In honor of The Empire Strikes Back’s fortieth anniversary this year, we present to to you this exclusive, Star Wars, short story fan fiction. Through it we learn the tale of one Rebel pilot’s struggle to survive the Battle of Hoth. Enjoy, and may the Force be with you!
Red Nine, Standing By
One hundred meters separated him from freedom. One hundred meters, a garrison of Imperial Stormtroopers, Two AT-ATs, what he guessed would be the Super Star Destroyer Executor and at least two other Imperial-class Destroyers just off-orbit, and a dark lord of the Sith. That was all.
Alliance Commander Kos Mason, call-sign Red Nine, had heard the evacuation call, but had at first refused to believe he’d heard it correctly. Perhaps he simply didn’t want to accept the truth, that the Empire had won and had defeated the Rebel Alliance on Hoth. They’d been so careful since the Battle of Yavin. Mon Motha was meticulous; she planned every detail of every operation down to the minutia. Although, he supposed it was only a matter of time before the Empire found them. Vader was relentless. However, the force of evil he’d been before Yavin was nothing compared to what he’d become in the wake of the Death Star’s destruction.
Mason had heard the rumors…
Darth Vader, the Emperor’s enforcer, was searching for someone. Something had happened there in the space above Yavin. It was something that… changed Vader. As a Sith lord, he was formidable enough; the obsessively determined Sith lord he’d become spelled doom for all he encountered.
Commander Mason had barely regained consciousness before the evacuation codes came across the net. Unsure of how, exactly, he’d been shot down, all Kos remembered was that he’d been hit. Still, somehow, he managed to nurse his derelict speeder to a violent yet survivable landing. Still; the Empire had struck them down.
He and his gunner, Pak Dalo, managed to extract themselves from the wreckage and had been making their way back towards the hangar on foot. The snow was deep, and the difficult trek was made harder by the stinging in his ribs. He guessed at least two on his right side were broken in the impact.
In the distance they could see another transport lift off, accompanied by two T65 X-wing fighters. The ion cannon fired incessantly; Kos Mason grinned as he imagined the devastation it must have been wreaking on the Star Destroyers high above them.
The Empire could not have been pleased.
“I don’t see any sprays,” Pak said as they looked skywards. If any of the transports had been destroyed as they broke atmosphere, they’d have seen a spectacular display of fiery detritus rain down and burn up on reentry. That they saw none gave them hope. Briefly. And then Pak was gone.
The blast came from a nearby AT-AT, and struck at Pak’s feet. Mason had just enough time to glance back and see Pak’s legs separated from his body before the concussion of the blast sent the rest of his friend’s body careening through the air.
The attack was brutal, barbarian, and downright cruel. The AT-AT’s laser batteries were designed to destroy and disable vehicles and structures. That the Imperial gunners were turning them on fleeing Alliance infantry meant that they were now just targeting Rebel soldiers for sport. Of course they did. They were animals, after all; beasts beholden to the yoke of the Empire.
Somehow, the Rebel pilot managed to shut out both the pain in his side and the vision of his gunner’s brutal demise, and forced himself to his feet. He was so close. The last transport sat on the frozen tarmac near Echo Base’s south entrance, ready to depart. Its fuel lines were still attached. He still had time. Though he winced with every trudging step, Kos Mason was determined to make it back to base, to his fighter, and off that frozen world forever.
“Just keep moving,” he ordered himself.
“Just keep moving.”
Over and over he repeated the words in an increasingly fruitless effort to motivate himself forward. Kos’s whole body shook as another defensive turret exploded under the weight of the Imperial onslaught.
“Damn it,” he thought to himself. That turret was his focal point. First he’d make it to the turret. Then through the trenches, then another seventy-five meters or so to the hangar. And then, finally, to his X-wing. By then R6 would surely have had the ship ready for flight. Now, now he had to push on straight to the trench.
“Concentrate. You can do this.”
