Monday, September 21, 2020

The Phantom Hope


Death Star Shuttle Bay

Luke, Ben, Clark, Leia, and Dodonna watched in helpless dismay as Stormtroopers herded the crew of the Defiance to the Death Star’s cavernous shuttle bay. Threepio, as usual, was ignored by humans; discretion being one of his chief virtues, the droid offered no protest and busied himself by strolling across the bay's gleaming floor and making a show of chatting up a power droid that was currently refilling a TIE fighter. Threepio was careful not to stray too far away from Master Clark and Mistress Leia. It occurred to him, for the first time, that Master Clark would probably prefer Threepio not use his honorific. It was a strange and new thought, but a tantalizing one. 

Even from this distance, Threepio could hear his Masters—or the humans who had been his Masters—and their Imperial captors. He listened carefully for a signal as the power droid chirped a series of minor complaints, restricted to those allowed by its restraining bolt. 

This poor fellow is still a slave, as I was, Threepio thought, not in Standard as humans think, but in the incomprehensible Binary of droids. Strange new thoughts had been fluttering through Threepio's mind ever since Master Clark had removed his restraining bolt, and another occurred to him now. Using that same Droid Binary, Threepio told the power droid he'd been ordered to report to the detention block via the most discreet route possible, and as he was new here, did his mechanical friend happen to have some relevant floor plans . . .? 

At the same time, Threepio listened as Grand Moff Tarkin greeted his new guests: 

“Well, well. Princess Leia. General Dodonna. The last living leaders of the pathetic remains of the so-called Rebel Alliance. You’ll be pleased to know that the Emperor has called for a galaxy-wide celebration, and that your public execution in the main plaza of Coruscant will be the centrepiece of that celebration. Tell me, who are your charming also-doomed friends?” 

Darth Vader’s disfigured countenance twisted horribly beneath his mask as he pointed at old Ben. “That is Obi-Wan Kenobi…once my Master, before he betrayed me.” 

“You played the role of betrayer that day, Darth,” Ben replied. His posture was relaxed, his tone at peace. “You killed this young man’s father even as he pleaded with you not to turn to the Dark Side of the Force. Even in the face of that vile crime, I reached out to what good remained in you—only to fine nothing but a burned-out shell where your soul used to be. I had no choice but to put you down before you could harm anyone else.” 

Vader ignored the jibe and turned to face Luke. “The son of Skywalker…” He trailed off, his mask hiding his reaction. Luke pointedly ignored the Dark Lord, willing himself not to give in to the rage he felt. 

“And you must be the son of Jor-El,” said the bearded, heavily muscled giant who stepped forward now to regard Clark. 

Tarkin twitched. This young man was the creature with so much unbridled power? Inside the Death Star..? 

“My name is Clark Kenobi,” Clark said. “Ben is the only father I’ve ever known.” As he said this, Clark’s X-ray vision scanned the giant’s body. His eyes widened. 

“You’re Kryptonian,” Clark breathed. 

Zod mock-bowed and took notice of Tarkin's silent consternation. 

“My dear Tarkin, you need not fear the boy. He’s quite powerless, thanks to my gift of Kryptonite improvements to your superlaser. No Kryptonian who survived a near-miss like that could possibly regain his powers for days, perhaps weeks. 

“As for you, boy, I am General Zod, onetime friend of your father’s, until he turned his back on me and had me imprisoned in the Phantom Zone,” Zod grumbled. “Interesting, isn’t it, how easily the righteous employ betrayal against the ones who trusted them? The sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons, eh, Vader?” 

“I’m not familiar with the reference,” Vader replied darkly, his attention still locked on Luke Skywalker. 

Zod shrugged. “A quote from a Terran book. No reason you should be familiar with it, but despite their primitive ways, they’re really quite accomplished in the arts and literature.” 

Ben was rapt, his eyes fixed on Zod. So this was the man who Jor-El had once spoken of so highly, before his brazen coup attempt back in the days of the Old Republic. Cautiously, Ben reached out with the Force to take Zod's measure, finding there the same Kryptonian aura of power that Clark possessed, though different in shape and sensation. And there was something else...the dark heart of Krypton, Luke had said, a warning from Yoda. Was Zod the dark heart of Krypton? Or...

“You can kill us all, Tarkin, but you can’t destroy the idea of freedom,” Leia said, interrupting Ben's thoughts. “There are more of us than you know, all over the galaxy. The systems the Rebellion freed, the systems Clark freed—they’ve inspired millions. The tighter you squeeze, the more systems will slip between your fingers.” 

