War and Serenity

by Michael Weyer

Hunting Parties

So...remember this?

I know, I know, been WAY WAY WAY too long since I updated and I'm sorry. Got tied up with some other fics, personal matters and KILLER writer's block on this tale. However, think long past time I got back on track and if nothing else, see if interest for this is still around. Thanks for your patience as I try to get this going again.

Hunting a single person in the seedy underbelly of Nar Shadda wasn't an easy task. But if anyone was up for it, Boba Fett was.

It was easy to spot him: That dark armor and the battle-scuffed but still intimidating Mandolorian helmet concealing his features, gauntlets with wrist rocket launchers and the jetpack on his back. It wasn't an outfit made for stealth but Fett didn't care. Everyone around knew him by sight and knew to give him a wide berth unless he wanted something. In which case, it was always best to tell him or face the consequences.

The alleyway he made his way through was dark, bits of steam mingling overhead, making Fett happy for the cooling systems of his armor. His metallic boots clicked on the ground, his rifle held in his hands, ready to be fired at any moment. He paused, looking about, the readouts in his helmet indicating the outlines of various figures in the street before him. Most were just lounging around or scavenging but one in particular was leaning on a wall with a manner far too casual for Fett's liking. "Come on out," he said, his voice echoing with the electronic filter in his helmet.

After a pause, the figure stepped out. He was a Duro, his dark blue skin blending well with his outfit of dark brown trousers and vest over a layer of armor with a long coat over it. His bald head was capped off by a wide-brimmed hat that cast a shadow on his deep red eyes. A pair of hoses attacked to his neck from a carapace and each hand held a powerful blaster. "Long time, no see, Fett," he rumbled into a gravely voice.

"Bane," Fett replied, sounding calm. "Thought you were out of the game."

Cad Bane shrugged. "I got bored just sitting around counting my money. You live long enough, you'll learn that it's about a job only you can do, nothing much to life besides that."

Fett cocked his head. "Who you hunting?"

Bane chuckled. "You expect me to tell you?"

"So you're on Solo too."

Bane's chuckle cut off as he glared. "What if I am?"

"I'd tell you to back off. He's mine."

"You're not the only one who wants that bounty, Fett. Between the Empire and Jabba, plenty to let me live off of for a long time."

"Not just the money for me," Fett stated, his rifle ready to fire. "I have a score to settle with him."

"Never make it personal. Didn't your dad teach you that?"

Fett stiffened. "Never. Ever. Mention my father, Bane."

Bane sniffed. "Don't try to intimidate me, Boba. You may scare the local punks but I remember you as the snot-nosed kid who whined more than did anything."

"That was a long time ago, Bane. I've learned...Whereas you stick to the same old tricks."

"Don't knock them, Fett. Old tricks still serve well."

A coughing sound got their attention and both bounty hunters whirled around, their guns raised in unison. They saw a tall man in a black uniform standing nearby with a quartet of well-armed stormtroopers behind him. "Gentlemen, I hate to interrupt," he stated in a tough voice. "But I have need of your services."

"And you are?" Bane asked.

"Crais," he answered. "I am well aware you are both on the hunt for one Captain Han Solo. As it happens, he has crossed paths with a target of my own." He held up a data pad that flashed images of various people as well as a strange-looking ship. "I am thus authorized to offer you both a contract to hunt them down."

"I don't take double jobs," Fett snapped.

"You will still be able to collect the bounty on Captain Solo," Crais smoothly stated. "I merely wish the capture of his companions. I am prepared to pay quite handsomely for their delivery. The ship and two people in particular alive and intact. The rest, you may dispose of as you wish."

He tossed a pair of small chips, each hunter catching them. "That contains all known data on them and probable points of escape. Also, my personal transponder code so you may keep me updated on your progress." He brought his hands behind his back. "I would prefer finding them myself but I am willing to use what resources I see fit. And both your reputations indicate you may be the best men to achieve that goal." He looked to each before giving a curt nod. "As I said, keep my posted and it shall be worth your while. I should warn you that the crew you are looking for are highly resourceful and quite dangerous. One is a former Imperial officer."

"So, you want us to hunt down one of your own?" Bane asked.

