CHAPTER TWELVE

While their journey to the detention block had gone progressed without incident, Chris held no such illusions about how it would be when they finally reached the central control where security systems and sentries were stationed to safe guards the prisoners incarcerated. Fortunately, with Ezra Standish in their party, there were very little questions raised by the personnel they encountered as they made their way through the corridors of the base. However, Chris could not deny that he and Vin were more than concerned when the bombardment by the X-wings halted suddenly. Unfortunately, they were in no position to investigate, nor did they have any way of communicating with the Purgatory to find what had changed.

Still, the damage done to the installation was significant as evidenced by the debris and rubble they happened by. Maintenance crews were working in almost every corridor, repairing everything from structural damage to internal wiring. Fire crews were extinguishing flames that had erupted as a result of such damage while clean up crews worked to remove the debris that covered the dark floors. The station was still on alert as periodic announcements from the powers that be informed them routinely that they were without going into the progress of the battle itself. Chris tended to believe that the silence regarding them status was mostly because the Imperials had no good news to report.

"Let me do the talking," Ezra instructed as they approached the doors that led to the detention block.

Chris noticed that there was very little damage in this sector of the base and attributed it to the fact that the detention block area was meant to be well fortified with reinforcements everywhere in order to keep its charges secured from any attempts at escape.

"Be my guest," Chris said coolly. "I don't think its going to matter much though. Once you try to get Buck and the others out, they're gonna know."

Ezra knew this too but he preferred to be a little optimistic about things, even if it there was no chance of his complicity being hidden once the deed was done. He questioned his choices yet again but then told himself that Nathan was his friend and that there were some bonds that transcended duty and this was one of them. "Allow me my delusions," Ezra retorted after a moment.

"How long have you and Jackson been friends?" Vin asked, sympathising with Ezra more than the captain knew. Vin himself had been placed in an odd situation of late, where he had been forced to make a choice and he still did not know what he was doing was right. All he had to guide him was a feeling and while it had been overwhelming enough at the time to broke no explanation, in the cold light of day, Vin too questioned the rationale that had led him to this moment.

"Since our Academy days," Ezra answered automatically. "He was the first person I met there and we shared a billet for four years."

"That long," Vin nodded in understanding.

"Yes," Ezra answered quietly, not wishing to discuss this with strangers but for some reason, he found he could trust these men, even if he did not know why. Was it perhaps some hereto unknown Jedi mind trick? Ezra supposed he would not know for certain until it was all said and done and decided not to debate the question too deeply until then. "I had not seen him since his wife's funeral," Ezra continued speaking. "I had heard he joined the Rebels but I did not want to believe it."

"What happened to his wife?" Vin inquired from behind his stormtrooper's helmet, which he abhorred because the thing was hot and restrictive and made him, swelter under it.

"Her father was a Jedi," Ezra explained as the large doors appeared at the end of the corridor. "She was killed in the purges."

Chris said nothing but felt a wave of sorrow for Nathan and shame for himself. Once again, he was reminded how pathetic he had been since Sarah died and knew that all the recrimination would not change the fact that for a year, he had dishonoured her memory by being exactly what she would not have wanted. Nathan had endured the same horror for the same reasons and though the man did not lose a child as Chris had, there was no comparison when it came to mourning a hurt. One life against two did not matter; it all felt just as terrible.

"Quiet," he ordered as they approached the doors, their feet making an echoing sound against the steel floor.

Ezra took a deep breath and Vin went very silent next to him. Chris noted the bounty hunter's hand tightening around the rifle as they came up to the large doorway. Ezra glanced at them briefly and then faced front again. "Remember," he instructed one final time. "Let me do the talking."

"The floor is yours," Vin whispered, feeling his stomach knot into a tight ball as the play set into motion.

