The Hotel Rahvkuss Bar was nearly empty. Two Native Kaldans sat in a booth, a lone Yuzzum was drinking lum out of a pitcher at his own table, and a female Twi’lek sat alone at the bar. From Ellie’s view at the door, she could see the young woman in profile: depressed, maybe lonely, with the burden of the galaxy on her shoulders. Or maybe she wished for that burden, and no one had given her a second thought, and passed her over for someone more accomplished, or braver, or stronger.
“Reodi,” whispered Ellie to herself, even though she knew it wasn’t her old friend. Reodi had died in an accident on Kalda while Ellie was in prison. This was Reodi’s clone- no, daughter- and as she shared all of Reodi’s DNA, she lacked Reodi’s energy and love of life. At some point, Reodi’s daughter, Nora, lost that spark, maybe as a result of her mother’s death or the pressure of living up to the Sha’adron family legacy. Now she tried to drink that pressure away.
Ellie sat at the bar next to her. Nora gave a quick glance, looked back at her gin and tonic, then turned to face Ellie fully.
“Ellie- Master Ellezandra, I mean- um… why-“
Ellie smiled at the sound of Reodi’s voice mimicked in Nora. “Ellie will do just find. How are you, Nora?”
“Great! I’m doing… just great, really. Got some spending money, now,” Nora smiled, then quickly stopped as her eyes widened. “Did you break out?”
“I was released- legitimately. I half-expected your dad to try to break me out, at some point,” Ellie said, and knew that mentioning Spike was probably not the wisest thing to say to Nora. Her expression went sour as she finished her drink.
“Enjoy the freedom,” Nora said, and looked to the bartender. “Hey, another one, and get whatever she wants,” she said, motioning to Ellie.
“I’ll take a caf with a shot of Nubian Whiskey,” Ellie said, and Nora got a confused look.
“Blast it, I thought you were here to talk me out of drinking.” Nora laughed, and when the drinks arrived she clinked her glass with Ellie’s.
“I’m here to ask you to join my crew.”
Nora’s expression went back to sour. “You got the wrong clone. Try Patrick- he’s the do-gooder.”
Ellie took a sip of her drink, and then turned to completely face Nora. “The Noble Blaze leaves at noon tomorrow. I want you on that ship.”
“And why the hell would you want that?”
“Something bad is going to happen, and I want people I can trust-“
“I’m NOT Reodi, okay? So frak off!” Nora stormed out of the bar, and Ellie quickly got up and followed.
Nora was nearly running down the street as Ellie caught up with her.
“Ele’nore!” Ellie shouted, and Nora froze in her tracks. “Nora, I need your help. More importantly, I think you need me. You can drink yourself stupid in Rahvkuss if you want, that’s your choice. But something bad is going to happen, very soon, and the Force led me to you. Noon tomorrow, Docking Bay 523.” Ellie turned and walked back to her swoop. She didn’t bother turning around… she knew Nora was watching after her.
“Adventuring?” Brin asked as he poured caf for he and Ellie.
“Why do people call it that? I’m sure it will be more like… roaming,” Ellie said, looking around Brin’s house. It was modest in furnishings, but a very large home on a 200 acre plot north of Kalda Proper. Vids of he and his wife Lida’s seven children adorned the walls, along with memorabilia from his days with the New Republic and Ahdio.
“Roaming… you do know how to entice a fella.” Brin slowly lowered his large frame into his chair, and he exhaled a big breath as he settled in. Nearly 50 years old, he still had a thick head of hair, but it had gone completely gray, along with his beard. “But roaming is safer than adventuring, I bet.”
“If I thought this was going to be safe, I’d ask Gli. I think this has the possibility to become dangerous, quickly, and I need someone good with a blaster rifle.”
“I haven’t fired a blaster in 10 years, Ellie, and that was just to scare off a loose dino. My knees hurt, I need to lose a few pounds… Lida and the boys? What about them?”
Ellie took a long drink of her caf. “Brin, you were supposed to be the easy one. My ‘old reliable.’ My dearest old friend-“
“Try Boomer. He loves this kind of hot-shot business.”
“I don’t want Boomer. “
“I’ve put Rand through too much already. He’s earned the right to sit this one out.” Brin stared at Ellie for a moment, a look of disbelief and nostalgia on his face, and he laughed out loud. “I’m in, blast it. I suppose we leave today?”
“Noon from Rahvkuss,” Ellie jumped up and gave Brin a hug. “Admit it, old man: this is just what you need.”
“What I need is to stop answering the comlink when Jedi Masters call.”
