Many Bothans died to bring us this information
Science Fiction, star wars

STAR WARS: BEFORE THE FALL, PT. 3 — “Many Bothans died to bring us this information.”

Her skin glows. A bright lavender haze. His hand approaches her cheek and he feels more warmth than he knows possible emitting from her skin. For a moment he wonders if he could make do with just this.

Long ago, it was considered inappropriate for Bothans to get close to other species as inter-species bonds inspire stronger emotions. As his grandfather insisted, until the day he died, “Nothing is more useless than a spy in love.”

Dakkah can sit for hours looking at her skin, the way it’s paler and almost ethereally bright at her naked hips, believing that it might help him crack the code on his people’s ignorance regarding love. It’s not love that Bothans fear, he realized; it’s the dread of being stuck in those indisposed hours, days, and weeks that attend the loss of love. The weakness that results from that state can cost you your life and that’s not a hyperbolic point, either. Indulgence in morbid self-pity gets you ostracized instantly from the work—no more meetings and no more missions. If that doesn’t drive you to be a freight runner for the Empire, at best you’ll end up old and desperate, hooked on Arrixan blood to numb the pain. Or perhaps both will synergistically null you out of existence in some outer system, far from anyone who cares, where an impatient Imperial dock worker waits until you pass out so he can pocket your pay then kick you onto the refuse heap, left to jettison with the garbage before the next run. It’s happened exactly that way more than a few times.

But that’s all passed. There are more pressing concerns now and like some infinite cycle, there are new ways love can kill you; things you can’t discuss.

He has to make an exception for her. Because of that skin. Skin that will haunt him to even the furthest system like a waking nightmare if he doesn’t dare touch it.

So he does.

These days, it truly isn’t that hard to hide it. There’s a war going on; people are busy. In the case of Mon Mothma and Makkah, they’re more than cautious, maintaining a strategic amount of public animosity, just enough to give the impression that their only passion is for the Rebellion and that each believes the other is one move from its demise. At the base on Dantooine, inconveniently stopped in a busy corridor, they bicker.

“I explicitly recall you agreeing to send in a team of rebel spies undercover to map the Death Star.”

“Yes. And now I am contradicting what I said then. I think it’s a terrible plan.”

“You are not the one making a sacrifice.”

“I am the one making the decision.”

“That can be changed. I can order your rank surrendered. Perhaps I can call your record into question. The last two intel ops you oversaw were unquestionable failures.”

“Yes, this is true.” Mon Mothma liked to turn her head away at a certain point in their public arguments, as though there was nothing more Dakkah could add to sway her. “Because I took my responsibility seriously and refused to permit suicide missions.”

He gets impossibly frustrated when she pulls this trump card; and impossibly aroused. The fact that they’re debating the valid concerns of the Rebellion in these theatrical disputes complicates their emotions. Mon Mothma eventually defers to Dakkah as head of espionage for the Bothan spy detail while everyone in earshot gets some food for thought about the moral challenge to rebel strategies. It’s a productive song and dance that truthfully injects some life into an unchallenged and idealistic intellectual environment all while making them hot for each other’s flesh; a victimless charade.

“What if a suicide mission is essential for the greater good?” A charade whose lines get blurrier as it progresses. Dakkah makes a sincerely interesting point and the darkest one to emerge in their arguments thus far.

Mon Mothma’s eyes grow wide but she keeps her game face. “Well, Dakkah, then I’m glad you’re not the one in charge of ordering them!” And with that, she storms off past gawking officers through the lighted corridor. Dakkah smirks, applauding her in his mind for what he believes was an excellent display of feigned anger. He runs to their usual meeting place, a clearing just outside of the hangar bay, a spot where only pilots and deck hands tread. It’s loud and busy and upper levels simply have no business here. It’s perfect.

