[Onboard the civilian transport Fard's Folly, leaving Alderaan for Briggia with a group of prospective Alderaanean students of the University of Briggia on board. Several years ago.]
All was ready for liftoff. Lewis Gregory sat strapped into the copilot's seat of Fard's Folly, Briggian registry number KX-656, helping its owner and pilot, University of Briggia Visiting Professor Fard Telleran, run down the last few checks before takeoff.
As they completed the checklist, Fard chuckled. "You know your way around a cockpit pretty well, son," he smiled. "Simulator time?"
"Yes sir," Lewis replied. "Quite a bit, in starfighters too."
"Well, she's no starfighter, but she's a darn fine spaceship, and a sturdy one too. Hang on now, here we go."
The old transport's engines wound up with an edgy whine. The repulsors pushed them upward and began the trajectory that would carry the decidedly un-aerodynamic transport and its excited cargo of one professor, eleven students, and all their possessions, onward to their future on Briggia.
In a few minutes they were out of the atmosphere and cleared out of orbit by Planetary Control. Fard rolled the transport over to the right to bring the planet up in the windows on the starboard side. "Take a good look, ladies and gentlemen," he said over the intercom. "There is your home." There was much excited chatter; for many onboard, it was their first space flight.
Not for Lewis, though. His father had been in the Imperial Navy when he met his future wife, married her, and had their only son. He had been a TIE Bomber pilot. Because of frequent changes of bases, Helena and the young Lewis had moved seven times in four years; sometimes it seemed to Lewis as if he spent half his early childhood on some freighter or other, slowly moving to yet another Force-forsaken Imperial garrison.
His father had grown disillusioned at the start of the New Order of Emperor Palpatine, and had mustered out of the Navy with a tidy sum. He and his family moved to Alderaan, where they were shocked at the hatred the people there felt for the Empire and its minions. He briefly served with the Alderaan Sector Defense Militia, but his Imperial connections had proved too much for many to bear as Alderaan's opposition to the New Order had grown, and he was forced to resign. Things grew so bad that they had been forced to move far out into the country, to their foothill homestead. Only there had they been safe from the taunts, insults, and vandalism.
Even there, Lewis found that he had to constantly defend himself due to his father's chosen vocation. As a result of that--and of the hard labor he had to do around the country home--he had grown up powerfully built. Skills in the fighting arts were a must to counter the bullies and those who would insult his family name; after a few years, he got so good at it that the other kids left him alone, and so big--190 cm and well over 120 kilos--that his new disparaging nickname was the "hairless Wookiee." The isolation left him socially backward and introverted, happy only when he was absorbed in tales of battles among the stars...
Fard snapped him out of his reverie. "Make yourself useful, Lewis, check our course to the jump point. Something's not right."
Lewis looked down at the readouts. "Sure, it's right, sir. At least, the nav computer says it's right. We're right on course, four minutes to jump."
Fard shook his head. "Well, then the computer's wrong, because there's the moon right there, so we're at least ninety degrees off. Try recalculating."
Lewis looked up...sure enough, that was the moon in front of them. *But no, it shouldn't be there*, he thought, and looked to his right.
"Professor, something's not right all right...the moon's over there," and Lewis pointed out the starboard cockpit window...to where Alderaan's moon shone brightly, just over the planetary horizon.
For a few seconds, there was silence in the cockpit as the two men tried to reason out this strange occurrence, then the silence was broken by a whining scream that echoed down the transport from front to back. "What the..." was all Fard had time to say, as he yanked the transport's controls hard to avoid colliding with something that flashed by the forward viewport, again with that odd metallic whine.
Lewis sat stunned. "It can't be...that had to be a TIE. I'd know that sound anywhere from my dad's days in the Navy."
Fard shook his head, and spoke almost as if he was trying to convince himself, as much as his passenger. "Impossible. No TIE can hyperspace, and there's none stationed in-system. It must've been an asteroid?"
"Two of them?", Lewis asked. "And with ion engine noise?"
Again, more silence in the cockpit. Then Fard looked to his left, and gasped sharply. "Y...you're right," he stammered. "TIE Bombers, and Fighters. Several of them, b..b..beside us."
