slaves to line up so many times to punish them, the one whom Syymbacca almost killed to protect his sister. He stood before them without the slightest hint of pity, compassion or guilt, but full of self-righteousness.

The Imperial spoke hushed words to the thing standing next to him, and then it turned in a clunky robotic movement. And turn did the remains of Makaashyya's brother. The one who had saved her from the fate he now suffered that she did not wait to witness, instead running into the jungle of Dathomir to escape the horror of seeing her brother dead. But Syymbacca stood there, empty eyed, and dead still. His robotic limbs whirred impulsively. He registered no recognition of Makaashyya; he only stared forward in zombie-like unconsciousness. Makaashyya's mind was aflame. Her thoughts came unbidden into Echobe's mind, and he clearly saw and felt the pain that had driven Makaashyya to the dark side almost driving her mad.

Makaashyya's eyes burned as when Echobe saw them when they fought outside the cave hideout on Tatooine. He stepped back, the Alliance soldiers mimicked him unsure of what to do, but kept their blasters trained on the Imperial, and the abomination before them, waiting for one to make the first fatal move.

"I am amazed you remember me, Makaashyya."

She was stunned when she heard the Imperial speak her name.

"Yes, your brother told me much during our experiments. Our relationship has been quite educational. He was the first, the first success. His memory intact, totally under my control, the cognitive abilities remain, but his drive is empty, his individuality is mine, he is little more than a computer emulation of your brother without all of the bothersome emotions. He spoke much about you during his recovery, though fragmented from the damage done to his brain, but still useful."

The healed wound on Syymbacca's head was in plain view.

"And I see that you have brought my pet with you." The Imperial looked to Echobe. "Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get one of those things? You have caused me a great deal of frustration and credits."

Bilebelch growled, death was on his mind, but Echobe kept the rancor in check, but was horrified by the human standing before them, and horrified to realize that if anyone deserved to die the Imperial before them did.

Makaashyya had trouble hearing the Imperial speak, the rage and sorrow burned within her, the pain so loud it nearly drowned out all else, sight, sound, and thought. She felt as if she were slipping away, she couldn't take her eyes off of her brother, or what once was her brother. She heard the dark side calling to her. All at once the years of nightmares came back.

The Star Destroyer keeled on its right side, and all but one of its engines had erupted in explosion. An explosion within had severed the one remaining thruster's controls from the bridge, and it burned erratically, but steadily, and was forcing the giant ship into a spin towards the gravity of the largest, nearest object.

The Alliance pilots didn't stop battering it in its open wounds. The TIE fighters had all but been destroyed. Some tried to scramble for the blockade, but their radio signals were jammed and with the Alliance pilots in pursuit there was to be no escape.

The squadron leader outside contacted Echobe, breathing heavily.

"Sir, the Star Destroyer has been suppressed but it is out of control and heading straight for the station, you must get out, you must evacuate, do you read, over?" Static. The transmission garbled. Echobe picked up the radio and whispered into it trying to tell the Alliance pilots to get clear.

The Imperial continued to talk, his hands still behind his back.

"I have been looking forward to our meeting, Makaashyya, though under different circumstances. You were meant to be one of the experiments if not for the help of your Dathomir witches, and your rebel friends. You and your sibling would have made for a unique experiment, ones that had failed to this point."

Echobe flinched.

He remembered his parents drifting in the foul bacta, he remembered reading the details of their torture, the so-called experiments. Echobe was disgusted over the motivation of it all, and he found it hard to believe that anyone could be capable of such things, but the evidence stood before him in defiance of Echobe's judgment. His parents were mutilated and tortured by the very concepts of the human standing before him. Bilebelch was just another byproduct of the same evil, another casualty of the war. But despite it all Echobe couldn't muster the rage and anger to kill him. That anger and rage and hate instead manifested in the dark side corrupted Wookiee beside him.

"So now I assume you wish to arrest me, take me back to your headquarters, perhaps trial me and execute me," said the Imperial with the accumulated arrogance of all the Imperial conspirators they had ever encountered. "Unfortunately, you will have to get through my star pupil first. He is completely subservient to me, though I think you will find that he has retained his memory of you, but the emotion we have successfully repressed. His mind had been hardwired to do whatever I wish."