He runs out past the trees that cover the little spot that one of them sets up with blankets and a bottle of Karpas nectar; today is her turn. He reaches the spot and it’s all gone, cleared away by someone or something. In their place, he finds Varan staring him down, daring him to start explaining himself. Dakkah’s blood runs cold for a moment before his brain begins damage control.

“So you’ve found my spot.” Dakkah chuckles to himself like this is all part of his plan. “There’s really no better vantage point to observe takeoff sequences. You notice a fantastic amount of intentional geometry in rebel aircraft configurations.” Dakkah points out a clear gap in the tree canopy from which the launch sequences were easiest to glimpse. “It’s terribly consistent. Whether it’s intentional or not, I don’t know. If it isn’t, that makes it all the more beautiful in my opinion.” It is indeed very easy to see the patterns of sacred geometry left behind by the vapor trails of the ships, geometry meaningful to anyone who studies Dantooine mythology. It is quite beautiful, really, once you concentrate on the settling forms of the trails without being distracted by the ships themselves. Dakkah’s explanation to a seemingly credulous Varan is objectively as fascinating as the best lecture from their academy days, and Dakkah makes up every word of it. It’s a testament to how good he is that Varan, fairly certain this is a fabrication, hinges on every word. The fact is Dakkah knows that Varan suspects this is all fiction but he’s counting on the hypnotic effects of rhetoric so that by the time he’s done pointing out how the vapor trails themselves evolve into yet different patterns, ones that describe in abstract terms not just how the battle that these craft are about to engage in will turn out but what the battle’s long term ramifications will be, it seems that whatever pretense caused Varan to corner him in these secluded woods couldn’t be less important.

“Thank you, I— That is indeed fascinating. Was I mistaken in believing you are scheduled for a mission soon?”

“That’s correct.” Dakkah’s mouth forms a slight grin. “I’m scheduled for a team mission of Imperial construction interception.”

“Construction of what?”

Dakkah cocks his head. “The Death Star, of course.”

“Rumors of a new Death Star. Hmm.” Varan nods, stroking his chin hairs, as though he’s pretending to consider the advice of a child. “You believe those as well, then?”

Dakkah freezes. Varan tries to hide a smile. Put the fear in him so he’ll be cautious, not paralyzed.

“Come with me.” Varan walks him deeper into the secluded woods. “Let me ask you something, why would the Empire seek such a remote center of operations when the whole of the galaxy is theirs to call home? Isn’t it possible that they’re trying to draw us out, sending precious resources to find a massive battle station that exists more as an idea than a reality, then crushing our base on Dantooine? Hmm?”

“We’ve seen extensive footage—”

“Holograms. Convincing ones, I’ll grant that.”

“You underestimate our advantage. We outnumber the Empire in several key systems at this point. What better time to double efforts on a massive weapon with the powers of the Death Star and deliver the death knell to the Rebellion?”

“Yes, they will need such a weapon. That’s why they have the Executor, a weapon nearly equal in power and much more mobile than the Death Star. Mark my words, the minute we send an armada for this alleged Death Star, they’ll send the Executor here to cut us off at the head.”

The question of how Varan found this spot recedes against the increasingly plausible theory that the Death Star is just a red herring—as Varan intended. “Ironically, this doesn’t change your plans very much. We’re still sending you on a reconnaissance mission to a small Imperial base on Endor. We need to confirm whether our concerns about a new Death Star are founded or not.”

Dakkah nods. “I suspected as much. When will my ship be ready?”

“Ship? Haven’t they told you? You’ll be delivered via teleportation.”

Dakkah feels his throat go dry and his skin go cold. Teleportation technology is extremely primitive, especially with regards to reconstituting organic matter. The odds of surviving a dogfight against an Imperial squadron are legitimately higher.

“I was unaware that we had the means to safely transport organic matter.”

“Advances have been made.” Varan speaks without making eye contact, just this once.

They leave the woods with the understanding that why they met here and what they discussed will never be spoken of, by them or anyone else.

