Catriona Campbell Boyle
The X-Wing's cockpit was silent, awash with flickering white light as the fighter's powerful engines thrust it through the tumult of hyperspace. The tiny red and yellow lights which blinked on the control panels found it near impossible to compete with the cacophony of brilliant white. The temperature in the cockpit rose slightly as sensors detected the pilot stirring and waking.
Luke Skywalker yawned widely and poked a finger under his darkly tinted helmet visor to rub at his tired eyes. He shifted, trying to find a comfortable position in the acceleration chair, and then he shifted again, feeling the need of a long stretch to wake his cramping muscles. The short sleep he'd snatched had not relieved him of his fatigue, it had merely accentuated it.
He turned his head, glancing out at the seething light beyond the cockpit, his tired eyes becoming mesmerized by the twisting white. He blinked rapidly, reminding himself not to stare too long; in days of old, when hyper-travel was still new, men had lost their minds to the chaos they observed. He checked his chronometer, groaning and wincing when he saw that he still had several hours of the journey to endure. He needed to get out of this fighter, needed to be refreshed, needed to relieve the soft pressure in his bladder. Although his flight suit was equipped to deal with such an occasion, Luke was loathed to make use of its facilities mainly because he disliked disposing of the plastic container while stripping out of his flight suit after a mission or a journey.
"Artoo,” he spoke to his metallic companion who monitored the ships systems from the snug droid socket behind the cockpit. "I’m breaking the programmed run and reverting to real space. I need a break."
The small droid let out a screech of electronic chatter and Luke read the translation from the screen in front of him. "Yeah, I realize the Monarchy will be expecting me on time, but I either stop now or fall asleep at the banquet table. 'Sides a short stop's not going to make me that late."
Luke's fingers ran over the instruments, giving him manual control of the fighter, then he braced himself for the sudden deceleration. The streaking lights fell back as the X-Wing dropped into real space. Luke found himself at the edge of small solar system.
"Artoo? Where are we?" He requested as he surveyed the collection of planets orbiting a large yellow sun.
The Astro droid relayed the information onto the screen.
"Ce’drron?” Luke questioned, slightly shaking his head as though he could loosen any recollection of the place by the movement. "Never heard of it.” He quickly scanned the print detailing what was known of the remote rim system and its planets. Ce'drron was named after the adventurer who discovered it, it was uncolonized, unpopulated and of the three planets only the smallest was suitable for sustaining human life. Luke turned away from the screen and guided the fighter toward Ce'drron II.
He glanced back at the readouts as the X-wing's sensors picked up more information; no technology was present, there were no power surges apart from the thunderstorm on the night side of the planet. He didn't need the scanners to tell him the planet was teeming with life, he could sense that himself through the Force, but there was no feeling of conscious thought that he could associate with intelligence. He wondered why the Alliance had not utilized Ce'drron's resources during the war; it appeared to be the perfect site for a base. He shrugged as he considered the thought, perhaps that was the reason, it seemed too perfect and therefore one of the first places for the Empire to look.
Luke eased the fighter down through white clouds, skimming across the breaks of blue sky. He ignored the scanners which were highlighting suitable landing places, and looked down at the planet's surface for himself. It was quite beautiful; rolling green hills spattered lightly with patches of pale grey rock, thick forests reaching out of deep valleys. He smiled as a herd of large animals scattered and ran through a prairie of deep grass as the roar of the X-Wings engines split the stillness of the afternoon. He took the ship lower, heading for a glint of silver in the distance. Then the lake, with prairie on one side and undulating hills which flowed down to a beach with golden sand curved round to protect the other three sides, was below him. The sun sparkled rainbow colours on the water's peaceful surface.
"Wow!” Luke breathed, taken by the untamed beauty. He slowed to hover over the beach, and then turned the fighter until its nose pointed toward the lake. Gently he lowered the ship to the sand. As the engines died he popped the canopy and, eager to be free from the confines of the cockpit, he quickly climbed down to the ground. After stripping off his gloves he removed his helmet and looked around. The scenery was almost more beautiful from the surface. It was also very warm; the sun was all but directly over the lake. Luke gazed at the twinkling surface of the lake; the water looked cool and terribly tempting.
"Artoo?” Luke spoke to the small droid over his shoulder, checking the status of their safety. "Anything on the sensors?” Luke recognized the droid's reply to be negative. "No Gundarks?” he queried, knowing the large, ugly creatures liking for quiet waters.
This time Artoo’s negative reply was followed by a long screech of electronic babble. Luke glanced back and grinned as the little robot rose from the socket behind the cockpit and scooted along the fuselage.
"I take it you're wanting down?” Luke asked throwing his gloves and helmet to the side. "Hold still then." He slightly raised his hand and on closing his eyes he pictured the little astro droid lifting from the ship and slowly, gently, being lowered to the sand. Smiling, Luke opened his eyes, Artoo's domed head was spinning circles and he would swear the 'Wheeee' from the droid's audio outlet was audible proof that he enjoyed these short excursions by Force.
A more insistent pressure from his bladder reminded Luke of his need to urinate. "Hold on a minute will you?” He asked the droid, then, modest to the last, he ducked behind a large, grass-covered sand dune to relieve himself.
