Wreckage and Rescue
Oh, look at him! Chief Drycin clenched her hands in distress as the heavy doors slid open with the assistance of several burly Rebel soldiers and a sturdy maintenance droid. A piece of specialized equipment attached to the droid generated a shield bubble which held back the near vacuum in that section. Commander Jir lay curled on the deck beside the doors, wrapped in blankets. Ice crystals sparkled in his hair and on his eyelashes, and his skin was very pale. He did not seem to be breathing.
The Rebel commander shook his head as he consulted the readout on a device in his hands. Ma'am, I know the scanner says he's still alive, but the air in here is terribly thin. He might be brain-damaged.
I don't care, Drycin snapped. We're not leaving him here. He's a hero, he saved all our lives. If it hadn't been for him closing the blast doors, we'd all be dead by now.
The officer nodded. I understand ma'am, don't worry, we'll do the best we can for him. Its a miracle any of you survived in this wreck. Under the officer's direction, Commander Jir was carefully lifted, placed on a stretcher, and carried away to the waiting Rebel ship, which was attached to the fragment of the Imperial ship by a temporary hatchway. Chief Drycin followed the rescuers, her expression somewhere between relief and worry. Once inside the Rebel ship, she sat down heavily beside the group of stormtroopers. While the Rebels had not tried to bother them, they had confiscated all of the trooper's weapons and no one seemed to be in the mood to attempt a takeover of the ship.
Well, we got him out of there. Drycin allowed her body to slump in the seat and closed her eyes.
Chief, do you think they will execute him? Corporal Darklan asked anxiously as the Rebel ship undocked itself from the flotsam of the Executor. I've heard rumors the Rebels kill any troopers they capture.
Drycin looked at the stormtrooper still half clad in his white armor and smiled slightly. Aren't you worried about yourself? It's not as if you've made any attempt to disguise your own branch of service.
Darklan shook his head. No, we all lived at the whim of the Emperor. I'm amazed we survived as long as we have, so no; I'm not afraid for myself. I am worried about the Commander, however. It would be wrong after all weve been through for them to kill him.
I don't think they would have gone to all the trouble to rescue him if they intended to kill him right away. They didn't kill us, did they? They didnt come in shooting they didnt even threaten us. She patted him on the arm. Try not to worry. If the Commander was right, the Empire will arrange to swap us out for Rebel prisoners soon enough.
All right, Chief. Corporal Darklan folded his arms and settled down into a comfortable resting posture. I hope you're right.
Me, too, Drycin muttered.
What do we have here? asked Doctor Cadval as he entered the triage room aboard the Rebel medical frigate Healingsong.
The chief medic answered. A bunch of banged-up Imperials Sir, they came in a couple minutes ago. The Lieutenant who brought em in said they found them in a fragment of the Executor. They'd been sealed up inside for hours.
The doctor stood in the doorway and scanned the occupants of the room. A number of young men, some still clad in the remnants of white armor, sat in a tidy row side-by-side on treatment tables. All of them sported field dressings. A woman in the uniform of an Imperial noncommissioned officer sat near them. Her head was wrapped in a neat bandage. More men lay on treatment tables. These were more severely injured and medical droids were already working on them. The doctor's gaze fell on one unconscious young man wrapped in heavy blankets. The collar of his black uniform was barely visible where some of the material had fallen open. The doctor pointed at the officer. What happened to him?
He saved our lives Doctor, said the female non-com quickly. That's Commander Jir. He figured out our piece of the ship was leaking, and somehow jury-rigged all the blast doors to close. That's how we survived, but he got himself stuck outside the safe zone. He was the last one to be rescued. Your medic said he's alive but comatose, can you help him?
He survived hard vacuum? Cadval moved to Commander Jir's side, pulling out a medical scanner and moving it over the body of his patient.
Not hard vacuum Sir, said Chief Drycin. But the air on the other side of the doors got really thin, and he'd taken some injuries earlier.
The doctor frowned as he checked the readouts on his scanner. What kind of other injuries?
He'd gotten a big cut on his forehead and he said he been smashed around on one of the lower levels when the gravity reversed itself several times.
Is that all? Those sort of injuries don't explain the readings I'm getting, said Cadval. He sounded puzzled. Your Commander isn't in a coma; it's more as if hes in a state of hibernation, or a very deep trance that lowers the metabolic rate. The doctor touched Jir on the forehead, removing the bandage to examine the cut. This isn't nearly bad enough to explain why he's out the way he is. Very strange. Cadval looked at Drycin. He's not a Jedi is he?
No, he couldn't be. Why do you ask?
The only people who could induce a trance state of this sort were Jedi. And there's not many of those around any more, are there? Carefully the doctor pulled back the edges of the blanket covering Jir's chest and whistled softly. Then again, perhaps one is closer than I think.
Cadval suddenly became very brisk and businesslike. Get a bacta tank ready, this man is going to need a good soaking. A nearby medical droid moved at once to the back of the room and began to prepare the requested equipment.
A second medic joined the doctor and looked at Jir. Do you want us to revive him first, Sir? He might be able to tell you how he was injured.
I wouldn't do that, if I were you. One of the stormtroopers awaiting treatment spoke up.
Why not? The medic shot a curious glance at Corporal Darklan.
Because if you wake him up before you tank him you're gonna need an entire squad of helpers to get him in there. I should know; I've seen him need treatment before. He's just awful about it.
He's right, you know, added private Tunrin. He gave Cadval a lopsided smile.
Why did he resist treatment? The medic asked. His expression showed a mixture of puzzlement and disbelief. It's not as if soaking in bacta is painful.
Private Tunrin shrugged his shoulders and looked at Corporal Darklan. The Corporal replied. I don't know Sir, maybe he was claustrophobic. All I know is it was very difficult to get him to take that sort of medical help.
