Chapter 7: Getting Some Bearings

Chewbacca walked into the cockpit to see Han sat in the pilot's seat, busying himself with a datapad. He sat down in the copilot chair, looking over their flight path. After a few moments, he spoke. (("Got the galaxy map up and running."))

Han grunted, swiping at something on the datapad for a few moments. Then he said "Guess that means they'll have a destination for us soon enough."

(("Guess so.")) He eyed the human out of the corner of his eye. He growled, in a would-be casual tone, (("You know, if they really are from a Core world, it's going to be a while before we can drop them off."))

Han's eyes flicked over to him briefly before returning to the datapad. "Probably." He set the datapad down on the chair behind him. "You convinced about them being from a Core world, then?"

(("You're not?"))

Han frowned, resting his elbow on his chair, soon followed by resting his head on his hand. "That story about them on a train...you buy it?"

Chewie shrugged. (("I don't see why not."))

The man's frown deepened. "What place even uses hovertrains for public transport? Especially if we're talking about a Core world. Most hovertrains are cargo haulers, with droid brains slapped onto the engine car to clip every credit possible. But a train for a school?"

(("What about Chandrila?"))

Han opened his mouth, then closed it and adopted a thoughtful expression. "Hmm." He drummed his unoccupied hand against his other armrest. "A Core agriworld...not much in the way of ship travel...a natural ability to be a pain in the backside...you might be onto something there." He tilted his head. "But then what dragged them all the way to Tatooine?"

(("You could ask them."))

He snorted. "Because they're so generous with stories about themselves." He busied himself with the datapad for a few moments before setting it down. Chewie was staring right at him. "What? What's with the look?" His first mate didn't respond, but he didn't seem to be reassured. "...Don't give me that look. What, you want to get wrinkles or something?"

(("Han."))

The man threw up his hands. "Fine, fine! We'll have a day or two to relax at our next stop, so I'll ask 'em then. Don't blame me when they get all grouchy and quiet..." He tapped a few buttons on the datapad. "...You're still giving me the look, stop that."

Chewie rolled his eyes, examining the systems at the copilot station. (("I looked over our supplies; we should be fine waiting until we drop off our package at Klatooine before we restock. Anything lined up for afterward?"))

"Tekles said we need to lay low for a month or two; that's too long for a vacation and too short for a really big job. Leaves us time for three or four runs; three if we want to get some training in for our crew, four if we're stockpiling credits."

(("They need as much training as we can give them. Is there any possibility of picking up more work while we're on Sakiya?"))

Han shook his head. "Sorry, Chewie, as long as we've got that 'investment' onboard, we're on a strict schedule. Thirty-six hours planetside, forty-eight if we really push it, then we blast off and meet our contact once we're in orbit around Klatooine. Leaves us enough time to bet on a few races and get some target practice, but that's about it."

(("Training the crew for when deals go bad?"))

"Partly." Han frowned. "There's something about them I can't put my finger on." He looked over at Chewbacca. "Look, Chewie...I need to ask you a favor."

The Wookiee copilot sighed. (("I won't like this favor, will I?"))


The vortex of hyperspace melted into stars, and a verdant world zoomed into view. Harry grinned at the spectacle. "Sakiya." He adjusted slightly in his seat and felt the blaster at his side shift as he did. Han had insisted he get in the habit of wearing it, though he'd also, somewhat confusingly, said that he wasn't expecting trouble on the planet.

"The one and only," said Han as he adjusted several levers and flipped a few switches. "Now remember, stick close to Chewie and me. The locals aren't really a cheery bunch; they're proud and they wouldn't know a joke if it gave 'em a good kick in the-"

Chewie growled.

"…Anyway, this probably isn't the best place to try making friends. We've got a contact on the surface that we'll be delivering to; we'll take some time to rest, and then we've got one last package to drop off."

"Hopefully not such a big one this time," Ron said, watching the buttons and dials that Han was interacting with.

Han gave a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Oh, it's not big at all. But I'd rather get on the bad side of every local on the planet than having something happen to that package."

And with that ominous note, they began their descent.

Much like the first planet they'd landed on, this time there was no reporting to anyone that they were arriving. In fact, if Han's tenseness was anything to judge by, they were doing whatever they could to be unnoticed by those that might be watching the skies. The ship dipped down, towards what appeared to be a massive forest. Han kept looking at a series of numbers, making small adjustments to their angle as he did. Harry was about to protest that they were about to land on top of a section of trees not far from the edge of the forest, but to his shock, a patch of the forest shimmered a bright blue colour before vanishing, revealing a clearing large enough for their ship to land in. The ship settled itself into the clearing; as it did, Harry saw three blue beams of light shoot up past them, and suddenly the gap in the trees above them seemed to become solid once more.

