by Steve Davis
The Millenium Falcon had been cruising the Unknown Sectors of the
far Outer Rim for almost a week. Using sketchy maps of the area made
by Old Republic survey teams nearly a thousand years ago, the ship and
its crew were on a mission of the greatest urgency; find a new home
for the Rebel Alliance.
After the destruction of the Death Star, the Empire's retribution had
been swift and savage. The Rebellion shattered like a clay pot, pieces
scattered across the Galaxy with Imperial forces in hot pursuit.
Fragmented so severely, the Alliance was as good as dead; it had
to have a central base to coordinate activity, and it had to have it
So an example had to be set. The Rebel's highest ranking officers were
personally leading the search for the new base... and were not
Leia and Luke sat with Threepio, watching Artoo's projection of an
ancient star chart. The common room of the Falcon glowed with the
hologram's light, and both of the humans' eyes were sore.
"There has to be one out here somewhere," Luke said wearily, rubbing
his eyes. "The whole sector can't be airless rocks!"
"I'm starting to wonder," Leia replied. "If anything did live out here
it would have died of loneliness ages ago."
"Well, that is what we need." Luke grinned. "We don't want
Imperial passenger liners cruising by our new base every week, do we?"
Leia returned the smile. "I get tired of being on the run all the
time." She dipped her head. "I wish I could just go back to Alderaan."
Luke said nothing. What words can console the loss of an entire world?
The awkward silence was interrupted by the Falcon's proximity alarm.
The two-toned "BEE-yoooo" indicated approaching gravitational fields,
and the ship would have to re-enter normal space soon.
"Comin' up on a new system!" Han Solo's voice echoed from the cockpit.
"What's the map say?"
Luke had Artoo magnify the area's coordinates.
"One system, one planet within human environment range. It's called
"Finally! Better strap in, we don't know what else we'll find in
there!" Solo yelled back.
No, Luke thought to himself. You never know what you'll run into...
Asteroids, as it turned out. Luke had wedged himself into the
cockpit behind Han and Chewbacca, anxious to see this system with his
"This place has the biggest asteroid field I've ever seen," Solo
mumbled. "No way any ship can hyperspace all the way in."
"That's good." Luke said. "If the Empire does find us here, we'll have
plenty of warning."
Solo turned and flashed his lopsided sarcastic grin. "Yeah, and we'll
have plenty of trouble getting out, too. vFences work both ways."
Luke shrugged. "We can't afford to be picky. What are the stats on
"Chewie, call up the scanner."
Chewie flicked a switch, and a small screen lit up.
"Gravitation one standard gee... atmosphere nitrogen-oxy mix, albedo
of one..covered in clouds, maybe?" Han looked closer... "Hah. No, it's
ice. Average temperature at the equator, -75 in the day time. A real
paradise, eh kid?"
"The poles won't be of any use to us then." Luke muttered, staring at
"Carbon Dioxide falls out as snow during the night. Hard to see how
anything can live here!" Han pointed further down the display.
"Something does, though. Old Rep teams found two lifeforms, Tauntauns
and Wampas, they named 'em. Not intelligent, at least. Looks like
we've hit the jackpot."
Luke reached out with the Force... no... If there was anything down
there smart enough to build a civilization, it was hiding itself well.
"No signs of power generation..." Solo added. Chewie emitted a long
"Right, pal. No Imperials, either. Let's take it down, then."
He scanned the planet surface with the practiced eye of a veteran
smuggler. "We'll land near the foothills of that mountain range near
the equator. Best chance of finding a cave system or something." Luke
nodded agreement. "Looks like we're home," he said.
The Falcon touched down gently, attitude thrusters throwing out
clouds of glittering ice crystals. The sharp disc of Hoth's sun was
circled by ghostly sundogs, the landscape a colourless mass of snow
"I always did like the tropics," Solo quipped. "Well, let's get to
work. I hope those thermalsuits can handle this place."
