Lando held his breath as he brought them out of hyperspace. BX had engaged the cloaking device before they had completely slowed to relative speed. For a moment they were flying blind until the small extensions poked past the cloaking field.
Rae stood behind Lando’s chair, holding onto the back of it. Nein monitored the ships systems from the co-pilot’s seat. Lowbacca watched the forward screen from the engineer’s seat. Nothing could be seen for a moment then the screen flickered and then they could see outside the ship.
“Cloaking devices suck,” Lando said. “Sure they keep things from being able to see inside the field, but they also prevent you from being able to see out.”
Lowbacca growled and MTD translated. “You are using passive probes? How big are they?”
Lando nodded. “They are a millimeter in width. There are six that stick past the field.”
“Can’t they be detected?” Rae asked.
“Doubtful and even if they do, they are the size of a grain of sand, just more debris in space.” Lando looked over at Nein who was to intent on the readouts. “Now, if they have Crystal Gravimetric Sensors, then they will be able to pick up the mass of the Lady Luck.”
Rae gave a look to Lowbacca who shook his head and growled. “Those sensors are fragile and large,” MTD said, “They would have to be mounted on a station out of a gravity well or a Star Destroyer sized ship.”
Lowbacca studied the holoscreen. Far in the distance was a gas giant. From this distance, he could barely see several moons.
BX chirped and the secondary screen snapped to life. It was a closeup of the outer most moon. Around it was a scaffolding and several large ships were docked in it. “Are those Star Destroyers?” Lando asked. BX whistled again and the image shifted growing larger. There were ten Star Destroyers visible in the scaffolding, one at nearly double the size of the other nine. “BX, how big are they?”
The image moved a little and focused on an Imperial Raider. “How big is that ship?” Rae asked. Lowbacca growled something and Rae nodded. “So roughly the size of a CR90.” She was quiet as she thought about it. “That would put the nine Star Destroyers at about 3600 meters each?”
“And the big ship is a little over 6200 meters long.” Lando sighed. “BX record as much information as you can.”
BX whistled then the view changed to show a large blue green moon closer to the gas giant. There were all kinds of encrypted and unencrypted transmissions coming from moon. “Lowbacca, please plug me into the communications array,” MTD said.
“Don’t try to transmit, you will give us away,” Lando warned.
“General, while I am not a fully functional C3 unit, my cognitive abilities are of such I understand the seriousness of this situation,” MTD said as Lowbacca plugged it into the communications. MTD was quiet for a few seconds. “I cannot decrypt the encoded transmissions, but they are similar in structure to the ones that Lowbacca used to practice trying to decrypt. Most of the unencoded transmissions are entertainment broadcasts as well as some news.”
Lando sighed. “So, we found the remnants of the Empire that fled twenty-five years ago.”
“No, General,” MTD said. “This is just one system in the fourth sector, according to the news tag line.”
“Fourth of how many?” Rae asked.
“I am sorry, Rae, I have not retrieved that information,” MTD said.
“I’ve seen enough,” Lando said. “We need to go back and tell everyone what we have seen.”
Rae started to say something but was cut off as Lowbacca growled. One of the smaller screens on the communication board was showing a news feed. They seemed to be talking about a building fire, but near the edge of the screen were several wookies sitting on the ground with two stormtroopers watching over them. Lowbacca’s fingers moved over the controls and the image stopped. It slowly zoomed in on the wooies and Lowbacca’s growl grew louder.
“What is it?” Rae asked.
“The wookies are wearing slave collars,” MTD said.
Rae just stared at the screen. “They are using wookie slaves? Where did they get them?”
Nein started talking and Lando nodded. “There were tens of thousands of wookies that were taken as slaves from Kashyyyk that were never returned or found. It was commonly believed that they were killed when the Imperials fled the known galaxy,” Lando said. “Looks like we were wrong.”
Lowbacca growled something and Lando held up a hand. “No, we are not going to try to rescue the wookies. This is a job for the Republic military.”
Rae closed her eyes and tuned all of them out. She could not sense the darkness as she did before, but something told her that her path was on that moon. “General,” she said.
Lando narrowed his eyes at her. “What, Padawan?”
“We need to go down to the moon,” she said and opened her eyes.
Lando studied her and knew that he was going to regret what he was about to say. “Why do we need to go down there?” he asked.
“I don’t know why, sir,” Rae said. “But I feel like the force is drawing me there.” She glanced to Lowbacca. “You need to put a lid on your anger, Lowie.”
