THE APPRENTICE by Linda T.


Mary Travis let her gaze sweep across the faces before her.

She knew her friends. Chris Larabee caught her attention first, he almost always did. Then came Vin Tanner astride the roia beast next to him, Nathan Jackson followed and then Josiah Sanchez. The four men were watching her closely, waiting for her to speak while the Okanah were hoping she could say something that would allay their fears. It was not the first time Mary had ever led men and women into the battle and she dare say it would not be the last time either. She was on astride her own mount, allowing the sight of all these faces to sink into memory, to give her the momentum needed to say the right words. They had to believe they would survive this or else the battle was lost before it even begun.

"For weeks we have followed the enemy," Mary started speaking and felt all eyes on her as her mount stamped its impatience on the sandy group to begin. "We have watched them shifting through the sands for us. They believed Okanah would be easy to find. They believed that they were invincible because they superior to the Okanah and sooner or later they would find us. But it is later and we still elude them. We are still smoke!" As she made that statement, the Okanah mesmerized by her words nodded amongst themselves, others lifting their blast rifles over their head and cheering out in agreement of her declaration.

"Today our smoke will have flames because we will become a fire that sweeps through the desert like a scourge from hell! We will go forward and we will kill everyone wearing an Imperial uniform. We will send a message back to Coruscant that no army may take Okanah unless it is prepared to run the desert red with blood first. We will show them that we will fight to the last one of us before we allow them to rule this planet. They will fight for every ounce of deutronium they wished to take from these sands before we give up. Today we come for them and we will not stop until they stop and leave Okanah to its people!"

The battle cry that followed in the wake of that stirring speech was an explosion of sound that filled the world in its entirety. Chris had to shield his thoughts to keep the overwhelming feeling of power infused in the psyche of all those present by Mary's speech from turning him insane with battle lust. However, he could not deny that he was starting to see visions of glory himself as he heard her words and knew that as a Jedi he should never want to kill but sometimes, it felt very good to be fighting the good fight. Vin Tanner felt the same way and turned slightly to Chris, making himself heard over the crowd as he grinned with the same kind of pleasure. "I guess you have to die sometime!"

"I guess so," Chris replied with a smile. "See you all on the other side," he said not only to Vin but also to Nathan and Josiah.

"The Force be with you all," Josiah responded, feeling just as euphoric as everyone else.

"Let's get it done!" Nathan shouted, waving his own rifle in the air, just as eager to begin.

Whether or not Mary heard all this banter was unknown to them but the rebel leader turned her steed towards the direction of the army and raised her own rifle. She was a magnificent figure astride her mount as her blond hair free from confinement blew in the dusty wind, like a banner symbolizing their cause. The sight of her leading the charge had almost as much significance over her army than her speech itself and Chris wished he could frame the moment because it certainly needed to be recorded for posterity.

"We ride!" She shouted without further a due and dug her heels into the flank of the roia's body, sending the creature surging forward in powerful gallops. No sooner than she had riding, her army thundered forward with equal strength, galloping ahead at full stead as they rode hard towards the enemy that had no idea about the storm that was coming for them. It was time to show the Empire that worlds like Okanah would not simply sit still to be subjugated that for some, oppression was unacceptable no matter what the consequences. The Empire believed that it could subjugate worlds with machinery and supposed military superiority, Mary was about to show them how misguided such a belief could truly be.

Today it was one Imperial garrison. Someday, it would be entire Imperial fleet.

The first indication that there was trouble came with a low rumble of power engines in the distant sky. The Imperial garrison turned their weary eyes upwards and saw nothing at first although the sound was strong and alerted everyone to its presence. Bodies lethargic with heat, shifted slowly to life, moving across the encampment as heads became to tilt upwards, staring into the blue vastness above them, trying to discern from which direction it was coming. Sensor equipment was hurriedly produced to give more accurate readings and was in mid adjustment when suddenly out of nowhere two ships appeared in the sky and swooped downwards.