A small arms blast shook him from his resolve. Kos Mason reached for and quickly withdrew his blaster. In one swift motion he turned and fired three shots in succession, strafing the snow trooper that had fired first across the chest and face. Adrenaline and instinct took over. Kos found a strength he didn’t know he possessed and forded on – Once he reached the trench he afforded himself a brief respite to catch the breath that had evaded him for the last twenty meters or so. He meant to rest for a moment. When he opened his eyes again, he had no idea how long he’d been out. It could have been seconds.
For Kos Mason and the Empire, it was far longer than that.
For the first time, he noticed the crack in his helmet’s visor. Apparently he’d hit his head in the crash, and had likely suffered a concussion. It was only a matter of time before the overwhelming pounding in his skull found its way to his consciousness. It wasn’t the pain, however, that distressed him most. It was the fact that the last shuttle was gone. Imperial troops crawled across the tarmac like swarming, white skittermice. Here and there he could make out the orange flight suit of an Alliance pilot, or the tan vest of a Rebel infantryman, but there were far fewer than he’d hoped to see. Worse, they were all prisoners. One AT-AT sat at the edge of the hangar, and another approached, trudging in from the ridge to the south.
“Think, think, think,” Mason commanded of himself. The weary pilot searched his brain for options, but he already knew there was really only one; the same one he’d had before. He had to get back to the hangar and pray his ship was still there… How he’d get past the troops, the AT-ATs, and the planetary blockade were all things he’d have to worry about as the matters presented themselves.
One step at a time.
Thankfully, the trenches seemed abandoned. By the time the Imperial forces had taken the base, the transports and most of the Alliance personnel had gone. On his hands and knees, Kos Mason crawled as quickly as he could. The closer he got to the hangar, the louder the Imperial chatter grew. Stormtrooper commanders barked out orders through the metallic din of their helmet speakers. Non-armored technicians plugged equipment into any computer port they could find. Imps were everywhere, like locusts, swarming….
Swarming in service of their Empire.
Kos peeked up above the trench’s rim. If he was fast, he might make it without being seen. A portable laser battery, or at least the remains of one, smoldered to his right. He could use the acrid smoke for cover, loop behind it, and hopefully slip into the hangar through the maintenance hatch adjacent to the main hangar bay opening.
From there he should be able to slink along the wall to the storage cabinets. In other words… he had hope.
An engine’s roar startled him. The Commander looked upward just in time to see the Millennium Falcon blast its way out of the hangar and into the sky.
Kos Mason smirked. The young Alliance Commander had met the Corellian smuggler-turned-Rebel-Captain on several occasions. Kos liked him. Solo was affable, amiable, and as cynical as the day was long. One evening, after Solo had relieved the young pilot of his credits in a game of Sabacc, Kos Mason muttered forlornly as he stared at the then-empty pot.
“I don’t get it. I should have won. I had all the odds.”
Solo grinned his trademark grin and patted the young pilot on the shoulder. “Never trust the odds, kid.”
Those words rang in Kos’s skull.
“Never trust the odds.”
The odds told him he’d never make it off Hoth alive. If he did, even under the best-case scenario, he’d do so as an Imperial prisoner. After that, if he was lucky, he’d likely be sold to the Pykes and sent to the mines of Kessel with the rest of the able bodied slaves.
Never trust the odds.
The Falcon’s departure startled the Empire as much as it had startled Kos Mason – That was all the distraction he needed. He leaped from the trench and sprinted as fast as he could towards the maintenance hatch. One trooper, and one only, spotted him. In the commotion of the Falcon’s haste to flee, however, and the scramble as TIE pilots rushed to their fighters to pursue, no one heard the two blasts Kos put into the trooper’s chest; neither did they notice the orange-clad Rebel wrench open the maintenance hatch and slip inside.
The attack, and the shield generators’ destruction, sent a ripple effect through the base’s electrical systems. Lights flickered as the emergency batteries drained too quickly, sapped of their energy by the frigid cold. Shadows enshrouded the entire hangar.
Fate, and the Force, had smiled on him. He scrambled over some debris, crawled under some fallen beams, and eventually made it to the storage lockers. After lifting the lid of the nearest container and finding it empty, Kos crawled inside, softly closed the lid over his head, and slumped down.
He was alive, and safe from the Empire…
For the moment.