A moment later he returned to the water's edge, gazing out at the stretch of water. "Looks inviting, huh?" he suggested to his companion, but Artoo moved swiftly back, hooting loudly. Luke shrugged, grinning, "Well, it does to me.” He quickly started to strip off. "Last one in's a Dianoga!" Hopping on one foot he drew off his last boot, dropped his flight suit, utility belt and lightsabre, and ran, wearing shorts only, into the water.
"Yeow!!" he yelled in delight. "It’s freezing!” He dived in, down, stretching under water, feeling his muscles responding as they worked out their lethargy. With powerful strokes he swam back to the surface and waved to Artoo. He felt good, one of those times when he felt alive, felt the tension he lived with every day dissipate into the waves. He dived again and swam on.
The large sand dune near the X-Wing quivered ever so slightly. A small delicate, metallic instrument surfaced and opened up. It scooped up a small amount of wet sand and disappeared back under the sand. The waking probe droid broke the sand down to its components and ran an analysis, finding it to be composed of sand, decaying vegetable matter, mineral deposits and human uric acid and nitrogenous waste. Shaking off more sand, its scanners picked up a Rebel X-Wing, an Artoo unit and a human swimming in the lake. Its systems kicked into life, its power levels surged, and it began transmitting its pictures and scanner information to the Imperial fleet even as it lifted itself from its place of hibernation.
Artoo swivelled his head around as he abruptly picked up the sudden power flow. He let out a squeal of horror as the Imperial droid bore down on him. His treads jerked him back a few inches but caught on dried driftwood and stalled. He wailed with helplessness as the probe reached for him.
Luke turned in the water, his adrenalin rushing with sudden anxiety, to find Artoo swamped by the attacking robot. "Artoo!” he cried, striking out for shore, realizing as he did so, that there was nothing he could do for the little droid.
The Probe's attention turned to Luke. Its turret rotated and it fired off a warning shot. Luke ducked down to avoid it.
Knowing the Astro droid could hold valuable information, the Imperial droid merely shut Artoo down. Its main objective now was the Rebel pilot.
Luke resurfaced to find the probe hovering over his clothes. His clothes and his lightsabre! Cursing silently Luke headed toward shore, still not sure of what action to take.
The droid picked up each item of clothing one by one, examining it before discarding it as unimportant. It extended another arm and lifted Luke’s sabre.
In the water Luke paused, treading water in apprehension.
It turned the weapon, studying it carefully before searching its memory banks. A lightsabre, the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Its scanner monitoring the human enlarged the picture of the man. Its transmissions intensified as it identified the Rebel Luke Skywalker, personally wanted by Lord Vader. It dropped the sabre and swiftly scooted across the sand toward the water.
"Oh no!" Luke exhaled, watching it skim the surface of the lake toward him. He looked back to shore and spotted the sabre lying on the sand. Still treading water he closed his eyes and stilled his panic. His lightsabre was lying on the sand, then it was rising from the ground and sailing through the air, sailing past the droid, sailing into his . . .
There was a sudden high-pitched whine and the sabre was dealt a blow by a laser blast. Knocked to the side and out of Luke's control, it fell into the water and dropped to the depths. Luke sank down after it as the robot floated closer, the whine building again. He swam down, searching in the dim light for his weapon.
Reaching the floor of the lake he frantically began combing among the rocks and plants in the area he believed the sabre had come to rest, but it was dark, it was thick with water foliage, and the ache in his chest was pushing him back to the surface to gasp for clean oxygen.
He burst through the water, heaving in fresh air, hoping to dive back under before the droid could get a fix on him. He twisted his body, held his breath and was hit by the rings of blue light before he could complete the dive. "Stun," was his only hazy thought as he plunged into unconsciousness.
The Imperial probe caught him with its appendages before he could sink beneath the lake’s surface and carried him back to the beach. There it placed him upon the sand, then hovered nearby, reporting its success to the Imperial fleet.
The day was still warm when Luke woke. He drew in a deep breath, regretting it when his ribs protested with dull pain. He groaned, and then coughed, immediately regretting that more than the breath. He opened his eyes, blinking in the bright sunlight, but could see nothing apart from the wide expanse of blue sky. It was the sound that caught his attention, a constant, repetitive stream of electronic noise. Glancing to the side he could see the probe hovering above the ground nearby. He sat up, then had to wait a minute for the resulting dizziness to subside. He looked to the X-Wing and Artoo, they both looked unharmed. He looked to the probe again, its opticals were watching him closely.
Keeping still, Luke began to ponder his situation. It was clear the droid had lain dormant until his landing on the beach had wakened it. The broken sand dune behind the fighter now revealed its hiding place. How long had it been here waiting to fulfil its programming? And, more importantly, how was he going to work around that programming and free himself? He glanced back at the droid - just how much reasoning had the Empire written into the matrix of the Probes? Were they merely for gathering information on the Alliance? Or could they understand argument?
There was only one way to find out. He stood and moved for his clothing.
