War and Serenity

By Michael Weyer

Flight of Fancy

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Chewbacca let out a grunt as he bent down to avoid the doorway. "I know, Chewie," Han said as he walked before his co-pilot. "I'm betting they didn't have Wookies in mind when they designed these things."

"You said to give it a chance, Han," Luke stated as he followed the two down Serenity's hallways. "I've seen ships in far worse shape than this back on Tatooine."

"Yeah, in Jawa sand crawlers," Han remarked as they entered the room identified as the main galley. "Not trying to be space worthy."

"Best not to let Kaylee overhear." The three saw Jayne sitting at a table chewing on an apple that he was slicing with a very large knife. "She tends to be a bit protective when it comes to this thing."

"I'll bear it in mind," Han said as he sat at the table. "So what kind of food do we have here?"

"It's the Shepard's time to cook," Jayne shrugged. "He likes to surprise us, says it's good to keep us from anticipating too much in life."

"You don't strike me as a religious man," Han noted.

"I got my faith," Jayne said. "Faith in my guns, faith in my fists, pretty much all I need to get through the day."

Luke peered at him. "Just what are you doing on this ship? Reynolds is the captain, Zoe his second, Wash pilots, Kaylee's the mechanic, Tam's the doctor and his sister is along and Inara…not sure about her yet. So what's your job?"

"Me?" Jayne gave him a wicked smirk. "Kid, I'm what's behind the glass case marked 'do not break unless of emergency.'" He chewed on the apple again as he stabbed the knife into the table.

Luke gazed at him before leaning toward Han. "I'm getting a bad feeling about this."

"Just keep it easy, kid," Han muttered back. "Never rock the boat, that's my motto."

He seemed to ignore the look Luke gave him.

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In contrast to the rest of the dingy freighter, the shuttle Inara used as her quarters was incredibly well decorated with lush red drapes set about along with a nice large bed and couch, both well cushioned. The woman was as well dressed as the day before in a nice green outfit as she poured some tea into a white cup before Leia.

"Thank you," she said as she sipped at her drink. She looked Irana over carefully before speaking. "If you don't mind my saying, you don't seem to fit in with a ship like this."

Inara smiled. "I get that reaction a lot. I rather like it. It works with my…current position."

"Which is?"

Inara smiled. "A Companion."

Leia nearly coughed her drink out. "A…really?" She'd heard of the Companions of course but had never actually met one in person. The Guild had been around for some time but their…activities had been frowned upon during the time of the Old Republic. However, in the corruption of the Empire, they had spread, particularly among the higher ranking officers of the military who paid well for their services.

Inara smiled smoothly. "Not what you expected? I know, despite our education and our training, we still have the reputation of being…well, whores." Her smile thinned. "As our good captain never ceases to remind me."

"So why are you here?" Leia asked. "Surely you can find something better in the core worlds."

"I…have my reasons." The tone let Leia know that was all Inara had to say on the subject. She looked Leia over and smiled again. "It's been a long time since I met someone from Alderaan. I truly enjoyed time on that planet."

Leia sighed sadly. "It was beautiful."

"Yes, it was." Inara sipped her tea with a pause. "I visited the palace a few times but don't worry…" She gazed at Leia carefully. "Your father wasn't a client."

Leia blinked. "What? I…I don't know…"

Inara smiled. "It's all right, I won't tell anyone. Believe me, I know all about secrets, it's part of my…occupation."

"I…see," Leia carefully said. She finished her tea before rising to her feet. "I suppose I might as well get some food. Thank you for the tea."

"Feel free to come back for more," Inara said. "I've been way overdue for some civilized conversation around here."

Leia had to shake her head as she headed out. She was passing by an open doorway when she saw River leaning in it, staring at her. "Hello," she said in a friendly voice.

River just stared at her and Leia felt somewhat uncomfortable under her gaze. "River, right?" she asked.

The girl nodded slowly but didn't speak. Leia paused before heading back to walking with River gazing after her. "You have her eyes."