Dakkah finds Mon Mothma several hours later in the middle of a discussion with a junior rebel officer. They are discussing how completely preposterous the Dantooine mythology seems when one applied even the most cursory logic to its superstitious collection of “meaning-dense” symbols. This, Dakkah thinks, is why I love you.

Dakkah taps her on the shoulder. Mon Mothma turns and wags a dismissive finger at him, all while maintaining her diatribe on local myth to the very eager-to-please—and strikingly handsome—young rebel officer. Dakkah knows this is all part of the game but for the first time, he can’t help feeling offense. And not just offense; his reaction to being ignored develops from a confused tinge of annoyance to what feels like an abscess gnawing at the walls of his stomach so startlingly fast, he has to run.

“Excuse me.” Dakkah begs the pardon of these two, still ignoring him, to jog in a circuit around this wing of the facility. The feeling grows until he feels his stomach ready to burst. At last he returns to find Mon Mothma saying goodbye to the young officer, a fairly slow goodbye with perhaps a little too much affection in the eyes of the young man. She turns to smile at Dakkah with a fullness that overturns the imagined rot in his gut, if only for a moment.

“Yes, Dakkah?”

He considers his tone before speaking. Looking around him it’s clear they’re alone but he still feels apprehensive. It’s probably best to take some sort of middle ground.

“I just wanted to apologize for criticizing your stance. I think your concern for the safety of Bothan spies is honorable.”

“Thank you.” She nods distractedly. Her eyes dart like she’s planning her exit. There’s still no one to be seen. “Dakkah, I’m afraid I have some upsetting news. I— Our relationship has come to the attention of my commanding officer and after some very sober discussion…I…”

“No.” The shock and acceptance hit him in quick succession. There’s nothing left. “Please don’t say it.”

Dakkah exits this wing of the facility with the desire to be as far away as possible from the exact location where his heart broke. Mon Mothma manages to steel herself and once Dakkah is completely out of view, she knocks on the white wall of the corridor—three times, slowly and loudly—as she’d been instructed. The light from beneath the door flickers twice, as she’d been told it would.

Her eyes cast downward, she nearly chokes on the lump in her throat, steeling herself to hold back the tears for just a few more moments until he can’t hear them.

Dakkah wakes from a restless sleep several hours before necessary. His mind blank, he sits at the edge of his bed until the appointed time and walks in a somnambulist haze to Training Room 2F, home of the makeshift transporter that will presumably take him to Endor. It’s quiet. The interior appears dark. Presuming everyone is already inside and training has begun, he quietly steps inside. It is pitch black inside the room, so dark in fact that not only can he not make out the lay of the room, but his echolocation senses are thrown as to its actual dimensions—it could be as large as an aircraft hangar or as small as personal quarters, it’s impossible to tell. Just as he stretches a probing hand to feel his way ahead, an artificial voice squawks over the speaker system.

“Good morning, Dakkah. Do you have any questions for me?” It isn’t a robot but it’s distorted and a strange discontinuous pulse attends each utterance, closing at each pause as though by some kind of gatekeeper for the aural emission.

It repeats, “Good morning, Dakkah. Do you have any questions for me?” It doesn’t sound exactly the same as before, possessing enough variation to tell him that it is a living thing speaking to him. As such, he feels even more nervous as that implies this thing knows who he is and why he’s there and clearly expects some thoughtful inquiry from him. Hairs all over his body tingle and raise in apprehension. A massive foreboding clouds his reason and he lets out a low primal growl.

“Okay, Dakkah. If you have no questions, let’s begin.” A red ray projects from the computer to scan him up and down. With no further notice or warning, a flood of lights go up and Dakkah’s knees are drawn to the ground, like they’re suddenly heavy as concrete before inexplicably dissolving his rigid matter into a kind of light mist. His body feels weightless; all he can see is a blinding white. There’s a very specific moment where he feels his mind turn off, like a power switch: on, then off.