Lowbacca let out a huff of air and closed his eyes. His features relaxed as he breathed in and out for a few moments then his eyes opened. He met Rae’s gaze and nodded then turned to Lando. He growled and chuffed a little. “Lowbacca says that he feels it as well. That there is a reason that we are all here right now,” MTD said.
Lando sighed. “If I did not have years of experience with Luke during the liberation of Coruscant, I would not even consider your request.” He looked at Nein who was staring at the readouts that BX was providing. “What do you think?”
Nein put a finger into the hologram near the moon and said something. Lando looked, reading some of the information BX was displaying. “Capitol city for the sector?” he asked. Nein nodded and spoke. Lando frowned. “You are right. But we are going to stand out there.”
“I believe you are right, General,” MTD said. “And since you have been seen by the Imperials before were some system recognize you, it might set off alerts. And I have not came across any Sullestines reported in news features.”
“Then what?” Lando said.
“We won’t stand out,” Rae said. Everyone looked at her and she shrugged. “You are going to like it Lowie, you are going to have to make a fake collar. I will have to find a uniform or something so that I can blend in.” Lowbacca growled his displeasure at the idea but nodded.
“And you just think it is going to be that easy?” Lando asked.
Rae shook her head. “No, but we need to get information here. The force is drawing us down there, perhaps it is something we need to know. All I know is that it has been ingrained into us to use the force and that is what we are doing.”
Lando looked from one padawan to the other. “Nein, how long until we can make touchdown?” he asked.
Nein looked a little surprised but looked at the controls. He said something back and Lando sighed. “You have an hour to get ready. You are going to have to direct us where to land Flying into atmosphere cloaked is going to be tricky.”
“Yes sir,” she said and turned heading out of the cockpit followed by Lowbacca.
“I hope that I am not making a mistake here, Nein,” Lando said watching them go.
Rae climbed back into the cockpit. She was wearing a black jacket that Lando thought he recognized. It didn’t fit her well but at a distance it wasn’t noticeable. Lowbacca was scratching at a lit metal collar around his neck. Rae leaned in between Lando and Nein. The Lady Luck was almost in the atmosphere.
She closed her eyes and her breathing slowed. She held a hand toward the map on the holoviewer. “Here,” she said pointing to an area of the map.
Lando looked at the map and sighed. “We can’t set down in a city,” he said. He rotated the map. “We can land here,” he said indicating a section of woods not far from the city. “There is a clearing big enough to handle the Lady. You will have to go the rest of the way on foot.”
“That will have to do,” she said.
“Have a seat then. It might be a bit bumpy, we are going to have to do most of the entry via inertial reading and memory,” Lando said.
Rae looked startled. “Why?”
“Because the sensor probes won’t survive reentry if they are extended,” Lando told her.
“Oh…. Ok.” She sat down in one of the chairs and buckled herself in. She was starting to have her own doubts about this.
The screen went dark as the probes were withdrawn. A few moments later, the ship began to shake as they entered atmosphere. Rae clutched the arms of the chair and closed her eyes. She was not thrilled with not being able to where they were going.
The noise grew less and less until it was almost as quiet as when they were in space. Nein tapped a few controls. A few seconds later, the screen lit up again. Lando pulled up hard on the controls, avoiding smacking into a large tree. “Little lower than I thought we were,” he said with a nervous chuckle.
He brought the ship around in a slow circle to get his bearings. A few minutes later the landing gear extended and the ship shook slightly as it touched down in the clearing. “It is about a kilometer from here to the edge of the city,” Lando told them.
Lando pulled out two small communicators and tossed one each Lowbacca and Rae. “MTD and BX came up with a way to piggyback a signal on one of the local frequencies. Unless they know to be looking for it, it should remain undetected. Though I suggest keeping the use of it to a minimum. Check in once an hour.”
Lowbacca picked up MTD from the console and looked at it. He growled something at MTD. “I was curious if you were going to or not, Lowbacca. If you think I need to stay here, I will do so. At least if you call in, I can translate.”
Lowbacca looked back to Rae and she nodded. “Come on, let’s go,” she said.
The two of them stepped out into an almost completely dark area. Lowbacca growled something. “I know it’s the cloaking device. It is evening outside though,” Rae said. She blinked as they stepped out of the field into the clearing. There was a sound of animals in the forest, though Rae felt no danger.
She looked in the direction of the city. The sky was a little lighter in that direction and to the direction of the setting sun. She took a deep breath. She started jogging, Lowbacca easily keeping up with her. They picked up their pace, using the force to assist their leaps, clearing fallen trees and gullies.