An hour later, Ellie was flying her swoop through the pass between the low mountains West of Rahvkuss. Taking the last turn out of the pass, she could finally see the Jedi Praxeum gleaming in the mid-morning sun, the statues of Masters Yoda and Kenobi standing proud in front of the ziggurat. This had been her school, her home, but now things had changed. It still felt safe and familiar, but it was someone else’s now. Now it belonged to Kit, and she stood in the doorway of the Praxeum.
- – -
“Let me send a Jedi with you. Even a Padowan could help,” Kit said as she walked through the halls with Ellie.
“I don’t want another Jedi. I’m not ready,” Ellie said. “I need to find out what’s going on with me first, and then I’ll worry about how to train someone else.” They stopped in front of the medical ward. “Do you know where you’re going yet?” Kit asked.
“Wish I did. I’ll just close my eyes and punch in a random vector for the Nav computer.”
“Let me know what I can do to help… and when I get my doctor back,” Kit said.
“I haven’t even asked her yet. Maybe she’ll say ‘no.’”
Pah’li glanced up as Ellie entered the room, looking exactly as she did 20 years ago when she permanently changed her Shi’ido form into that of a blue-skinned Rodian. From New Republic Spec Ops to NRI, Pah’li had served the galaxy as a soldier, spy, and medic. Now she taught the Jedi the more conventional forms of medicine at the Praxeum.
“Hello Ellie!” she said, setting down a datapad and coming around the table for a hug. “This is a surprise- welcome to the medical ward.”
“Hi Pah’li. I’m not here for a tour or a visit, actually. I need your help, and I’d love it if you were on my crew.”
“Very well. I accept.”
Pah’li stood and smiled. Ellie cocked an eyebrow and started to explain.
“You don’t even know what I’m going to ask you to do-“
“That is inconsequential. If you need my assistance, I am proud to serve.”
Ellie smiled and kissed Pah’li on the cheek. “You have a lot of faith in people, Pah’le.”
“I have a lot of faith in my friends, Ellie.” Pah’li took Ellie’s hand in hers. “People let you down, but friends give you a chance to show off the best in yourself and help them along the way.”
“Well, pack a bag. And get ready to help some friends.”
The Noble Blaze glistened in the hot mid-day sun at the Rahvkuss Spaceport.
No, thought Ellie, it’s not all the original Noble Blaze . Somebody borrowed it and had to eject the cockpit, and Kit and the other Jedi had spent some time rebuilding the Lantillian Short Hauler to make it fully operational. Though she hadn’t given any specifics, Ellie suspected that Kit had the ship sent to Simondz for a final over-haul… and a few modifications.
“I didn’t think it would hit me this hard,” Brin said, running his hand across the belly of the ship. “We had some moments in this baby. If not for all the near death and destruction, I might say I miss it.”
“Get ready to do it all again,” Ellie said, hitting the controls to lower the hatch. She grabbed her gear and Brin followed her onto the ship. Each of them claimed their old bunks with no discussion and went to the lounge.
“Hey, who put this up?” Brin pointed to a framed picture hanging above the booth. It showed Ahdio, Ellie, Brin, and Gli, smiling on a pleasure barge, drinks in hand, all of them young and skinny and beautiful. “That was Nal Hutta, right? Right before-“
“Right before I went to Helska. When Bacall contacted me.”
“Yeah… I was going to say right before Gli got drunk and entered the stripping contest.”
Ellie smiled. “Kit must have found it and put it up there.”
“She retrieved it from my databanks.”
Brin jumped up and slammed his head on the archway of the lounge, and turned to see the newcomer to the conversation.
“Blast it, Ellie, mention we’re not alone on the frakking ship! Who the hell is this?”
“Brin, meet R9-B8A. I call him Beta.” The astro droid spun to face Brin. The new design of the R9 was an update of the R2, with some streamlining of the components on the dome.
“So is it Bate or not?” Brin asked.
“He has Bate’s memory banks, but a lot less personality… on purpose, I might add.”
Beta spun toward Ellie. “Should I begin pre-flight checks?”
“Oh yeah… we’re out of here in less than 15 minutes.” Ellie headed back to the ramp to meet Pah’li pushing a hovering crate, which Ellie guessed to be medical supplies. “I have a med bay, you know.”
“Of course, Ellie, but one should always be prepared. I’ve brought along some prototypes I wouldn’t mind testing out… some bacta bandages and medkits I’ve been working on.”
“Go for it. Thanks Pah’li,” Ellie let Pah’li pass her and go onto the ship, and she sat down on the ramp. She checked her chrono to find it was nearly noon…
Nora walked slowly into the docking bay, and Ellie stood to meet her. “I’m not sure of what you want me to do, exactly,” Nora said. “I have no idea of what to expect.”