The Imperial gestured towards Makaashyya in a commanding way. Syymbacca's footfalls were heavy and metallic. His robotic arms were remorseless, clamping appendages reached out to give Makaashyya her death. Syymbacca's face, what was left of it, smiled. His eyes were not empty anymore, Makaashyya saw recognition in them, or so she hoped.

"Dear sister," spoke Syymbacca, his voice as well had been altered. A mechanical, shadowy, reflection of what it once was and the comfort it once offered her against the war around her. "It has been such a long time since you ran away from me, dear sister." The blinding tears welled up in Makaashyya's eyes. The lightsaber hung limp and useless from her hand. Her legs, her lip, her body trembled as her ruined Wookiee brother shambled towards her.

"I always wondered why you left me there in the mud, sister. After all the times I helped you, and you just run away like that from me," Syymbacca accused, but without bitterness, without sympathy, just as a computer was programmed to say it. Makaashyya shook her head in disbelief.

"No, you don't mean that. I didn't want to leave you there, I was so scared." Makaashyya fell to her knees. Echobe and Bilebelch took a step forward unsure of what to do. Bilebelch wanted blood, and to the Wookiee's shame, he wanted it as well. "I was so scared," she repeated to her self more than to Syymbacca. "How could I have known, I couldn't stay there after what had happened to you, I had to get away."

"And get away you did," said Syymbacca. His robotic voice reverberating with programmed mockery, almost just like an Imperial in their arrogance and distain for the Wookiees would say it. He spat the words. "You have been quite busy gathering more for experimentation. Almost the same way you offered me up to them, dear sister." Makaashyya cried into her hands. She had dropped the lightsaber. She was collapsing in on herself. Echobe could feel her mind reeling, but also felt the warning to stay back. Echobe also held the bloodied Bilebelch back, which otherwise would not have hesitated to rip the Imperial's, and Syymbacca's head from their bodies without a second thought.

"So now after all these years we are together again, sister. If only our family were here," lamented Syymbacca with coldness. "Come to me now, sister. Let me hold you and wipe your tears away, and give you the solace you deserve." The words were devoid of care, but instead the programmed hatred, the coldness of chemical and mechanical alterations that had been done to the Wookiee. His lethal metal appendages clamped threateningly, ringing like a bell.

Makaashyya, with eyes full of tears, looked up to Syymbacca who had now inched his way to her, and stood over her. Echobe raised his blaster, as did his soldiers behind him, Bilebelch crouched to prepare to lunge.

"It's time to go home now, dear sister," said Syymbacca. He raised his robotic arm towards her, and in a split second before Echobe could react, before anyone but one could react, a blaster transformed out of Syymbacca's arm. Makaashyya knew what was coming. She called her lightsaber to her hand quicker than thought, and cut off Syymbacca's arm then drove the burning blade up into her brother's midsection, and across the chest, severing the connections from his spine to his half-flesh half-robotic body. Syymbacca staggered to the floor and collapsed. Before he even hit the ground, before anyone had even realized what Makaashyya had just done, she lunged at the Imperial who also tried to draw a blaster on her.

The Imperial's legs, arms, and head were severed before the pain could even register to his brain. His life left him before the blood even touched the metal floor. Makaashyya stood over the Imperial's body as he stared up at her with soulless eyes, the lightsaber comfortingly hummed in her hand. She looked to Echobe who looked back at her with questioning, care-filled eyes, but he said nothing. He was unsure of what to do for her, unsure if there was anything he could do. He could still feel the pain within her burning as bright as a star, and within that, the dark side.

Echobe looked over his shoulder and ordered the Alliance soldiers out, and they were all too glad to leave. Bilebelch stayed against Echobe's wishes, but Echobe scolded the rancor and forced him to follow the others. The rancor walked backwards slowly, inching his way out, his feelings hurt, and then he reluctantly turned and followed the Alliance soldiers who were heading towards the elevator. He constantly looked back over his shoulder as he walked away.