Within a day of arriving on Hoth, the Rebels realized quickly the harshness of the ice planet’s landscape. The speeders were all but useless until they were able to retrofit and adapt them to the cold. More importantly, in the short term, they learned that if any condensation found its way to the storage containers’ seals, they would freeze instantly and prevent the containers from being opened without far more effort than should have been necessary.
The first order of business was to vent those containers that didn’t need to be airtight. The lack of vacuum pressure from a full seal would ease their opening when necessary. It was through one of those vents that Kos now peered out across the hangar. One hundred meters separated him from freedom. One hundred meters and the Empire, that is, including a garrison of Imperial Stormtroopers, Two AT-ATs, what he guessed would be at the Executor and at least two other Star Destroyers just off-orbit, and a dark lord of the Sith.
That was all.
The Commander’s X-wing sat at the far end of the hangar cave the Alliance had carved into the ice. Fuel hoses, like those he observed attached to the transport before he blacked out, were still connected to his fighter: a good sign. R6-D3 sat in his socket behind the cockpit. The ship appeared ready for flight. If he could only get to her, Kos would have a chance.
“Never trust the odds,” he muttered to himself. The only thing was…
The Empire cared not for odds, either.
He wracked his brain, but Kos Mason was unable to devise a plan. Imperial troops filled the hangar space between him and his fighter. A glance to his left informed him that an Imperial shuttle and four TIEs had landed on the tarmac, the same tarmac from which Alliance transports had ferried Rebel survivors off world just hours prior. Hopefully they all made it to the Alliance fleet’s rendezvous point systems away.
There was no way he’d make it from the storage container in which he now hid, all the way across the hangar, and to his ship without the Empire seeing him. There had to be another way. he just had to keep reminding himself:
“Never trust the odds.”
Kos slumped back in the container and closed his eyes. Maybe he could use the trenches. Work his way back outside to the trenches, and crawl to the other side. It would take time; it would take a lot of time. But it would be time well spent if it worked. It was either that, or perhaps he could try slinking through the shadows towards the operations center, and loop back to the hangar through one of the maintenance corridors. He quickly dismissed that option, as the likelihood of the tunnels even still being passable was fanciful best.
And then there was, of course, the Wampas they’d quarantined. For all Kos knew they could be rampaging through the base by now. Thus, the trenches it was, but he would need more strength than he currently possessed if he were to make that journey. So once again he closed his eyes and tried to rest. He’d need to summon whatever waning strength he still possessed if he was to survive.
Then there came the cold.
It was a cold that chilled him to his bones. It was not, however, the icy chill with which Hoth blanketed all that touched it. No, this was different. This was a frigidness that shook his soul. Something compelled Kos Mason to look back out into the hangar, and he saw him.
Until that moment, the young Rebel had only seen the Emperor’s mythological enforcer in holos.
The menace he imposed in electric blue, computer generated imagery was fear-inducing enough. Seeing the towering menace clad all in black, in person with his own eyes, terrified Kos. Yes, he’d heard the stories. Vader had decimated an entire squad of Rebel soldiers aboard the Profundity at the Battle of Scarif. He was even rumored to have killed men, his own men… with his mind.
A lightsaber hung at his hip, a talisman of a time long past. Vader was an ancient warrior and lorded over his Imperial minions with oppression and fear. The Dark Lord was the physical embodiment of the Empire, and exuded evil.
Vader strode through the hangar with purpose, yet paused suddenly, stopping with as much of the steadfast conviction with which he’d just been walking. He turned, and for a moment Kos feared he’d been seen, or worse, that the dark sorcerer had somehow heard his thoughts.
His act of recoiling away from the vent in fear would have toppled the container in which he hid had he not regained his balance at the last possible second. Vader stood there, and Kos was sure that Vader’s eyes, the blood-red eyes he imagined hiding behind the blackness of Vader’s mask, were staring right at him, through him.
Kos Mason cringed.