Very difficult! Private Tunrin snickered and a number of the other stormtroopers likewise chuckled. The only time I ever saw him get quietly into a bacta tank without ten people shoving him in was when Lord Vader gave him an order. He went very quietly then.
He served Lord Vader? asked Cadval, rubbing a hand through his gray hair.
As did we all, said Corporal Darklan. But Commander Jir was under Lord Vaders command for over five years.
Then he's a braver man than I, said Cadval. Or perhaps very lucky.
Id have to say he was very good. You didn't serve under Lord Vader for that length of time without being smart, competent, and yeah, maybe more than a little lucky. Corporal Darklan looked thoughtful. We're just troopers, so the worst that would happen if we messed up would be a dressing-down or maybe some sort of disciplinary action, but for the officers it was a different matter. They stood between us and the higher-ups. If they screwed up they didn't get yelled at, they got dead.
Very well, said Cadval. We'll let him sleep peacefully for now and not wake him. Its been far too long since Ive heard about anything like this, since before the Clone Wars, but if I recall correctly the healing trance will wear off and he will wake of his own accord eventually. Placing his hands on the table on which Jir lay he pushed it toward the young medic. Take him back and put him in the tank. With any luck we'll pull him out of there before he wakes.
Yeah, and if he does wake up before you get him out you'll know about it, chuckled Corporal Darklan.
The medic took the table and pushed it the length of the room toward the bacta tank. Peering at the chamber of liquid he frowned. Doctor, this tank doesn't have breathing gear set up yet; I'll call over to clinic number five and get them to send a kit down.
Cadval shook his head. No, don't bother with that. If you look at your patient you will see both lungs have been cauterized.
The medic plucked back the blankets and stared down at Jir's chest. His face turned pale. Merciful stars! What happened to him?
From the looks of it I'd deduce that a Jedi happened to him, but were going to have to wait until he wakes up to get the full story. In the interim, have the bacta fluid hyper-oxygenated and put him straight in so he can breathe it into his lungs. Nothing else would help the tissue heal so well.
Very good, doctor, the medic replied, turning away to his task.
The Imperials watched with interest as Commander Jir was stripped of his uniform, hoisted up, and carefully lowered into the healing fluid. A slow sequence of bubbles trailed away from Jir's nose as he exhaled. The quantity of bubbles became less and finally disappeared altogether as his lungs filled with liquid while he breathed. Private Tunrin shook his head and muttered to his companions. Boy, they better hope he really doesn't wake up while hes still in the tank like that. He'll have a royal fit.
I'd have a royal fit, and I'm not claustrophobic, said Chief Drycin as she watched the proceedings with concern. Won't he drown?
Cadval, who had begun to unwind the bandage around her head, answered her calmly. No he'll be fine. This is just what he needs. The fluid in the tank is breathable, it has more than enough oxygen to sustain life, and since it contains bacta, it will accelerate the healing process in his lungs just like it does for any external injuries.
Chief Drycin nodded as she listened to the doctor, wincing a little as he probed the wound on her temple. If you say so, Doctor. Thank you for explaining what you are doing for the Commander. I'm only a repair technician, not a medic.
Try not to worry Chief, he'll pull through. Believe me, I've seen lots worse and our medical staff have put them right again. He'll be fine and so will the rest of you.
I'll take that as a promise, said Drycin.
I meant it as such, Cadval replied in a kind voice. I'm not sure what your own people have told you about us, but we treat prisoners of war the same as we treat our own people. Much to the doctor's consternation, after his little speech Drycin burst into tears. Now, now, it'll be all right. I think perhaps you've had enough excitement for one day? He snagged a length of tissue from a droid as it trundled past with a tray of medical supplies. This he offered to Drycin so she could wipe her eyes and face.
What excitement? asked Corporal Darklan. We've only been shot up, shipwrecked, nearly lost our commanding officer, and been captured by the Rebellion. That hardly qualifies as excitement. He snapped his fingers. All in a day's work for the soldiers of the Empire.
Drycin laughed through her tears, mopped her face, and sat up straighter, looking much more composed.
Cadval smiled at them. Very good. All the same, I think we'll try to get you taken care of as quickly as possible so you can get some rest. Things will look better in the morning.
Morning already? thought Jir, squinting at the light shining in on him. He had a sneaking suspicion that someone aboard the Executor was advancing the day cycle while no one was looking. Guess I ought to get up. One didn't want to be late to any meeting attended by Lord Vader, but now that he thought about it he had no memory of the day's agenda and that was very odd. Normally, he had an idea of what was expected of him and his men several days in advance. They often had surprise assignments, but he only had to respond to surprises as they occurred. Yet it was unwise to miss a staff meeting and that nagging thought prodded him awake more than anything.
What was I doing? Seems like I was in the middle of doing something. Jir raised a hand to rub the sleep from his eyes and noticed a strange heaviness along his arm and hand as if somehow the air had acquired substance. Another oddity. He yawned and felt fluid move in and out of his mouth. That wasn't odd, it was downright outlandish! Jir opened his eyes wide and tried in vain to focus on the hazy view. I'm not in my bed; I'm in a bacta tank! Without a breath mask, comm gear, or anything. When did that happen? What's going on? He scowled fiercely and raised his hands to strike at the walls of the tank. Never mind that, I'm getting out of here!
That familiar voice again. Jir hesitated with his knuckles millimeters short of the transparisteel tube in which he was trapped. What? When he received no immediate reply he shook his head, feeling his hair swirl about in the blood-warm liquid. The old claustrophobic feeling coursed along his nerves, along with snatches of memory: a wrecked ship, wounded comrades, and being trapped in the cold dark with the ghost of a Jedi. His heart began to race as a host of new worries assailed him. Drycin and my men what happened to them? Did they get rescued? He gritted his teeth. I want out, now! Balling up his fists he prepared again to start pounding on the tank.