But Lewis wasn't looking at the TIEs. He was looking at the moon in front of them. "Professor," he said slowly, "since when do moons have perfectly smooth surfaces, except for one large circular crater? And since when do they have metallic light reflections?"
Fard tore his eyes off the Imperial fighters and looked at the object...and what little color was left drained from his face. "Th...th...it's impossible. Nothing that big can be man-made."
All of a sudden, the comm crackled, then a voice boomed forth: "Attention transport craft, attention transport craft. Heave to and prepare to be boarded immediately. Failure to comply will result in the destruction of your craft. Acknowledge at once."
Fard sat frozen like a statue for several seconds, then by sheer force of will, pressed the transmit button. "Th...this is Briggian transport Fard's Folly, r-r-registry number K-Kilo X-ray six f-five six, carrying students..."
The voice overrode his transmission. "I'm not interested in what you say your name is or what you have onboard. You have thirty seconds to stop your craft or you will be disabled and boarded. We can do this easy or we can do this in a more difficult manner--your choice."
Lewis looked to the right, and saw new craft--two shiny new Imperial Transports, one almost certainly fitted with ion cannons--close aboard to starboard. "They're not kidding, Professor," he said, "it must be a customs check. Let them search, what's the problem?"
Fard's eyes were wild and he was sweating profusely. "You don't understand, son...you don't understand what they'll do...we're doomed, they're all doomed..."
Lewis stared uncomprehendingly as this learned, eloquent man melted into a sobbing fool before his eyes. From the comm, the impersonal voice crackled, "You've got ten seconds." To the right, the cannon-armed transport had slipped out of sight. A quick toggle of the rear-mounted video display confirmed that it had taken a position seventy meters astern of Fard's Folly, in perfect line to either disable the transport with ion cannons...or use its twin lasers, or any missiles it might be carrying, to blow the unshielded craft apart.
Lewis had no choice, so he thought. He grabbed the throttle and slammed it down to idle, bringing the transport to a jolting halt.
Fard looked at him with the eyes of a madman. "What are you doing? Don't you realize they're going to kill us all??"
"Professor, calm down," Lewis replied, raising an eyebrow. "You don't have some 'Coruscant special' stashed on here or something, do you?"
Fard would issue no more coherent replies; he broke down into great, heaving sobs. From the comm, the voice crackled again: "That's more like it. Now unlock your universal and prepare to be boarded. As long as there's no funny business, everything will be just fine."
With Fard incapacitated, Lewis threw the switches to free up the transport's universal docking clamp, then idled and locked the transport's controls, climbed out of the seat, and headed back to the passenger area. Only now did the other teenagers seem to notice that something was wrong.
"Hey," a dusky-skinned fellow asked, "why're we stopping?"
"Imperial customs patrol, I think," Lewis replied. "Professor Telleran is acting real weird...I sure hope he doesn't have any joydrugs stashed on here..."
The door to the airlock hissed open, and even the knowledge that there were Imperials coming to board the spacecraft prepared the teenagers for the sight that greeted them. Two stormtroopers in full battle armor, armed with blaster rifles, stepped out and flanked either side of the airlock, rifles ready. Behind them strode a tall man in the brown uniform of an Imperial officer, and then came four more troopers that moved into various positions around the cabin and the door leading to the cockpit. Lewis recognized the brown-uniformed man, obviously the one in charge, as an Imperial commando.
The commando--a Lieutenant, Lewis guessed by the rank insignia--looked around somewhat disdainfully before his eyes settled on Lewis, who was the only one standing. "You the pilot?" he asked.
"No sir, the pilot and owner is in the cockpit. Sir, what's this about, we're just..."
The commando cut him off. "Save it, kid," he snarled. He motioned two of the troopers forward into the cockpit, turned to the rest of the group, and said, "Sorry, kids, your travel plans have temporarily been changed. Get through the airlock and into the transport. MOVE!"
There was real fear on all of the teenagers' faces as they began moving toward the Imperial transport, prodded along by the rifles of two of the troopers. Lewis was at the end of the line, so he saw the two troopers dragging Professor Telleran back from the cockpit; he was alternately sobbing and ranting, too frantic to walk or to do more than vainly struggle against the iron grip of the troopers.