Ezra did not react, merely reaching for the access panel and activating the doors. The inches thick steel doors slid open immediately upon touch, their movement swift but clumsy, making a soft grating noise as they parted. The room it gave them entry to was large, flanked on either side by what looked like a preliminary holding area for prisoners as they were waiting to be processed. It tapered into a narrow length of passageway, which housed the maximum-security cells. At the moment the holding cells were full and Chris immediately caught sight of Buck and the others languishing in one at the far end of the room. The pilot's astonishment was apparent but Buck showed no signs that he recognised Chris after that initial sighting.

The lieutenant was in charge of three storm troopers in the room stood up from his workstation when Ezra arrived.

"Captain." He immediately offered the proper salute and then cast his eyes towards Chris. "What's going on?"

"We have captured one of the rebels," Ezra responded glancing in Chris' direction. "He is to remained incarcerated until the crisis has passed and he can be properly interrogated by Colonel Nabb."

"We weren't notified of anything," the young man countered. His eyes started to narrow and Ezra could tell immediately that he was one of those ambitious types that needed everything in triplicate and would not hesitate to bring anything odd to the proper authorities if it meant he could be seen in a complimentary light. "I'll need to authorise this with command."

"You don't need to authorise anything," Chris spoke suddenly. His voice was unusually calm, with something on an ethereal quality to it. Vin glanced at his hands and saw that same flutter of movement in his fingers that Chris had displayed when they had first encountered each other in the Four Corners Tavern where he had nearly been strangled to death.

The lieutenant merely stared back at Chris for an instant, their gazes locked and his face draining into a decidedly vacant look. "I don't need to authorise anything," he droned.

The trio of storm troopers in the room witnessed the exchange and knew something was wrong if not what. They reacted predictably, going for their guns. Vin saw the first one raising the rifle and immediately swung into action, firing with more speed than his opponent was capable. He dropped to his knees as the bolt of energy flew at his direction but the one he fired struck its target first, hitting the storm trooper with enough force to sweep him off his feet and against the floor. A bolt of energy flew past the bounty hunter that saw the other storm trooper firing in his direction. The bounty hunter dove behind the control station for cover and saw the beam of energy strike the ground. The heat of it melted the floor leaving a charred mess on the surface. Vin did not give him a second chance to fire and took aim once more.

Ezra had hoped it would not come to this but supposed from the moment he had chosen to aid Nathan's escape, there was no avoiding this eventuality. He pulled his own blaster out of its holster as the firing began and shot the trooper nearest to him just as Vin killed the last storm trooper in the room. When Ezra fired his weapon and saw the storm trooper, a man previously under his command, spasm in pain as a bolt of energy tore through his armour and fried his heart from within, he knew that there was no turning back. For a few seconds, he merely stood there with the blaster hanging limply from his hand, thoughts racing with all kinds of confusion and anger at the choice he had been force to make.

The shooting had returned the lieutenant to his senses and his reaction was almost immediate. With speed that impressed even a Jedi, his hand flew towards a red button on the console and slammed his palm hard against it. The alert klaxons screamed throughout the complex and immediately brought any end to this being a covert operation. He turned to Chris almost triumphantly and could not understand why the man was not making any move towards him until he felt fingers around his throat. Chris did not intend to waste time with any slow process of strangulation and snapped the man's neck without having to lay a finger on him. He tumbled to the floor wordlessly.

"Damn!" Ezra swore loudly as the alert screamed throughout the base and was sure to bring every storm trooper available in this direction.

"You don't have much time." Chris turned to Ezra, "go get Nathan."

Ezra nodded and noted that Vin was already making tracks to the end of the corridor where Buck, JD and Josiah were presently being held. The trio had already got to their feet, having witnessed the impossible events unfolding before them. The other prisoners were also focussed on Chris at this point. They had seen what he had done and were quickly equating the evidence to a Jedi being in their midst's. Chris turned to the control panel and studied it quickly, finding the controls to the door so that he could seal it from the inside. Upon doing so, he noticed the monitoring camera's attached to strategic areas of the room and decided that they had to go. Their advantage was gone; they need not give the enemy any more help than they already had. Requiring very little control, Chris glanced at the devices and yanked all them from the walls at the same time. It surprised him how easily the Force flowed through him now that he was ready to use it again. The devices ripped themselves from the metal framework, trailing wires and sparks as they slammed onto the floor with a resounding crash.

