Category Archives: Fan Fiction

Saved by the Beer

This is a spin-off of last week’s short story, Father’s Day with Han Solo.


In an alternate universe, several years before The Force Awakens….

Old Gary the stormtrooper sat sadly in the cantina.

Formerly TK-1287, the retired trooper was having a bad day. He blew what remained of his life savings on a bad bet — he backed the wrong team in the Kessel Races. Now all Gary had left were his blaster and a couple of credits.

Someone took the bar stool next to him, an old man with a scarred face. Silently, Gary debated whether he can mooch him for a drink. But the old geezer didn’t look loaded with credits.

snoke funny“Maybe grandpa here has any credits? Naaah.”

Someone else took the stool on his other side, an old smuggler turned race team captain. That scoundrel Han Solo.

Maybe he can mooch him instead.

“That was a bad race man. Maybe you shoulda stayed in the smuggling business.”

Solo looked at him. “Yeah, the team’s not up to spec today. Do I know you?”

“Yeah man, TK-1287. We captured you back on Bespin!”

There was an awkward pause.

“If it helps, I backed your team today. And I voted for your wife in the Senate polls too.”

Han nodded. “Yeah well thanks for the vote of confidence. So whadya do now?”

“Me? I’m just a drifter seeing the galaxy. Didn’t get to see much during my service, just bulkheads and battlestations. How bout you? How’s the princess?”

“We’re doing alright. Leia’s busy doing political stuff. Me, I finally get to see the Falcon racing without being chased by turbolasers.”

“Great. Last I saw you, you were being carbonited — even told my son about it! Got any kids?”

jar jar carbonite funny
“Told him I was gonna carbonite him too if he didn’t shut up.”

“Yeah, just one. He’s in Jedi school taking after his uncle. Yours?”

“My little Larry’s in the academy taking after me. Taught him a few tricks too. Jedi school huh? That doesn’t sound good for the poor schmuck.”

Han glanced sideways at him. “What do you mean?”

“Well Vader went to Jedi school, look how that turned out for him. Spent a lotta time in his little black room shipside. Not very social, that guy.”

“Ha, I know what you mean. The asshole tortured me and didn’t even ask anything! Wish he knew I got to bang his daughter.”

“Yeah well that’s the Jedi for you. Maybe you oughta take your kid out, take him starship racin’ or teach him smuggling. The little fucker might turn into a whiny Sith before y’know it.”

Han got a faraway look. “Yeah, you’re right. Maybe I should. It’s been awhile since I paid Ben a visit. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. Lil squirt might not finish what he started.” Gary turned to face him. “So how ’bout that drink?”

But Han had already left.

Goddammit.

The old man in the other stool stood up too. Before he could leave after Han, Gary held his arm. “Hey man, got spare change for a drink?”

“No. Let go. I have Force children to take.”

“Force brats huh? Well there’s one on Jakku. Saw this little scavenger floating junk to her sled when I was marooned there.”

“I see. Thank you for the information.”

“No problem dude. So how ’bout that drink?”

But the old man had also left too.

Selfish fuckers.


Several years later….

ben solo rey

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Father’s Day with Han Solo

Six years before The Force Awakens….

 

Gary the stormtrooper sat sadly in the cantina.

Formerly TK-1287, the retired trooper was having a bad day. He blew what remained of his life savings on a bad bet — he backed the wrong team in the Kessel Races. Now all he had left was a pack of gum and a couple of credits.

Someone took the bar stool next to him, an old smuggler turned race team captain. It was that scoundrel Han Solo.

Gary glanced sideways at him. “That was a bad race man. You shoulda stayed in the smuggling business.”

“The team’s not up to spec today,” Han replied with a trace of irritation. “Do I know you?”

“Yeah man, TK-1287. We captured you back on Cloud City. I was the one who tied you to that torture rack!”

There was an awkward silence.

“If it helps, I backed your team today with my life savings.”

Han nodded. “Yeah? Thanks for the vote of confidence. Lemme buy you a drink.”


Several rounds later….

 

“… we still keep the metal bikini in the closet. So whadya do now?”, asked a heavily drunk Han.