The Star Destroyer was steadily growing larger in the windows as it careened helplessly towards the prison, explosions tearing through the hull of the once grand ship. The Alliance pilots could also been seen buzzing around it, unable to do anything but yell warnings into their radios. Echobe paid the chatter no attention.

Makaashyya went to Syymbacca in almost the same dazed shamble as he went to her. He was still alive, or rather he merely functioned, Makaashyya couldn't tell which one was true. She knelt at the body of her brother. His limbs were useless. The gaping, scorched hole in his mid-section stunk of burnt flesh and molten metal. His robotic assembly pulsed and convulsed with residual electricity, but with no guiding operation. She cradled him in her arms and held his head to her chest and stroked his face. The fur on her gentle face was streaked with tears. She set the lightsaber on the floor beside her. She touched her lips Syymbacca's forehead to comfort him, as he had done so many times for her before.

Echobe's radio screamed in near panic, but he still ignored it.

"We have to go, Makaashyya. This place is going to be destroyed, bring him with us, but we must go now," Echobe pled, expecting her to pick up Syymbacca and follow him. But Makaashyya looked up to Echobe with weary, reddish-orange eyes. Syymbacca stared empty-eyed at Echobe. An uneasy and unsettling feeling washed over Echobe, making his heart flip inside his chest, his nerves became hyper-sensitive, his stomach churned. Echobe started walking towards her, but Makaashyya shook her head in refusal. The thoughts from her mind were confusing, but he felt something slipping away, the strange apparition he felt earlier manifest.

"You must go," she said under her breath as she shook her head. It's over."

Echobe paid no attention to the desperate cries of his radio, or to Makaashyya's demand, he went to her. Makaashyya continued to shake her head and gave Echobe a look that stopped him in his tracks. In disbelief, in denial, Echobe shook his head in refusal.

"I'm sorry," she said, and raised her hand. The next thing Echobe knew he was being thrown backwards with unrestrained force. Makaashyya's image quickly shrunk in the distance. The blow pushed him through the air and sent him sailing out of the control room and far past the door. Echobe skidded on the ground hard, but recovered quickly and ran back towards the room. The doors began to shut, and the last Echobe saw inside the control room was the tear-streaked face of Makaashyya holding her brother like an infant, as Syymbacca had done for her in the past. Then the doors closed with finality, the control panel exploded into a shower of sparks. Echobe hit the door with his shoulder and pounded on it with his powerful fists, but it didn't budge. He yelled for Makaashyya, he pleaded with her to come out, he begged, he hammered the door, but there was no answer.

Echobe lowered his head.

"No, don't do this!" he yelled at the door, unable to accept that he was powerless.

The roar of Bilebelch brought Echobe back to reality. The rancor was waiting at the end of the hall near the elevator stomping his feet impatiently, waiting for him to come along. Echobe hesitated, he scratched at the door in one final act of defiance with his claws gouging the door, and then he ran towards Bilebelch half-heartedly, looking back hoping to see Makaashyya change her mind and emerge from the sealed doors, but he knew she had made her decision.

Echobe then ran as fast as he could to Bilebelch and the waiting elevator. The radio still screamed with the voices of Alliance soldiers and pilots yelling for Echobe to hurry up. When Echobe reached Bilebelch, the rancor ran along side of him, and they both got onto the elevator. By that time the station was beginning to tremble, but the elevator was unaffected and continued its descent to the hallway leading back to the hanger. It stopped as it reached its final destination, and rancor and Wookiee ran off the elevator and down the hall beyond the bodies of the dead Imperials, towards the waiting Starscream, and the Alliance soldiers who were yelling and waving for them as they held defensive positions around the ship. The Star Destroyer consumed the view of space from the destroyed hangar doors. Pieces of debris had broken off from the Star Destroyer and started to penetrate the emergency force field that sheltered the hangar from space.

