Rebellion’s Call: Episode 2
By: Christine Sharp
Palloma’s eyes shot open before she was fully awake. For one blissful moment, she saw in the blinding sunlight the rich landscape of Naboo. Slowly, though, consciousness took over. The barren boulders around her came into focus, and the rocky sand she lay on dug into her back. Her stomach rumbled aggressively, and she longed for the oblivion of sleep. At least in her dreams, she could be well fed and back on her lovely home world once again.
Her stomach rumbled a second time, and she reluctantly sat up. Dax lay nearby, his eyes closed and his arms crossed behind his head, but she sensed that he wasn’t sleeping. “Let’s go,” she said. In their three days of wandering, hiking through this rock-world wasteland, they had spoken very little. A few times in the first day, Palloma had attempted light chatter, hoping to learn something of this silent, young Duros. However, Dax rarely replied. She realized fairly quickly that he only meant to interact when necessary, and, even then, he used as few words as possible.
Dax’s eyes opened, and he stared at her for a long moment. The look made her uncomfortable—she could usually infer others’ thoughts from their expressions, but his mind was closed to her. He withdrew his stare, nodded slightly, and stood. He glanced around, and she followed his eyes. They caught the glimmer of a pool of water some way ahead, and they set off. Without a map, or even a destination other than “away from the prison ship,” they had decided their route by moving from watering hole to watering hole.
Palloma’s stomach rumbled again and hope swelled for the hundredth time that the next spot with water would attract food. She doubted it, though. They hadn’t seen a single animal yet, or even vegetation on this barren world. Water was abundant, but she began to wonder if the rolling, gurgling rumble in her intestines wasn’t just from hunger. She glanced at Dax. He gave no indication of discomfort. There was a grim set to his jaw, probably to keep his thoughts invisible, and it worked. She wondered if the Duros constitution was stronger than a human’s so the water didn’t affect him, or if he was just good at hiding it.
They trekked onward. The sun rose higher and beat down, harsh and unrelenting. Their pace had slowed significantly since the first day, as their initial desperation faded into hunger and exhaustion.
Hours and miles dragged on, with no positive change. Palloma grew hungrier, which she hadn’t thought possible. She trudged on. Her motivation waned. Still, she trudged on. As she pushed herself to keep going, she began to wonder why.
Her thoughts wandered to her cell—her home for the past several years. Not perfect, of course, but it was cool in the conditioned air. She had been fed. She thought with longing for the blocks of hard something and the nutritive shakes she had been brought three times a day. What was she doing? Wandering away to die in a wasteland when she could have survived, at least, as a captive. Her legs seemed to move against her will. Why didn’t she turn back? There was food there. Clean water.
Something pushed her onward. The same Something that always pushed her, guided her, gave her insight. She usually took it for granted. But now—why did she follow it? It was leading her to a slow, grueling death from exhaustion or hunger. If she returned, she could at least die quickly by blaster fire. Was the Something benevolent? She hadn’t asked before. Now it was pushing her away from survival, toward misery. Why hadn’t she questioned it before? What was it?
The Jedi Masters who had protected her mistress talked of the Force. They manipulated it, accomplished impossible feats. But Palloma was no Force-user. Were there other ways to interact with it? Force-sensitivity might be an asset. But she hadn’t heard the Force described in a way similar to the Something she knew. Could the Force present itself uniquely to individuals? If it did, it wasn’t helping her.
Her feet dragged, and each step became difficult. Stop it, she told herself. Reveling in negativity wasn’t helping. To avert her thoughts, she looked at Dax again. She tried to see past his hard-set jaw. She perceived for the first time a slight tilt of his head and slump of his shoulders. His torso leaned into his steps, just barely, but showing to her that he struggled too. She watched him out of the corner of her eye, and she realized that he suffered much more than he let on. She sensed in his forced rigidity the desire to appear strong. She hadn’t complained, at least out loud, so he wouldn’t either. He drew strength, or at least motivation, from her. He relied on her, and she relied on the Something—the Force? Without it, they both would have given up already. Did it push her onward for his sake too? To what end, though. Nothing but a slow, miserable death.
A new sound, faint but piercingly new in the perpetual sameness, crashed into Palloma’s ears. Voices! She touched Dax’s arm and pointed in the direction of the voices. She put a finger to her lips, then motioned him to follow her up the next ridge, crouching low but searching for the source of the sound.
In a semi-level spot just below the ridge, a group of Weequay came into view. They were entering a low cave, hidden under an outcropping of rock, and emerging with crates to load onto the most blessed sight of all—a starship! Could they sneak onto it? Palloma racked her brain for information. Weequay—what did she know about them? She had met a few Weequay bodyguards. What had the Jedi Kenobi and Skywalker said about them? Pirates!
Palloma bent her head and whispered to Dax, “I think they’re pirates. I doubt we can sneak onto the ship, they’re probably too careful for that. Maybe we can barter for passage?”
As she uttered the last syllable, she heard footsteps. Loud—close. Too close. They’d been found! How had she not noticed? Before she could move, a blaster barrel was pressed against her head. Breathing deeply to quiet her heart and moving slowly, she stood and turned to face her opponent. A male Weequay towered over her, and a speeder stood to his side. Her legs wobbled from weakness, but she mastered her balance and stared him in the eyes, sizing him up. He seemed to find her appraisal comical—even in prime condition she wouldn’t have been intimidating. However, even though she wasn’t particularly big or strong, she and Dax might be able to take him together. Before she could decide whether to attack or cower, a flurry of movement to the side drew her attention.