"She is no longer one of our own," Crais tersely replied. "Full details are available in your packets." He glanced from one to the other before narrowing his eyes. "I do not care which of you captures these people. I am willing to pay you both if you see fit to work together. But I should warn you that crossing me is not in your best interests. Do the job and you'll be well paid. Fail..." He let the threat drift off before turning on his heel to march away, the stormtroopers following him.

The two bounty hunters stared at one another carefully. "So...we gonna have a problem here?" Fett rumbled.

"Not now," Bane said. "I don't get into fights where there's no money involved." He backed up slowly. "Just don't get in my way on this, Fett. Hate to take out a fellow competitor."

"Same here." Fett watched him go, neither man taking his eyes off the other until Bane backed around the corner. Fett kept his guard up all the same, not trusting the other hunter to not double back to take him out. If there was one thing he'd learned was that in this business, it was every man for himself. Which meant the hunt for Solo just got a lot more complicated.

Han Solo was a veteran of many a type of spacecraft. From simple freight ships to large starliners, he'd had a hand in piloting them all. But Moya was something else altogether. At first, he'd scoffed at this whole "living ship" thing but after walking the halls, it was clear that this was not a standard craft. Sure, it had metallic floors and walls with lighting but even without the sense of a Jedi, Han could feel something off in this thing. He often joked about the Falcon having a life of its own but this...this was a ship that clearly was truly alive. He could feel it in the hum and the way it responded to that strange pilot. It made for an interesting conversation, which John Crichton was giving in the main galley.

"Not sure who they really are," he was saying as he chewed on a piece of food. "Heard various names, most sounding like demons. They hate technology in all its forms, prefer sticking to organic stuff but they're damn tough. They stick mostly to their own galaxy for now but they seem to be building up to an attack. Maybe next month, maybe thirty years but they're going to come here."

"We can worry about that later," Leia said as she sipped her drink. "So you were blasted into this galaxy and found this ship?"

"More like it found me," John told her. "My ship was losing power, Moya managed to snag me and bring me on board. Bit tough figuring the language but the droids helped out with that. Dargo, Zhaan and the others were escaping with Moya, broke out of a penal camp-base and managed to talk Pilot into helping them out. Took a few jumps to get to the Outer Rim and found ourselves in the middle of a battle between the Imperials and some Rebel forces. That's where I had my run-in with Crais' brother."

"And Sun?" Han asked, glancing at the dark-haired woman glaring at them from her spot in the corner.

"Ran into her too, literally," Crichton explained. "We brought her on board and when Crais found out, he decided she was effectively against the Empire just by being with us and so she stuck around."

"So just you guys running this thing?" Han asked. "Big job."

"Well, we have the small droids helping out," Crichton said as the sounds of metal and metal grew closer. "Plus, seems that Moya already had a special member on board."

At that moment, a droid entered the room. He had roughly the same design at C-3PO but bulkier, his design more for heavy lifting. His armor was grey with a dish-shaped design taking up the front of his chest plate. "Pardon me, Sir Crichton," he said in a deep voice. "But we have managed to-"

Chewbacca let out a startled growl as Han's jaw dropped. "Bollux?!"

The droid turned his head and his red photoreceptors flashed. "Captain Solo?"

"I don't believe it!" Han yelled.

"Oh, my, Captain Solo, it is so good to see you again, Sir!" the droid continued in a happy tone. "We've both missed you greatly!"

"We?" Leia asked, confused at this exchange.

In answer, the chest plate on Bollux slid open with a hissing sound. Encased within his frame was a small box-shaped droid colored a bright blue. A red photoreceptor blinked as a tiny arm moved up and down. "Captain Solo!" it called out in a high-pitched and chipper voice. "How wonderful to see you!"

"Blue Max," Han chuckled, shaking his head. "Of all the..."

"You know them?" a baffled Leia asked.

Han nodded. "Years back, Chewie and I were pulling a bunch of jobs in the Corporate Sector. We had to get Bollux and Blue Max here to help with translation and they stuck with us a bit afterward." He put his hands on his hips. "Last we saw you two, you were both helping Skynx catalog that treasure on Dellalt."