The Falcon's ramp lowered into the snow, allowing a bitter wind to
blow through the cabin. Luke, Leia, Han and even Chewie were bundled
into thick winter gear, equipped with electric heating elements. Dark
goggles and high traction boots completed the outfit.
"I never thought I'd be happier to be a droid," Threepio said. No one
Luke trudged through the crunchy snow, peering through
electrobinoculars for any signs of... well, of anything useful at all.
They had decided to form a search line with a quarter mile interval;
far enough apart to cover the terrain, close enough to bring quick
help in case of trouble. Threepio "manned" the ship's scanners while
Artoo squatted at the base of the ramp, looking around with his
infrared sensors. The featureless land seemed to suck a person's mind
out through his eyes, Luke felt. Still, he swept his binocs over a low
ridge about a half mile to his left. And froze.
"I see something!" he yelled. He zoomed the binocs up to their
maximum. By the Force... it was a PERSON! A man, dressed in a uniform
taken right out of a history holotape. "That can't be!" Luke breathed.
He lowered the binocs, blinked, and looked again. There was nothing.
"What is it, kid?" Solo panted, having run all the way. "I don't see
"I... uh... it must have been a hallucination. Couldn't be any people
here. We'd have sensed them."
"What are you talking about?"
Luke grimaced, hating to admit to being the first to fall victim to
the mesmerizing landscape. "I was sure I saw a man... dressed in
old-style uniform. Old Republic."
Solo stared at Luke in amused disbelief. "Kid, you need a vacation. If
you hafta see ghosts, they should at least be beautiful dancing girls
or..." he trailed off. "Or whatever the hell that is."
Up on the ridge, a figure was silhoutted by the white sky.
"I think it must be one of those Wampa things the Old Rep guys found."
Solo decided. Yeah, had to be.
His hand fell to his blaster. "They don't look friendly, do they?"
"Would you be, if you had been born here?" Luke stared at the
creature, which emitted an eerie, vibrant yowl, and vanished as
quickly as it appeared.
Solo shook his head. "Why can't it ever be easy?" he moaned. He'd be
saying that again sooner than he'd like.
The Wampa entered its tunnels through a hole hidden behind a large
ice overhang. It moved quickly, looking for others of its kind. The
search didn't take long; the warren was fairly crowded in spite of
having had no new additions for many years. The wampa shambled up to a
pair of smaller specimens, and growled. They turned to look. The wampa
had information to pass along, and it had a way of doing so that the
original wampa race would have enjoyed.
The creature's mouth opened to an impossible gape, until its head
split apart and the jaws fell to the sides. The entire hide fell off,
flapping like a landed fish, and the creature sprouted wire-thin
tentacles. Half formed faces came and went over its body. A deafening
cacophony of voices, growls, howls and sickening splatter filled the
air. Both of the smaller wampas imitated this grisly display, their
bodies coming together with the first wampa, until one huge shapeless
mass filled the tunnel. Long protuberances of flesh lanced into the
walls, and the floor boiled with living blood. And the message was
passed: We have company, and we need to welcome them as soon as we
Back at the Falcon, the heat was turned up to the maximum and the
four explorers huddled around the small galley, drinking hot cups of
stimfee. "Okay, so there's a few critters with claws." Solo said
casually. "We blast 'em, move into the caves."
"At least the tauntauns are friendly enough," Leia added. "Came right
up looking for handouts. Shame we don't know what they eat."
"They'll be useful for short range transportation," Luke mused, "at
least until we get the speeders adapted for the cold."
He didn't mention the human form he'd seen earlier. What would Obi Wan
have thought, he wondered, of a would-be Jedi who hallucinates so
Solo got up and stretched his cramped limbs. "Well, we should get some
rest. More work to do tomorrow. Threepio, Artoo... you're on guard
Threepio's golden head swung around. "Of course, Master Solo. We will
be only too glad to stand watch. As long as we get to stay inside,
"Oh sure. Wouldn't want a wampa to break a tooth on that metal hide of
yours." Should have left Goldenrod at home, he thought to
"Eh... 'xuse me, Master Luke," Threepio ventured cautiously,
nudging Luke's arm. "It's morning. And we have visitors."