Without explanation or cause, the fullness of his body returns and he finds himself standing inside an Imperial hangar bay. Dakkah hits the deck and a perplexed staff sergeant marches towards him.

“You there, are you hurt?”

Dakkah clears his throat. Why haven’t they swarmed me yet? “No. I am…not hurt.”

“Look a senior officer in the eye when you answer!” He barks at Dakkah like he’s an absentminded trainee. What’s happening here? Is this real? It certainly looks, sounds, and even smells real but if it is, why isn’t this sergeant pointing a blaster to his head?

Surveying his own body, Dakkah feels the thick wool of a standard-issue Imperial tunic on his chest. The last time he touched on of these was on the body of a target, feeling his blaster-scorched chest to confirm the kill.

It worked; this is real.

“Sir, I am not hurt.”  Dakkah sprang to his feet. “I sustained a rather serious leg injury in the Battle of Hoth.”

“Hoth.” The sergeant is stunned out of his mood. “I was there, too. Were you on the ground?”

Think, think. A glance at his uniform insignia reveals he’s engineering class.

“Sir, I was assigned to one of the more sophisticated AT-ATs, for my technical acumen, only. I’m not someone you would consider battle-ready.”

“I was on the ground. My troupe sustained heavy losses, perhaps the heaviest of the entire campaign. I was awarded a commendation, essentially for surviving.” The sergeant gets a faraway look in his eyes, like he’s deciding how much to divulge right now to this unfamiliar engineer. “Strategically, the operation was a significant win. But no one really discusses how some of us…suffered to achieve it.”

“No, they do not.” Dakkah rubs his leg for effect. “I’ve healed but the injury continues to affect my balance. Hence, the occasional fall.”

“Yes, well, fortunately for us, you’re not flying one of these things.” The sergeant flashes the briefest, approving smile. “Carry on.”

Dakkah’s espionage instincts begin to awaken. He formulates his mission in the bluntest terms in his head while maintaining his facade. Other Bothans convince themselves that they are the persona they’re adopting, thinking and acting like it, even in private. Dakkah believed that was a road to madness. He may have been right.

“Sir, this is a rather complex facility and I feel foolish for being so far from my post but if you please…”

“Yes, yes, come with me. I’m used to helping junior engineers navigate Imperial bases. But you seem rather…senior.” The sergeant keeps a furious pace while enunciating his accusations calmly.

“These newer facilities are based on the geometry of Jedi temples, are they not?” Dakkah is grateful for his habit casually reading hopelessly mundane Imperial briefings on subjects like facilities and equipment updates. “I confess I’m not the most intuitive officer. All superstitious nonsense if you ask me.”

“I agree.” The sergeant smiles. “You must be a recent transfer, then. It takes the better part of a week to memorize the lay of the station.” For the length of their conversation, they walk past legions of dutiful Imperial deck hands preparing land weaponry and arming aircraft, distributed across multiple tiers and levels stretching so high skyward, Dakkah strains to discern the topmost level from the skylight. Endor’s atmosphere being so close to the surface, he realizes they are in fact far underground at the moment in what must be a terribly elaborate undergound facility, a single base housing more Imperial battleships than belong to the entire Rebellion, medical and exploratory craft included. Perhaps the Death Star is a diversion, he thinks. This armada backed by the Executor will wipe us out, no question—all they need is to draw us out from the safety of our hidden bases. He presses a finger to his forehead to etch his thought patterns onto a mind plate, accumulating as many as possible while he still has the time.

At last, they reach the drafting room, a bank of computers and graphic screens in which Imperial engineers, architects, and designers plot the shape of the Empire’s coming strike. It is here that Dakkah at last catches a reflection of himself and feels a shiver of fear down his spine that rattles him so thoroughly, he nearly blows his cover. He sees a pale humanoid man where his face should be, a good foot shorter with close cropped brown hair. His stature is slim, no longer the stout imposing beast of a Bothan he so proudly finds each morning, a visage from which he draws confidence, all of which seems to drain from his pores.