The commando checked a datapad, looked at Fard, and nodded. "Known Rebel sympathizer, what luck. You know what to do."
Lewis was aghast. "Rebel sympathizer? He's just a professor..."
The commando's blaster pistol was against Lewis' throat in a flash. "Listen, you fool," he hissed, "you're damned lucky we don't off the lot of you for being with this scum. But this is your lucky day, boy...it turns out that we could use some new janitorial help back at the garrison..." He looked at the last girl, a pretty redhead, as she was herded through the airlock. "...and other kinds of help, too. Now, I strongly suggest you haul yourself through that airlock, or..."
The commando turned to Fard, who was being held with his arms spread-eagled by the troopers. With one fluid motion, he moved the pistol from Lewis' throat, aimed, and fired at Fard. One shot pierced his forehead, the troopers dumped him to the deck, and there he lay, twitching slightly.
The commando returned the pistol, with the exact reverse fluid motion, to Lewis' throat. "...or you're next."
With a last glance backward at Fard's body, Lewis was herded through the airlock, and away from all that he knew toward an uncertain future. He heard the commando behind him say "Do a quick search and get out, we've got about six minutes to clear the area or we're going to be toasty critters, so get a move on."
Five minutes later, the troopers' transport jarred free from Fard's Folly and accelerated quickly away. About a minute later, the transport stopped and spun around.
The commando, who seemed to be taking a perverse pleasure in the fright of his eleven teenage passengers, especially the females--turned to the group and smiled. "If you would, young ones, please turn your attention to the screen at the front of the cabin. You are now about to see what happens to those who would oppose the Emperor and his New Order."
An image of Alderaan, spinning peacefully in orbit, appeared on the holoscreen. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, except that in the background, Lewis could hear a countdown..."five...four...three...
Nothing seemed to happen for a few seconds...but then, the screen dimmed as a green beam of blinding intensity lanced in from the left and struck the planet.
"NO!", one boy screamed as he lunged at the screen, as if by grabbing the image of Alderaan he could somehow stop what might be happening. His action was greeted by a blaster butt to the face from one of the troopers, and he fell back to the deck bleeding and moaning.
Suddenly the screen flashed blinding white, and cut out. Simultaneously Lewis saw a white glow from the open cockpit hatch of the transport and heard one of the pilots yell "By the power of the Force, what did they do??"
The screen began to recover from the flash...and all it showed was a slowly-expanding fireball where Alderaan used to be.
The teenagers all immediately began screaming and crying, all except for Lewis. He sat transfixed, watching the planet that had been his home for ten years...its mountains, lakes, hills, plains, all that he had grown to know and love, his father, his mother, and all his ideas and illusions...vaporize in front of him.
"Brace for shockwave, five seconds!", yelled a voice from the cockpit.
His time estimation was wrong, it was more like three seconds. The transport was tossed about like a leaf on a raging sea, and during the second, or maybe the third shock, Lewis wasn't sure, he struck his head on one of the trooper benches, and thus mercifully lapsed into unconsciousness.
Voices, somewhere in a dark fog of pain and sedation...
"...owe me big-time, Lieutenant. Do you have any idea the fast talking I had to do to get these kids smuggled onboard as cargo without anyone noticing? And there were only ten...I thought you said there were eleven?"
"One boy got frisky on the transport. We couldn't take him to the sickbay without blowing the cover of the others, so we had to...uh...handle him separately. Damn shame, really, he would've brought a thousand credits easy; he looked like mineworker material. I tell you, getting pulled off on Death Star duty and being on that crate was a stroke of luck. The Force was sure smiling on me when I ran into that ship full of fresh meat."
"Anyway, like I said, you owe me for getting them on here. It ain't easy sneaking those crates on a Malkan-bound freighter."
"Oh, give me a frelking break. Malkan's a hellhole, nothing and nobody ever goes there except essential supplies, nobody cares about it. You could take a corvette apart and ship it there in pieces and nobody would notice. But, you do deserve something...tell you what. Money is traceable. How about I give you one of the six girls? You know, a little personal entertainment for a while? You can keep her or sell her, I don't care. I've got just the one for you, too."
"Sure, she's probably a hundred kilos with a face like an assassin droid."