"Well, we were finishing that up when some raiders hit the area," Bollux explained. "The team managed to scatter but we couldn't make it to the transport on time. The raiders decided to sell us off and, well, we sort of passed along from one owner to the next."

"We finally ended up in a penal colony beyond the Rim," Blue Max added. "We were assigned to maintenance aboard Moya when they hijacked it and have been helping ever since."

Han shook his head. "Never thought I'd see either of you guys again."

"Well, this is a surprise!" C-3PO noted. "Captain Solo is usually so disingenuous to Artoo and myself, it is nice to know his bias is not against all droids."

"Just you, Goldenrod," Han snapped.

Crichton stood to move to the nearby sink. "We should be able to get back on track with the next starburst, Pilot needed some time to figure out the right coordinates." He glanced around. "Where's the rest of your crew?"

"First, Saffron isn't one of us," Leia stated. "And as for Luke, he said he had something to do."

It didn't take Luke long to find the room belonging to Zhaan. A scent billowed from it, candles with some other smells he couldn't quite recognize. He was just reaching for the door when it suddenly opened. The interior of the cabin was dim with candles lit about, the room rather sparse as Zhaan knelt in the middle of it. She looked up at Luke, her warm eyes smiling with her lips. "Welcome, Luke Skywalker. I have been expecting you."

Luke entered the room, studying her carefully. "You're a Jedi," he said, having felt her strength in the Force as soon as he boarded Moya.

"I was," she confirmed. "A very long time ago." She motioned for him to sit on a pillow before her and Luke did, crossing his legs carefully. "Were the Jedi Temple on Coruscant still standing, you would see my bust there. Master Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan. One of the Lost Twenty, the Jedi who left the Order of their own violation."

"Left? Why?"

"A...very long and painful story." The smile faltered a bit as her eyes carried memories she preferred not to have. "Suffice to say, I committed an...act unbecoming in any way of a Jedi. They did not fully blame me for this but I blamed myself enough. Thus, I choose to leave." She lit another candle. "This was about thirty years before the Clone Wars and the fall of the Jedi. My travels afterward led me to the Outer Rim and then to this ship." She blew out the candle wick. "So it would seem the Force still has a path for me, despite my attempts to leave it behind."

She looked up at him. "Your training is incomplete. I can sense that."

Luke nodded. "The man who first taught me...Obi-Wan Kenobi...He was killed shortly after giving me my father's lightsaber."

Zaahn was silent for a long moment. "I had hoped that my time with the Force was done. I am still connected to it, most of my people always were. But I believed myself unworthy of teaching anyone. Not after what I had done."

Luke licked his lips before carefully replying. "I...I don't know what you did. Or why you left. But I wish to know more. I need to know more, to help the Rebellion. Maybe...Maybe even help the Jedi rebuild."

She smiled softly. "Whoever your father was, he must have been a fine Jedi to have a son with such a strong sense of responsibility." She pursed her lips and closed her eyes, seeming to listen to a voice within herself. Luke stilled his impatience and waited, hoping for the right answer but knew it was her choice.

Finally, Zhaan's eyes opened and her lips curled upward. "Well, Luke Skywalker. It seems that the Force had chosen us both. And if there is one thing I have learned in my life, it is to never ignore such a choosing."

He bowed his hand. "I'm honored, um, Mistress?"

She laughed lightly. "Just Zaahn will do for now. Let us begin."

Saffron was careful as she paced her way around the ship. She was keeping her distance from Zaahn, unsure whether the woman could feel her in the Force or not but trying to keep herself hidden. It was tricky but doable but wasn't sure if it was working or not. Either way, she didn't want to get anyone's attention. Especially with what she was doing.

She took a moment to once more look around and make sure no one was looking at her. Saffron hoped she wasn't in the view of any hidden sensors; there was no way to tell what was or wasn't on this ship but she had to take the chance. She carefully moved her hand to her wrist and tapped the trio of buttons on her bracelet, making a quick series of moves with her fingers. Letting out a breath she didn't even realized she'd been holding, Saffron kept up her walk, doing her best to keep her true thoughts hidden and her mission as concealed as possible.

"I've got a signal!"