The prisoners were starting to chant; Jedi, Jedi, Jedi.

And for the first time in too long, Chris knew to believe they were right. He was a Jedi.

Ezra hurried up the smaller passageway. Maximum-security prisoners were kept here, far away from the holding cells where the lesser prisoners were kept. Nabb had somewhat forgotten about the rebel captain since the arrival of the three new prisoners and Ezra was grateful he supposed that Nabb had not elevated Nathan's treatment to interrogation. Upon reaching the door, he keyed in his security code, aware that this was conclusive proof of his treason but deciding he had come too far to worry about that now. The door slid open and Ezra descended down the steps to find Nathan on his bunk, looking worried and confused about all the noise.

"Ezra?" Nathan exclaimed genuinely surprised by the appearance of his old friend, what's going on? It sounds like all hell is breaking loose out there? Are you under attack?" He had heard the bombardment even through the thick walls of his cell and wondered who would be bold enough to attack an Imperial base.

"Just a little diversionary tactic provided by your rebel comrades," Ezra replied. "We have to go, now." He gestured Nathan to follow and handed him a blaster he had relieved from one of the dead storm troopers prior to his arrival here.

"A rebel attack?" Nathan muttered, still somewhat shocked but having enough presence of mind to follow his friend. "Ezra, are you helping me break out?"

"Either that or this is an extremely elaborate effort of gaining attention," Ezra dead panned before hurrying out of the cell with Nathan following closely.

Vin Tanner was also encountering similar incredulity from Buck Wilmington when he pulled off his helmet and tossed it aside upon reaching the cell occupied by the pilot and the rest of his companions.

"You're the bounty hunter!" JD declared as he revealed himself to them.

"No kidding," Vin muttered and faced the control panel that maintained the energy field which kept them trapped in their cells. "Stand back, all of you!" He ordered, uncertain of how the device was going to act when he did what he was about to.

"Change of heart?" Buck asked sceptically as he took a step back from the energy field.

"Something like that," Vin answered as he raised the rifle and prepared to fire. "You know how Jedis can be." He met Buck's gaze for a brief instance before pulling the trigger.

So that was it, Buck thought to himself as the bolt of blue energy struck the control panel and disintegrated it into a mess of twisted and burning metal. The energy field keeping them prisoners, shimmered slightly before deactivating completely. When it was completely evaporated, Buck and the others were more than eager to hurry out. JD was helping Josiah who was still a little weak after suffering the tortures he had at Nabb's hands.

"We have to free them too." Buck gestured to the other prisoners in their cells.

"One thing at a time," Vin retorted and turned to move when suddenly, they heard a low whine throughout the room. It took him but an instant to register what it was before he was shouting at Chris who was still at the centre of the room.

"CHRIS!" He shouted on top of his lung. "They're trying to blow the door!"

No sooner, than he said those words, the main door exploded outward. A ball of fire threw everyone to the floor with Chris taking shelter behind the control panel where the lieutenant's body still lay. Vin saw the bodies pushing through the gaping hole of shredded metal created by the explosion and was the first to notice the movement through the smoke. He scrambled to his feet and prepared to shoot when he felt an arm yanking him back into the cell as the first bolts of energy from multiple laser rifles began firing violently.

"Hey!" Vin shouted in protest as he was forced back into the cell he had just liberated Buck Wilmington and company from.

"Get some cover you stupid bastard!" Buck ordered holding him by the arm firmly. "You're right in the open, they'll cut you down in a second!"

"But Chris…," Vin started to say when Buck cut him off abruptly.

"Oh, don't worry about Chris," Buck replied glancing in the direction of the Jedi. "He'll be just fine."

Jedi. Jedi. Jedi.