“I’m just a drifter seeing the galaxy. Hic! Didn’t get to see it much during my service,” Gary replied. “So where’s your kid?”

“Jedi school taking after his uncle. More mumbo jumbo an’ handwaving. Never really understood any of it.”

Han looked at his watch. “Shit, I just remembered it’s Father’s Day! I gotta pick him up today, tell him the truth bout his granddad.”

He stood up. “I gotta go. Little snot’s been lookin forward to it for a long time.”

kylo ren sad.gif“Uncle Luke, is dad still coming?”

As Han turned to leave, Gary the stormtrooper stopped him. “You really gonna ditch me man? I’m broke because of your nerf-ass team!”

Han swayed and collapsed back on the stool. “Alright, one more round wouldn’t hurt.”

“Awesome! Forget the little fucker, he’s with Jedi monks now man. I know a good Twi’lek stripclub just ’round the corner. Hic!”

“Fine, lead on buckethead.”

Six years later….

han solo death

 Happy Father’s Day from Stormtrooper Larry! 

Darth Vader Tries to Change his Name

Darth Vader was in a foul mood.

Several years ago, the Emperor had christened him “Darth Vader”. At the time he thought nothing of it, since he had so much stuff to do like ending the war and killing some younglings.

But now that he had run out of Jedi, Vader was finally able to give some thought to his name. For the first time, the dark lord of the Sith realized that “Darth Vader” sucked. Where the fuck did the Emperor get that name?

Plagueis was cool, like some sort of unstoppable disease. Sidious was terrifying, since Palpatine really was an insidious asshole. And Maul, that was downright bad-ass. But what the hell was a “Vader”? It sounded like a Dutch “father”, and Anakin knew he wasn’t a dad. Hell, he didn’t even have balls anymore.

Force-grabbing a pen and paper, the dark lord sat down at his desk and prepared to work.

Hmm. Let’s see:

Darth Awesome – Anakin knew he was awesome, he won the Boonta eve as a kid, ended the Clone Wars as a whiny teen, and his mom told him so. But it was still too cliche.

Darth Devastator – He could throw a pretty mean punch. But “devastator” was too long. Besides, it sounded like a star destroyer.

Darth Dude – Shorter and much simpler, but too generic.

darth vader surfboard_thumb[2]Darth Dude also made him sound like a surfer dude, and he hated sand.

Darth Choker – Too BDSM. And he was already in black leather.

Darth the Menace – Nope, too juvenile.

Darth Superior – Palpatine wouldn’t like it.

Darth Tall, Dark and Handsome – That fit him right to a T! Okay, maybe not the handsome part anymore. Fucking Obi-Wan.

Darth Ani – Padme would have called her that. If only she were still alive….

Darth Vader punched the desk. Fuck, this name shit is hard!

The door to his cabin chimed. It was a junior officer.

“Sir, a squadron of Rebel fighters are approaching the Death Star from Yavin IV,” the nervous flunky reported. “The Grand Moff requests your presence on the bridge.”

“Tell him I’m on my way.”

Figures. Every time he gets some alone time, another emergency pops up. He couldn’t even get a few minutes of peace to change his goddamn name!

With a sigh, Vader Force-crumpled the paper and stood up. He hoped there won’t be a dogfight… he was feeling really distracted today.

The Jakku Incident


The whine of the sublight engines ceased, replaced by the throb of the repulsors. They were in atmosphere. One minute to deployment.
Onboard the squat transport, white-armored figures checked blaster rifles and power packs. On top, the dorsal gunner began blasting away at unseen targets.

Touch down. The ramp drops. Fires. Shouting. Brilliant beams of energy crisscrossing through the night. Moving as one, the stormtroopers rush out of the transport and into the fray.

z

Stormtrooper FU-1287, aka “Larry”, pays no attention to the firefight. He has more important things on his mind than some stupid battle.

Last night, the dreaded Internal Security Bureau discovered his hidden stash of smut holozines. It won’t be long before the ISB traced it back to him. In fact, he had volunteered for this mission in order to desert and preempt their inevitable dragnet.