At the call from Korlo Brightwater, Daric LaRone moved to the front of the small shuttlecraft. Like the other four men inside, her was clad in the white armor of a Stormtrooper without his helmet. His short hair cut in the Imperial military style, he moved to Korlo, whose scout armor differed slightly from the others. He sat next to Joak Quiller, the other man carefully piloting the shuttle. "What have we got?" Daric said.

Korlo was careful deciphering the message, giving time for Taxtro Grave and Saberan Marcross to join them, the latter not seeming happy about this. "We've been following Jade's trail for weeks, you think she'd break cover now?"

"It looks that way," Korlo stated as he completed his task. "She's on a ship called Moya. Transponder code has been reached so we can home in on her fast."

"Set a course," Daric ordered. "Make sure our warp jumps aren't too close, at least until she tells us to move in."

"Roger, roger," Joak remarked.

"Knock off the droid talk, Quiller," La Rone snapped. He looked to the other two. "Make sure weapons are set and we can move fast."

"You think we've been doing nothing but watching holo reruns back there?" Grave said with a smirk. "We've got the firepower to take on a small ship if need be."

"Let's hope that it's not needed," Daric stated as he moved to help them get arms. "Just know that where Jade orders, we follow."

The other men all nodded. They knew their jobs and they knew their duty. It didn't matter if Jade had fallen in with Rebels or pirates. Whoever they were, they were about to meet the Hand of Judgment.

"I'm telling you, Mal, this place is driving me crazy!"

"Now there's a short ride," Mal muttered under his breath. He couldn't blame Jayne for getting antsy. Spending the better part of two weeks on this miserable bog-infested planet would try anyone's patience. He could feel the pressure getting to him too but he knew they didn't have much of a choice in the matter. Until they could figure out a way out of this mess, hiding out was the best bet.

"I'm just saying, we need to get going," Jayne snapped. "We can't hide here forever."

Wash coughed from his spot near the table. "To be honest, Mal, and I can't believe I'm uttering these words myself, I think Jayne is right. We can't just spend the rest of our lives here."

"Neither can the ship," Kaylee pressed. "I mean, you know how much mud I've already scraped out of the rotors and landing struts already? It's not good for the engines either."

"Nor's getting shot," Mal pointed out. "For the moment, we are staying."

"Mal," Zoe began.

Inara sighed as she wrapped her shawl carefully around her. "I am losing a lot of money in this, Captain. Not to mention how it's going to take a while to get the smell out of my shuttle before I can entertain."

"We're also running low on supplies," Simon pressed. "I prefer my instruments over this...Force and we can use a lot more medicine soon, especially for anyone else coming in with rashes from the various insect life here."

"What we're saying, sir," Zoe stated. "Is that we all think it's time we got going."

"At what point did this become a democracy?" Mal asked. "I'm truly interested in that."

"Maybe we're sick and tired of you making all our decisions," Jayne snapped. "None of us signed up to get hunted by the Empire, Mal."

"You wanna run this ship?!"


"Well...you can't." Mal said, a tad less strident than he intended. "Right now, I make decisions here and we are staying, end of discussion." He turned to walk away.

"Yeah, just like always," Jayne muttered. "You make the calls and we follow, no matter who dies in the wake of the great Mal Reynolds."

"You'd be best shutting your mouth now."

"This ain't Serenity Valley, Mal!" Jayne yelled, causing Mal to pause. "You tell yourself you're making choices for us, thinking it'll keep us alive! Only how many of us are gonna get killed because of them?"

Mal was moving in, his fists clenched tightly when River spoke up. "She's here."

Both men stopped to frown at her. "Who?" Mal asked.

River looked at him as if the answer was obvious. "The lost child now grown. The former student for the dark teacher."

Inara looked at Simon. "All respect, Doctor but can't you teach this girl how to be straight already?"

Mal stared at River, then turned on his heel to quickly walk out of the galley and toward the exit ramp. "Yoda!" he cried out. He ran to the outside of the ramp to see the small Jedi Master standing nearby, his eyes closed. "Yoda, we've got company!"

"Know already, I do," he replied without opening his eyes. "Land here without my permission, she could not."

Mal glared at him. "So you just let some strange woman come onto this planet without informing us?"

"Inform now, I do. Help us, she is here to."

"I swear, if you don't start speaking in straight talk..."