They both slid to a stop as they almost ran out of the forest and into the wall around the city. They looked around, trying to figure a way to clear the wall. Lowbacca growled and made a few gestures at the wall.
Rae shrugged. “I have no idea, Lowie,” she said. “Maybe the wall is there to keep out the local wildlife. I think that if it were a real security issue, they would have cameras or other sensors.”
He studied the wall and growled something else. “Lowie, if they have cameras or sensors, we are in trouble anyway. I’ll go first and signal you when it is clear.”
Lowbacca raised his hand as if to stop her but stopped. He gave a deep sigh and motioned Rae to go. Rae ran forward and jumped, clearing the top of the wall with a few feet to spare. He held his breath but heard nothing for a moment then there was a sharp triple chirping sound. He let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding.
Rae landed in the backyard of a house. There were no lights on in the house. After a second, she heard a growling sound and saw a large six legged beast in a kennel that was against the wall. She turned to face it and it growled more, scratching at the door making it rattle against its hinges.
“Ok, boy, no need to be angry, we are all friends here,” she whispered. Judging by the increased volume of its growling, it thought differently. She raised a hand before her and made a shushing sound as she touched the force. The creature’s growling grew quiet and it settled down. It no longer seemed as angry as it watched her. “I wish I knew how to do that when we ran into the wasps.”
She made three sharp chirps and a few seconds later, Lowbacca cleared the wall and landed beside her. She waved her hand at the creature again, using the force to quiet it once more. Lowbacca looked at the creature then looked at her. She put a finger to her lips and pointed to the gate that closed the backyard off from the front.
Lowbacca looked that way and shook his head. He growled softly. Rae thought about it. “Yeah, we might not want to just pop out on a residential street.” She closed her eyes thinking about the pictures they saw before they landed. “I think there is a larger street that way,” she said.
The two of them leapt the fence between yards, moving quickly and quietly. The last yard was right up against a warehouse. They jumped from the yard over an alley and onto the roof the warehouse. From their new vantage, they could see across the city. The center of the city was a large structure with several landing pads sticking out from the side. “There is where we need to go,” Rae said.
Lowbacca nodded and growled slightly. They started running again, jumping from rooftop to rooftop. They jumped one larger area arcing over the heads of two Stormtroopers. Neither of the troopers noticed them. It was not long until they reached the edge of the warehouse area.
Lowbacca put a hand on Rae’s shoulder pulling her to a stop. He growled at her quietly gesturing at what she was wearing. Rae sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. But I need to find something to wear to blend in better than this,” she said. “What do you suggest.”
Lowbacca gave a plaintive whine. “Me neither,” Rae said. She walked out to the edge of the roof and looked then stepped back. “Main thoroughfare there. I saw two stormtroopers going buy on speeder bikes.” She looked at Lowbacca and smiled. “I could mug a stormtrooper for their armor.”
She frowned when Lowbacca held his hand about ten centimeters over her head. “You’re really making a short joke?” she asked. When he laughed and held his hand over his own head, she almost punched him. He was right though. She looked like a civilian and they were planning to go into what was probably a military base. She puffed out her cheeks and sighed walking in a circle on the roof.
Lowbacca crept over to the edge of the roof. He pulled a small monocular out of one of the pouched on his belt and looked out over the city. He panned around then stopped and went back to look closely. He turned and waved at Rae to get her attention.
Rae walked over and crouched next to him. “What is it?” He handed her the monocular and pointed down the street that ran in front of the warehouse. Rae looked around for a few seconds then stopped. She looked over her shoulder at Lowbacca. “They might have what we need.”
They were able to cover most of the distance going over roofs. Lowbacca looked at the alley that ran between two of the buildings then into the darkness. Rae followed him a few seconds later. Lowbacca knelt next to the door to the building and plugged a small computer the console. He folded out a keyboard and his fingers danced across the keys. A few seconds later, the red light on the lock turned green and there was a hum as the bolt was withdrawn.
Lowbacca pulled the computer and went inside, holding the door for Rae. The smell of chemicals assaulted their senses. There was a track that ran around the ceiling of the room and into another room. Hanging from it were dozens upon dozens of clothes. Rae peaked out the door from the back room into the lobby. The window had the words Reese Cleaners stenciled on it as well as smaller words, Military Discounts.
Rae closed the door and began to look through the hanging clothes. “Officer or not?” she asked quietly.