Daine Jir, let go of your fear and think clearly. The quiet voice sounded almost as if it were quoting a professors teachings. They will take you out presently, but if you are in that much of a hurry, simply remove the top and let yourself out. It is not tightly sealed.
The voice had a calming influence. Jir took a deep breath of the fluid and let his initial panicked reaction drain away as he exhaled slowly. Taking stock of his situation he found he was not actually restrained. A light harness studded with small weights on his upper body served to keep him suspended in the middle of the liquid-filled tube but he soon discovered it did not prevent him from swimming upward to the top of the tank. Bracing himself against the walls he placed both hands against the cover and pushed upward. It yielded after a few firm shoves. Once loosened, he nudged it to one side, creating an opening large enough to allow him to surface into the air of the room beyond. Different voices called to him from below.
Hold on a minute, Commander! We'll help you down.
Jir wiped his eyes and peered over the side of the tank. The person speaking to him was a medic of middle years. Standing beside him was another medic who seemed to be somewhat younger.
Yes, wait there for just a moment and I'll bring up the lift; it would look bad if you fell, broke your bones, and had to be put back in the tank for another day, said the second medic.
That unpleasant possibility made Jir pause. Resting his forearms against the lip of the tank he waited, exhaling warm fluid and inhaling cool air. The odd mingling of the two dissimilar substances brought on a fit of coughing. He was still snorting and sneezing as the medics hoisted him from the tank and lowered him gently to a mat nearby. One of them quickly flung a towel over his wet shoulders and withdrew to linger at a safe distance, waiting for him to cease coughing up fluid and mucus. When Jir had finished the medic drew close enough to remove the harness, and began to help towel the remnants of bacta from his skin.
How do you feel, Sir?
With an expression of distaste, Jir shook bits of bacta from his arms and began to dry his hair vigorously with a second towel. Wet, sticky, and starving.
The younger of the two medics laughed. You sound much improved, Sir. You're in luck, too; the day cycle is just starting, I'll see about getting you some breakfast right away.
I'd appreciate that, thank you, said Jir, as he wiped his face with the towel. How are my people?
Don't worry, theyre all fine, we didn't lose a single one. You can check on them yourself once we've got you properly kitted out and fed. The medic pointed at himself. I'm Sav, and he's Ardin. With the help of Doctor Cadval we've been taking turns looking after you and your group.
Jir nodded as he finished drying himself off and accepted a hospital robe from Sav. Im grateful for the rescue. He shrugged into the robe. How goes the war?
Err it goes very well for us, said Ardin in a quiet voice. But not so well for your side, I'm afraid. The Death Star has been destroyed and the Emperor is dead.
Jir stared at the medic as if seeing him for the first time. You you're not one of ours! he said in an accusatory tone.
I could say the same about you, said Ardin equably.
You're Rebels? asked Jir.
I'm told they're calling it the New Republic now.
Huh, as if the old one was any good, Jir snorted. Couldn't you people have at least picked a different name? As he spoke he looked around the room. It seemed to be devoid of patients; two other bacta tanks stood empty nearby, and a row of hospital beds were likewise unoccupied. While he did not see any guards, neither did he see his uniform, armor, or anything that looked like a weapon. Jir sighed and temporarily shelved his initial plans for a breakout.
Well, that's what we get when we let the politicians decide these things, Ardin shrugged and smiled at Jir. Perhaps they thought it would be nice to remember the old Republic by recycling the name.
Sav laughed at Ardin's summary. I'm rather fond of the name ' Rebel' myself. It seems a lot more exciting. New Republic sounds entirely too respectable. Turning away, he made a follow-me gesture. This way, Sir. We can't bring food into the wards, but we've got a break room next door where you can sit and eat. Dr. Cadval will want to check on you now that you're out of the tank.
Jir walked after the medic, who led him out of the sick bay and into a room directly across the hall. It seemed to be a small stateroom with a table, chairs, and a compact galley. An older man with gray hair in the uniform of a physician was pouring a cup of kaffe as the group of men entered. He smiled when he saw Jir and quickly poured another cup, offering it to the commander. Here you are, up and about at last. Take a chair and I'll get you something to eat. Im Cadval, your attending physician. How do you feel?
Jir sat down at the table, carefully tucking his robe around him. I'm alive, and that rather surprises me.
Yes, it was a near thing. You're the last of your group to recover. Dr. Cadval moved to the table and placed a plate of food in front of Jir. Once I'm done examining you, you can go and check on your people. They'll be very relieved to see that you're out. Chief Drycin and Corporal Darklan have been taking turns pestering my medics and me about your condition. The doctor's voice held a reluctant admiration. For Imperials, they seem to care quite a bit about you and each other.
Jir paused to swallow a mouthful of food before replying in a dry tone. You mean Imperials can't care about each other?
The doctor shook his head. I haven't seen too many that cared about anyone or anything other than themselves, or power. Not that I've met all that many personally during the years of the rebellion, but the ones I saw on the Holonet were hardly paragons of virtue. Mostly I've had to deal only with our own wounded. Cadval studied Jir's face thoughtfully. Your Chief and Corporal are the first two live Imperials I've been able to have a conversation with. They seem to be good people and their concern for your welfare is genuine.
They are good people, Jir said simply. There was a lot more to it than that, but Jir did not know how to express the complicated web of loyalty and honor that bound him to his own troops and by extension to anyone who had served aboard the Executor. He contented himself with finishing his meal and tried to ignore the fact that the doctor was watching him closely. The two medics who had helped him out of the tank excused themselves and left the room. No guards arrived, but Jir did not fool himself into thinking that he could simply leave. I don't even know where I am, he thought to himself as he took a sip of kaffe. Guess I'll have to wait and gather a little intelligence before trying to get us back to the Empire.