Whatever had captured the Dark Lord’s attention released it just as quickly, and Vader continued. Peering again through the vent, Kos Mason watched as Vader, several uniformed officers, and an accompaniment of storm troopers ascended into the Lambda-class shuttle just beyond the open hangar bay doors. In moments the shuttle was gone, replaced by Imperial drop ships and Y-45 armored transport haulers swooping in to retrieve what AT-AT’s, AT-ST’s, ground troops, and technicians that remained. Kos couldn’t believe his eyes. Just like that, with such efficiency as he’d never seen, they were gone.
There was no way of telling how long he’d remained hidden, but he’d waited long enough to ensure that the Imperial blitzkrieg had truly ended and no troops remained behind. The Imperials had no reason to stay; they’d retrieved what they could from the Rebel databases, and the Alliance would not return to the ice planet again. Kos lifted the lid of the container and pulled himself out.
He was all alone.
For what seemed like hours he wandered the base, looking for survivors. There were none. Not a single, living, Rebel soul. The silence was eerie, broken only sporadically and made more surreal by the wails of the imprisoned Wampas. The Imperials had murdered any and all Rebel personnel in their path, and it was all Kos could do to ignore the bodies, Rebel and Imperial alike, that littered the shattered compound. At least the Imps rested in faceless anonymity; too many of the dead Rebels he recognized. Too many of them with whom he’d shared drinks, and stories, and in one case the occasional warmth of each other’s company. All dead. All gone at the hands of the Empire.
He shook his sorrow away as the Force smiled upon him once more; when he reached the infirmary, he found one, just one, 2-1B medical droid still intact.
“How may I assist you, Commander?” it inquired. Kos’s voice crackled. His throat was dry, and he hadn’t spoken for hours.
“Concussion, broken ribs, I think.”
Alliance Commander Kos Mason, bloodied and broken, propped himself up on the table, removed his vest and cold weather flight jacket. Painfully, he then peeled his flight suit away down to the waist. As the droid examined him, he glanced around. The bacta tanks were destroyed, as were most of the medical equipment and other droids.
The odds were astronomical….
Yet this one droid remained, ready and obediently willing to administer care. The droid completed his examination and applied a bacta patch to the Commander’s torso to both ease the pain and speed the healing of his broken ribs.
“Sir, protocol requires me to inform you that flying is not advised for the next forty-eight hours until you are free of concussion symptoms.”
“Thank you,” Kos replied as he hopped down from the examination table and pulled his flight suit back on. “But I have no choice.”
“Be well, sir.”
The pilot nodded to the droid and made his way back to the hangar. The rolling hills beyond were pocked by fallen and smoking AT-AT’s and downed speeders. Bodies littered the landscape like rag dolls that had been tossed into the wind.
There was nothing left there for Kos Mason.
There was nothing left there for any of them anymore. Like it had done with so many other worlds before, the Empire left Hoth behind, barren and devoid of life, bereft of hope. It was time to leave. With a heavy sign, Commander Kos Mason returned to the hangar where, miraculously, his X-wing remained intact and ready for flight.
“R6! Get us ready for take off!”
The astromech droid excitedly chimed to life at the sound of his master’s voice, and the X-wing’s engines began to hum. Kos climbed into the cockpit, sighed, and closed the canopy. He was again surprised to find that, once he broke atmosphere, the Imperial force that had entered the system was gone entirely. In the distance he could see the shroud of a nearby asteroid system, and the glint of floating steel reflecting off of the system’s sun. The Empire was gone indeed, and left their trash behind as a cruel and ghostly reminder of its presence.
Kos shook his head and keyed a coded transmission into his computer. His radio cackled to life a few seconds later. A brief exchange confirmed his identity.
“Code confirmed, Red Nine. Transmitting rendezvous coordinates now. Please stand by.”
“Roger that, command. Red Nine, standing by.”
The preceding is a work of fan fiction based upon and utilizing locations, characters, and/or plot points from the Star Wars universe, originally created by George Lucas and trademarked to Lucasfilm, Ltd. The author makes no claim whatsoever of ownership of the Star Wars name, characters represented, or the Star Wars universe generally. This work is created of the author’s own imagination and is intended for entertainment purposes only. It does not purport to be an “official” Star Wars story or part of existing Star Wars canon in any way. The author is not profiting financially in any way as the result of the creation or publication of this piece of fan fiction.