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John Carpenter's

 

ORIGINAL INHABITANTS

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 soon.

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 enjoying it.

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 Hoth."

"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 own eyes.

"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 Hoth?"

"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 the display.

"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 buzzing grumble.

"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 and ice.

"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 answered him.

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 anything."

"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 can...


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 readily?

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 duty."

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, that is."

"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 himself.


"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 said.

"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 complete anyway.

"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 cockpit.


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 way.

Silently, he slipped back and reconnected.

Options, he entered.

The computer replied at once.

Extermination of vermin is accomplished by opening ship to vaccuum./

Artoo considered...

The life forms have demonstrated shape shifting ability. Probability of vaccuum survival is 80%./ No other extermination programs exist./

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 probability 100%./

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.

Five minutes.

Artoo began his calculations.

Normalize the data stream to cockpit instrumentation, he told it. Ensure they do not notice abnormalities in engine function./

Done./

Now, initiate sublight overload. Begin./

Done./

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 officer.

"Get transports out there, find survivors and get this fleet organized!"


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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