Luke yawned mightily and sat up. Mornings were times when he was most
thankful for having talent with the Force; it gave a rush of badly
needed energy no food or drink could match.
"What kind of visitors?" he asked, reaching for his lightsaber.
"Tauntauns, sir." Threepio's voice grew timorous. "Do you think
they've come to eat us? I can ask them if you like. After all I am
proficient in over six million forms of..."
"No, I don't think they talk much. And we still don't know what they
eat." Luke interrupted Threepio's much-recited resume.
"But we don't want them tearing up the ship looking for goodies,
either. Wake the others and we'll see what we can do."
They all crowded into the cockpit, staring out of the now-frosted
transparisteel windows. About a dozen of the comical horned animals
were milling around the Falcon, trying to find a way in.
"I think we're the first unfamiliar thing they've ever seen," Leia
"Could be," Solo pointed at a pair standing away from the rest, "or
could be they can smell our tracks. Look at those two."
Luke moved back out of the cockpit. "Whatever they're doing, we need
to get on with it. We lose a dozen ships every hour, we can't waste
any more time on these things."
Leia nodded agreement, and Chewie growled. This was no vacation.
Luke approached the nearest Tauntaun, hand held open. Nestled in
the glove was a piece of emergency ration... tasteless and tough, but
the only thing expendable enough to waste on the creature. With
infinite caution, the bipedal creature inched forward, and gently took
the morsel from Luke's hand. It crunched, swallowed, and emitted a
warbling cry. The others moved in for their share, acting for all the
world like a friendy litter of wamprat pups.
Luke turned and smiled back at Han and Leia, who lowered their
blasters. "Looks like we've got some new pals!" Luke laughed.
The Tauntauns made life a great deal easier for the explorers.
Jury-rigged bridles allowed the Tauntauns to become transportation;
they seemed intelligent and eager to please. Luke keyed the
transmitter built into his thermalsuit. "Luke checking in, how's the
ride?" he asked.
"They smell," Solo complained. "But other than that..."
"Fine for me too," Leia replied. "I think I'll head back, there's
nothing over my way."
"Roger that. I thought I saw a cave entrance about half a klick away,
I'm gonna check it out first." Luke stared hard at the nearby rock
face, wondering if he'd seen anything at all...
"Be careful! Don't go in without backup!" Solo warned. "Could be
Wampas in there."
"I will. Luke out... okay, girl, let's get going..."
Luke dismounted the Tauntaun and climbed carefully through the
treacherous snow. Sure enough, a small opening in the rock had been
revealed by a snowslide. He reached for his lightsaber, and was just
about to take a careful look when his intuition caused him to stop. He
whipped around, saber snapping to life... and nearly dropped his
weapon. Where his tautaun had been minutes before, stood an apparition
straight from a glitterstim addict's worst nightmares.
Steam rose from the snow as fountains of blood gushed from a shapeless
mound of creeping flesh. The tauntaun skin lay on the snow snapping
like a flag in a hurricane, split and torn apart as if it were a
discarded costume. Small lines of gore still attached it to the main
mass, and it writhed and morphed from tauntaun skin to wampa to...
things unkown. Tendrils burst forth and whipped about crazily, while
the creature's torso formed and reabsorbed mouths and huge tooth-lined
maws. Shrieks, howls, and... voices... assaulted Luke's senses as
unmistakable human faces appeared, swirling, within the horror
standing before him. Luke's lips moved, but no words came. Then, he
snapped out of his horrified trance and swung his lightsaber in a
downward arc. Several mucous covered tentacles had been ejected by the
creature and had flown towards Luke's ankles almost with the speed of
thought. They flopped like worms, still trying to grasp him. He
vapourized them with his saber. The skin, stretching like rubber,
reached toward Luke. He swung the lightsaber, and slashed the skin in
half. The amputated flesh writhed with life of its own, crawling back
to its source, except for a small piece of skin that lay curled into a
pulsing ball at his feet; Luke stabbed down with the saber, and the
fragment shriveled into charred ash.