"That's amazing," breathed Neville.

"Isn't it, though?" Han said, going through their landing procedure. "That holoprojector array probably costs about the same as the Falcon. C'mon, let's go."

As they exited the ship, they saw a small house at the edge of the clearing, next to a structure that might have been a shed or garage. Perhaps it was Harry's imagination, but both buildings seemed rather more…squat than they ought to have done. The lights were on inside (though the windows seemed practically miniscule), and there was even smoke coming out of the chimney. They moved the crates, which were once again levitating; Harry and Neville on one, Ron and Luna on the second, and Hermione and Chewbacca on the last. Han was at the front, leading them towards the house. Harry could hear the sounds of insects all around them, or at least he assumed they were insects; he couldn't quite place the species of any of them.

Soon, they reached the front door, which was only about four feet tall. Han knocked on it three times, then paused, then knocked on it four more times. A few seconds passed before the door swung inward, and out stepped…a tiny little creature, wearing what looked like fatigues. It couldn't have been three full feet tall, and looked reptilian in nature. Its skin was a pale blue color, and it seemed rather old, judging by its lined face. Its mouth split in a wide smile, and Harry saw that of its remaining teeth, small as they were, most of them seemed quite sharp. "Well, well, our delivery has arrived," the creature croaked. "Right on time; good, good." It turned back into the house. "Marn! Tell the kids to stop napping and get down here!" That done, it turned back to them and peered at the cages. "I sure hope you've been taking good care of those creatures, young man."

Han smiled. "Our animal expert's been singing them to sleep every night. They've been pampered so much you might need to start catering for them."

The creature let out a wheezy laugh that sounded almost like a lizard's hissing. "Well, now! Glad to know there's someone who can respect those elegant insects." There was a rumbling behind the creature. "Ah, our sleepyheads have finally arrived."

Three more lizardlike creatures, even tinier than the first, scampered past him, jumping up and down near the hovering cages. They were all chattering so fast that even though they were speaking English (or Harry heard it as such), it was hard to understand them.

Neville kept looking between the older alien and the younger ones, and Ron looked like his mouth was about to drop open. But Hermione seemed rather intrigued by this new species, and Luna was practically beaming.

"Okay, okay! Step back, little ones," ordered the elder creature. "Let the nice humans actually open those cases."

The younger individuals obeyed, though reluctantly, and soon the dragonfly-like creatures had been revealed. Each was helped gently from its floating transport case and into a small apparatus that looked somewhat similar to a horse's bridle.

Harry's thoughts were brought to a halt as he realized that. "Wait…you're going to ride them?"

The older creature chuckled. "Well, of course we are! What did you think we were doing, opening a zoo?"

With all the harnesses in place, the little creatures climbed over onto the insects' backs. To Harry's amazement, the insects began to flap their wings, rapidly rising off the ground.

"They missed flying," said Luna absently. "Feeling the wind across them and seeing the sky above."

Harry barely had any time to register this before the insects took off into the forest, the lizard children giggling madly as they did. "Hey, be careful-!"

"Oh, they'll be fine, young man," assured the old creature. "Not to worry. Now, then, I believe I owe you…?" he asked, holding out a handful of those strange cards.

"Much appreciated," said Han, taking them with a smile. "And you heard about-"

The wizened creature nodded. "The children will be delighted to have some company. I suspect you've got some interesting stories to tell; your young ones look like they've never met an Aleena before."

"They're a bit sheltered, yeah." Han turned to them. "This is Drac Synn. He served in the Clone Wars."

Drac waved him off. "Oh, never mind about that, I'm retired. Come in, make yourselves at home!"

Many times, Harry had encountered vehicles and buildings in the wizarding world whose interiors had been several times bigger than their interiors. This home was…not at all like them. If anything, the inside of the house was even more limited than the outside would suggest; with all of them inside, they'd practically be shoulder-to-shoulder. And yet, strangely, it was no less warm and inviting than the Burrow back home. There were several slightly squashy poufs all gathered around a cozy fire, upon which a massive stewpot bubbled with something that made Harry's nose tingle, with a small kitchen area so close that they both shared the same wooden floor. The table was a small yet exquisitely carved and varnished oak; or as close as there was to oak in this galaxy, at any rate. A stairwell had steps leading both up and down, and all over the home there seemed to be souvenirs of all sorts. Some of these souvenirs seemed rather simple, like coloured rocks or decorative hats; others, however, looked like they might be one-of-a-kind, like a necklace woven from crystal, or an oil painting of a family in front of a building that looked as if it could have fit the whole of Hogwarts nine times over (the family in the painting, naturally, was the family whose home they'd been invited into).