During her staring war, Dax had slipped to the speeder bike. He yanked wires from within, which sparked violently, and he dug them into the Weequay’s back, sending a visible shock through his body. The large Weequay dropped to the ground with a thump, unconscious.
Palloma stared from the limp body to Dax, taking a second to process it. A sudden, loud sound made her jump. The clap of hands and a jovial, “Ah! Impressive!” She took flight instinctively, starting to run away as she turned her head toward the source of the sound. A Weequay pirate, more elaborately dressed than the rest in a shell-like cap and a long red coat, with a Kowakian monkey-lizard sitting on his shoulder, stood on the ridge with a sociable smile and courtly air. Palloma’s surprise stopped her feet, and she stared at him.
With a deep, gallant bow, the pirate said, “Hondo Ohnaka, at your service. And who do we have here?”
Dax faced him with closed lips and distrustful eyes, but Palloma felt a push by the same Something—the Force—that had brought her there. “My name is Palloma. We need to leave this system. May we have passage aboard your ship?”
“Ah, I would like to help you, of course. But my good crew cannot offer assistance without, ah,” brushing his fingers together to indicate credits, “proper compensation?”
“We will pay upon arrival,” Palloma lied. “Generously.” She kept her countenance steady, hoping Hondo wouldn’t see through her.
“Hmm. You offer credits you do not have, I see. Brave. Luckily for you, this one,” pointing to Dax, “interests me.” Turning to Dax, he continued, “Perhaps we can reach an,” twirling his wrist in search of a word, “arrangement. Yes. My ship here,” indicating the ship on the rocks below with a wide sweep of his hand, “is in need of some, ah, maintenance. If you can locate and fix the issue, the two of you may come with us when we leave.”
“Deal.” Dax’s decisive voice surprised Palloma. He had barely spoken in days, and she assumed he would be hesitant to trust anyone, especially pirates. Dax immediately began climbing down toward the ship, not wasting any time. Palloma considered for a moment, then shrugged and followed. Even if this were a trap, it would still be better than the alternative.
As they entered the ship, Hondo led the way to the cockpit. Palloma watched the monkey-lizard slip from Hondo’s shoulder to a passing rafter and swing upward. She didn’t trust that creature.
The three of them squeezed into the cockpit, and Dax’s eyes swept the room. He quickly honed in on a set of blinking lights, laid himself under the console, and set to work. Palloma watched him, but her mind wandered. The Force, she thought. It interested her now. She hadn’t thought about it much before, as it seemed outside of her reality. But she was Force-sensitive. She now considered it with certainty. Force-sensitive. She’d have to pay closer attention. She wanted to learn to distinguish her own thoughts from the guiding of the Force. Maybe she could grow this ability into something more.
A loud noise woke Palloma from her reverie. She and Hondo leaned forward to look out the cockpit window. Artillery fire rained down all around them, and Imperial starships crowded the atmosphere. TIE fighters zoomed by overhead, shooting down at them. Hondo’s attention turned to the ground, and Palloma followed his eyes. His crew members were scattered. Many lay lifeless, sprawled across the rocks, and the rest ran for cover. The TIE fighters made another run overhead, leaving even fewer survivors. The ship shuddered as it was hit, too.
Hondo yelled out in panic. He bent to Dax and yelled again, but Palloma couldn’t understand him over the scream of the TIE fighters.
“Done!” Dax shouted, and he emerged from under the console.
Without a second’s hesitation, Hondo threw some switches and launched the ship. The ship lifted off while Palloma watched Hondo’s crew, much too far away to reach the ship’s ramp as it closed, stare at them in horror. Palloma’s heart constricted at the sight, even though she knew they would have killed her without a thought if it would have benefited them.
The ship rocketed toward the sky, and Hondo maneuvered to avoid the TIE fighters that chased them. The TIEs herded them toward the Star Destroyer looming above, and Palloma realized the danger just as Dax did. He yelled, “The tractor beam!”
Hondo swerved sharply, and Palloma was thrown to the ground. Acute pain shot through her knees and elbow where she landed on them. Another swerve rolled her across the floor, and her body smacked into the blast door.
Palloma groaned but her survival instinct gave her focus. She crawled to the passenger seat and hauled herself into it. She buckled herself in just in time for another desperate swoop. Her stomach lurched.
The ship jerked as another shot from the TIE fighters found its mark. Dax grabbed Hondo and threw him out of the captain’s chair, seating himself instead. Hondo protested, but he had the presence of mind to strap himself into the co-pilot’s chair before Dax made a wild maneuver. Dax wove the ship between two TIE fighters, barely squeaking past them before the two TIEs crashed into one another. Dax shot the ship upward, and Palloma’s insides objected.
Under Dax’s direction, the ship dove and swooped sideways, and the unhealthy water Palloma had been drinking accomplished what it had been threatening all along: she vomited violently.
A mix of tainted water and bile covered Hondo, who yelled in disgust. Dax ignored the spray, too focused on survival. Palloma swallowed down another heave, trembling in cold sweat.
She held on to her seat and focused out the cockpit window, trying to anticipate Dax’s movements to ease her nausea. They had cleared the TIEs, but they were dangerously close to the Star Destroyer. Dax’s fingers flew over the screen in front of him, typing seemingly random coordinates into the hyperdrive. The ship rocked slightly—the tractor beam had almost locked onto them. The stars lengthened and Palloma’s stomach lurched again as they shot into hyperspace.
Stay tuned for Episode 3 in September!