Even through the explosion and the shooting, the prisoners were still chanting that word as if it were a mantra that would give them strength. Chris lay crouched beneath the control panel and saw Vin and Buck pinned in the cell at the rear of his peripheral vision. Ezra and Nathan had yet to make their appearance but unless the main doors were clear, none of them were getting out of this alive. He took a deep breath and let his thoughts settle, remembering old lessons that were more than happy to be surface once again and suddenly, the anger and rage bled away from him. There was only peace and there was control, absolute and perfect control.

For that was the way of the Jedi.

Chris started to rise, releasing his cloak from his shoulder and allowing the soft material to fall from his shoulders to pile at his feet. He unclasped the hook that kept the light sabre latched to his belt and felt the weapon in his hand. The metal was cool to touch and felt infinitely right in his hand. There was no switch to activate the weapon for only novices who were not entirely certain of their power needed those. If not for Palpatine's purge, he would have been a Jedi Master by now, elevated to the Jedi Council even though he hated the idea of being one. He had preferred to remain just a Jedi and grateful for that but then it was also the way of the Jedi to not crave such things. Using a minute fraction of his power, Chris activated the mechanism inside the weapon and brought the light sabre to life.

The storm troopers shooting only saw a blur as Chris leapt out from behind the control panel and landed before them. They immediately trained their guns on him and were more than astonished to watch him deflect every shot with his light sabre. The stray shots slammed into walls and into the floor, everywhere except where it was meant to go. As they reeled in shock from what they were seeing, Chris flung his light sabre towards them in a neat arch. The blade swung forward, a kaleidoscope of colour as it spun, Catherine wheel like, cutting down anything unfortunate to be in its path. Screams pierced the air as limbs and flesh was sliced apart through armour and bone. When it finished its destructive path, it clattered to the ground for a fraction of a section before Chris retrieved it.

The light sabre flew into the air and landed neatly in the palm of the Jedi's hand as Chris turned his attention to the doors. Concentrating deeply, he ripped apart what remained of the massive doors, forcing them to open with the power of his mind. The metal grated smoothly apart, revealing a handful of astonished storm troopers who had seen the destruction and could only react by raising their guns to fire. Chris outstretched his hand and three of them were swept off their feet and thrown backwards like rag dolls. They slammed hard against the floor, the squelching sound of bone snapping as they landed while the others started firing.

Chris made a running start towards them and jumped, sailing clear across their heads and landing behind them in the corridor. The beam of his light sabre ignited in mid flight and when he landed he swung in a neat arch and eviscerated the storm trooper closest to him. The other two began firing mindlessly now, their fear becoming so apparent that Chris allowed it to soak into his senses and nourish him. He deflected their shots easily and closed the distance between them. Swinging his light sabre once more, he completely destroyed the rifle being aimed in his direction after sending the bolt meant for him harmlessly into the opposite wall. Unarmed, the storm trooper staggered back as Chris lowered his light sabre and sent him flying. His companion prepared to shoot but Chris looked at him sharply and said with a little smile.

"You can't shoot me because you can't see me."

The trooper paused a moment, trying to understand what that meant until the power of the suggestion completed its journey through his synapses and delivered that instruction to his optic nerves. When the veil of black fell over him, he understood and started screaming. All thoughts about the Jedi he was trying to kill evaporated from his mind as the panic set in. Chris walked past the man and re-entered the detention block to be greeted by open cheering by those the prisoner who had watched the Jedi vanquishing his enemies.

Jedi. Jedi. Jedi.

It had been a long time since Chris Larabee felt that and as he looked around at the floor covered in bodies, he felt saddened at the lives he had taken but was pleased that the Force was still with him.

Buck stepped out of the cell, a broad grin on his face as he stared at Chris and the both men met in a warm embrace.

"Its good to have you back Chris." Buck smiled as he surveyed the evidence of Chris' handiwork. "You haven't lost your touch."

Chris gazed at his friend for a few seconds and responded. "I didn't want them to hurt you Buck."

Buck opened his mouth to speak but the words never came when JD's voice erupted. "Did you see that!" JD said exuberantly to Josiah behind them. "He took them all down on his own!"