"It's not much," said Drac, following them inside. "But it's ours." He smiled as he saw where Harry's gaze was directed. "Oh, I could talk your ear off about all those. Probably will, once we've had some dinner."

Luna beamed, and Hermione looked eager to learn all the stories that she could. Harry fidgeted, feeling uncomfortable. "We…I mean, I couldn't…we shouldn't impose…"

Ron's stomach growled loudly, followed not long after by Neville's. Both had the good grace to look embarrassed.

Drac chuckled. "I insist! Not often we get visitors, and the children have been begging to make new friends. Come, have a seat!"

As Harry had predicted, dinner was a very cramped affair, though not quite the tight fit he'd thought. Han and Chewie were eating outside; the door's frame wasn't quite able to accommodate the Wookiee's much taller stature, and Han said that he "had a few things to go over" anyway. Thus, there was at least some room to maneuver, even with the little Aleena children scampering around. Their names were Vith, Klik, and Keth, though they barely sat still long enough to be introduced before they were off again.

The meal was a rich meat and vegetable stew that made Harry's mouth water; made his eyes water, as well, with how incredibly spicy it was. Even so, he was so delighted to taste real food after so long on ration packs that he almost burned his mouth by eating too quickly. He wasn't alone, either; Neville and Ron both looked as if they couldn't get enough of their food even as they started sniffling. Marn and Drac didn't seem to mind, though. On the contrary, they seemed to take it as a great compliment that everyone ate so heartily.

As they ate, the family regaled Harry and the others with stories of the planets they'd been to; a planet practically covered in cityscape, another that had all of three towns between the desert environment, a crystal world right on the edge of the galaxy…Harry's mind was whirling at all the different places that existed. He felt a thrill of second-hand excitement as Drac told stories of just how close he'd come to death during his time in the Clone Wars; if only this had been more what History of Magic was like, he'd have been able to stay awake with little effort.

His stomach twinged slightly at the thought. It had been several days now since their arrival on the desert world, and they'd been so many places since; Hogwarts seemed so much further away, being amongst unfamiliar stars as they were. Were classes continuing as they had done for years? What about Umbridge? The last time they'd seen her she was being dragged away by centaurs. What about Hagrid, and McGonagall, and Sirius, and…

"Harry? Are you all right?"

Harry started. Hermione was looking at him in worry, and Neville was moving his way over. "I…what?" he said stupidly. "H-Hey!" Harry protested as Neville placed a hand to his forehead.

"You're looking a bit pale, mate," said Ron, frowning.

"He's not got a fever," Neville said quietly.

"I'm fine," he insisted. "I just…sort of got lost a bit, that's all."

"Bad memories?" asked Drac, looking at Harry. His smile was just as kind as before, but there was something in his eyes that seemed so very tired…and familiar. "I understand, son. Didn't mean to bring up anything terrible for you."

"It's not that," said Harry, suddenly feeling very embarrassed. "I…I just…"

"It's all right," the Aleena said, nodding at him. "It's late for us anyway. Probably should get the young ones to bed." He held up a hand at the children's protests. "None of that, now. Get your sleep, and maybe tomorrow we can spend a bit more time with them."

The children cheered, and Klik and Keth practically collided in their rush to return upstairs. Vith gave a backwards look at Luna before following her siblings in short order.

"Well, it's been quite a day, hasn't it?" Marn said happily. "Presents just in time for the children's lifedays, a good meal, good company, and no leftovers to store."

"We can help with dishes!" Neville blurted out, his cheeks going red a moment later.

"Nonsense!" the alien woman waved him off, though she was smiling. "You're our guests. And besides, it gives us something to do together." She nudged her husband with her elbow.

"Indeed," he said, grinning. "Go have some fun. Just don't venture past our home area!" His brow furrowed. "It's safe enough around us, but the jungle's dangerous at night. Best get inside once it starts getting dark."

And so, stomach full but feeling perfectly awake, Harry led the others out of the little house. He almost ran headlong into Han, who was standing right outside the door. "Han!" he sputtered. "What…what is it?"

"All finished?" the man asked. "Good, we've got work to do."

"It's night time!" protested Ron.

"It's always night time somewhere," Han said dismissively. "Nev, take these inside." He handed his and Chewie's bowls and cups to Neville. "You two," he continued, looking at Harry and Ron. "We've got some practice to do."

"'Nev'?" muttered Neville to himself as he took the dishware into the dwelling.

"And you two go with Chewie," he said with a look to Hermione and Luna. "I want you knowing what he teaches you about mechanics by memory."