At last Jir pushed his plate back with a sigh, feeling much more human now that he had had a proper meal. Looking at the doctor over the rim of his cup he asked. I don't suppose my uniform is anywhere about, is it?
The doctor rubbed his chin and gazed around the room. As a matter of fact, yes, it's in here somewhere. I saw the droids bringing it back from Cleaning yesterday; I just have to recall where they put it. Rising, Cadval wandered around the room peering into cupboards at random. As he searched he fired a stream of questions at Jir.
Do you remember your name?
I was promoted to Commander of the Emperor's stormtroopers last year.
And your number?
Service number AR-13094, Jir replied promptly. None of these questions were improper for the doctor to ask and none of Jir's replies were outside the protocol required of prisoners of war.
Very good, said Cadval. Do you know what day it is?
Jir considered the question. On the day our ship was hit it was the third day of the 10 day cycle of the new month. I don't know how long it's been since then, but people only typically spend a day or two in the bacta tank.
The doctor nodded. A logical conclusion, Commander, but it is now the eighth day of the same cycle.
What?! I've been out for five days? Jir stared at the doctor in disbelief. Why so long? As far as I know, the wounded are either cured or dead by three days.
Aha! Cadval cried in triumph as he opened another cupboard. Reaching inside he pulled out a neatly folded pile of black clothing followed by a pair of matching boots. Returning to the table he gave them to Jir. That's true for most casualties, but you don't seem to be a typical patient. I don't get too many people in my clinic who arrive in a deep trance state. In point of fact, I havent had any; I had to refresh my memory by reading about them in archived holojournals from the time of the old Republic. He watched as Jir began to sort through the bundle of clothing.
Jir unfolded the tunic. Frowning, he held it up to the light, running his fingers gently over the front. I can still see the holes, even after mending, he murmured. It wasnt a dream.
Yes, yet another reason why you were a most untypical patient. I've never seen anyone before with lung hemorrhages pinpoint-cauterized by means of a lightsaber. This provides me with a most interesting mystery. Do you remember how it happened? The doctor watched him keenly.
Yes, yes I do. Jir placed his uniform on the table and rubbed at his temples with his fingertips, squeezing his eyes half-shut in an expression of intense concentration. I was dying, stuck in a compartment that was slowly venting out atmosphere. The air had become too thin to breathe, when he returned and said he would help me, keep me alive until rescue arrived.
Which he? Asked the doctor. One of your troopers?
No, the Jedi, of course. He was the only one who could move around freely. Jir brushed his hands across the front of his robe. He used his lightsaber to stop the bleeding in those places where it was really bad, and then he made me sleep.
Cadval stared at Jir in disbelief. Putting aside the matter of the alleged Jedi for the moment, don't you have the order of events somewhat mixed up?
Mixed up in what way?
Don't you mean that your healer made you sleep first and then cauterized your wounds?
Jir shook his head. No, Doctor, not at all. Everything happened just as I told you: he stopped the bleeding in my lungs with his lightsaber, and then put me into what he described as a healing trance. Next thing I know, I'm waking up in your tank.
The doctor joined Jir at the table and sat down, pulling his chair a little closer to the Imperial officer. I find it difficult to believe you allowed someone to use a lightsaber on you while you were still conscious. The ordeal must have been...
Jir gave the doctor a slight smile. Each to their own phobia. I was more afraid of being worked on while I was out than of enduring pain for a short stretch of time. Granted, I'd have to describe the sensation as intense, but it wasn't that bad.
You're a braver man than I, said Cadval. I told your people that when we initially rescued you, and Ill say it again now. I doubt I would have been able to hold still for such treatment.
I never thought of it as being particularly brave, said Jir, shrugging. I just felt as if I could trust him somehow, and so I let him do what he wanted with me.
Cadval considered Jir's explanation. Tell me; are you always so trusting of strangers with dangerous weapons? The doctor's tone was light rather than disapproving. I thought the officers of the Empire were a little more cautious.
It's odd, now that you mention it, had it been anyone else I would never have allowed him to do what he did. Jir looked away, a thoughtful frown on his face.
Was it someone you knew?
Jir shook his head in an emphatic negative. No, I'd never seen him before. I haven't a clue how he got on board our ship, or what he was doing there before we got so badly hit, but he stayed to help us. There's no way any of us would have survived without his assistance. His fingers touched the black fabric of his uniform where it lay on the table. Yet he felt familiar Jir murmured softly to himself.
Cadval did not seem to hear the last statement. So it was no one known to you in the Empire?
He was a Jedi, and there aren't any Jedi left in the Empire, save for Lord Vader. Jir stopped, his face set in a grim expression. And now he's gone. Pain of a purely nonphysical sort shot through him. Jir stood and busied himself by pulling on his clothing, beginning with his shorts and breeches. Soon enough he had the lower half of his body decently clad. As he reached for his undershirt the doctor spoke.
Do you mind waiting a moment? I'd like to check your wounds one more time before you cover them.
Certainly, Doctor, said Jir as he drew the hospital robe off his shoulders. Although you've done such a good job healing me up, there isnt much to see, really. Jir stood still as the doctor inspected the set of small circular marks marching in parallel rows up his torso and chest.
The doctor touched one gently with a fingertip. They don't hurt?
Not at all.
The doctor turned Jir around, checking his back carefully, whistling softly through his teeth as he made his inspection. I'm still amazed at the control of whoever did this surgery. You were standing as he worked, you say?
Yes, that's right, he had me stand up. Jir smiled. I wasn't very steady on my feet to begin with, so I leaned against the bulkhead for support.