Echobe ran in first and headed straight for the cockpit, then Bilebelch crammed himself inside, then the Alliance soldiers pushing the rancor from behind to pile in, and the platform closed as the last soldier entered. The Starscream was packed with people and rancor. The Star Destroyer could be seen just outside the hangar, merely meters from impact. Echobe lifted the ship from the deck, spun around and blasted off and out into space scraping the hull against the underside of the Star Destroyer as it impacted with the hangar opening, and in the blink of an eye, crumpled the hangar like a dried leaf. They sped off into space, and the remaining Alliance ships followed as Echobe quickly plotted a hyperspace route, as did the rest of the squadron.

Makaashyya stared at the sealed doors for many moments after forcing Echobe out, regretting that it was the last time she would see him. She missed him the second the doors closed. She desired for the future they may have had. She wished all things could have been different. She wished that they could have met, as they should have, in peace, on Kashyyyk, no war, no force, just them. She stroked Syymbacca's head. His body twitched, and his breathing slowed to almost nothing. She could sense thought in his mind and she basked in it and cradled him, giving her brother one last comfort as his last remaining thought gave to her.

She then thought of Echobe as she watched the Star Destroyer follow its course of destruction towards the prison in unstoppable collision. She didn't even try to stop the inevitable with her considerable power in the force. She just smiled, and called out to Echobe hoping he would hear her, that she would hear him one final time. She felt his mind racing, and filled with many of the same thoughts, regrets and desires as her own, but for one great difference. She saw the other side of the force clearly for the first time. For that shining moment it drowned out the dark side embedded within her. She basked in its true warmth, and she listened to it calling her name on the wind. She didn't make an effort to stop her tears, no longer of sorrow, or of horror, but of happiness and regret, and realization.

She kissed her brother's forehead and held his dying body. The emerald glow of Kashyyyk came into view in the huge transparisteel windows of the bridge just before Star Destroyer blotted it out and impacted, pushing the station askew, hiding the planet from her again. Makaashyya savored the memory of Kashyyyk and of her home that she had been banished from. It held her in awe. The colors of Kashyyyk in green, blue, white and all of the variations contained within, stood out as never before, opening its arms wide to receive its two long lost children.

"Look, brother," Makaashyya said, her eyes wide and tear-blurred, and a smile on her face. "We're going home."

The Star Destroyer settled deep into the Imperial prison. A few brief moments passed as reactors failed, fires caught, hull integrity collapsed. Echobe heard Makaashyya's mind call out to him. Love, and regret, but also satisfaction. The words echoed in his mind from hers.

"I've chosen my destiny, I am safe now, goodbye dear Echobe," she said with all the love that she could send to him across the growing distance between them, and then she was gone.

Both ship and station exploded vaporizing both, turning the once grand structures to dust. The shockwave quickly traveled in all directions, and the vapor-like debris soared into Kashyyyk's atmosphere to be mingled with the planet, and to be locked into Kashyyyk's orbit. Echobe looked back one last time. Makaashyya's voice faded as the explosion spread out in all directions and cleared. With eyes full of tears, he then took the Starscream into hyperspace for Mon Calamari, his Alliance soldiers followed.


The celebration shortly after their return to Mon Calamari was loud and joyful and grand. The hollers of welcome and congratulations echoed throughout the Mon Calamari hangar and far out to sea. The survivors were attended to, many were saved from the clutches of death, though some died, and many others still suffer from the ghoulish Imperial experiments, forever debilitated by the surgical mutilations, but they were free and safe from further harm, as safe as anyone could be in such times.

The Alliance pilots and soldiers were awarded for their bravery, receiving commendations before the assembled battalions on Mon Calamari by the Alliance leader, Mon Mothma. Their victory further enhanced the morale of the Rebellion throughout the galaxy. Echobe was given a medal and cheered for his bravery and leadership abilities. Bilebelch was given plenty of moist dirt to dig and play in, and plenty of food to eat and was as honored as much as any rancor could ever hope to be.