"What about Neville?" asked Hermione.

"Nev," Luna corrected absently, an amused smile on her face.

"Once we're back at the ship, he's running turret simulations until lights out." Neville reemerged from the house. "Good, you're back. Let's go."

"What's got you in such a hurry?" Harry asked, almost having to jog to keep up with Han.

"Well, we can't have you clueless on how to use that blaster you took," he said matter-of-factly, waving something at him that, with a shock, Harry realized was the blaster in question. "If you got it, you should know how to use it. Probably need to pretty soon."

"How soon?" asked Harry, startled. "And when did you take that?!"

"Always sooner than you think," Han replied. "And I wasn't about to let you stroll in for a family dinner wearing a blaster."

Before Harry could ask any more questions, they'd arrived at the ship, where Chewbacca was waiting for them. To his surprise, there were several squares of a tarpaulin-like material laid out on the ground; he hadn't seen any of that material in the cargo hold before. Given that there seemed to be metal rings around the outer edges, perhaps they were meant to protect crates during rain? On top of the squares there were a few blankets forming some rudimentary padding, giving Harry a strange sense of familiarity. Near the ramp there was a crate with two tablets that reminded Harry of keyboards.

"Did you two set all that up during supper?" Hermione questioned Han, looking somewhat impressed.

Han shrugged. "We've got a little time before our next stop. Might as well get a few things checked off while we're here."

"Are we going camping?" asked Neville.

Chewie gave a bark-like laugh.

"No," said Han. Harry felt a fleeting yet unexplainable sense of relief. "Tonight we're getting you caught up so we can take on some bigger jobs later." He nodded to Chewie.

The Wookiee beckoned towards them, and Hermione and Luna approached. He pointed towards the tablets atop the crate. (("Yours,")) he said.

Luna picked hers up, looking over it interestedly. "Thanks so much!"

Hermione took hers, though dubiously. "What are they?"

Chewbacca gave Han a look, though Harry couldn't quite decipher it. "Datapads," Han said after a few moments. "Take notes on everything he says. When he's not teaching you, use those to review."

(("Let's go,")) Chewie said, walking up the ramp. (("For the first…going to…")) Harry once more felt his tenuous grasp of Chewie's language slip, as he moved further away. Hermione and Luna followed, the latter pressing several of the buttons on her "datapad" as she did.

"You too," Han said to Neville. Neville nodded, and after a quick glance at Ron and Harry, he too left up the ramp. "Okay," Han announced once it was just the three of them. "Now that you've got a blaster, you need to know how to use it. Unlike what most people think, it's not just 'point and shoot'. So before I give you this back…" He waved a small, rectangular object at Harry. "…you gotta know what to do before you start blasting."

Harry drew the blaster, looking it over. There was a hollow in the handle of the gun, which seemed to be a perfect fit for the object Han was waving. "…I don't suppose you're going to tell me how you keep doing that, are you?" Harry said, reluctantly impressed.

"Trade secret," said Han, far too smugly. "Now let's work on how to hold that blaster…"

They spent several minutes on how to properly hold a blaster, giving both Harry and Ron a chance to handle the weapon. It all seemed sensible enough; keep fingers away from the trigger until ready to fire, don't point at what you didn't want to shoot, et cetera. However, Harry was starting to feel a weight in his stomach the more they went on. He didn't want to be defenseless, but…could he really pull the trigger of that gun to end someone's life? Always sooner than you think, Han had said. He saw, in his mind's eye, that smaller ship crash into the larger one again. That had been bad enough, and Harry hadn't ever met the people in those ships. To do it again, to someone that he could see

"Now, don't get bent outta shape, but neither of you are ready for full power," Han said, taking the gun back from Ron. "So for now, I've hard-locked that blaster to stun only."

Harry's train of thought came to a sudden, abrupt halt. "…I'm sorry, what?"

"I said I set it up so you can't switch it off stun." Han pointed to a small switch near the handle, and thumbed it forcefully to demonstrate; regardless of excess pressure, the switch remained firmly in its current position. "No sense getting each other killed before you can even point it the right way. That's why we brought out this stuff." He motioned to the tarp and rudimentary padding. "So if you do something you're not supposed to and one of us gets knocked out, we get a nice, soft landing."

All of Harry's worries seemed to evaporate. Stunning. They would be stunning each other. No wonder the padding seemed so familiar; they'd used similar materials in the D.A. when practicing the Stunning Spell. He felt so giddy with relief that he only just caught himself before he laughed aloud. All that worry about being able to handle a blaster and they could stun the whole time? Then what was the point of a lethal setting?