Lowbacca mulled it over the growled and chuffed. “Point,” Rae said. “Let me see if I can find some coveralls or something that doesn’t scream officer.” It took her about ten minutes to find a pair of coveralls that fit. It had an Imperial patch that didn’t match the old Imperial markings. This one had a sixteen rayed symbol within a hexagon and was on the left shoulder. On the left breast, over the pocket was a patch with the name S. Hicks on it. She stripped down and slipped the coverall on.
Her old boots looked a little out of place, but hopefully they would go unnoticed. Rae patted down the pockets and sighed. “I couldn’t get lucky enough to find an ID,” she said. Lowbacca shrugged. He handed her a cap that was also on the hanger. She tucked her hair up under the cap. “How do I look?”
Lowbacca shrugged and growled. “Gee, thanks,” she said. “Let’s go… I want to get this over with. I have the feeling that the more time we let pass, the worse things will get.”
As they were going to leave, Rae stopped and opened the other door in the back. There was a machine room, the machine that cleaned the clothes, she guessed. There was also a toolbox there. She grabbed it and picked it up. It wasn’t heavy but she felt it added to her disguise. They slipped out the door and Lowbacca took a little time to relock the door behind them.
Rae took a deep breath and started walking with Lowbacca following her. They then moved through the back alleys, zig zagging their way toward the tower at the center of the town. Lowbacca’s ears picked up the sound of music before Rae did. He motioned her to stop and listen.
Rae closed her eyes. “Sounds like couple of bars,” she said. She opened her eyes to see the direction that Lowbacca was pointing. Their path would take them past the bars. “Great. I’m getting the feeling we can’t waste time going around that.”
Lowbacca nodded in agreement. “Well, nothing to do,” she added and started to walk. As she passed under a light, Lowbacca frowned. He growled at her to get her to stop. “What?” she asked.
He growled a little more and pointed at her. She pursed her lips as she thought for a moment. “Fine, you’re right,” she said. Lowbacca looked around then saw some machinery. He went over to it and opened the cover. He reached in then pulled his hand out covered in grease. “I think you are getting too much enjoyment out of this,” she said and closed his eyes. He put just a little on her face then smeared the clean coveralls she was wearing and even ran some of it through his own fur. He sniffed and made a face growling.
“Well, maybe you should have found some machinery that used better quality grease,” Rae said and wiped the back of her hand at the spots on her face which only served to smear it more. “Ok, are we done?”
Lowbacca nodded and growled almost laughing. They came out of the alley into a brightly lit street. Restaurants and bars lined either side of the street. Bright flashing lights and displays drew the eye and tried to temp pedestrians into stopping in. Lowbacca moved close behind Rae, keeping his head down and not looking around. He also forced his shoulders to slump, trying act like he was beaten down.
Rae looked at the restaurants, the smell of food reaching her nose and making her stomach growl. She could hear Lowbacca’s stomach over the din of the street. She wished she had eaten something before they left the Lady Luck. She got distracted by some lights across the street and almost collided with a human man in uniform. Rae saw the marks on his uniform indicating he was a captain. At least that had not changed from history, she thought. She could see him narrowing his eyes at her and she stood up straight then offered a salute. “Sorry, Sir, I didn’t see you.”
The captain looked at her and Lowbacca. He frowned but offered a half-hearted salute back. He focused on her collar and name tag. “What are you doing out here Corporal Hicks?” he asked. He seemed a little unsteady on his feet.
Rae almost panicked over an answer until Lowbacca bumped her in the back with the toolbox. “Repair work sir,” she said.
“Repair work?” he asked.
Rae nodded. “Yes, Sir.” She looked past him and saw a maintenance access cover in the middle of the street. “Repairing some of the underground communication relays.”
The captain snorted and looked over his shoulder in the direction she looked not seeing anything abnormal. “This late? Where is your vehicle?” he asked as he turned back to her.
Rae pointed back behind her. “About two kilometers back that way,” she said. “It broke down and the motor pool said it would be hours before they could get me a new one.”
“And you are just walking?” he asked not sounding like he believed her.
“Yes sir. No excuse will be good enough if I didn’t get the job done.”
He thought about it for a moment. “I guess you are right on that.” He offered a laugh, “I remember how it was when I first enlisted.” The captain looked up at Lowbacca and squinted. “You are pretty brave to be running around with a Wook by yourself.”
Rae made a non-committal noise. “He is pretty good as far as they go. And he knows his power systems.” The more she was around the captain, Captain Graves, by his name badge, the more she was sure he had a few drinks in him.
“It’s good to know that they are serving a purpose. Are you done then?” he asked.
Rae nodded. “Yes sir. We were just heading back,” she said and gestured to the tower.
