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HOW beautiful was the universe, Luke thought. How beautifully flowing, glorious and aglow like the robe of a queen. Ice-black clean in its emptiness and solitude, so unlike the motley collage of spinning dust motes men called their worlds, where the human bacteria throve and multiplied and slaughtered one another. All so that one might say he stood a little higher than his fellows.
In depressed moments he felt sure there was no really happy living matter on any of those worlds. Only a plethora of destructive human diseases which fought and raged constantly against one another, a sequence of cancerous civilizations which fed on its own body, never healing yet somehow not quite dying.
A particularly virulent strain of one of those cancers had killed his own mother and father, then his Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen. It had also taken from him the man he had learned to respect more than any other, the elderly Jedi knight Ben Kenobi.
Although he had seen Kenobi struck by the lightsaber of Darth Vader on board the now obliterated Imperial Deathstar battle station, he could not be certain the old wizard was truly dead. Vader’s saber had left only empty air in its wake. That Ben Kenobi had departed this plane of existence was unarguable. What no one could tell was what level of existence he had passed into. Maybe death and …
There were times when Luke experienced an agreeably crawly sensation, as if someone were lurking just behind him. That unseen presence occasionally seemed to move arms and legs for him, or to supply suggestions and thoughts when his own mind was helplessly blank. Blank as that of the former farm boy of Tatooine’s desert world.
Unseen spirits or not, Luke reflected grimly, if there was one thing he was sure of it was that the callow youth he had once been was dead and dry as dust. In the Rebel Alliance of worlds struggling against the corrupt rule of the Imperial government he held no formal title. But no one taunted him or called him farm boy—not since he had helped destroy the bloated battle station secretly built by Governor Moff Tarkin and his henchman Darth Vader.
Luke had no experience with titles, hence no use for them. When the Rebel leaders offered him any reward within their ability to grant, he had asked only to be permitted to continue piloting a fighter in the Alliance’s service. Some thought his request unduly modest, but one shrewd general disagreed, explaining how Luke might be more valuable to the Rebellion without a title or commission which, the veteran pointed out to his colleagues, would serve only to make the youth a prime target for Imperial assassination. So Luke remained the pilot he’d always wanted to be, perfecting his flying skills and always, unceasingly, wrestling with the Force Ben Kenobi had enabled him to begin to understand.
No time for meditating now, he reminded himself as he studied the instruments of his X-wing fighter. A glance forward showed the brilliant pulsing sunball of Circarpous Major, its devastating radiance stopped down to viewable intensity by the phototropic material of the transparent port itself.
“Everything okay back there, Artoo?” he called into his pickup. A cheerful beep from the stubby ’droid locked in position behind the cockpit assured Luke that it was.
Their destination was the fourth planet out from this star. Like so many others, the Circarpousians were appalled by the atrocities perpetrated by the Empire, but too paralyzed by fear to openly join the Rebel Alliance. Over the years, a burgeoning underground movement had arisen on Circarpous, an underground needing only enough aid and encouragement from the Alliance to rise and swing their world to the cause of freedom.
From the tiny, hidden Rebel station on the outermost planet of the system, Luke and the Princess were racing to a critically important meeting with the heads of that underground, to offer the necessary promise of support. He checked his console chronometer. They would arrive in plenty of time to reassure the highly nervous underground chiefs.
Leaning slightly forward and glancing to starboard, he could admire the sleek Y-wing fighter cruising alongside. Two figures sat silhouetted by instrument lights within its cockpit. One was the gleaming golden shape of See Threepio, Artoo’s ’droid companion.
The other … whenever he looked at her, the other caused emotions to boil within him like soup too long on the fire, no matter if she was separated from him by near vacuum as at present or by only an arm’s length in a conference room. It was for and because of that individual, Princess and Senator Leia Organa of the now-vaporized world of Alderaan, that Luke had originally become involved in the Rebellion. First her portrait and then her person had initiated the irreversible metamorphosis from farm boy to fighter pilot. Now the two of them were the official emissaries from the ruling council of the Rebel government to the vacillating underground on Circarpous.