The sudden blaring sound of the alarm doesn’t startle him—but the frozen concern amongst everyone in his vicinity does. A sharp voice cuts the bustle throughout the halls via the security intercom.

“Attention all units. There is a Bothan spy in our midst. Please remain at your stations. He has been detected and he will be executed at once.”

“G— wait, where is he?! Where did he go?!?!”

Several data engineers clack away nervously at their terminals, downloading as much data as possible from the Bothan spy closest to the terminal before facing Mon Mothma’s withering stare.

“I can’t find him! He’s not on any of my readouts. It’s like he just disappeared.”

“I can—.” One of the engineers manages to squeeze out an utterance but can’t quite complete his thought, lest he miss any of the data coming in from the increasingly weak signal. At last, there is only so much data remaining, more than manageable for his cohort to record themselves, unfortunately. “Mon Mothma, one of our spies is very, very close to the base’s core—he’s seeing things we never could have imagined about the next stage of Imperial strategy and weapons technology. Unfortunately, as we predicted, the innermost rooms on these bases are where signal is weakest, obstructed by multiple levels of protective construction. That means he’s very close to highly sensitive information, information that likely confirms our worst fears.”

“The Death Star? It’s real?”

“It’s—.” He looks downward. “Too soon to say.”

“It’s hard to imagine they’d be this protective of anything less. What else can you—.”

A klaxon peals. The engineers freeze. They resume work, slower and sullen. Mon Mothma knows that sound—a spy has fallen.

A phalanx of guards storm out of an adjacent chamber towards the main gates dragging the body of a dead Bothan spy. The gate’s maw opens and a rush of humid air and flaxen sunlight dapple their jet helmets and illuminate the burnt corpse of Alga, the next best decorated spy in Dakkah’s troupe. Smoke rises from her head, wounds still fresh from an excessive close-range blaster assault. Dakkah detects an overwhelming sadness welling up and pushes it down, resolving to embrace it at a safer time.

There were others, as he’d expected—there was no telling who would survive the transportation process. Again, he stifles his anger upon acknowledging the necessities of war—the lies, secrets, and omissions—that turn living beings into tools of cynicism, left to die at the hand of the Empire, with no regard to their sacrifice. He navigates this vexation in seconds and returns to his avatar as Imperial engineer, alum of Hoth—there is a mission to complete, there was a war going on. Lest he be accused of being too invested in this scene, he taps the sergeant on his shoulder.

“Sir, where are the interfaces on this level? We’re quite far behind already and we mustn’t fall any furth—.”

A rush of pain stabs at Dakkah’s chest. His head feels light. A glance down at the source of the pain emanating from his core shows alternating ribbons of smeary reality, the hardy Bothan man that he knows himself to be, and the skinny pale Imperial engineer. For a moment the two worlds blend, and just like that, they’re gone.

“We mustn’t fall any further behind, lest it displease the Emperor.”

He wonders if anyone noticed—he looks about him to find all, including his sergeant, still focused on Alga’s corpse being jettisoned out of the hangar bay. Dakkah looks again: he is back to his disguise persona.

The sergeant at last turns and twitches, like an animal shaking off a trauma. “Yes, of course. You there.” He points to an otherwise focused senior engineer, a dazed sloth of a man who peers up from his screen. “Get this one started.”

The dazed sloth waddles over and speaks with a surprisingly articulate voice. “So, what’s your specialty, structural or fission?”

“Right.” Think fast. “Well, both.”

“Confident, are we?” The sloth of a man smiles and chuckles. “I like that. Well, the structural aspect is mostly taken care of so why don’t you help me with this.”

With astonishingly few keystrokes, he summons a holographic image of the Death Star onto the table. Dakkah’s eyes widen. They focus in on the core of the great station dominated by a massive reactor as powerful as a small sun.