According to the mission briefing, they were to raid an inhabited area of Jakku, a backwater planet. Never one to volunteer, Stormtrooper Larry jumped at the chance — he expected to find a dingy city of scum and villainy where he could disappear. Instead, what he found was a ramshackle group of huts in the middle of the desert.

He really should pay more attention to those mission briefings.

A disappointed Larry scanned his surroundings. Around him, white armored soldiers exchanged blasterfire with civilians. Flametroopers torched huts while the heavy gunners laid down withering covering fire to allow the squads to advance.

One stormtrooper smeared with blood stood motionless in the middle of the shootout. What the hell was this guy thinking? Larry tackled the idiot to the ground.

“Dammit man, don’t be a nerfbrain!” The dimwit didn’t respond. Larry could see the soldier was traumatized, his helmet still marked with a bloody handprint. It was probably the kid’s first combat deployment.

“Just stay low, okay? It’s gonna be alright.”

Screen-Shot-2015-04-16-at-2.50.47-PM.png“Keep your head down man! What are you, Boba Fett or something?”

With a pat on the back, he left the shellshocked idiot to find someplace where he could think. A war zone made a poor place for contemplation.

Crouching low, he made his way to the back of the village, skirting around the residents who were busy welcoming the intruders with blaster bolts. He couldn’t find even an old speeder or swoopbike to escape in. This place really was a dump, and he had been to many hell holes.

Larry broke into a tent, but found it occupied by an old man who was frantically burning some tattered books and ancient-looking stuff. “Oops. Sorry old timer!” Nope, he couldn’t stay here either. It was probably the village hoarder and his load of junk.

test“And no offense, but you gotta air this place out. It smells like a Hutt.”

At the edge of the village, he finally found an outcrop of rocks where he could sit and concentrate.

Ten full crates of Twi’lek Dancers Monthly were stashed in the main hold of a broken transport. Thanks to First Order bureaucracy, that transport ship sat neglected and unrepaired for over three years. This made it the ideal warehouse for Larry’s bootleg operation — smuggling sexy holozines for his captive (and very eager) market, the bored stormtrooper contingent of the Star Destroyer Finalizer.

What he didn’t count on was the unwelcome arrival of General Hux and some kind of space magician onboard the destroyer. Within a few days, all of the sloppy mess on the Finalizer was cleaned up… including Larry’s smut ship. After the crates were cracked open to reveal an avalanche of porn, the ISB was called in.

As Larry sat brooding, a yellow ball raced past him into the desert. He ignored the twittering droid and focused on his situation.

bb8 runIf only all his porn could fit in that droid, he wouldn’t be in trouble.

The good news is, he had the foresight to name the shipment after an old training sergeant that he hated. The bad news is, once the ISB unraveled the false trail, Larry only had three days before they caught on to him… perhaps five days at the most. Those ISB thugs may be mindless brutes, but they were ruthlessly efficient brutes.

A crackle in his commset interrupted his thoughts. “FU-1287, what’s your status? Get back here!”

Larry ran back to his squad, firing in the air for effect.

A pauldroned officer confonted him. “Where the hell were you?”

“Uh, I looped around back and shot a whole group trying to escape sir!”

“Yeah? Well get back in formation, space Rambo. We have visitors.”

A menacing command shuttle circled over the assembled troops and touched down. It was the magician from the Finalizer, followed by that bitchy stormtrooper in chrome, Captain Asthma or something. The battalion snapped to attention as the black figure strode dramatically down the ramp. These First Order bigwigs loved their grand entrances.

The old hoarder he encountered was taken before the magician, and the two began to talk. They were probably haggling over the old man’s wares. Larry tuned them out and looked around for ways to escape.

All of the civilians were being herded in the village square. Unless there was a mass breakout, there was no way he could disappear. He couldn’t even hide, since the whole area was surrounded by nothing. A white-clad stormtrooper in the middle of the desert would stand out like a nude Twi’lek dancer in a Jedi temple. Why does it always have to be a desert planet?