Sending her on so dangerous a mission, Luke had thought from the first, was a risk. But a second system was ready to commit itself to the Alliance, if it was announced that Circarpous had also joined. At the same time, if that second system would declare its defiance of the Empire, then the Circarpousian underground would undoubtedly come over to the side of the Rebellion. So not one, but two systems waited on the outcome of this mission. And if it failed, Luke knew, both systems would probably lose heart and withhold their desperately needed aid. They had to succeed.
Luke had no doubts, as he silently adjusted his ship’s altitude a quarter of a degree to the plane of the solar ecliptic, about the outcome of their mission. He couldn’t imagine anyone who could not be persuaded by Princess Leia. She could convince him of anything. Luke treasured those moments when she forgot her station and titles. He dreamed of a time when she might forget them forever.
A beep from behind woke Luke from his day-dreaming, wiped the smile from his face. They were preparing to pass close by Circarpous V, and Artoo was reminding him of it. A vast, cloud-shrouded globe, the planet was listed in Luke’s library as being mostly unexplored, save for a single early Imperial scouting expedition. According to the computer readout, it was also known to the Circarpousians as Mimban, and … His intership communicator dinged for attention.
“I’m receiving you, Princess.”
Her reply was filled with irritation. “My port engine is beginning to generate unequal radiation pulses.” Even when bothered, to him that voice was as naturally sweet and pleasing as sugar-laden fruit.
“How bad?” he inquired, frowning worriedly.
“Bad enough, Luke.” The words sounded strained. “I’m losing control already, and the inequality’s getting worse. I don’t think I’m going to be able to compensate. We’ll have to stop at the first base down below on Mimban and have the problem corrected.”
Luke opened his mouth to reply, did so after hesitating briefly. “You can’t possibly make it safely to Circarpous IV?”
“I don’t think so, Luke. I might make near-orbit, but then we’d have to deal with official repair systems and couldn’t set down as planned. We’d miss the meeting, and we can’t miss it. Resistance groups from all over the Circarpous system are going to be there. If I don’t arrive, they’ll panic. We’ll have one Stang of a time getting them to surface again. And the Circarpous worlds are vital to the Rebellion, Luke.”
“I still don’t think …” he began.
“Don’t make me make it an order, Luke.”
Biting back his initial response, he hurriedly began a check of visual readout charts and records. “According to my information tapes, Mimban doesn’t have a repair station, Leia. In fact,” he added with a glance at the murky green-white sphere below and to one side, “Mimban might not even have an emergency standby station.”
“It doesn’t matter, Luke. I have to make the conference, and I’m going down while I still have some real control. Surely, in a system as populous as this one, any world with a breathable atmosphere’s going to be equipped with facilities for emergency repair. Your data must be old or else you’re searching the wrong tapes.” A pause, then, “You can prove it by shifting your communicator monitor to frequency oh-four-six-one.”
Luke adjusted the requisite controls. Instantly a steady whine filled the small cabin.
“Sound familiar?” she asked him.
“That’s a directional landing beacon, all right,” he replied, confused. Several further queries, however, revealed no records of a station on Mimban. “But there’s still nothing in the listings on either Imperial or Alliance tapes. If we …” He broke off as a puff of gas glowed brightly from the Princess’ Y-wing, expanded brightly and vanished. “Leia! Princess Leia!”
Her small ship was already curving away from him. “Lost lateral controls completely now, Luke! I’ve got to go down!”
Luke rushed to match her glide path. “I don’t deny the presence of the beacon. Maybe we’ll be lucky! Try to shift power to your port controls!”
“I’m doing the best I can.” A brief silence, followed by, “Stop moving around, Threepio, and watch your ventral manipulators!”
A contrite, metallic, “Sorry, Princess Leia,” sounded from her cabin companion, the bronzed human-cyborg relations ’droid See Threepio. “But what if Master Luke is correct and there is no station below? We could find ourselves marooned forever on this empty world, without companionship, without knowledge tapes, without … without lubricants!”