“If you die stupidly, I’ll feed your body to a bantha!”
Standing in the middle of the hangar, Shara Bey was taking leave of her husband with some interesting threats.
“You don’t have a bantha,” Kes replied placidly.
“I’ll find one just for you,” she retorted, then turned towards Jyn and Cassian. “Could you please prevent him from doing anything rash?”
They exchanged a glance. They would probably be too busy watching each other to keep an eye on Kes at the same time.
“And who’s going to prevent you from doing something silly up there?” Kes asked his wife in turn, suddenly more serious. “You’re certainly not the last to jump into the fray!”
Jyn rolled her eyes.
“Let them sort their domestic problems,” she told Cassian. “It’s probably best not to be caught into the crossfire.”
He smiled under his mustache and went to discuss the plan one last time with the rest of the team. Solo was talking to his old friend Calrissian under the Falcon, and Luke, freshly back from Dagobah, would not leave Wedge before their shuttle took off, but the rest of the group was available for another revision. Endor was a forest moon, covered in thick stretches of giant trees, and apart from the Imperial troops, there were some sentients living in small villages here and there. The Alliance had no idea about the relations they had with the Empire; caution dictated that those natives should be avoided, if possible.
They embarked at the end of that last meeting for a three-days trip to Endor. The newest reports had confirmed the presence of Palpatine himself on the Death Star so delaying was out of the question. If they could get rid of the dictator, it would not, of course, mean the immediate end of his regime, but the blow would shake the Empire enough to give them an excellent opportunity to overthrow it. It could generate a generalized uprising in the Rim, Cassian calculated, though the Core would take longer to convince.
The atmosphere in the shuttle was tense, though no one wanted to show how much they were stressed. If people took pills to alleviate their nausea and soothe their nerves, they did it when the others were not looking.
At last they emerged into normal space above Endor, discovering the superstructures of the Death Star orbiting around the forest world, along with the massive shape of a super Star Destroyer.
“That was unexpected,” old Rex muttered. “But with a ship that size, it seems very likely that the Emperor is indeed supervising the operations.”
“How many fighters on board?” Jyn inquired.
“Several thousands,” another commando replied. “Don’t know the exact number, but I’d rather not have them racing after us.”
In the cockpit, Luke did not fare much better. He had been more withdrawn than usual since he had come back from Dagobah and even Wedge Antilles could not completely reach him. The rest of the company felt very uncomfortable when he announced out of the blue that Vader was stationed on the giant battleship looming in front of them. Jyn shivered, hoping he was wrong. She had heard reports from survivors of Hoth and Raddus’ fleet, and should the Sith be indeed present, their mission would be doomed from the beginning.
Even Solo was rather nervous when he transmitted the identification code the Alliance had paid a small fortune. His copilot was shifting on his seat, clearly willing to fly the hell out of the system.
After several minutes, the control on the Star destroyer allowed them to carry on, sending them landing coordinates that would naturally be completely ignored. Solo used the high metallic content in the giant trees to mask the shuttle’s radar signature and simulate a crash. Hopefully, the Imperials would not rush to rescue their staff and they would be far away from the transport when it was discovered.
They landed in a small clearing without a hitch, Solo smiling in satisfaction. His stay in the carbonite had not impaired his ability to fly.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please hurry up!” he called. “The boys in white will be there soon and we don’t want to cross their path right now!”
The commandos picked their equipment and the bags of explosives, leaving the clearing in a single line while Chewbacca and Solo cut some branches to hastily camouflage the shuttle. There was no clear path to their location so the ship should not be easy to find but one could not rule out a too curious stormtrooper.
After about one hour of walking through a tick undergrowth, they decided to split the group in two. This way, if one unit got caught into a skirmish with the Imperials, the other could still fulfill the mission. Solo, Organa and Skywalker went one way, Jyn and Cassian another, with a rendezvous scheduled two days later on a ledge over the generator.