There was a commotion. The black magician stopped a blaster bolt in mid-air, seizing Larry’s attention back to the present. Wow, cool trick! It was probably magnets or something. He watched as a scruffy-looking civilian was brought before the space wizard, get beaten up, and then was hustled off into custody.

Larry gulped. That would be his own fate a few days from now.

stormtrooper larry jakku“Shit. I don’t even have a jacket like that.”

After a few minutes, Captain Asthma took over. “On my command.”

As one, the line of stormtroopers raised their rifles and aimed. Larry mimicked them.

“Fire.”

The troopers began shooting. Still distracted by his predicament and unsure what he should be firing at, Larry shot at the straw huts, the dirt barricades and some of the rocks. He also shot at a dead mynock, wishing it was the ISB agents who were at this moment hunting for him. Finally, the blasterfire ceased and the firing line dispersed.

Larry approached the magician. “Hey man, that was a neat trick! How’d you do it?”

The black-robed figure didn’t respond. He was staring intently somewhere else. All of a sudden, the frozen blaster bolt was released, impacting into a nearby post with a loud bang. Larry was stunned — this guy should have his own holonet show!

“Awesome dude! So where are the magnets??” But when he turned around, Mr. Magic was gone. He had already returned to his ship. Larry didn’t even get an autograph.

His headset crackled. “We captured a Resistance pilot. FU-1287, take a squad and search his ship for the map. Get moving.”

“Umm.. roger that!”

Accompanied by a handful of troopers, he trudged off to carry out the task. What map?

The ship turned out to be a damaged Incom T-70 snubfighter. Obsolete by galactic standards, the old X-wing was being phased out in favor of the newer T-75. While the others searched the hold and access panels, Larry climbed the ladder and plopped down into the cockpit.

It was a filthy mess. The tiny space was littered with empty ration bars, holo-selfies, a stained jumpsuit, hair gel, and a map of the D’Qar system. Was that their objective? Larry tried hard to remember. Oh yeah, they’re supposed to be looking for the Skywalker system. He tossed the map aside and rummaged behind the seat.

Just behind the headrest he found a couple of gay holozines and some empty water bottles, while he discovered dried gum stuck under the seat and even more discarded wrappers. Disgusted, he climbed out of the cockpit.

These Resistance scum probably lived in their ships full time. As much as he wanted to escape,  it would never be in this filthy craft, even if it wasn’t damaged and even if it was the last ship in the whole galaxy. As soon as he was shipboard, his gloves were going in the incinerator.

Larry signaled to the heavy gunners. “Nothing here, go ahead!”

poe x-wing destroyed“Filthy space hobos.”

He ran back to the lieutenant. “The enemy ship was uh, clean, sir.”

“Get back to your transport. We’re pulling out.”

As Larry walked dejectedly back to the dropship, he passed the shellshocked idiot he tackled earlier. He wasn’t sure if it was one of his porn buyers.

“Hey, what a mess right? We’ll get out of it somehow.”

The blood-smeared trooper stared blankly at him. Maybe not one of his customers then.

Stormtrooper Larry looked back at the burning village, as the first rays of dawn broke through the dark. He had less than a week to escape from the First Order and the merciless ISB, all because some pasty general and a space wizard ruined his sweet smut racket.

Yes, he would get out. Somehow.


 

Itching for the next part? Stormtrooper Larry will return in Escape from the Finalizer. Subscribe now so you don’t miss out!

In the meantime, check out this other stormtrooper who didn’t keep his head down.

The Backup Plan

“Evolved, the Sith have. Grew complacent we did, while more cunning they became. If hope is to survive, then adapt we must.”

 

Imagine you are one of the last two Jedi left in the galaxy. From a considerable force once numbering in the thousands, in one broad stroke your entire group was suddenly and almost completely annihilated, until only two of you were left.

Your sole hope rests in two infants, a boy and a girl. You hope that someday they will grow strong in the Force like their father, and continue the millennia-long tradition of the Jedi. For now however, they are simply too young, and they must be kept hidden if the light side is to endure.

So you decide to split them up: one is sent to a backwater planet that attracts little attention, the other goes to a staunchly independent world firmly opposed to tyranny.