"What the hell is that thing?" Luke screamed. He remembered his
radio. "Falcon, anyone, come in! I've found-" He never finished the
sentence. From one of the disgusting mouths spewed a stream of greyish
liquid, which the saber's hot blade flashed into steam. A second maw
discharged another stream, and another, until Luke's defense was
overwhelmed. The grisly spray hit Luke right in the face. Instantly,
he dropped the lightsaber and he fought to wipe the sticky mess away.
He never felt the purple tendrils that tore through his thermalsuit;
he felt nothing but pain and ultimate horror. He screamed like a
damned soul, his body convulsing on the snow. His eyes grew out of his
face on long stalks, and his chest exploded in a shower of gore and
organs no longer human. Mercifully, Luke Skywalker was no longer
present in any form his friends would recognize.
Han, Chewie and Leia tethered their tauntauns a short distance
downwind of the Falcon; partly to protect the animals from the wind
but mostly to keep the stench away from the entrance ramp. "I wonder
what's keeping Luke?" Leia said, her voice heavy with concern. "He
should never have gone alone."
"I thought I caught part of a transmission, but it was full of
static." Solo strained his eyes at the horizon. "Give him a few
minutes, then we go looking."
"No, wait!" Leia exclaimed. "I see something..." Chewie roared his
agreement. Sure enough, it was Luke, astride his hopping tauntaun,
coming over a snowdrift.
"Hey, kid, you had us worried!" Solo shouted in relief.
"Why didn't you call in?" Leia scolded.
Luke said nothing, his face impassive as he reigned in his mount.
"Well??? You gonna just sit there and gawk?" Solo remarked, striding
toward his companion. Luke remained motionless.
"You hurt, kid?" Solo peered up at Luke, searching for signs. Luke
dismounted the tauntaun, and the creature glanced down at him. They
seemed to exchange unspoken words. This sort of thing made Solo's
teeth itch; he'd never understand all those Force tricks Luke kept
coming up with.
"No. I'm fine. We should get going." Luke said, voice oddly flat. Solo
climbed the ramp, and Luke followed close behind. Reaching the
hatchway, he passed Artoo. All at once, the droid released a frantic
series of beeps, honks and whistles. He seemed possessed, rocking back
and forth on his treads and pointing the bioscanner directly at Luke.
Solo looked back, annoyed. "What the hell?" he growled. "Usually it's
Threepio who does all the bitching."
Luke smiled wanly. "It's okay Artoo. It's just me."
But Artoo was not convinced. Not convinced at all.
The Millenium Falcon lifted from the frozen surface of Hoth with a
bone-jarring roar, climbing rapidly toward escape velocity, and the
minimum 6 planetary diameters needed to clear a hyperdrive jump. The
interior of the ship rattled and bounced as usual; by now the
passengers were used to it, even Threepio. But Luke seemed oddly
excited, almost like a kid in a sloop race.
Leia smiled. "You look like you won the Coruscant Galaxa Cup," she
remarked, trying to catch Luke's eye.
He grinned. "Just glad to find a home. Can't wait to get the rest out
here." He let loose a huge yawn. "I think I'll try to take a nap.
Threepio, will you go and prep my quarters? I didn't have time today."
"Oh, of course Master Luke. So glad to have you back safely." Threepio
cooed, and waddled off, servomotors whining.
Luke glanced around the main cabin; he and Leia were alone now.
Excellent. Gently, he reached up and touched Leia's cheek. Startled,
she flinched and gave a little yelp.
"What was that for?" she exclaimed.
"Just something I have to do," Luke answered. And he slipped his hand
over her face, covering mouth and nose both. Leia tried to recoil, the
cold and clammy feel of Luke's hand distinctly unpleasant. She opened
her mouth to draw breath for a loud protest, and felt... felt what had
to lips in the palm of Luke's hand! She gasped, and a sickening
mass of viscous fluild poured down her throat and into her sinuses. "MMMMMFffff..."
she forced out.