The X wing extended their wings, gun ports coming into view as the first of the two descended in need sweep that would take it right across the encampment. The enemy began to scatter, screaming orders at each other to ready artillery weapons but the orders had come to late. The X-wing was soon in position and the strafing run began. Thick bolts of blue energy exploded out of the narrow gun ports in quick succession, carving a path of destruction through the heart of the encampment. Screams followed as some bolts impacted on flesh, the others on the ground creating explosions that send bodies flying. Disarray ran rife through the camp as the enemy struggled to regroup from this deadly assault, not realizing the second craft had slipped into attack position during the confusion and was coming in for the kill.

The first X wing pulled up as the artillery fire began, ascending in a tight loop and gaining altitude as it eluded enemy fire and prepared to make another run at the encampment. Artillery batteries aimed at the one did not have time to readjust its tracking system for the secondary target as the other X-wing began a similarly devastating attack. This time its fire was not aimed at the center of the enemy camp but rather focusing on where the artillery batteries would place. Torpedoes replaced laser fire and the projectiles swooshed through the air upon ejection, fixing on its target with relentless efficiency. Artillery operators seeing the coming disaster quickly abandoned their weapons and leapt for cover as the explosion reduced the heavy combat weapons to little more than scrap. A second torpedo was launched and the remaining battery soon met a similar fate.

The attack ceased as suddenly as it had began as the camp was licking its wounds, trying to assess the destruction in lives and equipment when another sound was heard. This time, it was nowhere as easily identifiable as the loud drone made by the X-wings. This was decidedly different and had an unsteady rhythm, a sound that at first seemed like a rumble until one realised that it was merely a number of sounds spaced so closely together it was hard to distinguish one from the other. It increased in its intensity until suddenly, it was no longer a distant rumble but rather a looming presence they could feel in their bones.

No one knew who saw them first but someone obviously did because the Imperial soon found themselves staring at a landscape filled with riders thundering forward at a devastating pace. It took a few seconds to register what was happening, to understand that the events of the past month had been to soften them up in the same manner one would tenderize meat that was prepared for the cooking. The Imperials ran for their weapons and attempted to form some kind of battle line but it was clear that there was a ring of steel enclosing them in all directions for their encampment was out in the open desert, devoid of natural landmarks to protect them. There was no chance for cover or concealment. The rebels had waited patiently until they were at their most vulnerable to attack.

And they were at their most vulnerable now.

Time seemed to freeze as the enemies caught sight of each other across the sandy plain and for a moment, no one seemed capable of speech. Eyes met eyes across the wide expanse of sand and space, a myriad of thought flickering through the mind of all present as they understood that for a brief instance they were trapped in the same place of not knowing what would come next. Somewhere beyond time and space the event was already recorded in the pages of a book no one would read. All it required of them now was to play the part.

The moment lasted for just a split second but when it ended, the call to charge was made and the riders on their mounts thundered forward with an explosive rumble of sound. In the encampment, the Imperial rallied to form a firing line and they did so while seeing the approach of the hundred of riders, never allowing their nerve to falter even though lesser trained armies caught so much by surprise would be running for their lives by now. An uneven battle line was forming with blast rifles taking aim at the oncoming rebel force, soldiers steadying their weapons and waiting to fire when their targets came into range.

Chris Larabee saw Mary surging ahead, taking the Okanah forward. She was a stronger rider than he had thought and was surprised by just how much ahead she was. As she galloped forward, leading the charge, blond hair trailing behind her, Chris had never seen her more empowered or magnificent. If he were a painter, he would be recording the image of her on canvas, immortalizing her forever. However, he brushed such romantic notions aside for keeping her mortal at least for today, forcing his steed forward, Chris came along side her and Mary shifted her gaze enough to meet his eyes. Her lips pulled back into a smile, as if it were a challenge to keep up.

Then the first sounds of gunfire ripped through the air and anything in the moment that might have caused Mary to smile was driven away as she faced forward and unsheathed her weapon with one hand, while the other still clutched the reins. Like wise, Chris did the same, only it was a lightsabre that he wielded, not a blaster. The first waves of fighters all reacted the same, removing their weapons and creating a barrage of firepower, clearing the path for those behind them as they closed the distance between themselves and the Imperial. The bolts of energy fired met their marks. Chris could see bodies collapsing to the ground as the line facing them was assaulted.