AlderaLake-ROTS.png

And yet, the risk is too great. All over the galaxy, the shadow of darkness is creeping, and it would be unthinkable to pin the Jedi’s continued existence on two helpless infants that could be caught at any time. As the Choon’ta saying went, “Don’t pour all your credits in one bet.”

And so you adapt. The old Jedi order is gone, and with it all traditions and long-held beliefs. Just as the Sith evolved to take over the Republic, so too must the Jedi change to avoid extinction.

In your desert world of exile, you encounter a woman strong in the Force. She is too old to be trained, and you have already failed with your last padawan.

So instead of taking on an apprentice, you do the unthinkable: you begin a relationship with the woman. As a man of the galaxy, you easily win her affection, since the gifted but naive girl has never even seen the stars.

In time she falls in love.

obi wan kiss

Unfortunately, you don’t feel the same. After all, you are a product of the old order, one that forbids attachment or affection. You’ve grown too old to be flexible, and it fills you with loathing to be using someone who loves you with all her being.

Eventually, you accomplish your goal: she sires your offspring. You look forward to settling down and molding your son in the light. However, the enemy is everywhere, and a flame that shines brightly cannot be hidden for long. Shortly after your son’s birth, you experience the first attack, one out of many to come. By the fifth incident, it has grown grave enough to involve the dreaded troopers in black.

There is no respite from the Empire. To ensure their survival, you abandon your family in the middle of the night. While your wife sleeps, you kiss her one last time and pull the old Jedi mind wipe. As far as your family is concerned, you were killed in a Tusken raid during the Great Drought.

Filled with a deep sense of shame, you continue to watch them from afar, making sure their needs are met. Each time you can’t help but feel the sense of sadness and heartbreak radiating from the mother. But there is little you can do, for you know that returning will put their lives at risk.

You spend your time watching between your two charges: one sired by your former apprentice, and the other from your own seed. It’s funny how the Empire combs the hyperlanes, ruthlessly hunting down sentients who show even modest Force potential. While on this backwater planet in the Outer Rim are the beings who could someday challenge the Emperor’s reign, the same planet where it all started.

You remember a briefing you gave to your clonetroopers a lifetime ago: “For every Plan Aurek, there must be a Plan Bacta. And it doesn’t hurt to have a Plan Crishna.” You have no idea how the female twin is doing, for to contact Alderaan is to put them at risk. So you operate on the assumption that the future rests on this barren desert world. You only know that now there is a real possibility of survival. And now that you are caring for two of them, you resolve never to get caught alive.

As the months become years, the sadness of your lonely exile grows into guarded hope. Both boys show strong potential, though you’ve had to secretly intervene several times in their wild adolescent years. One day, one or both of them will be old enough to carry on the Jedi tradition. Perhaps one day they will even have their own academy, and train a new generation of guardians. Or maybe it will be their offspring, still imbued with the Force, who will restore freedom to the galaxy. This is the dream that keeps you alive in your lonely hovel in the desert.

And yet, knowing all of these doesn’t assuage your feeling of guilt for abandoning her. You can only hope that someday, you can finally explain everything to Riella. And finally connect with your own son, Ren.

3438397744_f40a40a178

Liked this story? Then be sure to read this one about the showdown on Sunset boulevard!

FN-2003: The Weakest Link

This is an offshoot of the article The Horrifying Truth about Poe Dameron Nobody Seems to Notice. A Reddit user wondered, “What if Finn got hit instead?” The result is this story.


In an alternate universe….

The sublight engines cease their gentle hum, to be replaced by the steady throb of the repulsors. Onboard the squat transport, white-armored figures prepare for combat. The sound of activating HUDs and slap-locking cartridges fill the cramped cabin, while the gunner on top starts blasting away at unseen targets.


The ramp drops. Thick smoke. Fire. The chaotic din of combat. Brilliant beams of energy crisscross the night, some narrowly missing and showering sparks on the dropship’s durasteel. The stormtroopers of FN squadron rush down the ramp and into the fray.

z

A hundred meters from the drop zone, a lone Resistance pilot abandons his damaged fighter. Grabbing a worn blaster from a survival pack, he takes aim on the nearest trooper and starts shooting back.