No good. A tearing pain spread throughout her entire body, and her
eyes rolled back into her head. Threepio returned to the main cabin
just in time to witness this. Leia's body looked as if small animals
were running laps underneath her clothes; limbs swelled and shrank,
and her head rolled around wildly.
"Goodness gracious me!" he yipped. "What is wrong with the Princess?
She looks absolutely terrible!"
Luke removed his hand from Leia's face. The process was nearly
"Nothing you need to worry about," he told Threepio, snapping the
lightsaber into humming life.
"Sir, if you are unhappy with my work I can..." the doomed droid
began, but Luke swept the lightsaber in a series of well-practiced
swings, ending with a vertical slash that left C3P0 a mess of sparking
wreckage. The droid's eyescockets faded out, and Luke impassively
kicked the pieces into the nearest storage locker. He knew there'd be
no one to find them.
He exchanged glances with Leia, and together they moved toward the
Artoo had hidden himself in a side passage just outside the engine
room entrance. From here, using his remote sensors, he watched the
entire episode with horror and dismay. He would sooner have been
melted down than admit to feeling any affection for Threepio, but the
simple fact was that they were like brothers. Squabbling, forever
arguing, and inseparable. And now Threepio was irreparable junk.
Worse, Artoo's sensors didn't all work in the visible light spectrum.
Radar, infra red and others had seen the true natures of both Luke and
then Leia. He watched the Princess' innards transform into something
entirely inhuman- he had tried to warn everyone! And now with
Threepio gone there was no one to translate. Sudden shrieks and
wall-rattling howls that could only have been Chewbacca's emanated
from the cockpit passageway. Artoo's domed head snapped around, and he
knew there was nothing he could do. Not right now...
The cockpit was spattered with blood, both dead and... otherwise.
The LeiaThing lay on the floor, torn in half by Chewie's last shreds
of resistance. Not a problem. Tubes, tentacles and flowing flesh
reconnected the two pieces and she was on her feet in a matter of
minutes. LukeThing had a blaster burn on his chest; that would not
heal so quickly. If not for the added mass of Chewie, used to replace
the charred flesh, it may have been dangerous. Sitting in the crew
seats, the bodies of Han Solo and Chewbacca jumped, convulsed and
twisted as they assimilated. They were only a short run from the Home
Fleet, and from galactic freedom.
Artoo extended manipulator arms, taking wires from the power
couplings and spreading them carefully across the deck. He sprayed
them with matching paint, and retreated into the engine room. His
defenses thus complete, he located the datajack for the ship's
computer, and plugged himself in.
Ship's Computer. State requirements./
Complete life scan of crew compartment/, Artoo sent back.
Scan shows 4 life forms. Not human. Unknown./ The life forms are
very contagious. Dangerous. Must not reach inhabited space./
A loud crackling accompanied by a stereophonic shriek interrupted
Artoo's conversation. He crept forward, extended a camera...
The NotLuke lay crumpled on the deck, smoking and charred. Not dead,
just injured. Artoo's electric wires had caught him! He fervently
hoped this would deter the NotLeia and NotSolo from coming the same
Silently, he slipped back and reconnected.
Options, he entered.
The computer replied at once.
Extermination of vermin is accomplished by opening ship to vaccuum./
The life forms have demonstrated shape shifting ability.
Probability of vaccuum survival is 80%./ No other extermination
Option. Ram planet./ Artoo gave an electronic gulp at the
thought of that.
Possible survival of sufficient elements to resume contagion,
the computer pointed out.
Also, manual override for controls has been enacted in cockpit. I
may not alter flight plan./
Request: best option for 100% extermination./ Artoo entered.
Fly into star. Artoo consulted his navicomputer programs.
Invalid. he replied. No star within range. Lifeforms must
not deduce our intent. Plus, manual override prevents.