As I said, amazing control; to use a lightsaber like a scalpel on a wobbly patient, without anesthesia, and yet he still managed to cauterize all your bleeders without puncturing you through the back, slicing the aorta, or ruining your lungs. The doctor stepped back. Thank you, you can finish dressing now. Much as I find it highly improbable, I have to agree with you and say the only person who could perform surgery like this under such extreme conditions would have to be a Jedi. He watched as Jir pulled on his undershirt. Are you absolutely certain there could have been no Jedi aboard your ship?
I don't see how, said Jir as he shrugged into his overshirt and pulled the sleeves down tidily. Lord Vader wouldn't have allowed it, nor would the Emperor. A Jedi couldn't have been on the Executor without being detected by Lord Vader and slain. I don't know of any other Jedi, except for . Jir looked up in time to see a young man dressed in black enter the room. The man's blond hair was rumpled as if he hadn't had time to comb it. Him.
Luke, glad you could make it, said the doctor, rising to shake the man's hand. He looked at Jir. So you do recognize this particular Jedi?
Jir snorted. Pretty much every officer, non-com, and soldier in the Empire knows about Luke Skywalker. We had standing orders for his capture from Lord Vader, and wanted holos of him were stuck up everywhere in the Empire. He peered at Luke as if he were some sort of exotic and dangerous alien.
In turn, Luke gazed curiously at the commander and then at Dr. Cadval. I came as quickly as I could. I must admit your message got me rather curious. He grinned and nodded at Commander Jir, sitting at the table almost dressed and obviously unarmed. It doesn't exactly look as if you're under attack by the forces of the Empire.
Message? Jir ignored Luke's last statement and directed his question at the doctor. Hastily he finished fastening his tunic and exhaled in relief at finally being back in proper uniform.
Yes, I believe I phrased it like this: 'have you or any of your Jedi colleagues been performing life-saving surgery on Imperial officers with your lightsabers recently?' Doctor Cadval lifted a hand to indicate Jir.
He's not the one, said Jir. He got up and approached Luke cautiously, an abstracted frown on his face. Definitely not the same Jedi who helped me, but
You were helped by a Jedi? Luke looked at the Imperial officer in surprise. When? How?
Five days ago, said Cadval. A mysterious Jedi rescued Commander Jir and a number of other Imperials trapped inside a fragment of Darth Vader's flagship, the Executor.
Luke's eyes widened in astonishment. But, there aren't any other Jedi left! His voice became softer. At least, none that I know of.
Jir uttered a short laugh. My point exactly, and I've been trying to explain this to the good Doctor ever since I woke up.
May I have the entire story, please? Luke took a chair and sat down near the doctor. Jir paced the room restlessly, saying nothing for a time, but at last he began to speak.
Very well, since you're the one person who may be able to shed some light on this mystery. Evidently, once the Executor was hit, I and a number of the crew were trapped inside a large fragment that spun away from the main wreck and so was not destroyed with the rest of the ship. In a calm voice and without any embellishment Commander Jir related his story. The last thing I remember was asking the Jedi for his name, and then I fell asleep. I woke up on this medical frigate in the bacta tank. The medics fished me out and the rest you know.
He gave you his name? Luke's eyes sparked with interest.
Yes he did, Jir closed his own eyes in concentration. I was falling asleep, so what he said seems very far away. An-something. Ana Anakin. Jir opened his eyes and nodded. That was it, Anakin Skywalker. He smiled in momentary triumph then his smile faded as he turned slowly to stare at Luke. Just a moment, he muttered. You're Luke Skywalker
Luke's incredulous expression matched Jir's own. Anakin Skywalker is the one who saved your life?
I'm quite sure that was the name he gave me. Was he a relative of yours?
You could say so. He was my father. A number of emotions flashed across Luke's expressive face. Jir couldn't be certain, but he thought he recognized astonishment, joy, and sorrow. You actually saw him?
Oh yes, as clearly as I see you now. Jir smiled strangely. If it wasn't for the fact he glowed in the dark and could walk through walls, I would have thought he was any normal person with Jedi robes and a lightsaber. He tilted his head, considering Luke. You favor him.
You saw him.
Is something wrong with that? Jir folded his arms and looked stubborn. I know it's not normal for most people to see ghosts, I didn't believe in them myself before this, but I certainly saw something, and more than that. He helped us somehow, repaired the power supplies so the blast doors would close, talked me through the hotwiring, patched up the worst of my injuries. Jir pressed a hand to his chest. Without his help we never would have survived long enough to be rescued.
Luke seemed to consider his words carefully. You didn't see a ghost, you saw a Force spirit.
Jir scowled. That's exactly what he said! To be honest I don't see what the difference is, they're dead and yet somehow they interact with the living.
But that is the difference, interacting with the living. Ghosts don't do that. As I understand it they are simply afterimages of beings that were once alive and are now gone. But Force spirits are something different. Luke reached out a hand toward Jir. Most people cannot see them, never mind see them so clearly they initially mistake them for those living in physical bodies. As I understand it, only a powerful Jedi could do such a thing.
Jir felt an exquisite thrill of horror race along his nerves. I'm no Jedi! There is no way I could have served Lord Vader for any length of time and been a Jedi. The Emperor would have had me executed straight away, and Lord Vader himself would have done the deed since I was under his command.
You served Vader?
Jir spoke in a calmer voice, still feeling rather flustered. For years. I began my service as a junior officer under his command, and he kept me on rather than rotating me out. Jir shook his head at Luke's expression. What, do you think he slaughtered everyone under his command? It wasn't so. A competent soldier could do very well. I wasn't the only officer assigned long-term to his service, there was Commander Praji, and Lt. Commander Belkan, and several others.