The night was peaceful, only disturbed by the calls of some nocturnal animals. The group had set several tents under a copse of huge red-barked trees and ate their rations cold, as no light nor fire had been allowed. The weather was thankfully mild and they slept on a dry ground. The following morning did not bring any unwanted visitor, though from the prints in a nearby pool of mud, a little bipedal someone had approached their camp before disappearing back into the forest. This led many members of the group to feel as if they were being watched as they progressed under the trees.
At the head of the line, Kes stopped now and then to check the direction they were heading to, making some corrections. It was mid-afternoon when he suddenly signaled them to get down and stay silent. Soon they heard the buzzing sound of motojets engines, growing closer.
A pair of scouts passed by their position, thankfully too fast to notice them, driving back to the generator and the compound surrounding it.
“I’m seriously tempted to knock one out and borrow his armor to infiltrate their base,” Kes muttered, “but we would need to question the guy to get his access codes and know if he has good friends there and such… Too bad we don’t have enough time for that. Someone inside would really help.”
“We’ll have to improvise,” Rex said with a shrug. “So far, it did us good, right?”
There were some nods in the group but no one really felt like joking, or betting on their chances of success. Since communications had been completely cut, they could only hope that Organa’s team had been as lucky as them on their way to the generator. Else, they would have to operate with about two thirds of the original group, with no assurance it would be enough as they had no estimation of the number of soldiers guarding the base. In a few more hours, it would be done. Waiting was, as usual, the hardest part.
The following morning brought a thin mist over the forest and they used its cover to reach the ledge over the generator. They did not have to wait too long before Organa, Solo and their own group joined them… without Skywalker.
“Where’s Luke?” was Jyn’s immediate reaction.
“Taking care of Jedi stuff,” Solo replied darkly.
No one insisted.
“So,” Rex said. “How d’you suggest we get into that thing? Looks heavily guarded this way.”
Before Solo could explain what he had in mind, however, a small furry creature that they had not noticed until then began chirping a long sentence to Organa’s protocol droid, that translated roughly as ‘There is another, smaller entrance on the other side of the valley.’
“Now that’s something I like. Where did you find those little guys?” he asked Solo as they rose to follow their little friend.
“Rather the other way round,” the man countered, casting a glance at Chewbacca, who emitted the Wookie equivalent of a false nonchalant whistle. “For a moment I though they were going to roast me for dinner… Seriously, they were going to! But Luke used a bit of his magic to convince them that C-3PO was truly a god, as they had first believed. They became much nicer after that. And as it happens, they’re not too fond of having the Empire digging into their sacred grounds.”
“What a surprise...”
“Long story short, they offered us a guide, and to help us during battle.”
“Not sure what slingshots can do against blasters,” Kes commented, “but it’s a nice thought anyway.”
They fell silent on that last comment, reaching the bottom of the valley about ten minutes later. After another half-hour of trekking among ferns and roots, they reached the other side where, indeed, they found a small bunker guarded by four troopers.
“That should be easy,” Solo whispered.
“Just one is enough to raise an alarm,” Organa reminded him.
“Right. So, Andor, you… what is it, Golden Rod?”
“I’m afraid our friend left us too quickly.”
“Oh kriff...” Jyn muttered as they all watched their guide approach the bunker then climb onto one of the motojets, fumbling with the controls.
The guards noticed his stunt almost at once, but as they ran towards the intruder, he finally found the right lever and promptly raced between the trees. The guards jumped onto the remaining motojets, leaving one very dejected colleague behind.
Solo was grinning.
“Not so bad for a teddy bear! It only leaves one of them.”
Soon after, the guard was neutralized and the commandos entered the bunker, making short work of the few guards and officers inside.
“It’s me, or this is too easy?” Jyn whispered to Cassian. “Scarif was definitely not that smooth...”
“No, you’re -”
Then several things happened at once. Their comlinks beeped, signaling the fleet had emerged in real space over Endor. An officer appeared from a lateral corridor, blaster in hand and yelling at them to surrender. Solo sent him flying by throwing a bag of explosives at his head before a squad of stormtroopers barged into the room, shooting two commandos and rounding up the rest of the group. They were brutally led outside, where a disheartening vision greeted them.