"Don't bother," a bright and strong voice echoed from nearby. "It's always been Master Yoda's way." Mal was whirling around, his hand to his blaster as he looked to the side. Exiting from the mists was a small but strong female form dressed in dark leather pants and matching tunic, a hood over her head. As she drew closer, she pulled it back, revealing the features of a female Togruta, her skin orange and the pair of tails swinging from her head were a mix of white and grey. She looked to be in her early 30's and yet the air of someone a tad older. Mal could see in her stance this was someone used to battlefields and all their brutal glory and shame. Her hands were encased in fingerless gloves that reached to her elbows and as she walked, Mal saw a familiar-looking cylinder at her waist, causing him to roll his eyes. "For an order supposedly extinct, you Jedi have a way of popping up all the time."

"Ahsoka Tano." Mal started as he heard Book coming up behind him, the elder man's eyes with wonder. "Is that you?"

She made a short bow with her head to each of them. "Master Bookau. Master Yoda."

"Gone, the Order is," Yoda pointed out. "Such salutes, unnecessary they are."

"Old habits," the woman smiled. "It's...good to see you again, Master Yoda. After all that happened..."

"Wrong, we were," Yoda intoned. "Recognize that, I do now. Keeping to our old ways, the cause of our fall."

"It is ironic," Ahsoka noted. "If I hadn't left the Order, I would have been there at the front lines when Order 66 went down and probably killed. As it was, I had to hide out when the purge of any former Jedi hit. Luckily, a lot of folks in various businesses willing to look the other way for some help and I got to Alderaan where Senator Organa was willing to help me out."

"Good man, he was."

"He was," Ahsoka sighed. "As it happened, I was off-world on a mission when Alderaan was destroyed. I joined a Rebel cell and been doing my best to hit back where I can. When I heard about the search for this ship...Well, Bail had told me if anything bad happened, I could find you in this system."

"We can use all the help we can get," Book noted.

"True," Yoda stated. "Especially time to leave, coming is."

Mal blinked. "Wait...leave? We're not ready for that!"

Yoda fixed him with a solemn gaze. "Ready, the issue is not. Needing to leave, your time is. Needed you are elsewhere, Captain Reynolds. There is another who needs your help. To battle together, you are destined."

Mal set his jaw. "I've never liked anyone choosing my destiny for me, pal. Not now and not ever."

Yoda didn't back down. "Your decision, it is not. In the Force's hands it is." He turned back to Ahsoka, his smile returning. "Come. Eat we shall and as well talk of your role." He began to hobble toward his hut, both Tano and Book following him.

Left alone, Mal slowly rubbed his temples. "My life made sense once," he muttered out loud. "It was a rare time but I know it did. Cherish that time, I should have." He stopped and closed his eyes in pain. "Oh, for...now he's got me doing it!"

The dust of centuries hung in the air around him. Had he working lungs, Darth Vader was certain he would be breathing it in and smelling the musty odor of eons of neglect. He could feel the Dark Side around him, stronger than anywhere else he had been. It was...invigorating. Intoxicating. The pure unadulterated power of the Force surrounding and imbuing him by his mere presence. It may have been centuries since their last stronghold was wiped out but there was no denying the Korriban was still a Sith world.

He was alone, the few stormtroopers in his shuttle ordered to stay back. They were grateful for that; though they had no Force sensitivity, they still knew that this was not a planet they wished to venture upon and were more than eager to allow their leader to go on his own. Vader preferred it that way. This was not for the eyes of mere mortals or the fools of Moffs or Imperial officers. This was for the Sith and the Sith alone. For only he and the Emperor.

Vader did not hurry but paced carefully through the darkened halls of the ancient temple, letting the Force guide him toward the center. It took the better part of an hour to reach the main chamber. It was lit by torches of black flame, giving a twisted light to the proceedings. He saw his Master standing on a dais near the raised platform at its center. The shadows gave Emperor Palpatine an even more horrific appearance than usual and the smile on his face indicated that, to him, being in this temple of Dark Side energy was like an addict in a spice den.

Vader stopped before the dais to kneel. "Master."

"Rise, my friend," the Emperor intoned. "I am happy you made it so quickly."