The droid immediately moved closer, the whine building from within. Luke had no wish to be stunned again and sat back down. The droid settled again and resumed its transmissions.
Well, it knew a retreat when it saw one. How would it handle the spoken word? He gestured to the bundle of clothes. "I'd like to dress," he told the machine. "May I dress?"
The probe fell silent, seeming to consider Luke's words.
Watching his captor carefully, Luke reached for his clothes once more. The robot remained still as Luke dressed. After he fastened his belt, Luke sat to pull on his boots, while at the same time considering his next move. The probe had once again began its transmissions, trying to reach a nonexistent Imperial fleet. Again he wondered how intelligent its makers had intended it to be, would it understand him, and if so, would it let him go?
“They haven’t replied, have they?” Luke asked, thinking it was worth trying to reason with the machine.
It ignored him.
"They won't come," he told it. "The war's been over for two years."
Still no reaction.
Perhaps he was being too vague, perhaps it required a more direct approach. He watched a bird of prey plunge into the lake, catch up a large fish, and wing its way across the surface of the water toward the distant mountains. Then he spoke again. "The Empire's dead," he said the words slowly. "The fleet was destroyed, the Emperor killed."
The transmissions ceased, it seemed to turn and look more closely at him.
Luke grabbed the silence. "You've waited a long time, haven’t you?" He glanced over at the broken sand dune. "Now you've woken to find a different galaxy, your programming pointless." He almost felt sorry for it.
Its transmissions began again, its 'head' turned away.
Hurriedly, Luke continued. "You either don't believe me, or don't understand me. But I know you collect information." He gestured to Artoo Detoo sitting silently by the ship. "Read the Artoo unit's memory banks, collect its information. It knows all there is an..." The whine had built quickly this time and Luke had no chance to protest before slumping back into stunned slumber.
The probe droid ceased its transmissions and turned its attention to the Astro droid. It scooted quickly over the sand to hover over the little robot. Extending an arm it reactivated Artoo, and before the Rebel machine could screech his horror, it had told him of its intent. Artoo glanced over at Luke, but kept quiet as the probe plugged its connecting lead to his memory.
-- and we are on Tatooine, looking for General Kenobi, meeting with a young farmer called Luke. See-Threepio is--
The probe moved on shifting quickly through Artoo's memory.
-- and we are leaving Dagobah, speeding to Cloud City where Master Luke believes--
-- we are on Tatooine again. Master Luke--
-- we are on Dagobah--
The probed slowed down, reading carefully.
-- we are on a forest moon in the midst of battle. I am damaged and being carried away from the bunker door. Inside I know General Solo and Chewbacca are setting charges....--
-- we are surrounded by Ewoks when there is a sudden bright light from the sky. I look up and see the Death Star has exploded. I know the Rebellion has succeeded....--
-- we are on route to Hasthaal where President Mothma has requested Master Luke to intervene in a territorial squabble. Master Luke is tired and wants to stop. We land on Ce'drron II where--
The Probe droid retracted from Artoo and moved slowly away to hover several metres away. There it waited humming quietly to itself.
It was cooler this time when Luke woke; the sun now hidden behind black, threatening rain clouds. A breeze blew coldly across the lake. Luke shivered and sat up, immediately noticing that Artoo was now activated and that the probe was silent. It had obviously carried out his suggestion. But where did that leave him now, was he still a prisoner, or would the robot allow him to leave? Taking his chances he stood, relieved to hear no whine from within the droid.
"Artoo, are you okay?" He threw the question over his shoulder to the Astro droid, not wanting to turn his attention from the probe.
Artoo's tone told him he was fine.
The same tone was his reply.
He took a step closer to the probe. It remained still. Another step, and another and another. Luke approached it steadily his curiosity about the machine now getting the better of him; after all not many Rebels had gotten the chance to study one close up - they usually self-destructed on discovery.
It then clicked home.
"Artoo, look out!" he screamed and sprinted toward the pit which had once held the probe. He jumped in and covered his head with his hands, waiting for the impending explosion, while cursing his farm boy curiosity. The droid’s humming grew louder for several seconds then died gradually away.
After several more seconds had passed, Luke glanced out of the hole, just in time to see the probe's opticals dim and to watch it sink slowly to the ground. It settled, silently into the sand. Luke climbed from the hollow of the dune and looked to Artoo, sure that the noise now coming from his companion was a snigger.
"Out of power, huh?" he said to his companion with some embarrassment.
Artoo merely blooped back.
"It was just a matter of time," Luke grinned to himself, laughing at his own foolishness. Two years of quietly maintaining its systems had clearly drained its power cells, and just one afternoon of intense activity had drained it completely and left Luke feeling more than a little silly.
"Some Jedi I make," he grumbled to himself staring at the silent probe. "I'm just glad Han wasn't here, he'd never let me ...." He groaned, suddenly remembering something. "My lightsabre!” He looked out over the wide, darkening expanse of water and shivered in the growing wind. "Artoo? Does your periscope still work? My sabre fell into the lake and..." He glanced around to find the little droid moving quickly toward the X-Wing beeping to himself. "Artoo?"
It had started to rain heavily as Luke, with obvious reluctance, began to undress again.
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