“I need a co-pilot and someone on sensors.”
“I can handle that.”
“I could use someone to help keep the ship running.”
“You’ll have to teach me.”
“And I need someone good in a fight.”
Nora laughed. “You’ll need to seriously teach me that.”
“Don’t worry. It’s in your blood,” Ellie said, and they walked together onto the Noble Blaze.
Pah’li, Brin, and Beta were all waiting in the cockpit. Ellie took her pilot’s seat, taking a moment to feel the yoke, the small vibrations of the ship transferring their energy to her. She had once felt like part of the ship, it’s movements extensions of her own, and she tried to feel that again. Not through the Force, exactly, but in that relationship between pilot and ship.
“So where we going?” Brin asked from the seat behind her.
“Beta,” Ellie said, flipping the switches to give her control of repulsors and thrusters, “set a course for Dantooine.”
“Dantooine?” Pah’li asked. “What might we find there?”
“Hopefully, some friends.”
The Noble Blaze came out of hyperspace and into a war zone. “What the frak!” yelled Nora, scrambling at her controls. “What do we do?”
“Get to the turrets-“ Ellie started, but realized that Brin and Pah’li had already ran back to the quad lasers. “Nora-“
“What’s happening?!” Nora was staring at Ellie.
“Just relax and get on sensors. Tell me what’s out there,” Ellie said, pointing the ship into the heart of the battle and bringing the forward shields to full.
Nora brought up her sensor screen. “There’s a bunch of fighters… I don’t recognize them. Looks like snubs and some bombers. Wait… the computer recognizes them as A-9 Interceptors and Scimitar Assault Bombers.”
“What are they broadcasting for transponders?”
Nora took a moment. “Nothing.”
“Okay, mark them as enemies. That feeds back to the gunners. Brin, Pah’li: strapped in and ready?”
“Brin’s on top,” came back Brin’s voice over the comm.
“Pah’li is in the belly turret, targets are red,” Pah’li came back.
“I’m dialing down the inertial compensator to 95%,” Ellie said, adjusting the control. Immediately, she could feel the G-forces stronger, giving her a better feel for how the ship could manuever in the battle. “Who else is out there, Nora?”
“There’s about ten Y-wings joining the battle,” she said. “They’re broadcasting CBA.”
Ellie smiled. “Mark them as friendly, and get the leader on the comm. Gunners, here we go.”
The nose of the Noble Blaze dipped down, and the ship began a steep dive toward the nearest grouping of fighters. Ellie could see the bombers firing ion cannons at a group of five bulk freighters. One freighter was already disabled, with its captain shouting distress calls over the comm. As the Noble Blaze approached, six A-9 Interceptors formed a group and moved in to attack. Brin and Pah’li had already started firing before the fighters had organized their first attack run on the Noble Blaze, and two Interceptors exploded.
“Ellie, I have the Y-wing leader hailed,” Nora said, punching his frequency through to the cockpit.
“Noble Blaze, this is Blue Leader. Thanks for the help,” said the voice over the comm. He had an odd Core accent, and sounded calm and focused.
“I’m going to clear a path for the freighters to hit hyperspace,” Ellie said. “Can you take care of those Scimitar bombers so the freighters have a chance of getting out of here?”
“Roger that, Noble Blaze,” Blue Leader said, and a Y-wing formation streaked past and attacked their bomber counter-parts.
The A-9 Interceptors had regrouped after taking the first wave of casualties, and returned fire on the Noble Blaze. The ship shuddered as it took laser hits, and Nora glanced over nervously.
“Beta, you better be working on recharging shields,” Ellie said, glancing at the shield rating. It showed 80%.
Beta’s voice came over the comm. “Engineering here. Shields are holding.”
Brin and Pah’li each took out a couple more fighters, but the screen showed a mass of red- at least 25 or so buzzed in the viscinity of the bulk freighters, making it difficult for any escape. Ellie flew tight to the freighters, making her way to the front of the line.
“Frak!” Nora screamed, looking down at sensors. “A new ship just jumped in, some sort of crusier… it’s a Crusader-class corvette… and its launching more fighters!”
“We better get these freighters out soon,” Ellie said. “Get me the captain of the lead bulk freighter.”
Nora hit the comm controls, and a Mon Calamari voice came back.
“This is the captain of the Raggaduun II-“
“Captain,” Ellie interupted, “This is the Noble Blaze. I’m clearing a path. Have all ships ready the jump to lightspeed, and engage on my mark.”
“Affirmative,” came back the Mon Cal.