He fires two bolts in quick succession. Both shots find their marks, downing two stormtroopers attempting to outflank the villagers in their makeshift barricades.

x4

His crippled fighter burning in the background, the pilot shifts his aim and searches for new targets.

He finds one: a stormtrooper standing aimlessly in the middle of the battle and gawking all around. In any firefight, being stationary is suicide, and this one just signed his death warrant.

The pilot fires his third shot.

x3

The reckless trooper is hit dead center on the chestplate. While stormtrooper armor can withstand glancing shots, it isn’t designed to absorb direct hits. The bolt’s lethal energy is only marginally dissipated by the ferroplast. Most of it finds its way to soft living tissue, cooking the wearer, FN-2187.

The stormtrooper slumps to the ground. Behind him, his squadmate FN-2003 sees him fall and doesn’t hesitate. With reflexes born from a lifetime of training, he fires back at the source of the muzzle flash.

q

The return fire strikes the pilot in the head. Poe Dameron, Resistance ace, is dead before his body even hits the ground.

Stormtroopers are not used to hitting their targets with the first shot. A barrage of blaster bolts rain down on Poe’s prostrate body before FN-2003 realizes his opponent was killed by his first lucky shot.

Beneath the helmet, FN-2003 whoops. He has just scored his first kill of the night. Relentlessly bullied and derided as the weakest link during training, “Slip” has finally proven himself in combat. He calls for a gunner to cover the spot and moves on to other targets. His second kill is a bearded old man running away from a hut.

As the triumphant trooper blasts away, his fallen comrade FN-2187 takes his last labored breath. The captain once reprimanded him for his “dangerous levels of empathy”. Only know does he realize the fatal consequence of his flaw. As he lies motionless on his back, the last thing he sees is a massive bat-like shape that blots out the stars.

Minutes into his first combat deployment, FN-2187, the stormtrooper with a conscience, dies. He never received a name.

z

Overhead, the sinister craft folds its massive wings and comes in for a landing. A black-clad figure strides down the ramp, ignoring the villagers being herded in the village square.

“Who killed the Resistance pilot?”

FN-2003 steps confidently forward. This is it. In front of his entire platoon, this will be his moment of vindication.

“I did, sir!”

“And the old man in the village?”

“It was also me, sir!”

The tall figure looks down on him, somehow managing to radiate a sense of contempt despite the mask.

“What is your serial number?”

The stormtrooper proudly squares his shoulders. “FN-2003, SIR!”

A gloved hand reaches out. Slip suddenly finds himself catapulted toward the hooded figure, floating in mid-air inches away from the unflinching mask.

“I can do many things, FN-2003. But I cannot interrogate dead bodies.”

The hand lashes out. Slip is hurled back, as if rammed by a runaway speeder truck. He hits a nearby hut with enough force to crack the ferrocrete. As his helmet readout flares with alerts of multiple fractures and a broken neck, FN-2003’s last thought was wondering where he went wrong.

A pauldroned officer comes up to the hooded figure.

“We found no signs of the map on either body or on the fighter sir. And our sensors detected no holonet transmissions of any kind. They didn’t have time to send it off-world.”

“They must have hidden it. Form a search perimeter 100 klicks around the village.” The figure paused. “If you do not find any trace, burn the planet from orbit. I will not risk Skywalker being found.”

“Yes sir!”

The man in the black mask stalks back to his ship. Shouting officers begin forming the search party as more transports arrive. In the background, flametroopers move in to erase every trace of the village, a harbinger of Jakku’s fate.

A lone stormtrooper in gleaming chrome looks at Slip’s broken body, then walks away.

“FN-2003: always the weakest link.”

z

Showdown on Sunset Boulevard

He stood in the shadows, waiting.

So far today, he had already dispatched three: one human, one Tydian, and even a droid, an old 2-LOM model. And he had only been trailing the boy for six hours.