He nodded and pulled a comm unit out of his pocket. “I will give you a lift,” he said.
“You don’t have to, sir,” she said.
The captain waved his hand. “My house is on the other side of the city. I am going right by there.” He pressed a button on the comm and received a beep. “It’s an order. You look like you have been rolling around in an engine well. Plus, the Wooks aren’t supposed to be out of barracks after dark. No since in you getting in trouble for following orders.”
A few seconds later, an air speeder came around the corner and drifted toward them. “Are you sure you are ok to drive, sir?” she asked a little hesitantly.
“No, but it has an autopilot built in,” he said. The car drifted to a stop and he motioned to the door of the car. “Get in.” He looked at Lowbacca. “The hatch opens up, sit back there with your toolbox.”
Lowbacca barely spared Rae a glance before following the captain’s orders. He was supposed to be a good slave. The space was cramped but at least he wasn’t walking. Rae opened the door and climbed in. The captain went around to the other side and got in. He touched a control. “Base,” he said.
The speeder beeped then started moving. “How long have you been in?” Graves asked.
“Coming up on my first full year, sir,” Rae answered.
Graves leaned back in his chair. “Planning on becoming an officer?”
“I don’t know yet, sir. I have debated on it, but I don’t know if I am cut out for it.”
He laughed a little. “There are very few that are cut out to be an officer. Some people are natural at it, and others think that they are. You learn how to be a leader by leading.” He looked at her and smiled. “Sounds stupid, I know, but it’s true.”
Rae shrugged. “I don’t know sir. I have seen people in charge that shouldn’t be.”
Graves snorted. “Oh, the Empire is full of them. They are usually the worst to deal with.” He looked up as the speeder began braking to turn. Rae blinked. They had arrived quicker than she had expected. Graves reached inside his uniform jacket and pulled out an ID.
Rae watched several cars leaving the gate being mostly ignored by the stormtroopers. The car pulled up to a stop and the window lowered. Graves held up his ID.
The stormtrooper scanned the captain’s ID then handed it back and waved him through. The window rolled up and Graves shook his head. He put the ID on the console between them. “You would think that they would put a non-clone on guard duty to talk a little,” he muttered.
Rae didn’t know what to say though she was very worried at hearing the word clone. “I don’t know, sir.”
Graves just waved it off. “Just a sore point. To be honest, the clones unnerve me.”
He drove around the base. “I’ll drop you off by the motor pool. Tell them that I will be down to talk to their CO about not getting you a vehicle when you were out with one of the Wooks.”
“Um.. Yes, sir,” she said. She looked down at his ID as he directed the car around the base of the tower. She bit her lip and began to slow her breathing.
As the car pulled around the base of the tower, the landing field came into view. There were dozens of freighters, shuttles, and a few corvettes that sat in the field. The large hangar’s door was open and racks of tie fighters hung ready to be manned and launched.
Graves guided the car up to the motor pool. “There you go,” he said indicating the door.
He turned to see Rae staring into his eyes. “Take the ID,” Rae whispered and made a slight movement with her hand.
Graves blinked and for a brief second Rae thought that it did not work. “Take the ID,” Graves said.
“You’re tired and going to go home to get some sleep,” Rae said, relief flooding her.
“I am tired. I’m going to go home and get some sleep,” he said.
Rae grabbed the ID and made one more motion. “The ID fell down beside the console. You can get someone from the motor pool to get it out tomorrow.”
Graves appeared suddenly annoyed and looked down beside the seat. He reached down and sighed. “Be more careful,” he snapped. “Go on and get out. I am going to get some sleep, the motor pool can fish it out in the morning.”
“Sorry sir,” Rae said. “I’ll be more careful. Thank you for the ride.”
Graves nodded but still looked annoyed as he reached down beside the seat. He sighed and took hold of the wheel. Rae slipped out of the car as Lowbacca climbed out of the back and pushed the hatch shut. He growled something as the car pulled away.
“I’m glad he had a couple of drinks, I don’t think it would have worked otherwise,” she said. She held up the ID. “I did get this. It’s a keycard ID.”
Lowbacca nodded and motioned toward the building. They walked to the door. There were no guards or stormtroopers. Then again, anyone getting to this point would have had to pass through stormtroopers and sensor curtains.
Rae held up the key card to the scanner on the door and held her breath. The scanner hummed and the door opened. “Does this seem too easy?” Rae asked as she walked inside. Lowbacca growled at her and looked like he wanted to swat her with the toolbox. “Sorry,” she muttered.