It was not to say that the Empire was the only ones suffering casualties. Even as the Okanah led by Mary Travis advanced upon the Imperial task force, Chris could see riders being unsaddled as they tumbled into the sand, the victim of return fire. He himself was deflecting bolts of energy with his light saber. If it were not for the fact that he was a Jedi with abilities that allowed his reflexes the speed needed for such a task, he might have well been one of the casualties. Mary was keeping her head low but still doing her damnedest to break the line of defense mounted by the Imperial stormtroopers. Next to her Josiah Sanchez and Nathan Jackson was doing their best to help. As the distance closed rapidly between themselves and the enemy, Chris could see the tactic working. Some of the Imperials were breaking off and retreating. Trying to reform the line deeper in the camp.

It was a gesture of eminent defeat.

The body of riders protected by the front line defenders now spread out, forming a right ring that surrounded the camp. The battle line forged by the Imperials was more or less coming undone as the gap between soldiers and riders narrowed until soon; they had converged into chaos of violence. Chris saw Mary remaining in the saddle as she fired at the stormtroopers on the ground. She was fighting fiercely and he knew for a fact how deadly she was with a blaster. She was almost as good as Vin. Almost. Chris saw a stormtrooper taking aim at the lovely blond commander and immediately put his lightsabre in between her and the bolt of energy that would have taken her head off her shoulders. He had no idea how she knew through the cacophony of sound but she turned sharply to him for a moment and realised what he had done. For a moment, the self-assured features of the commander evaporated and the woman surfaced, telling him wordlessly not to die until they could be alone so she could thank him .

"Chris on your right!" Vin called out and saw Vin Tanner crying out in warning.

Chris blinked and his senses returned to his superior alertness although he was chagrinned that his mind had been so distracted. He deflected the shot that would have knocked him off his horse and saw Vin forcing his horse through the bodies to take a swipe at the person who had fired at his friend and mentor. Chris watched Vin as his padwan learner cut a swathe through the Imperials who dared to come up against him. His lightsabre was a zigzagging streak of energy, delivering death behind high-pitched screams as the formidable blade cut through bone and flesh. Chris found himself mesmerized at the former bounty hunter's skill and saw the enemies that fell beneath the hooves of his steed. Suddenly, he was hit with something powerful, a waking dream as it were. It was not unusual for the Jedi to experience such things but the last time he had sensed something so powerful was before he had found himself facing Darth Vader....

Terror was pounding his heart as he watched from the high place.

The apprentice was swinging wildly, trying to defend himself against a master, whose power was beyond the imagination of even the most powerful of the Jedi. The younger man was defending himself with every ounce of strength he had, meeting the more experienced combatant blow for blow. His fear should have made him useless but he was controlling it. Still Chris could feel his terror struggling to remain suppressed, it was bursting at the edges of control, demanding release with each desperate attempt to block the blows coming at him. He stumbled to the platform, sweat glistening visibly on his skins, frightened eyes staring at the black mask that regarded him with a mixture of amusement and admiration.

"I feel your fear," the raspy electronic voice spoke.

"Go to hell!" The apprentice screamed, scrambling away and seeing the blade coming down at him just in time to block the blow, although the force of it drove his lightsabre almost to his throat. Lashing out with anger, he slashed his blade wildly, pushing the other out of his face so that he could get to his feet.

"Give me what I want and I will let you leave," the black mask speaks to the young man, oozing seduction in each word. "I will even let you take her with you."

"NO!" The apprentice shouts in defiance. Not because of outrage at the offer but at the avenue of escape that had been offered, the temptation that he would be forced to fight in order to remain true to himself and his oath as Jedi.

"I WANT MY SON!" The dark lord roars and his voice fills the world like a clap of thunder.

"You'll never get him!" The apprentice shouts back, feeling some measure of exultation at being able to sense the Sith Lord's frustration with him. "I will die before I tell you anything about Skywalker!"

"I won't kill you!" The dark lord warns and pulls back. "I'll kill those that you love. I'll kill HER."