Leia stopped and stared at the younger girl, confused. "I'm sorry?"

"Her eyes." River's own were fixed on Leia's. "Warm but painful. Strong but sad. You share so much with her. Hold onto it or else you fall."

She turned on her heel to head back into her bunk, leaving Leia more baffled than before.

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Luke chewed at the piece of meat with a slow nod. "This is pretty good."

"I do my humble best," Book said with a bow of his head. He was washing up some of the pans he had been using to cook the meal for the group inside the small mess hall. "I'm used to cooking for larger parties."

"There he goes with his mysterious past," Jayne muttered through a mouthful of apple. "He does like to drop hints on that."

"You don't press him on it?" Luke asked.

"Don't really care," Jayne shrugged. "Long as I get a ride and get paid, none of my concern what a man's life is like."

"Very enlightened of you as always, Jayne," Book noted as he washed the plate. He looked to Luke with some interest. "You seem young to be traveling this far out."

"I grew up on a pretty remote world," Luke explained. "I just enjoy being able to see other places."

Book nodded slowly. "I see. What sort of world?"

"Tatooine," Luke said with a sad sigh of unwanted memories. "A desert world, really didn't take to it well."

Book seemed to mull that over. "So you found a new calling? I can certainly understand that."

"It's a bit more complicated than that," Luke said. "No offense but it's sort of a personal matter."

"Aw, Book doesn't mind listening!" Kaylee chirped from her seat with her bright smile. "He does it an awful lot with me, always eager to lend an ear!"

"Simply doing my part," Book brushed it off. "I learned a long time ago to never turn away from those who need to unload their spirits." His expression seemed to harden. "The consequences of such ignorance can be very far-reaching."

He saw Luke staring at him and shook himself, putting the smile back on. "I'm sorry, just an old man's ramblings. You're still young, you'll see that in time, I hope."

For the oddest reason, Luke felt flashbacks to his talks with Obi-Wan Kenobi as he looked at Book. There seemed something strange about this man, an experience greater than he hinted at, not to mention a sadness as well. His musings were interrupted when Leia stepped into the mess hall. "Is there something wrong with that River girl?" she asked.

"She's…just a bit strange." Luke and Leia both saw the look Kaylee exchanged with Book before speaking. "She's a good girl most times, she just gets…confused now and then."

"That's one way of putting it," Jayne snorted.

"And we don't need to go into the others," Book stressed with a sharp glance at the man. "Suffice to say, she won't be a big problem."

Luke and Leia exchanged a look, each wondering once again what sort of a ship they were getting on.

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"Coming up on Sullust, Captain," Wash said as he adjusted the controls.

Mal nodded as he watched the familiar lights of hyperspace fade and the large red planet appear before them. "Right on time."

"I still don't know about this, sir," Zoe said from her spot behind her husband. "Running a job while we got passengers? That never works out well."

"They don't need to know a thing, Zoe," Mal said. "We just drop by, make the trade, off before they even care about it, easy as we can."

"That's a good plan, sir," Zoe noted.

"Thank you," Mal smiled.

"It's a damn shame our track record shows we never do anything as easy as we can."

"She raises a good point, Mal," Wash pointed out.

"Shut up," Mal told him.

"Merely doing some raising, sir," Zoe said.

"Duly noted."

"By which, you mean you'll ignore it."

"As I said, noted." Mal reached up to take the comlink for the ship's PA system. "Attention, ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain. We're going to be putting down on Sullust for a bit, just picking up supplies, an hour at the most. No need to worry or even leave the ship. Thank you for your patience."

He hung it up and smiled. "See? No problem."

Zoe shook her head. "Sir, I think you've underestimated who we have on board."

Right on cue, Han stormed into the cockpit, glaring at Mal. "Okay, Reynolds, what are you playing?"

"Playing?" Mal frowned. "I don't play at much, Solo."

"As you'd learn seeing him at card games," Wash threw in.

"Shut up," Mal told him without looking at him. "We're just putting down for some restocking, Solo, it's on our way."