"Your summons are always to be obeyed," Vader stated as he rose. "My will is your will."

Palpatine nodded as he paced. "You are here for a most monumentous occasion, Lord Vader. An event unseen in a millennia but long overdue. Over a thousand years ago, the Jedi nearly wiped out the Sith once and for all. One Sith, survived, Darth Bane and he wisely knew restarting our Order was far too dangerous. Thus, he instituted the Rule of Two. One Master, One apprentice at one time only."

Vader knew all this, of course, but kept his tongue shut. He could feel someone behind him, a shape on the ground but forced himself not to look upon it. He knew better than to anger his master by not paying attention to what was obviously a most important speech. "For centuries, that Rule kept us hidden and safe as we plotted our revenge," Palpatine continued. "Until my master, Darth Plageius, decided to bend it. He allowed me to take on an apprentice of my own, Darth Maul and for the first time, the Two became Three. It was this betrayal of our code that was one of many reasons I slew Plageius, to take my own role as Master." He paused to gaze down at Vader. "As you, perhaps, will one day attempt to supplant me."

"That day is far ahead, my Master." Vader knew speaking frankly and honestly was the only course of action here. "I need you alive, to learn all I can from you before I can become the Master."

Instead of anger, Palpatine nodded. "Such is the way of the Sith. Until now." He could feel Vader's frown under the mask as he paced. "I have foreseen great dangers to our Empire, Lord Vader. Not just from the Rebellion which, I am forced to confess, has become far stronger than I anticipated. But from beyond our galaxy, threats that may jeopardize all we have achieved. It is because of this that I have decided it is time for the Sith to rise once more."

"You seek to undo the Rule of Two?" Vader failed to keep his astonishment completely out of his voice.

"The Rule of Two was sufficient for us to hide," Palpatine corrected. "But now that we are rulers of this galaxy once more, it is time to adapt once more. We shall now follow the Rule of One, the Sith itself. We shall avoid the back-stabbing and in-fighting that ruined us in the past and stand united against all foes. And that begins today."

He extended a hand outward and Vader slowly turned around. The torches lit up suddenly, casting more light in the chamber and allowing Vader to see the figure kneeling before them, dressed completely in a form-fitting black battlesuit. "This being's Force power is quite remarkable," Palpatine stated. "Not as strong as yours or mine but quite effective, though raw. But he has survived the trials I placed before him and I believe he will be a welcome addition to our ranks."

Vader put a hand to his lightsaber. "Am I his final trial, Master?"

Palpatine's icy chuckled echoed through the chamber. "No, Lord Vader. That was supplied already by Inquisitor Tremayne. He fell quite easily to this man's power." That surprised Vader. One of the various Dark Jedi who had chosen to ally with Palpatine when the Empire was forged, Tremayne had been a ruthless Inquisitor and capable fighter. Thus, his defeat meant this strange was strong. Strong enough to force Vader to keep his guard up constantly.

"No, you are here to bear witness to our new brother." Palpatine extended his hand out. "The first of the new Sith Order. The first of what shall be many to carry our control for generations yet to come." The figure finally stood up, his face completely white, humanoid but marked with sharp cheeks and deep dark eyes. His head was covered by a makeshift helmet with odd units at the temples and a makeshift mask of straps across his face. His lips were cracked and grey and pulled into a sneer as they gazed at Vader, his gloved hands twitching as if ready to demonstrate his might.

"Rise..." Palpatine concluded. "Darth Scorpius."

Bollux and Blue Max first appeared in the "Han Solo Adventures" novels by the late Brian Daley.

The Hand of Judgment appeared in the Timothy Zahn novel "Allegiance." A quintet of stromtroopers shaken after Alderaan was destroyed, their refusal to attack unarmed civilians led to them killing an Imperial officer and going on the run. Still loyal to the Empire, they took it upon themselves to weed out corruption in the ranks, aiding Mara Jade on a mission where she recruited them as her personal unit.

And, obviously, Ahsoka Tano was a central character of the excellent "Clone Wars" animated series which ended on the cliffhanger of her leaving the Order after being framed for a bombing.

So an update at last, keep up comments and hopefully I'll be able to add more before Episode VII comes out.