But you were close to him? Luke moved a step closer to the commander.
Jir ran a hand through his short hair and looked puzzled. Close? Do you mean as in physical proximity? I served as his aide-de-camp, so I was often near him. If you mean was I his confidant... Jir shook his head and said nothing further. He kept a wary eye on Luke as the young Jedi came close enough to touch him, but instead of actually touching Luke simply stroked a hand through the air near his head. Jir felt an odd sensation, as if someone were pushing on him slightly and without thinking he braced himself. Luke smiled at that.
You may not be a Jedi yet, Commander Jir, but the Force is with you.
Jir could not think of any immediate reply, his mind still trying to comprehend Luke's words. He wasn't sure which statement appalled him more, the one about the Force is with you, or the not a Jedi yet. His thoughts skittered around in loops like small creatures trying to figure out a larger potential predator dropped into their midst. Cold sweat prickled on his skin and it took nearly all of his self-control to keep from flinching away from Luke. I don't see how it could be. His voice sounded unsteady even to himself and Jir grimaced.
I am far from knowing everything there is to know about the ways of the Force, said Luke quietly. He kept his movements slow as he circled Jir, obviously using whatever enhanced senses he possessed. I only started learning about it five years ago, and all of my old masters who were teaching me are now one with the Force.
Like my mysterious Jedi rescuer?
Exactly. Luke nodded in approval at his deduction. Abruptly he seemed to change the subject. Commander Jir, did Anakin Skywalker say anything to you about the fate of Darth Vader?
Jir tossed his head in a quick motion. Yes, he did. When I asked if Lord Vader was still alive, the Jedi said Lord Vader was free and suffers no longer. By that, I assumed he was dead, and it turns out I was right. Thinking about it still gave Jir that odd pain in his heart. He shifted from foot to foot, wanting to be moving again, but something in Lukes face held him.
He said it that way?! Im so glad! Luke stepped close, flung his arms around the Imperial and caught him in a strong hug. I know he's all right, but it's wonderful to hear it from someone else.
Jir yelped in surprise, distracted from his unhappy musings. Being embraced by Rebels especially this Rebelwas not something hed expected to experience, ever. The younger man was several inches shorter than Jir and at this close range exuded an odd scent compounded of ozone, fire, leaf mold, and desert dust
Will you please tell me why your father would care about me and my people or Lord Vader? Jir tried to make his questions sound less peevish but failed miserably. Whats going on?
Luke released him and held Jirs shoulders, staring into his eyes as if he couldnt quite believe what he was hearing. Dont you know? Didnt Anakin Skywalker tell you?
Know what? Tell me what? Jir was more than a little frustrated. Why should some Jedi care about us or help us as he did? I served Lord Vader.
Luke took pity on Jir and spoke gently. Because they were one and the same person. Anakin Skywalker was Darth Vader.
The the same? Jir shuddered at the sudden onset of vertigo. The same person? I knew something in that voice sounded familiar, he muttered. The sensation of falling became markedly worse. I think I'm fainting, Jir thought as his knees buckled and he sagged to the floor. Luke caught him under one arm and kept him from collapsing entirely. Dimly he heard Dr. Cadval's worried voice.
Is he all right?
A moment later Jir felt the doctor take his other arm.
I'm afraid he's feeling about the same as I did when I got the news from my father.
I'm sorry, said Luke as he and Cadval helped Jir into a chair. It's a bit of a shock no, it's far more than that, but there's no easy way to say it.
Jir sat where they had placed him, powerless to move, still feeling as if he were falling. That Jedi, that man, Lord Vader? Jirs eyes were wide open, but he couldnt see. That fine man? How? Why? His thoughts, which had begun to settle down somewhat from Lukes earlier Jedi bombshell, gave up any semblance of order and fled in a chaotic stampede. He was left with a sensation of anguish so deep it felt like wild krayts were flaying the flesh from his bones. He breathed in ragged gasps, unable to articulate the agony.
Youre in pain, said Luke, his voice filled with concern.
Yess, Jir forced the response out through clenched teeth. I sppose so. Jir felt rather than saw Luke reach toward him.
It might be better if you could cry or scream, he offered. I did both.
The paralysis broke and Jir scrambled up with a lurch, knocking over the chair in his haste to avoid Lukes hand. He still could see almost nothing; it was as if someone had plunged the room into utter darkness. The young Jedi was a shining swirl of soft light, the doctor a similar nexus-point of energy. Jir backed stiffly away from both of them. Dont, he pleaded. Dont touch me.
Commander, if you Luke took a step toward him.
No. Jir moved away as Luke tried to come closer. He was hot, burning with fever, yet so cold he shivered uncontrollably.
No, Jir whispered. Ill come apart. He stepped back another pace and found the wall of the room brushing against his right shoulder. Dont be kind to me. Jir was surprised at how sane his voice sounded. Wobbly, yes, but sane. He didnt feel sane. Sucking in a deep breath he continued in a rush. If you touch me, I wont be able to stand it. If I start crying, I wont be able to stop and Drycin and Darklan and the others need me to be strong so dont touch me or I really will He paused as he felt another presence close behind him. He turned his head and gave a little groan. Anakin Skywalker Lord Vader stood there, solid and real in the gloom.
Dont ruin all our hard work by doing something stupid. Anakins face was calm and his voice was steady.
But he Jir waved a hand toward Luke, who waited at a distance.
Anakin Skywalker shook his head. Youve had enough for this day. Jir felt the Jedis ghostly fingers drift through his hair. Rest for now.
But! My Lord, Jir protested.
Shh. Anakin hushed him as if he were a willful child. I will explain once you are recovered. For now, rest, and once you wake, see to your people. He smiled at Jir as the young officer began to sink toward the deck. Dont forget you have duties to attend to.