Their whole team had been taken captive, kneeling on the ground with their hands on their heads, surrounded by squadrons of stormtroopers and walkers. They had walked right into a bloody trap. Cassian was so floored by this turn of events he barely reacted when a trooper took his weapon before pushing him roughly towards the others. Jyn and Organa were equally fuming and Chewbacca looked ready to tear somebody’s arms out. The last men were dragged into the clearing when a loud voice called out:
“Hello! Are you looking for us?”
Everyone looked in disbelief as C-3PO waved at the Imperials, his golden plates probably making him the easiest target on the planet.
“The Hell?” Kes muttered.
They watched in mute horror as the soldiers ran towards the droid, a feeling that soon made way for astonishment then glee when the troopers were felled by a volley of arrows and an army of natives emerged from the bushes. They had excellent aim – more than some stormtroopers anyway – and managed not to shoot any Alliance soldier during the fist fight that followed as the former prisoners took their weapons back from their captors. After that, it was a more balanced matter, but still not working in their favor.
The Imperial battalions scattered in the woods to root all the little creatures out, offering some opportunities for ambushes and traps, but their firepower remained too strong, though Rebels and Ewoks alike took some good shots at them. Jyn saw one of the walkers felled by an avalanche of tree trunks that destabilized it. The crew was immediately slaughtered.
Not enough. There are too many of them. And I’d bet my crystal they prepared the same kind of trap for the fleet up there.
She ran and ducked under fallen trees now and then to avoid blaster shots, firing back every time she saw something white pass by her… Embers from burnt trees were raining on her back and she had to stop several times to put them out. She quickly lost any notion of time. She did not know where Cassian could be. It might have been hours before she heard Solo’s voice, yelling at the top of his lungs:
“Take cover! TAKE COVER!”
Though she was rather far from the bunker itself, she instinctively obeyed, right as the building exploded in a high burst of orange flames, sending sparks and bits of half-molten metal flying everywhere. People began stomping on them to stop the fire from spreading while the destruction reached the giant antenna conveying the energy for the shield.
Watching the gigantic fireworks, the commandos began to cheer, while their Ewok allies emitted a high ululating sound. Jyn let herself fall on the moss-covered ground, exhausted. And this time, I didn’t even take a shot. I’m improving.
She remained there for a moment, the breeze causing the ferns to tickle her cheeks and nose. If not for the smell of smoke and burnt metal, the place would be so peaceful… And she was so kriffing tired. Another wave of cheers reached her and looking at the sky, she saw something akin to a mini supernova illuminating the place where the Death Star had resided. So that’s how they look when they blow up. Lovely.
“Hey, Erso? Still with us?” Kes’ voice asked above her head.
“No, I’m dead.”
“Fine, I’m going to notify Cassian at once,” he deadpanned.
She shot up to her feet, earning a chuckle from Dameron. Rolling her eyes, she followed him through the woods, carcasses of walkers lying here and there, their fuel still burning, and bodies… more bodies than she cared to count.
“Rex managed to cheat death,” Kes commented. “Again. Can’t believe the old guy’s been in there since the very beginning.”
“He certainly deserves his retirement. How is Cassian?”
“Dunno,” he admitted. “Last I saw him, he was doing fine. I just hope...”
“I’m sure Shara is fine as well,” she told him with a smile.
They found Cassian propped against a tree, his left leg bandaged under the knee, arguing through C-3PO with the Ewok tribe’s healer, who apparently wanted to take a look at his wound, while the Captain absolutely refused to let the healer touch him. He finally convinced the other to leave and the droid trotted away as well, his translations indispensable to his comrades. Cassian’s eyes wandered and settled on Jyn and Kes walking towards him. A satisfied smile, an expression that was not seen often on his austere face, graced his lips.
Jyn sat on the ground besides him while Kes went in search of a long-range comlink.
“The chief medic will be very cross with you,” she whispered, before kissing gently the corner of his mouth.
“Right now, I can’t even care,” he replied, pulling her close.
But as she rested in his embrace, she could not help thinking that she was now left with nothing to do. Her purpose had gone into dust with the Death Star. What would she do now?