"Okay, Harry, you're up first. I want you to draw, hit three of these crates, and then holster. Start out slow and take it step by step; once you get the basics down, we'll start working on your speed."

Harry stood where Han indicated and took the strange rectangle back from Han. Now that he looked at it, there were a number of tiny nodules running all the way up the side of it from top to bottom, glowing a very dim red colour. He made to slide it into the bottom of the blaster…at which point he realized it was upside-down. He rapidly corrected this, preparing to insert it properly. Unfortunately, it didn't slide in. After a moment's pause, he saw that it was backwards; there was even a little arrow engraved into the side pointing towards the front of the gun. His face heated, he hurriedly installed the rectangle, where it stopped with a satisfying click.

Han looked as if he very much wanted to say something, but didn't. Instead, he rolled his eyes and gestured towards the holster at Harry's hip.

Harry put the blaster back in the holster, then turned towards the crates, standing on a small section of the padded material near the center.

"Okay. Now remember, nice and slow," said Han.

Harry nodded. He drew the blaster, noticing as he did that there was a slight heaviness that hadn't been present when the rectangular pack wasn't in the weapon. He held the gun like Han had taught him, aiming at one of the crates, and squeezed the trigger. The blaster made a spitting PSHEW unlike anything Harry had heard back in the warehouse fight, and what looked like a blue ring pulsed from the end of the gun, impacting the upper right corner of the crate before vanishing.

"Now the next one."

Harry turned the gun to the next crate and fired. This time the shot was dead center, the edges of the ring almost perfectly overlapping the edges of the crate. Grinning, and without waiting for Han, he turned and fired at the last crate.

And missed.

He blinked in shock before firing again. This time the ring hit the right side of the crate. It was a bit surprising that rings which seemed to expand outwardly so quickly could miss relatively small targets. Still, he'd only missed once. He holstered the weapon, turning to Han.

Han looked at him for a moment before answering. "Decent. Not great, but decent."

Now it was Harry's turn to roll his eyes. He could swear it was easier to get approval from McGonagall than it was to get a compliment from Han.

"Okay, Ron, your turn. Let's see what you can do."

Harry unstrapped the gun belt, handing the whole lot to Ron. He took a few moments to get it attached to himself before he and Harry swapped spots. Ron looked excited, almost as he had done when Harry had found out he'd be the new Gryffindor Quidditch Keeper. His hand snapped to the holster, yanking it out with impressive speed that-

PSHEW

Bonelessly, Ron collapsed to the ground, bouncing slightly on the padding. "Ron!" Harry cried out, alarmed.

Han sighed. "And this is why we're starting slow. Pro tip; never pull a blaster out of the holster with your finger on the trigger. Or…well." He strode towards Ron, crouching down to inspect him.

"Is he going to be all right?" asked Harry, unable to keep the worry out of his voice.

"Well, it's not exactly a tickle," Han responded, delicately extracting the pistol from Ron's hand. "He'll be conscious again in about ten minutes, and the stun sickness should wear off about ten minutes after that." He gripped Ron's wrist, his thumb extended across it. "…His heart rate's normal," Han said finally, releasing Ron's arm, where it flopped back down. "He should be fine. Doesn't exactly help, but we can deal. While he's out, let's go over weapon safety one more time."

Harry sighed. It was going to be a long night.


"It's time to get up."

He stirred slightly, almost falling back asleep. Then he whirled to his feet in a blur of motion, halfway to drawing his wand before seeing who it was that had awoken him. "Where are we?"

"We are currently a day and a half out from Malastare," the man answered tonelessly. "This is the time you specified to wake you so that you can eat first meal on your own."

He yawned, leaving his wand where it was and stretching slightly. This whole space business was making him feel restless; as good as it was to be going somewhere new, he was ready to be under an open sky, enjoying his unexpected freedom. "Are there any more stops along the way?"

"No."

He cracked his neck, scratching his face absently. If their destination was a day away, there was still time to set things in motion. He'd need some breakfast, and then it was right back to reading through his "homework." He looked at the man standing in front of him, his eyes staring into a spot over his head. While it was unlikely that the man would cause issues...best not take chances. He drew his wand from his robes. "Well, Captain, you've been most hospitable during this trip. I'll almost be sorry to say goodbye, but we've got a little time until then; best remind you of your manners."

He pointed his wand between Vargas Synd's unresponsive eyes. "Imperio," said Rookwood.


CHAPTER END

WARNING: Only use stun blasters under supervision from a trained professional. Do not use stun blasters if you are pregnant. Do not operate heavy machinery for at least half an hour after waking. Some users may experience irregular heart behaviour after being stunned. If this happens to you, please find your nearest medical professional.

Be safe out there!