Duties. Clutching that familiar concept, Jir fell away into sleep.
Who was he talking to? asked Cadval as he gently arranged Jirs body into a more comfortable position on the floor.
I dont know for certain, but I have an idea, Luke replied.
Commander Jir! The voices penetrated the comfortable fog of sleep. Please wake up, Sir.
Uh, what? Jir yawned and blinked. The room slowly began to materialize. The lighting indicated they were into the ship's day cycle.
He's awake! A generalized happy murmur greeted this statement. Jir sat bolt upright. He was lying on a standard bunk of the sort found aboard military starships. Someone had been kind enough to remove his boots, loosen his tunic, and throw a blanket over him. He was with his men, he knew this even before he could see them, from the distinctive feel they had and the soft brightness they cast into the space behind his eyes. After several more blinks they swam into visual focus and he was able to perform a quick headcount, confirming his initial impression.
Corporal Darklan grinned at him. Good morning, Commander.
Youre all right! Jir grabbed him by the arms, relieved to find flesh and bone under his hands. He looked beyond Darklan into the room. Everyone make it?
Private Tunrin peered over Darklans shoulders. Yessir, thanks to you. We didnt lose anyone.
I had help, Jir said quietly, but his admission went unheard over the rumble of greetings from his men. His mind shied away from the sudden memory of Anakin Skywalker. Dont think about it right now, he told himself. Youve got duties to perform, you can think later. Calmly, he greeted the three junior naval officers his men had rescued while he had been away closing the blast doors aboard the Executor. They introduced themselves respectfully and indicated they were more than willing to follow his lead while they were in Rebel custody. Those polite rituals finished, Jir found one of their number missing.
Corporal Darklan, where is Chief Drycin?
The Rebels say shes fine; theyve got her bunking in with some of the female medical staff, Sir.
But why? They kept the rest of you together.
Darklan shrugged. Maybe they thought us terrible Imperials wouldnt behave ourselves?
Jir got up with a snort and a shake, searched around for and found his boots. They should know better. Our military rules arent that divergent from their own. Pulling on his boots and fastening up his tunic set his own external world to rights.
What, the rule that says youd space us if we got too forward with the Chief? asked one of the troopers with an innocent look.
Yes, that one, assuming she didnt space you herself. Jir smiled at the trooper. Or do something worse. Never annoy a tech with a tool belt full of microsaws, vibro-wrenches, and hydro-spanners.
Good point, Darklan conceded.
Ah, Commander Jir, good morning. Unnoticed in the initial hubbub, a Rebel officer had entered the dormitory. I am Lieutenant Orvit. He made a come with me gesture. Please join us for breakfast. As Jir followed, the officer asked. Is everything satisfactory, Commander?
From what I can see, yes, and thank you. Im relieved to see everyone is well. Jir paused and added. Almost everyone, were missing our Technical Chief. My men say you have her berthed separately.
We do, our female medical staff insisted. Ill take you down so you can verify her condition for yourself.
Very good. Jir was led through a succession of corridors into the crews quarters, stopping before the door of a dormitory unit very much like the one he and his men were using. The officer touched the annunciator. The door opened and a Mon Calamari woman in a medics uniform peered out.
Yes? She focused her large eyes on Jir. Oh. Youve brought him.
Orvit grinned at her. The very same. Lieutenant Mirghal, this is Commander Daine Jir.
Hmm, yes. Mirghal nodded and stood aside to allow them entrance. Welcome to the Imperial Jedi.
Jir felt as if someone had flushed his insides with quick-freeze. Im no Jedi! Any further protestations were lost as Chief Drycin saw him enter the room which served the residents as a small parlor.
Commander Jir! Youre all right! She sprang up from her seat, ran the few strides between them and threw her arms around him, grasping him in a fierce hug. I was so worried. They said you were out of the tank yesterday and all, but theyve been saying the strangest things about you!
Probably not half as strange as the truth, he murmured. Gingerly he returned her embrace. Relief washed over him, followed by a sudden burst of feelings and thoughts not his own.
Not-dead, not-hurt, so glad.
Fine, Im fine, he thought into that space that seemed to contain far more than mere thoughts.
Drycin eased her grip on him and looked into his face. Did you just say something?
Yes, sort of. His mouth felt dry and his heart tripped along quickly. Ill explain later. He grimaced internally at the thought of all the laters piling up that wanted attending-to. For now, though, Im off to a meeting with our hosts. Jir found he no longer wished to call them Rebels to their faces. I wanted to be sure you were being treated properly.
Drycin stepped back and took up a proper military posture. Her eyes had a light in them. Dont worry about me, Sir, Im fine. Lieutenant Mirghal and the others have been very kind to me.
Excellent. Stay sharp, Chief. Im going to explore our options. He smiled at her. Ill let you know when I understand what those options are. With a crisp exchange of salutes, he left with Lieutenant Orvit.
Forms, Jir muttered as he glowered at the screen of a data terminal. The bane of an officers existence. He sat in a small room a stateroom which connected to the dormitory used by his men. The room was large enough to contain his bunk, a built-in desk, and a data terminal connected to the ship's personnel computer. It had been secured, of course, so that had he been an expert slicer he could not have damaged the main database.
Carefully Jir read down the page, idly gnawing on a thumbnail as he scanned the entries. It had been three days since his awakening in the bacta tank; days spent dealing with the administrative muddle caused by their untimely capture. As the senior officer, the tedious job was his alone. Luke Skywalker had gone, but Doctor Cadval assured him the Jedi would return soon to speak with him and that was a conversation Jir did not look forward to continuing.