Something inside the apprentice snaps and even as Chris watches, a voyeur in this waking dream, he tries nonetheless to shout the warning that he knows the apprentice will not hear. He watches as the dark side in full vent comes up and swallows his young friend and the power that it gives the padwan makes him attack the Emperor's dark avenger with ruthless accuracy. Lightsabres clang powerfully against each other, echoing through the place where the battle is being waged but Chris senses something inside his friend. Perhaps an understanding that he was being led down a path he may not survive even if he does kill the evil one before him and it makes him pause. The apprentice halts and he remembers that Jedi does not attack, he defends, even against a Sith Lord.

Unfortunately, his ferocious attack has inspired one of equal viciousness from his opponent and the blows that come from the dark lord are perhaps the most powerful the man had delivered. Soon it is the apprentice who is in retreat and suddenly, in what seems to be a frozen moment of time, Chris' eyes widens as he sees the killing blow swing into existence. Chris opens his mouth to scream, to warn the padwan of what is coming but the young man is too inexperienced to be able to see and like a terrible play that Chris does not want to watch, the nightmare unfolds before him reaching its bloody conclusion.

The apprentice turns perhaps realizing on some subconscious level the danger but does not keep the blade from penetrating his skin. He screams, possibly for the first time in his entire life, as the excruciating agony slices through his arm until all that remains between it and the rest of his body is a single twist of meat. Blood spills forward like a red tide and he falls to the floor as the dark lord's blade lowers, the breathing behind the mask slowing as the padwan lies on the steel deck, a spread of crimson cradling him.

Chris could only scream "VIN!"

"CHRIS! WATCH OUT!"

There is pain and this time is very real indeed. The blaster bolt caught Chris Larabee square in the chest. He hears Mary screaming as he topples from the saddle and hits the sand, face first. Grains sting his eyes, as his cheek rubs raw against the surface. The roia beasts around him panic. Discipline and conditioning had taught them never to trample a rider and he hears their confusion in the feet that stamp about awkwardly in an effort to avoid him. Around him the sounds of blaster fire was still ringing in his ears but Chris paid little attention to it. As the sand became wet beneath him, he did not have to see to know that it was his own blood that was flowing through the sand. He was dying and he knew it. He tried to see Mary but his eyes were becoming foggy and came to the realisation that he had a very short time to act or he would never see her again and some how that made passing out of this life completely unacceptable.

Taking a deep breath even though the action send slivers of pain through him, Chris Larabee closed his eyes and let the Force take him into its warm comforting arms away from the blistering Okanah sun. He felt its cool against his skin and thought as his mind slipped into the darkness, that the Force had the same comforting scent as Mary and Sarah.....

The battle was over but no one was happy about it.

Aleya and the Okanah were celebrating their victory over the Imperial task force and despite themselves, the members of the Rebel Alliance could not take their victory from them. It was a great achievement to come up against the might of the Imperial war machine and survive. The Okanah deserved their victory and while none of the off worlders would dampen their celebration, neither could they take part in it. At the moment, Nathan Jackson was within the tent, utilizing his skills as a medtech on Chris Larabee who had been seriously injured during the battle. As of yet, they had no indication whether or not he would survive the wound inflicted and nerves were becoming frayed all around.

"I should have been watching his back!" Vin Tanner growled as he paced the ground outside the tent. "I mean I should have done something!"

"Vin," Josiah said gently. "It wasn't your fault. We were in the middle of a battle, there was no way you could watch out for Chris and yourself."

"He's right junior," Buck Wilmington added. Buck was just as angry as Vin about being there for his oldest friend in the world but he knew enough to assuage the younger man's guilt. "You were busy and Chris isn't some wet behind the ears kid, he's a Jedi whose been taking care of himself a hell of a lot longer than you, I might add. If he couldn't stop himself from getting hurt, chances are neither could you."

"I know that," Vin muttered angrily. "But he just stood there for a whole minute! You didn't see it," he tried to explain to the others the daze Chris had experienced just before he had been shot. "He was somewhere else."

"Maybe it's a Jedi thing," JD ventured a guess. "I seen him have them kind of flashes before. Maybe he saw something that stopped him from paying attention."