A swarm of A-9 Interceptors blocked the path to hyperspace. “Gunners, lock the quads forward. I’m gonna roll…” Ellie said as she dropped the ship between the bulk freighters and the fighters.
“What kind of roll-“ Nora started, but she soon found out. The quads pointed forward, blasting at full power, and Ellie brought the Noble Blaze into a barrel roll, juking back and forth in a random pattern, either destroying enemy fighters or sending them scrambling out of the way. After the last fighter in their path was destroyed, Ellie shouted into the comm.
Ellie immediately sent the Noble Blaze into another steep dive, throwing her and Nora into the back of their seats, and narrowly avoiding the bulk freighters steep acceleration into hyperspace.
Nora checked sensors after Ellie pulled the ship back into a normal cruising speed. “They made it! The four freighters are gone!”
“That just leaves the crippled one,” Ellie said. “Blue group should be forming a defense around the freighter.”
“Looks like the fighters are giving up, they’re either heading back for the corvette or jumping into hyperspace,” Nora said, smiling.
“Blue Leader, this is the Noble Blaze. Looks like we did okay,” Ellie said as she checked the scope for Blue Leader’s Y-wing. And she found it- missing its starboard engine and falling into Dantooine’s atmosphere. “Blue Leader?!”
“Noble Blaze, this is the new Blue Leader. He’s been hit-“
Ellie didn’t bother listening to the comm. Instead she hit her thrusters to full, diverting power from the aft shields and quad laser cannons, and made an intercept course for Blue Leader.
Nora checked sensors and looked at the course Ellie plotted. “We’re going to be in atmosphere before we can get to him, Ellie. I don’t see what-“
“Nora, I need you to hold this course, until we get within a few meters of Blue Leader. Then kill thrusters when we get directly above the Y-wing.”
“Me? What are you doing?”
“I’m jumping onto the Y-wing.”
Ellie ran down to the port cargo hold, and checked the gauge on the cargo hatch in the floor. It showed that the Noble Blaze was now in atmosphere, and the ship’s computer had safely adjusted the vaccuum conditions. She checked that her lightsaber was secured to her belt and pressed the control to open the hatch.
The hatch slid open, providing a 2 meter square opening in the deck of the cargo bay. The wind made havok of her hair and clothes, and she calmly took off her robe and tied back her hair. She reached out in the Force, looking for Blue Leader. She found him, very much alive but probably unconscience, and he was approaching rapidly. Ellie stood on the edge of the hatch, eyes closed, trusting that the Force would tell her when to jump. She took a Jedi breath and waited.
The Y-wing was not yet in sight when Ellie stepped off the edge, but it quickly came into view as she began her free-fall. It was missing an engine and its astromech was destroyed, but otherwise appeared intact. It was making a slow lateral spin, clockwise, and Ellie pointed her body straight down, head first, trying to make up the distance between herself and the disabled ship.
She nearly missed her landing, her timing off with the Y-wing’s slow spin, and held on tight to the one remaing engine as her legs kicked wildly behind her. Ellie wished she had some magno-grips to help, but she had to settle for a slow crawl toward the cockpit of the small ship using a small boost of Force strength. When she got near the cockpit, Ellie’s hopes fell slightly: the astromech socket, along with the power and signal cable around it, had fused into a molten glob of black goo. There was almost no way the cockpit had any control of engines or thrusters. Ellie wouldn’t be able to fly the ship anywhere, and Blue Leader was trapped in his cockpit.
But Ellie decided that the cockpit was the only place that was safe and intact, and that gave her an idea. Reaching out in the Force, she began to feel everything inside of the Y-wing’s cockpit. She could sense the control yoke, the firing triggers, the astromech interface… and the ejection lever. Holding tight to the Y-wing, Ellie used the Force to nudge the lever forward…
The cockpit ejected from the Y-wing, its small thrusters blasting it skyward, and hurtling the Y-wing into an eratic spin. Ellie hardly noticed- she now dug deep into the Force, deeper than she had dared try since leaving prison. She felt the Y-wing and herself, but also concentrated on Dantooine, its gravity pulling both her and the ship at a dangerous and lethal speed to the planet. She focused on that gravity and the Y-wing’s velocity, on her velocity, on the mountains and rolling hills of violet flowers on the planet… on the crew of the Noble Blaze… on Blue Leader… on the small hairs on her neck… on the memories of old friends gone….
She open her eyes and realized she was sitting on top of the Y-wing, legs crossed, both her and the ship perfectly still, hovering about ten meters above grassy plains of Dantooine. She allowed the ship to gently float down, making a soft landing in the field.
Ellie exhaled slowly. “I need to start making better plans,” she thought.