Vin joined the old friends and the awe on the bounty hunter's face was unmistakable. "Not bad," he said with the barest hint of a smile. "Scary but not bad at all."

"What in the hell happened here?" Nathan exclaimed as he emerged from the detention block with Ezra who was staring at the carnage with a similar degree of shock.

"Look," Josiah spoke up suddenly. "I am certain that we are all somewhat astonished by what our esteemed Jedi has done but I think we ought to save the questions until we get out of here."

"He's right," Vin agreed and faced Chris. "When they see this, they're going to bring the entire base down on us. We have to get out of here now."

Chris nodded and turned to Ezra. "Is Buck's ship here?"

The image of the freighter entered his mind immediately and he answered. "Yes, it is presently in landing bay 12."

"Good," Buck retorted as the group started moving. "No way in hell am I leaving my ship."

"All fighters, stay close to the Destroyer!" Mary ordered as the Purgatory shuddered from another blast from the Imperial war machine.

They had been openly engaging the Star Destroyer since it emerged from hyperspace and though Mary had struggled valiantly to give the vessel the fight it deserved, she had to be realistic. With the added complement of TIE fighters from the base and the destroyer bearing down on the handful of X-wing, Mary knew that the Purgatory was outclassed. The Star Destroyer was a more recent model which had come equipped with all the features that the Purgatory had undergone refit to possess and its fire power was double that of the Nubian warship. In a protracted conflict, it had more than enough strength and endurance to wipe out her ship.

"Commander," Chano exclaimed. "We must withdraw!"

"We can't withdraw!" Mary snapped, having heard this plea once already. "Chris and the others are still on the surface. We have to wait!"

"We'll be destroyed if we wait!" Chano retaliated. He did not want to abandon the rescue team any more than she did but he had to be sensible about this because their lives were few compared to the number on board this vessel, not to mention piloting the X-wings.

"I know that!" Mary nearly shouted at him and then calmed herself. There had to be a way to even the odds. She looked at that massive ship that was now positioned directly over the base and considered what she could do. She could not let them die and a small voice inside her head laughed in derision and uttered with a cynicism.

You mean let him die.

Mary blinked and it came to her. It was a gamble but it was the only chance she had, the only trick she knew that could save them all. "All fighters, I want you take out the command deck deflector shield. I want their bridge completely defenceless!"

Chano blinked in confusion and came to her side. "Commander, I don't understand. Fighters won't do much damage by taking out that shield."

"You don't think so?" Mary challenged and faced front when she saw a group of X-wings converging upon the desired location. The sky before them was a symphony of amber and blue light as ships exploded in space, their eruption extinguished almost immediately in the vacuum filled void. Each time those lights flared in amber, Mary felt her soul weep for that was a life that was ended when the explosion faded away.

"Commander," J'yd announced. "The deflector shield on the command deck has been destroyed."

"Good," Mary answered tautly and then further ordered. "Get me ship to ship communications with squadron leader King."

Chano still did not know what she was planning but complied with the order nonetheless. "Channel open," the executive officer announced.

Mary took a deep breath and nodded. "Audrey," Mary spoke up. "I need you to angle your ship at coordinates 23 degrees starboard and go in hot. I want thrusters on maximum burn."

"Sir?" Squadron leader Audrey King asked with obvious confusion in her voice.

"Do as I say," Mary ordered. "Go in hot and eject before collision. Do you understand me? Eject."

There was a slight pause through the bursts of static in the transmission before she understood what it was that was being asked. "I got you Commander."

Chano too understood and looked at Mary with something akin to horror and plain astonishment. The manoeuvre was brilliant if not utterly desperate so very keeping in the tradition of the Alliance. "All fighters," the executive officer added upon realizing the plan his commander was attempting to carry out. "Ensure that Squadron Leader King's ship reaches its destination. Give her a wide berth."

"Deploy an emergency pod as soon as she ejects," Mary said softly after the orders were handed out. "There's way too much shooting for her to be left floating around out there."

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