“The problem is, they’ve consolidated all their power into the core and I’m telling them that’s foolish. Don’t you agree?”

“Yes.” Dakkah studies it from every angle hoping someone, somewhere, is seeing what he is seeing. “Quite foolish.”

Mon Mothma can always focus on work whenever doom looms too close and for that she is thankful. There’s nothing to do right now but help out the engineers, furiously collecting data from the Bothan spy initiative whose window may close at any moment. Hacking away on the terminal, she feels young again, searching for obscure lines of relevant data in streams of code like an academy student. As she surveys all the queued data that cut off moments ago, a surge of relief arrives in the form of new data: shapes, plans…for something. The possibility of knowing what they’ve been seeking all this time co-arises with another knowing she’s nurtured since that piercing klaxon sounded earlier: he may still be alive.

She feels her pulse race as she furiously uploads each new piece of data to central intel, still trying to suss out their coordinates in the meantime. It’s only natural that after so many years away from the terminal that novel solutions might appear. She is so focused on said solution that she doesn’t notice Varan marching down the hall towards the open door of the transmission room.

“Mon, Mothma, I need a word with you.”

Mon Mothma’s eyes meet his. She leaps from her chair to pull the emergency lockdown lever.

“Don’t you—.”

Varan runs into the shut door, bashing his nose bloody on its clean white surface. He slams his hand in frustration against the locked door.

“Now you’re locked in there, you realize that?!” No answer. “I am a commanding officer of this operation and will have you demoted if you choose to keep this door sealed!” He pounds on the door with a closed fist as though he could break the titanium. “Do not choose poorly!”

She pounds away at her terminal. She’s isolated the coordinates for the nine remaining officers and banks them to central intel. They’re ready to be brought home. All she has to do is give the word.

“Please! Let me explain!” Still no answer.

The firm swish of the emergency panel opening nearly knocks Varan backwards. Out steps Mon Mothma, as calm and graceful as she’s ever been.

“Hello, Varan.”

Sitting on the cold concrete, his tailbone sore from the ejection, he can only muster the faintest nod. “Mon Mothma, I hope you under—.”

“First things first, Varan: plans for the Death Star core are difficult to discern based on transmissions—we’ll need as many of them back alive as possible.”

“But the mind plates—.”

“Yes, a good start, but the information is incomplete. Their mind plate transmissions are compromised by some sort of dense building material near the intelligence inner sanctum. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

“But you do have something?”

“What we’re left with is like a puzzle with too many missing pieces. We need to get them within transporting range—literally anywhere outside the base—and transport as many of them back as possible. Fortunately, I’ve found a way to send them a primitive low-data transmission ordering them to leave the station as quickly as possible. I can have the engineers transmit the signal as soon as you give the word.”

“I see.” He seems to be searching the air for an answer as though by facing in some particular direction he might breathe it in. “And you’re confident they’ve reached the innermost intelligence sanctum?”

“The fact that their signal is so weak is proof of it.”

He nods. She sighs and taps her comm link. “Begin the retrieval process.”

The squawk from the other end is silent for a moment, a doubtful ripple of static before a resigned voice speaks. “They need to be outside the hangar bay for this to work.”

“Proceed under the presumption that they will be prepared for you. Is that clear?”

“Aye-aye.”

Varan walks away, knowing they have unfinished business and hoping she’s forgotten. She has not.

“Why did you ask me to do what I did to Dakkah?” Mon Mothma is a pillar of stoicism ready for any direction this response will take. “Why have me break his heart before sending him off to what is most likely his death? At least let us say goodbye.”

“The transporters.” He draws a deep breath. “I remember on Hoth, we tested two tauntauns in the transporter—one survived the process, and one did not. We searched through our data and isolated some factors: one was female, feral and violent after being disregarded by her mother at a young age. The other, a male, was plucked from the wild just that morning, more pliant and agreeable after years of grooming and emotional support from his family. The female tauntaun survived.”