"I should have been able to sense it then," Vin replied not about to absolve himself that easily. "I could tell he was someplace else but I couldn't see what he was seeing. Goddamn it, I should have seen it!"

"Vin," Mary Travis spoke up for the first time. She had been sitting in silence unable to savor what should have been a spectacular victory for her because the one person she wanted to share it with might die and that was something she could not even begin to face, let alone imagine happening for real. "Please don't do this. Chris certainly would not condone and I will not either. We are in a war and people die, those are the rules. It's not anyone's fault. It's just the way things happen. Chris would tell you that himself if he were here. Sometimes the way of the Force is hard to understand."

"How can you say that?" Vin snapped at her. "You're supposed to care....," Vin halted himself before he could say anything further but the pain in her eyes was evident and so was the intent of that scathing remark.

"Vin," Buck rose to his feet immediately. "Cool off." The threat in the pilot's voice was unmistakable.

"I'm sorry Mary," Vin apologized immediately, feeling like the fool he did for allowing his emotions to get the better of him again. It was obvious by the look in Mary's eyes that she was barely hanging on herself and he crossed the space between them to place his hand on her cheek. "Hey I'm a jerk alright?" He tried to smile. "I know how you feel about him and if he pulls through this, its going to be no small part because of you."

The others pulled away a little, allowing the duo a little privacy since it appeared they had a little fence mending to do. Vin was grateful for the gesture and reminded himself to thank Buck later on for keeping him from behaving like a stubborn nerf.

"Thank you Vin," she swallowed, allowing the tough mask to lower just enough for him to see the fear in her eyes at losing Chris. "It wasn't your fault you know," she said softly. "I saw him fade too and there was nothing you could have done."

"I just wished I understood it more sometimes," Vin confessed. "Being a Jedi is not something I wanted. I met Chris and suddenly it just seemed like the right thing to. Master Yoda said I was too old to be trained even though I had the mind for it but I wonder if he was right. Maybe it is too late for me to become a Jedi."

"Don't say that," Mary countered. "Chris is so proud of how far you've come. We all are."

"I don't think he would be too proud of me today," Vin sighed unhappily.

"Just because you're a Jedi doesn't mean you're not allowed to feel Vin," Mary said sounding very much like the wise rebel commander she was. "The Jedi make mistakes too. If they didn't I would not feel comfortable around them."

Vin stared into her blue grey eyes and smiled warmly. "You know something Commander Travis, you are the best thing that's happen to all of us."

"All of you?" Mary's brow wrinkled in confusion. "I don't understand."

"Before you came into our lives, we were drifters. Me, Chris, Buck, JD, Ezra, even Nathan and Josiah, we didn't really have a place or a direction until we met you. You gave us that and then you gave us each other. We became seven because of you Mary and sometimes, I think we stay seven thanks to you. You give us purpose and for a bunch like us who never had it before, that's quite something."

It was possibly the nicest compliment she had ever received and her emotions, already on a ragged edge seemed to tip over with that. "Oh Vin," she felt the tears spilling down her cheeks. "If anything happens to Chris, I don't know if I can go on. I can't do it alone."

"Sure you can," Vin responded gently taking her into his arms. "That's why he cares so much about you, because you go on when no one else can."

They held each other for a while, saying nothing but leaving those words to swirl around them as they waited for news. It came what felt like a lifetime later, when Nathan appeared through the tent flap and drew the rest of the seven to him like the fireflies to the flame.

"Is he going to be alright?" Mary asked, still in Vin's arms.

"Yes," Nathan nodded. "I got the droids working on him now but he's going to be okay. It could have gone the other way though," the captain responded, unprepared to delude anyone on how close Chris Larabee had come to dying. "If it weren't for that Jedi healing state they go into when they're hurt bad, he might have died."

"Thank the Force," Josiah sighed.

"I knew he was too tough to kill!" Buck laughed and expressed his own happiness by ruffling JD's hair, a gesture the young man hated and immediately swatted Buck's hand away.

"You see," Vin looked at Mary. "I told you."

"Yeah," the lovely blond laughed. "You're pretty smart when you're not being a jerk."

"Thanks," Vin retorted with a grin.

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