Option, the computer replied. Sublight engine overload.
Estimated output fusion explosion 10 megatons. Extermination
Artoo emitted the electronic equivalent of "Well, Duh!"
How long until return to normal space?/ he queried.
4 minutes 27 seconds. Our flight plan shows us returning to Home
One hangar bay in 6 minutes 56 seconds./
Artoo considered. How long from overload initiation to detonation?/
asked the droid.
Artoo began his calculations.
Normalize the data stream to cockpit instrumentation, he told
it. Ensure they do not notice abnormalities in engine function./
Now, initiate sublight overload. Begin./
Artoo slipped away from the datajack and peered down the passageway. A
noticeable change in the ship's hum told him they had left hyperspace.
In the cockpit, he could hear NotSolo speaking. "Home One, this is
Millenium Falcon returning from scout mission. Please clear main
hangar and prepare for download."
Barely audible, the reply... "Welcome home, Falcon. Hangar bay
cleared, and you may fire when ready."
NotSolo sent the coordinates for the Hoth system to Home One and any
other ships that wanted it.
The Falcon slowed and rolled to orient itself on the brilliant
rectangle ahead. The two Things liked the look of the ship; it
resembled nothing so much as a badly cancerous pickle, mottled green
and covered with random bumps and lumps. Memories dredged up from Solo
showed the enemies of this ship; clean, geometric lines, very large.
Very numerous. SoloThing had a very good feeling about all this! A
minor tremor as the tractor beams took hold of the ship, and drew it
into the bay. The Falcon's landing gear extended, and the ship settled
to the deck.
Artoo consulted his internal clock. 9 seconds to detonation.
SoloThing cocked his head as he killed the engines. "This isn't
right," he said, noticing the building hum and vibration in the
bulkheads. "Gauges show engines are..."
He never finished the sentence. Artoo's last thoughts were regret;
regret that he had never had a proper voicebox installed.
Home One vanished in a blinding ball of light, in less than a
hundredth of a second. All nearby ships glowed, throwing off brief but
colourful comet tails of plasma before they also flashed into vapour.
Corvettes, frigates, transports, X and Y wing fighters, all vanished
in an instant of sunfire.
Out near the edges of the Fleet, the MC30 medium cruiser "Diver" went
blind. One whole side of the ship blazed with light and heat, sensors
overloading and gun emplacements melting. The particle shielding
stayed up, thankfully, or the sleet of hard radiation would have fried
the entire crew. In a matter of seconds, it was over.
Captain Ullah gaped at the blackened viewports surrounding the
battlebridge. "What the HELL was THAT?" he muttered in disbelief.
"Sublight overload, sir." Engineering replied in clipped tones. "It
happens to, uh... modified... ships, sometimes..."
"By the Maker. Half the fleet is gone!" He turned sharply to his first
"Get transports out there, find survivors and get this fleet
It took most of a day. Some survivors, disheartened by the sudden
loss of the Rebellion's top political and military leadership, skulked
away. Others, angered by the hand Fate had dealt them, were determined
to rebuild. Captain Ullah, now in charge of the diminished fleet, was
one of them. He stood at the con, nodded for Communications to open
links to all ships.
"Survivors, this is Captain Ullah of the Diver. We are not defeated
yet. We have the Falcon's last transmission, and it is a badly needed
piece of good news. They found us a home. People, we do not know how
this disaster happened. But we can start again. We will
rebuild, and thanks to Captain Solo, Princess Leia, and Commander
Skywalker, we now have a place to do it. Now, on my mark, jump into
Hyperspace for Hoth, and for the future!"
The ships oriented themselves in the proper direction. "Now!"
Ullah yelled, and the Rebellion leapt out of sight.
None of them would ever know of the sacrifice made by a little droid
named R2D2. No one would ever realize the infinitely greater horror
they had been spared, certainly none of them would know how the Falcon
met its fate. But there were a great many teachers on Hoth, very eager
to explain to them in very clear terms what their plans were.
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