Mon Mothma’s eyes widen as she attempts to digest the implications of Varan’s words. Is he kidding? They only had a theory?

“I know it sounds fantastic, but there were numerous tests that all confirmed what we didn’t want to believe: the stronger the emotional connection, the more challenging the reconstitution process proved to be.”

“You think he can be rid of me that fast? What kind of a child believes—.”

“Dakkah, like any good Bothan spy, simply shifts his state of being…” He snaps. “And negotiates the consequences later.”

Mon Mothma bites her trembling lip. “At least let us say goodbye.”

“I couldn’t agree more. Consolidation of anything—whether resources or defense mechanisms—is a wisdom economically and nowhere else. A broad distribution of resources and defenses, no matter the cost in labor or time, offers an invaluable advantage.”

“What do you mean, by a broad base of defenses?” The sloth of a man scratches his chin in earnest trying to suss out Dakkah’s point. “You mean external defense mechanisms?”

“Yes. As many as possible while creating the illusion of a centralized base of operations. Spread the power around. For example, shielding. Why not operate that externally. You draw out the opposition, giving them multiple points of focus, stretching their resources thin, and then pick them off one by one.”

“Interesting.” The engineer nods and pads furiously at his terminal. “You know a lot about strategy for an engineer.”

“He doesn’t seem to know too much about engineering, however.” Dakkah looks up to see the chief lieutenant of this detail with the sergeant, looking pale as disheartened as though recently admonished, trailing behind him. “We’ve had a problem with Bothan spies this morning and I’m afraid no one can place you, Officer—?”

It suddenly occurs to Dakkah, that no one has asked his name yet. “Omach. Officer Omach. Hoth veteran.” There’s a fine line between saying too much and too little. The staff sergeant may have been convinced if he hadn’t remembered something from earlier.

“Tell the commander, please, what happened to that leg of yours. On Hoth, I mean.”

“Injured. In battle, at the helm of an AT-AT.”

The lieutenant smiles and raises his blaster. “Lord Vader once told me, ‘If one needs an explanation, no explanation can suffice.’ I find that rings truer every day.” He gestures to two stormtroopers. “Take him out of here at once. Execute him.”

“Just a moment!” The sloth senior engineer speaks up. “This young man has been sharing some fascinating insight into our strategies that will unquestionably improve—.”

“Stop, please!” The lieutenant’s hand goes up. “He’s drawn you into his web of lies. I have no desire to be drawn in along yours or the sergeant’s side. Bind him by the mouth so he can’t speak and deceive us any further.”

“Now, just a minute,” Furious, the slothful engineer stood up to a man who had no interest in the life of the mind, for the first and last time. “I happen to pull some weight around here.”

While they commiserate, a message erupts in Dakkah’s inner ear: “Leave the base. Mission priority number one. Leave the base. Mission priority number one.” A few seconds of eye contact is all it takes for Dakkah to take control of a simple stormtrooper; he never needs words. He seizes the blaster and delivers a gutshot to the still-dazed stormtrooper, then grabs the sergeant in one fluid motion. Dakkah’s facade, a kind of consensus hallucination, fades away like a molting skin, leaving him as his barrel-chested self. The lieutenant halts his advance and stays the hand of his troupe and all oncoming guards swarming the scene.

“And just what do you think you’re doing?” The lieutenant taps on his lapel link. “Alert! All stations, aler—!” A blaster shot to the temple silences the lieutenant. Another Bothan spy reveals herself. There passes a quiet instant in which all the remaining Bothan spies on the base realize that they must shed their disguises for any of them to fair a chance at survival. A firefight erupts.

A storm of crisscrossing laser blasts erupt through the hall as the Bothans gravitate towards one another, nine of them total. Strength in numbers. A mass of soldiers sent on a suicide mission coalescing in order to survive. Imperial gunmen operating from sniper points rain down fire and wipe out three spies in mere moments before they can find arms. The surviving six provide each other with cover fire as they make their way towards an empty transport craft. That passage halves their number.