Overhead, the twin suns of the desert planet beat down relentlessly. Cloaked figures rushed down shaded avenues to escape the stifling heat. Grimly, he knew that on planets like this, beings tended to stay indoors during the day, and activity tended to pick up at dusk. Three were already down — several more to go at sundown.

One hundred meters away, the subject of his attention turned to look at some useless baubles on a dusty window. The blonde head swung to and fro, like the hyperactive arm of an oscillator set to overdrive. The boy’s wide-eyed innocence at all the things around him was refreshing, if not mildly amusing.

What the boy found fascinating, his watcher considered little more than a hellhole. In fact, just the latest in a series of hellholes he had to live in, after the fall of the old system and the rise of a new order. Mos Etnoh considered itself a cosmopolitan place, with its rundown tourist attractions and “historical” landmarks that were likely put up a fortnight ago. Whereas Mos Espa prided itself on being a gambling zone and home of the Boonta Eve, and Mos Eisley was unabashedly a smuggler’s hive of scum and villainy, Mos Etnoh still clung to its pretensions of being the planet’s cultural center, if ever the world even had one.

Further ahead, a female voice called, calling the boy back to his guardians. The watcher took the opportunity to cross the street, ending in the same dusty window formerly occupied by his charge.

Without meaning to, he caught a glimpse of his reflection: a hooded figure in brown, with a graying beard and the tanned leathery skin of an old desert hand. Had he really aged that much? Even the most brutal years of the Clone Wars did not take such a toll on him.

His musing were cut short by movement to his right. An old Xhillian rushed down the street, muttering about the infernal heat. Xhillians were a long-lived species, easily matching a Hutt. By the mottled gray skin of this one, he was obviously past the 500-year mark. And yet, he moved faster than a newly hatched spawn.

The bearded man pretended to study the same baubles that fascinated the boy, watching the Xhillian’s reflection on the unwashed pane. A moment later, his suspicions proved correct — there was a brief flash of silver on the old being’s sleeve. The split-second glint would have been unnoticeable to most, but not to the watcher. It was the unmistakable silhouette of a holdout blaster.

Slowly he turned. The Xhillian glanced once in his direction before hurrying on, intent on pursuing the same quarry. That was his fatal mistake.

After making sure there were no additional eyes on the street, the watcher lashed out, catching the alien midstride. The blaster, already primed for action, fell from his robe.

The Xhillian’s gray hide briefly flashed yellow in alarm. As the blaster clattered loudly on the ferrocrete, his skin took on a deep crimson red. Anger.

The two figures faced each other in the canyon of the alley: one snarling, the other quietly confident.

In the blink of an eye, the red alien raised his other sleeve, revealing a second holdout blaster. But the tanned human was faster — before the arm was even halfway up, its owner was already embedded with three prongs of a Kamino saberdart, coated with their trademark poison.

The Xhillian fell. The human remained standing over his quickly graying corpse.

The only witness to the duel was a hunched beggar, who quickly learned to look away and mind his own business.

The watcher hurried on to catch the boy. Four down so far, several more to go. Dusk was quickly approaching.

As he moved, he turned to look back at the being whose life he just took. Unlike before, the man no longer felt any pangs of regret, no sudden bouts of conscience in his new role. His head swung back to his fair-haired quarry. The Xhillian was already the past — he had to focus on the present.

As he did, a sudden tingle of alarm gripped him, the same sense that enabled him to survive all throughout the Clone Wars and the turbulent period that followed. There was something familiar about that beggar.

Just as he turned to look, a sudden flash of emerald brilliance bathed the street, before being quickly extinguished. The watcher looked at the cauterized hole on his chest, gasped, and staggered.

A hand steadied him. The old beggar.

“Quietly now, my friend.”

The man looked up at a face much like his own. Graying beard, tanned skin, crisscrossing lines of worry permanently etched by years of hardship and countless battles. But the blazing blue eyes were unmistakable.

The shadows deepened and dusk settled. As his breathing shallowed and faded, the watcher mused on the irony of it all. After three long years, he had finally tracked his ticket to a Core promotion: the rumored son of Skywalker himself. Only to be caught by the boy’s real guardian, a figure who was long thought to be dead. A figure that he had served with during the Clone Wars, no less.