The past several years since leaving Kashyyyk, Echobe could only of hoped that things could end so well, that what Burmar and Ulchewbuk, Elyya and Obechukk, Yaminul, and Bilebelch had set out to do would come to fruition. Their collective dreams since that fateful day had been realized, and their deaths were not in vain. Despite his grievous injuries, Bilebelch was alive and well, with just more scars to overlap older ones. So much had been gained, but so much had been lost. Echobe had once felt confident and sure that he would finish his task, and in the value of it all, but he never expected what could have happened along the way, and never imagined that things could have turned out the way they had, so different from what he envisions. He had gained so much, but lost equally.

Echobe was eventually allowed back onto Kashyyyk once word of his deeds reached his people after the death of Makaashyya and her brother. The stories of what he had done for his people, and his fight against the Empire had made him a hero among his people. Stories were written, songs sung. Elders would tell of what Echobe had done for generations upon generations. Echobe's foster parents looked upon their foster son with love and pride.

But as Echobe stood on the surface of Kashyyyk after returning the Wookiee survivors from the prison-laboratories, he looked up into the sky from his healing home city. The stars twinkled and winked at him. He saw comets skim the sky, ricocheting off Kashyyyk's atmosphere and back into space. He watched with longing eyes. Everything he set out to do had been done. Echobe was able to come home, as he long desired to be among his people, as he had always wanted. Accepted.

But he stood there under the endless sky that reached out into the limitless void of all that had been and ever will be, and feeling as if he had somehow failed.

Original cover by WookieeLiberationFront. HTML formatting copyright 2009 TheForce.Net LLC.

Fan Fiction Rating

Current Rating is 10 in 10 total ratings.

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Author: WookieeLiberationFront  (signed)
Date posted: 11/1/2010 12:10:53 PM
WookieeLiberationFront's Comments:

My first attempt at a serious writing project, just to see if I could do it. I hope you find it enjoyable and as heartfelt as I did while writing it. If not, that's OK too. I don't mind hearing the good and the bad.

In any event, thank you for taking the time to look and perhaps read, and a special thank you to the editors that helped me get this published. This is quite the accomplishment for me that I couldn't have done without the editors here.

Thank you, and enjoy.

Author: WookieeLiberationFront  (signed)
Date posted: 3/14/2011 8:32:12 AM
WookieeLiberationFront's Comments:

If you don't want to read it here, I made it into an ebook, so you can download it for your Kindle or Nook, or iPad, or what have you. Please enjoy, and be sure to spread it around.

Author: PaulCampagna
Date posted: 4/28/2011 3:59:17 AM
PaulCampagna's Comments:

I have been a Star Wars fan ever since my uncle and aunt took me to see my first Star Wars movie (Return of the Jedi) when (it) first came out in theaters. I have also read several Star Wars books. I can honestly say, not only is this my favourite Star Wars book... but by far the best story I have ever read! Fantastic job!

Author: WookieeLiberationFront  (signed)
Date posted: 5/4/2011 2:35:22 PM
WookieeLiberationFront's Comments:

Thank you so much for your wonderful comments. I hope others feel half as good about this novel as you do.

I will be completing work on my own original novel with a month or two. Hopefully you'll see it on shelves everywhere.

Author: Ciko
Date posted: 6/1/2012 3:20:51 AM
Ciko's Comments:

Hey, that's the gerastet! So with ll this brain power AWHFY?

Author: WookieeLiberationFront
Date posted: 10/23/2012 9:13:20 PM
WookieeLiberationFront's Comments:

Still available for ebook download here

Author: Star Bawlz
Date posted: 1/7/2013 7:37:10 PM
Star Bawlz's Comments:

I have to say that was an AWESOME read!!! keep up the good work!!

Author: WookieeLiberationFront  (signed)
Date posted: 1/25/2013 4:29:39 PM
WookieeLiberationFront's Comments:

Updated copy can be found here. With error corrections and updated splash page. For the epub version For the prc version For the pdf version

Author: WookieeLiberationFront
Date posted: 7/1/2013 4:25:50 AM
WookieeLiberationFront's Comments:

Updated copy can be read and downloaded here. Thank you for your support.

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Archived: Saturday, October 30, 2010

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