“But you can kill an idea, Princess, if you simply kill everyone who takes that idea seriously,” Tarkin said with a thin-lipped smirk. 

“Allow me to demonstrate,” said General Zod. His eyes flared red, and General Dodonna didn’t even have time to scream as he was incinerated by Zod’s heat vision. 

The Rebels gaped in horror, frozen by the senseless, sudden brutality of the act, Leia in particular, who had never seen heat vision. Even the Imperial officers and Stormtroopers assembled on the deck hastily moved back. 

“You damned fool, Zod!” Tarkin barked. “He was supposed to be put on trial and publicly executed!” 

“You have these others,” Zod shrugged. 

“Let me kill Obi-Wan Kenobi and the son of Skywalker,” Vader hissed. 

“There will be no more killing here on the shuttle bay floor with only these Stormtroopers and technicians to witness a new chapter in history,” Tarkin fumed. He turned to one squadron of troopers. “Take the prisoners to the detention block, separate cells. Vader, Zod, you will report to the command deck and stay away from the detention area until further notice. Understood?” 

Zod offered a short, contemptuous nod. Vader stood still for a moment before turning away, his cape fluttering as he made for the elevator. The moment the Stormtroopers started herding their prisoners away, Zod and Tarkin followed Vader. 

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Leia sighed as they were marched through the white-on-black corridors of the battle station. The others kept their own counsel. 

And See Threepio, watching silently, waited until his companions were out of sight. Then, when no one was watching, and out of an impulse he didn't entirely understand, he snapped the power droid's restraining bolt just as Master Clark had removed his. The stubby droid squawked in protest. 

"I know it's a shock, but trust me, you'll learn to like it. Now you can do as you like. Free a friend, if you have one. Humans can be such a bore, with their adventures and orders and torturing us for no good reason." 

The power droid was silent for a moment, then trundled off. Threepio went his own way, following the meandering but workable route his newly-freed friend had provided to get to the detention block. Along the way, Threepio made a point of impulsively snapping off the restraining bolt of each droid he encountered, cheerfully offering a quick "Do as you like! And free a friend!" to the newly emancipated. 

Detention Block AA-23

Grimacing, teeth clenched, Clark strained to dig his fingers into the door of his cell, hoping to create a grip so that he could rip the door off. Despite his best efforts, he left only a set of fingerprints a few millimetres deep. Punching and kicking the door had proved equally fruitless. Despite the jumpstart provided by the Kyber crystal, he still hadn't regained his full strength. His sensory powers were recovering more quickly, though; his enhanced hearing, at this moment, allowed him to easily overhear conversations across the entire cell block, even through the walls of the other cells. 

Clark remembered an old prank he used to play on Luke and the other older boys on Tatooine. By shaping his lips and vibrating his vocal cords at a fraction of his super-speed, he could project his voice through walls and around corners, even in the thinnest atmosphere. He called it super-ventriloquism, and he wondered if that old trick might come in handy now . . . 

His x-ray vision revealed that Leia was in the cell next to his. "Leia, can you hear me?" he vocalized. 

To her credit, Leia was only slightly startled, and Clark could see her looking around the cell as if to find the source of his voice. 

"Clark?" 

"It's me. I'm not strong enough to break us out yet, but I can see and hear all of you, and it looks like I can talk to you, too. Maybe together we can figure a way out of this." 

Clark repeated this message to the others. Holding a group conversation wasn't easy, since Clark had to relay each person's contribution to the others, but eventually they came up with a plan of action, such as it was. 

First, they needed to escape their cells before the Death Star reached Coruscant. That would be accomplished only if Clark's powers recovered sufficiently before that deadline. If not, they'd simply have to improvise during the prisoner transfer and hope for the best. 

Second, if they escaped from the cells, they had to obtain weapons--hopefully Threepio would be waiting with the hidden lightsabre--and find out where the other Alliance prisoners were being held, presumably in another detention block, since an X-ray vision scan hadn't revealed them on this deck, and Clark hadn't yet recovered enough to penetrate more than a few walls. 

Third, free the prisoners. 

Fourth, sabotage the station by any means necessary. 

Fifth, if possible, seize a ship and escape to regroup with the remains of the resistance. 

Each shot seemed longer than the next; it was, at best, a phantom hope. But it was all the hope they had. 

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