"Would I do that to you? These are university students, Ban. They're all young, healthy, good shape, and all the female ones are pretty. A nice, thin, pale-skinned blonde. Yes sir, that's the one for you."
"Don't I get to pick, sir?"
"Don't get greedy. You'll take what I give you and be glad for it."
"All right, all right. What about the others? You setting up a harem or something when you get back to your garrison?"
"Nah. One girl goes to my Captain, for fixing the report on the transport that got damaged by the shockwave. The rest of them go to the market block on Malkan, where they'll probably get me at least 10,000 credits for the lot...except two. There's one particularly attractive girl I'm keeping for my own, and the one big stupid one I almost had to shoot. He'll come in handy as a moose boy for the platoon."
"Heh...so does the Empire approve of their junior officers engaging in the slave trade?"
"Ban, my old friend, what they don't know can't hurt me. Besides, these kids were caught in the vicinity of a Rebel sympathizer, trying to flee the planet before it was destroyed. I had every right to just blow them away right there; instead, I'm giving them their lives. And their lives are giving me lots of credits. Seems like a fair trade, don't you think?"
And the voices--amid laughter--dissolved back into the blackness...
The blackness was broken again, this time by a piercing light that cut right through Lewis' eyelids. Before he could hardly move, a boot lashed out and kicked him in the hip, and the Lieutenant's gruff voice barked, "Sit up, moose-boy!"
Lewis did as he was told, slowly and painfully. The effects of the battering he took when the shockwave hit the transport hadn't quite faded, and he was sore all over, particularly in the back and sides of his head. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he looked around as best he could. He was in an interior room, more like a cell really. There was a toilet/fresher unit, the cot he was sitting on, and not much else. As he glanced around, he felt the bed move; looking around, he saw the blurred form of the red-haired girl from the transport--Lasa, he believed her name was--sitting on the edge of the bed. As his eyes regained their focus, he saw that she was wearing an ill-fitting Imperial uniform shirt and nothing else; she had been crying, and her lower lip was swollen and slightly bleeding. Judging from the faraway, wounded look in her eyes, it wasn't hard to figure what had happened.
A rough hand grabbed Lewis' face and yanked it back to the front, and upward to face the Lieutenant. "No staring at my property, moose-boy," he hissed, "especially not when you're on my time. And from now on, you're on my time all the time."
The Lieutenant released Lewis' face and gestured to the cell. "Welcome to your world, boy. Or should I say, 'moose-boy'. Because that's your name from now on. I don't know what your name was, and frankly, I don't care. Because from this day forward, you're not the Empire's, you're not the Rebels', and you're not your mama's. You're mine, moose-boy."
He started pacing around the tiny cell. "From now on, you will be let out each day to be what we call a 'moose boy'; you'll clean up, you'll move stuff, you'll do whatever we tell you to do. Every trooper in this garrison, right down to the newest plebe, can do anything they want to you short of kill you, as long as they leave enough of you to finish what I've told you to do. You will not speak unless spoken to. You will not strike back when you're hit. You will eat and sleep when we tell you to, and not before. And in case you get any bright ideas about running off, forget it. Because if one of you runs off, we'll find you, and we'll bring you back here. And then you get to watch the other one die. Reeeeal slowly." He leaned down close. "Are we clear, moose-boy?"
Lewis said nothing; he just glared at his tormentor.
"I said, are we clear, moose-boy? You can speak, can't you?"
Lewis croaked, "My name is not 'moose-boy'. My name is..."
He never got it out. The Lieutenant backhanded him as hard as he could, hard enough to send him flying into Lasa and send the both of them tumbling off the bed. Then the Lieutenant reached down and, with difficulty, hauled the stunned Lewis to his feet.
"I don't think you quite understand the situation, moose-boy," he hissed. "Mommy and Daddy ain't here to save you. I could blow your head off right now and nobody would care except the people that have to clean this room up. You have no options, boy. Either you both play by my rules, or life is going to be very hard and very short for the both of you. Now, do we have an understanding, moosie?"
"Y...yes," the newly-christened Moose croaked through swelling and bleeding lips.
"Good," the Lieutenant said, a truly evil smile coming across his face. "Now you stay right here like a good little moose while I take my prize back to her room, and then we're going to go meet your new friends in my platoon..."