Before he slipped into oblivion, the watcher’s last thought was how bitterly unfair it was that the Emperor or anyone in the ISB would never know what he discovered.

Overhead, the twin suns set. The old beggar blended back in the shadows, as the boy and his adoptive guardians went on their way, across the undulating sands of the Dune Sea.

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The Right Mix

Lora Hex smiled. After six long years, the seeds of her revenge were ready to be planted.

It had taken six long years to turn abstract idea into actionable reality, an idea that began its first stirrings as soon as she was taken from the New Republic world of Poctoris.

It had taken half that long for the First Order to trust her with a task other than mere theory building and paperplast shuffling. On the third year of her forced servitude, the former Sr. Researcher of Profile Training and Psychoanalysis was finally promoted. From mere lab hand, Lora slowly climbed the ladder back to junior analyst in her new home, the Star Destroyer Ravager.

It helped that half of the FO scientists were moronic yes-men who wouldn’t have passed the first year admission exams in a Republic institution, much less wear a lab coat. It also helped that she began sleeping with the vessel’s Director of Science, a morbidly obese man whose academic credentials consisted of being related to the sector Moff.

On the fourth year, she gained clearance to the tightly guarded Recruit Training Program, the First Order’s conditioning process for the conscripted soldiers that formed its military backbone. Lora felt a special kinship with these recruits — like her, they were forcibly taken from their homeworlds, never to see their families again. Unlike her, the “blaster fodders” were taken at a very young age, the better to mold them for a lifetime of unquestioning service to the Order.

At first limited to observer status, within six months Lora became Program Assistant. Her meteoric rise came from improvements she made in the regimen’s Logical Reasoning, Cortex Development and Abstract Thinking classifications.

On the fifth year, the death of her elderly superior catapulted Lora into the position of Program Head, Level 1 Recruit Training and Conditioning. It was the break she was looking for.

She began with minuscule changes to the basic regimen. A slight tweak to the Creativity course here, a small dip in the Obedience programming there. All over her various postings, Lora sabotaged the conditioning process of FO foot soldiers more effectively than any Republic battle fleet or resistance spy. Approximately 120 new graduates of the FC batch on the fortress world of Thosis II received a boost in independent thinking. Onboard the Decimator, 70 recruits of the FL batch were given a sense of survival, while 30 new FN troopers destined for the Finalizer were given a moral conscience. The First Order wanted the perfect stormtrooper: smart, unquestioning, and uncaring. Lora was giving them the exact opposite.

Unfortunately, her sabotage was shortlived. After several incidents of insubordination among the FC batch, the entire wing was sent to a penal colony for reconditioning. Of the FL batch, an attempted mutiny by FL-1366 led to the summary execution of six squads and the whole legion’s quarantine. In her zeal to topple the enemy from within, Lora’s altered troopers stood out like flashing distress beacons and were ruthlessly suppressed.

But not anymore. On her sixth year, Lora Hex finally found the right mix for her revenge. The latest batch was independent enough to think without being hardheaded, creative enough to adapt while seeming obedient, and ethically aware without being obvious. Best of all, they were programmed with a delayed fuse. Instead of being fanatically opposed to tyranny like the first ones, the new ones will blend in and quietly disrupt the First Order from within.

The FU batch was her crowning gift to the powers that destroyed her life.

As Lora closed her datapad, the door to her cabin chimed, announcing the arrival of unexpected guests. On the monitor, two black-clad agents of the dreaded Internal Security Directorate stood waiting outside, alongside a handful of naval troops. After two years of causing havoc, the ISD had finally caught on to her.

Lora Hex looked out her window. She closed her eyes, imagining she could see the emerald seas of Poctoris one last time, rather than the featureless gray of a warship’s bulkhead. She reached for a button under the desk.

The soundless explosion briefly blossomed from the destroyer’s right flank, incinerating Lora, the two ISB agents, a whole detention squad, and all historical records of Recruit Training and Conditioning, Level 1.