Life On the Edge
Han nudges forward the throttle, and leans his weight gently on the controls of the Millennium Falcon, swinging her head around as she slips towards the hangar exit. As the edge of the opening comes round in front of the cockpit, Tahiri lets loose a missile into the bulkhead. There's a burst of white light and flying shrapnel, followed by a darker blast of oily fire, as the savagery of the explosion smashes through to the shield generator underneath.
The bright glow of the magnetic seal around the exit blinks to darkness.
The ship's stern swings round through a quarter-turn, and she slides effortlessly out the hangar, gliding sideways into the main docking bay.
"Targets of opportunity," Han orders, but the turret guns are already firing, and as he watches, Tahiri sends two more missiles streaking into the massive sidewall of the dock. Jedi instinct lend her shots a deadly accuracy, and he sees the mighty bulkhead buck and bow as explosions and violent decompression rack the compartments behind the armour. Long reinforcing ribs snapping clear from the armoured surface, spinning out into the zero-gravity of the capture bay.
At the four corners of the bay, brief flowers of fire blossom and die, as the belly guns take out the tractor-beam emplacements.
A large tumble of wreckage drops straight past the cockpit, and Han lifts his eyebrows as he recognizes the main bay gantry, blasted off its mounting by the topside turret.
But still the Falcon continues to turn, Han jockeying her sideways movement to a stop as she comes round to face the hangar she just departed. The capture bay is cold and dark, and full of dead Alliance troopers sprawled and broken amid the wreckage, in white armour that gleams ghostly in the dark.
Then more missiles streak out from the launcher, and the mangled interior of the capture bay is consumed again in chaos. Another salvo mauls the flanking launch-bays, and amid the fire, he can see the smashed wreckage of burning snubfighters. He blinks at a sudden flash, and when he looks again, the air in the starboard bay has burst into flame, raging behind the force-field that keeps the vacuum out.
Inside the Falcon's cockpit, Han and Tahiri work in grim silence, bound together in a cold, deadly rapport.
He nudges the controls, quickening their turn as the bows swing round to face the other sidewall, and soon they're faced towards the smaller hangars at the front of the main bay. Missiles loop away from the launchers Tahiri is firing almost non-stop and Han can see the shuttle bays disappear into the furnace of overlapping detonations. Fire flashes, and wreckage sprays out into the main well around them.
Eerily, the blackened wreck of a Lambda-class shuttle lifts gently off the deck, even though its wings have been blasted off, and its fuselage is burning. Han blinks, and realises that the artificial gravity is dead in the bays in front of them.
Instinctively, he brings the Falcon to a full stop, and watches as the last lights in the hangars blink out, the last of the force-fields flicker and die. No gravity, no power, no atmosphere. Blackened wreckage drifts out towards them, unrecognizable things tumbling along twisted trajectories.
The Star Destroyer's entire launch complex is dead to space.
From somewhere aft, a loud tremor runs through the Falcon's hull.
"Oops," Tahiri says, with a look of knowing innocence on her face, and Han shudders in a way that has nothing to do with the flux in the inertial fields.
That shockwave came from Mon Mothma. Red lights are appearing on the sensor screens more and more of them with every rapid heartbeat.
Something has just gone very wrong with the Star Destroyer's vital systems.
"Hang on tight," he says, hauling the control column back into his guts, and hearing the engines howl as the Falcon's bows tip down.
He grins, and throws the throttle open.
The Millennium Falcon leaps forward, and screams out of the Mon Mothma's launch bay.
"We have starfighters pursuing," Tahiri says, her voice flat and military. "Three squads. Two Ackbar-class Star Destroyers moving to intercept ahead."
Han grins at her, and waits, holding the dive until he's sure that every Rebel fighter has fallen in behind them. Fire stitches towards them from the Ackbar and the Glie'oleg Kru it looks like flak tracer at this range, but Han sees where it's coming from, and realises that it's really heavy turbos.
"Stand by to angle the aft deflectors," he says.
"Aft?" she asks.
"Aft!" he agrees, skewing the old ship through a spin-turn. The engines yell, and then she leaps forward, straight back through the pursuing snubfighters.
Han winces as two E-wings collide, almost in front of the bows. There's a sudden shudder, and Tahiri glances at him in concern.
"Just the main rectenna," he whispers. "There's a spare in the aft hold."
But his gaze is fixed on the Star Destroyer that fills the sky ahead of them the Mon Mothma, the flagship of the Galactic Alliance.
"Oh, Han ..."
It's Leia stumbling into the cockpit behind them, gaping in disbelief.
"Han," she repeats, and he can hear the anger building beneath the quiet whisper of her voice. "What have you done?"
"Wow," Tahiri says, as if Leia wasn’t even there. "Would you look at that?"
Explosions are spreading across the big ship's belly, blasts bursting and spreading aft, plating bucking and crumpling inwards.
The gravity-well generators, he realises, and shivers. With the amount of energy they must be running through those things ...
There's a brilliant, silent flash, and for a moment, all he can see is white light and when it clears, suddenly, there's no Star Destroyer any more.
The Mon Mothma's stern is mostly intact toppling away from the empty hole punched through space where the rest of the ship used to be. He sees the shrouds of three main heat exhausts unraveling, and a flotsam of wreckage from the upperworks, slowly breaking up.
The snapped-off bow drifts off it the opposite direction, a fragile durasteel vee, like a baby Star Destroyer spawned by the death of her parent.
There's a halo of speckling metal drifting outwards through space around the ruin, and Han hopes that it's escape pods, and not just debris.
"Han," Leia’s voice snaps – and, vicious as a whip, Tahiri's elbow cracks back into her face.
Han turns in his seat, to see his ex-wife crumple to the deck.
She looks very small fragile and broken.
He turns in the seat again, and glares at Tahiri, gaping in open-mouthed disbelief.
She shrugs quietly, and turns back to her controls, typing commands into the navacomp.
And Han notes that there are still two squadrons of E-wings on their tail, two Star Destroyers lumbering up from the ecliptic in pursuit.
But it's too late to catch them now.
The Millennium Falcon screams through the debris of the Mon Mothma, torquing around the axis of her flightpath as Han describes a flawless victory roll past the Star Destroyer's disintegrating command tower.
"Kriff you, you kriffing kriffers!" he rants. "Kriff you all to Kessel!"
Then the lights flash green across the board, and he laughs, surprised by his own hatred and thrusts forward on the jump levers.
He turns to Tahiri, and then they both turn back to the view. There is only open space ahead of the Falcon's bows now, and both of them are grinning, as the starlines stretch forward around the cockpit, and hyperspace gathers them up, and carries them home.
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