“Shut it! Shut it, now!” The doors are closing but the Bothan skeleton crew is on board, powering up their ship. They speak with their eyes, no one exchanging a word for fear of wasting a precious moment of their escape window. The ship powers up as the doors sluggishly close. Stormtrooper blasters riddle the side of the ship, aiming for its thrusters to no avail. The gap between the gates is barely a sliver but it’s enough to get through.

Dakkah powers up the ship’s single onboard cannon, training his sights on the stormtroopers below, picking them off one by one. As usual, during the most serious moments in life, Dakkah can’t help but smile.

The room is still warm, though not quite as dark as when Dakkah entered it this morning. Mon Mothma enters his coordinates into the computer hoping that something will just happen. She completes the sequence: nothing. She repeats the sequence: still nothing. Seeking both clarity and lateral solutions, she drops to the floor and begins her meditation practice. A sequence of remote viewing native to Dantooine mythology wells up from her memory, a silly thing he’d taught her that she’d never expected to take seriously.

One last time, she traces the sigils onto the air while visualizing his face, just as she’d been taught.

For one more minute, an undefended rush towards the gates remains a viable option; a suicide mission within a suicide mission, so what is there to lose? They retract the cannon and make their way for the thin gap in the gates.

The rush is nearly successful. The ship makes it past the gates but one of their four thrusters is tagged by the maw of the closing gates. Dakkah points the cannon and shoots it off. “We can get past the atmosphere without it.” It’s true though an incomprehensible challenge. They barely escape the now-fully-closed maw of the hangar bay gates with three remaining thrusters, carefully and slowly gaining altitude to leave Endor.

Inside the hangar bay the sergeant whose previous ease allowed Dakkah safe passage directs a small team of stormtroopers down the stairs below the hangar bay, a massive ion gun in tow. “That craft must be shot down at all costs. If it leaves Endor, the existing plans for the Death Star are null and void. If we fail to shoot it down, we all go before Vader, is that clear?” The troops all confirm and finish positioning their ion gun below the hangar bay gates, training their sights on one of the spy ship’s thruster.

“Friends, I think we have a better chance—.”

Immediately, the spy known as Lakoff devolves into a blue mist, transporting back to the Rebel base.

“…Staying on board.” Dakkah turns to Avun, the only other spy aboard. “Dammit, they’re bringing us home already.” He focuses on engaging the last of the three machine thrusters. “Avun, I need you to do me a favor.”

“Don’t ask me to do that.”

“If no one is piloting, we die. Tell them to get me last.”

The ship shudders as they take their first hit. All at once, the engines cut and they nose dive towards the surface of the massive Ocean of the Forest Moon, which comprises one-third of Endor’s surface and is its only body of water, completely surrounded, otherwise, by land. Streams of water enter from multiple pregnable points along the critically-damaged aft thrusters, overwhelming the cracks until the pressure sends a proper tide through.

“It’s likely too late for either of us, my fr—.” Avun’s words are cut off as he devolves into blue mist, just as Dakkah’s tapped pulse transmission requested. Avun raises a hand as if that will stop the inevitable, then vanishes. Makkah watches calmly as the glass before him breaks and the helm floods.

The gray walls surrounding Mon Mothma morph into the blue of the ocean on Endor, her mind’s eye vision blending seamlessly with the featureless transporter chamber. The familiar shape of her beloved resolves above her. He meets his fate less honorably than he deserved, hundreds of feet below the surface of the water, tracers of heather blaster fire plumbing the depths.

Her horror evaporates in the face of a calming certainty. A certainty she finds in his wide open eyes, gazing into hers as oxygen fills his lungs. He smiles—his typical response to the most serious things in life—because he has everything he needs. The only sight that fills his eyes: her. The only thought that fills his mind: there is nothing more useless than a spy in love.

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