"Don't play me, Reynolds," Han said with a hard look. "I've been on a few 'restocking' trips myself. I don't know what you're up to here but since we're on this trip, we've got a say in how it goes."

Mal raised an eyebrow. "That so? In case you ain't noticed, Solo, this happens to be my boat you're on. I expect a modicum of respect here and maybe even a little understanding to boot."

Han crossed his arms as he glared at him. "Look, Reynolds, what you do on your own time is your business. But if whatever this is gets us in trouble, that makes it our own business and I don't like the idea of getting in deep in someone's troubles."

Mal smirked. "Still that independent streak, Solo? That was always your problem."

"Look who's talking," Han snapped. "As I recall, you got yourself into hot water a lot with your antics. It's probably why you got on the run."

Mal's smile faded. "I had my reasons, Solo," he said in a harder tone. "Now, I'd appreciate it if you got off my bridge now and restrict to quarters for the time being."

"Really?" Han smiled. "I don't know. I could use a little stretching of the legs. Chewie definitely can too and I'm sure the kid wouldn't mind a quick tour of the place."

"Now, look, Solo," Mal began.

"Um, boss?" Wash said, leaning toward Mal. "Need I remind you that his friend is a very large and hairy individual who seems ready, willing and eager to go on a wild rampage within our very thin walls?"

Mal thought about it and then straightened. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt to stretch the legs a bit at that."

Han smiled as he walked out. Mal sighed deeply. "I do rightly think this might be problematic."

"Your grasp of the situation continues to astound, sir," Zoe noted.

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The bridge of the Super Star Destroyer Executor was always tense when that infamous figure stood upon it. He was stock still, hands behind his back, staring out the large windows showing the fleet flying about him. His black cape flowed behind him, lights reflecting off the black helmet and the sound of his mechanized breathing could be heard throughout the bridge.

Few men would have dared disturb the Lord Darth Vader when he was obviously in a contemplative mood but Captain Firmus Piett was willing to take that risk. The tall and lean young officer strode up, keeping his face calm. He was aware of the eyes on him but ignored them, determined to bring this information to Vader personally. He was aware Admiral Ozzell wouldn't approve but with the man gone for a conference, that left Piett the senior commander on this ship under Vader and it was his responsibility.

"What is it, Captain?" Vader asked, his head not turning an inch. Piett faltered for a moment, surprised at Vader having heard him coming. He quickly recovered to speak.

"Lord Vader….We have received an intelligence report from our informants on Dantooine. Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa were seen at the spaceport."

That made Vader turn around, giving Piett his full attention. "Where were they headed?" he demanded.

Piett swallowed under the full power of the Dark Lord's gaze but forced himself to continue. "They boarded a small freighter whose flight plan leads toward the Corellian system, with a stopover at Sullust."

Vader nodded. "Did you find information on the freighter?"

"Yes, my Lord," Piett said. "It is called Serenity. However…" He bit his lip.

"What is it, Captain?" Vader demanded.

Piett cleared his throat. "When I attempted to cross-reference information on the ship, my Lord, I was barred by a top-secret lock. Its security level exceeds my own."

"Security lock?" Vader seemed puzzled. "By whose authority?"

"It was labeled Blue Division, my Lord," Piett nervously said.

Vader fell silent at that. Blue Division was one of the most secretive sections of the Imperial military, personally created and overseen by the Emperor at the early days of the Empire. Its projects were top secret, even Vader was unaware of much of their activities. It told the Sith immediately that this ship had a far greater importance than a mere freighter.

After a brief pause, Vader turned back to Piett. "Send word to our agents on Sullust to make it known we will pay for any information on that freighter. Set course immediately to intercept it along any route to Corellia."

"Yes, my Lord," Piett said, bowing his head quickly as he turned to walk toward the center of the bridge. Vader turned back to the view screen, mulling over this new information. To capture Skywalker and Organa would be a boon. And yet some strange tremor in the Force told Vader there was far more to this simple freighter than met the eye.