Jir sighed heavily. Youd think the Rebellion would be less into paperwork than the Empire, but no, they simply seem to have placed their own layer on top of what the Empire already has. Slowly he began to add information to that displayed on the screen. Maybe this is their idea of punishment. The data was quite mundane, consisting of the names, ranks, and service numbers of all the captured Imperials, any material captured with them, a list of their injuries and treatment, and their current state of health. In theory, the information would be used to notify their next of kin they had survived the battle and were well, but that was assuming the Empire was still functioning efficiently enough to be collecting such lists of prisoners and distributing the information.
Jir frowned at the list. With our luck this stuff will be sent to the Hutts or somewhere off to the Outer Rim.
The Outer Rim would not be such a bad place, but it would be best if the information were not sent anywhere.
Jir jumped as if prodded with a Force pike. The door of his room was closed, no one had opened it. The hour was late, the men in the room beyond had turned in and the sounds of their voices had faded away an hour earlier. Moving carefully he turned in his chair. Anakin Skywalker stood in the small space behind Jir, his arms folded, a wry smile on his face. It will be safer to let the Empire think you all were lost with the Executor.
But Jir felt again the urge to weep when he looked at the healthy man before him. Firmly, he pushed the need aside in favor of another question. Why, my Lord? It will be difficult to return to the Empire if we dont have our papers in order. Actually, it would have been nearly impossible to return to the Empire without the correct documentation, but Jir felt it unnecessary to belabor the point, since Lord Vader would have been well aware of the fact.
Anakin shook his head. Because for now the Empire is not safe for you, not for any of you. The Jedi waved a hand in the direction of the rooms beyond where the rest of the men were sleeping. You know the Emperor is dead, don't you?
Yes, my Lord, Jir replied.
Did they tell you how he died?
No, they did not. They said the Death Star had been destroyed in battle and so I assumed he perished in the explosion.
Well, what was left of his body certainly would have been space dust along with the Death Star, but he was dead well before that point.
Jir caught a glimpse of something as Anakin spoke; dark figures locked in struggle, the flare of evil lightning. Father, please! He saw a sudden flash of expended energy accompanied by sensations of relief and sharp joy. The shared experience was intense and Jir felt glad he was seated. You killed him, didn't you? To save your son from the Emperor. Jir felt a warm tear roll off his cheekbone before he could stop it and blotted his eyes with his sleeve to ward off any others.
I did it to save him, and in doing so I saved myself. Lukes stubborn faith restored my sanity, my wholeness. Anakin pressed both hands to his chest. There is much healing to be done, for me and for many others, but right now I can help you. I will do what I can for you and for those who were in service to me. Anakins smile returned. It seems to me Ive felt that kind of stubbornness before, in men who insisted on serving an evil lord with faithfulness.
But you werent ! Jir checked himself and tried again. I mean, you had honor and something that Jir closed his hands as if trying to grasp for some indefinable word. I could feel it.
Anakins grin was so wide the corners of his eyes crinkled. What was I saying about stubbornness? He pointed a finger at the middle of Jirs chest. That heart of yours is an entirely unlooked-for gift and I am humbled by it. You held up a small light during the years of darkness. Much to Jirs embarrassment, Anakin bowed deeply to him as if he were some royal personage. While he struggled to find his voice, Anakin straightened, clapped his hands and spoke briskly. Now then, back to business. You cant return to the Empire, Commander Jir.
But the Empire I'm an Imperial officer; I can't just leave. Jir looked toward the room beyond his own. They can't leave either.
You must. It is not safe to return, with the Emperor dead. With Darth Vader gone, who would be next in line for the throne?
Jir considered the question for several moments. You would have been the one to succeed him. If you are not there to take the reins of power the ones most eager to take his place would be members of the Emperors entourage like Sate Pestage. Jir shuddered at the thought. He is a professional backstabbing sycophant.
You can see now why I say the Empire will not be safe enough for you to return. Pestage and others of the inner circle will vie for control with ambitious Moffs and military leaders. Anakins face was grave as he spoke.
It will be chaos.
For a brief time only and then it will be war between those who control the various factions. You and I both know they will spend Imperial lives without a care to secure their grip on power. Anakin looked at Jir sadly. I am sorry, but the life you had has been lost along with the stability of the Empire. He looked away for a time. The Empire will survive in a diminished form, but you and the others will not be able to return for many years.
Once again Jir found himself grasping at the offered wisp of hope. But we will be able to return someday?
Yes, some day. Anakin smiled at him. If you still want to. Seating himself on Jirs bunk, he leaned toward the officer and lowered his voice. Once you complete your Jedi training, you may go wherever you please.
My what?! Jir felt the abyss open beneath his feet. I cant do any such thing! Im an Imperial officer and Im still in the service! Danger or not, I cant just leave without permission and neither can my people. Wed never be able to return if we simply went AWOL. He drew in a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself. You know this, my Lord.
Sometimes a sense of honor is most inconvenient. Anakin frowned momentarily then his expression smoothed. You wouldnt be yourself without it. Propping his chin in his hand the Jedi looked beyond Jir to the data terminal. Tell me, Commander, would you accept an honorable discharge from the Empire?
If I were given all the legal papers and everything? Yes, Sir. I think the others would accept it as well, if I presented the case to them properly, but such a thing is not possible given the Empire is still in a state of war. Jir looked at Anakin and felt a slight surge of alarm along his nerves. While he did not know the Jedis facial expressions that well, he did understand the feeling of mischief radiating along with that little half-smile.
Is the list complete? Anakin pointed at the data terminal.
Yes, my Lord, but really, its quite impossible. The odds
Never tell me the odds. The half-smile had become a grin of pure devilry. You take care of the possible and leave the rest to me. Before Jir could begin to think of any further arguments, Anakin rose. Ill be back. Turning, he walked away through the wall and vanished.
Jir puffed out a small groan. I have a bad feeling about this.