Tank gaped in astonishment. “I know who you are! I haven’t lost all my sanity yet.”
“Sorry,” Luke replied, chagrined. “I couldn’t resist a personal memory.”
A scowling Tank wasn’t sorry at all, but accused, “We don’t have time for memories ‘cause it sure took you long enough to get here!”
Luke winced. “Some of those things that I had to do took longer than expected.”
Tank immediately felt guilty. “No, I’m the one who’s sorry.” Here was his friend laying everything on the line to rescue him, and one of the first things he did was accuse him of taking too long. His manners had obviously eroded since being tossed into this cell. “You’re timing is perfect. After all, it’s only been a month.”
“A month and a day,” Luke corrected. “I meant to come storming in here to get you out right away, but Han stopped me. He had an idea that has worked out great so far.”
Tank’s forehead wrinkled. “Who’s Han?”
Luke marginally lowered the unignited lightsaber he carried in his gloved right hand. “You’ll know him as General Solo.”
“Oh, him.” Solo’s reputation for utilizing unusual yet highly successful strategic maneuvers was known throughout the Empire. “I heard he was a thief before he became a general.”
Luke grinned, something Tank certainly hadn’t seen him do when they’d been together on that Imperial shuttle. “Actually, he was a smuggler before he became a general.”
Tank nodded in understanding, seeing how knowing smugglers could have been of great help to the Rebel Alliance. In fact, he--
Then he suddenly cut himself off in growing confusion. “How’d you get in here, anyway?”
Luke almost smiled. “That’s part of Han’s idea. I’m pretending to be his prisoner, so we walked right in through the front door… the lift, in this case. He’s out there now, giving a surprise inspection to the security personnel so they’re too busy to notice how my stormtrooper ‘guards’ are letting me talk to another prisoner.”
Tank snorted inelegantly. “Well, you’re a king to come get me out of here. I owe you one.”
Luke returned his lightsaber to the clip on his belt. “Always good to have a real stormtrooper on your side. Do you still have access to your armor?”
“No, they said it wouldn’t do much good laying in a cell, so they threw me in here in my underwear.” Tank appreciated it when Luke did his best to strangle his amusement.
“Well, there’s bound to be a cloak in the shuttle if you get cold, and there’s some clothes back at the Fleet… though they may not be up to your standards. We couldn’t afford to be picky in the Rebellion.”
“After a month in the same clothes, anything that’s clean will be an improvement. I definitely owe you one.”
“You can pay me back right now.”
“Come out and meet everybody so I can rescue you and talk at the same time.”
Tank hesitantly accepted Luke’s invitation, following his friend out the door where two stormtroopers were standing guard in the corridor. Doors exactly like the one he and Luke had just walked through lined the corridor walls, and except for the two troopers and a small light at one end, the corridor was dark and empty.
Luke gestured towards the nearest trooper guard. “This is Wedge, and the other is Lando.”
Tank shook the first trooper’s hand. “Tank Sharpson.”
The trooper answered affably enough considering they’d been enemies until a month ago. “Actually, I’m Lando. He’s Wedge.” The helmet swung to face Luke. “We’ll walk slow, but make it fast.” The trooper took the lead, and the second fell in behind them.
Luke nodded, started to amble forward, and turned to Tank walking beside him. “I’m starting an academy,” he peremptorily explained. “Wanna join?”
Tank’s wrinkles of confusion deepened. “But you told me that I’m too weak to do much with the Force, certainly not enough to become a Jedi.”
Luke looked perplexed now. “Who said anything about the Jedi?”
“That’s what this academy is for, isn’t it? To train people to become Jedi?”
“The Force sensitive ones, yes. But other people can be part of this academy, too. Hopefully, a big part. That’s where you come in. I take it that you no longer have any interest in returning to the Imperial Fleet now?”
“None whatsoever,” Tank dryly insisted.
Luke brightened. “Then you need a new job. I seem to remember that in school, you were good at everything, so I’m offering you one.”
This was not at all what Tank had expected upon seeing Luke again. “A job?”
“I’ll teach about the Force, you teach about… other stuff… until we get more instructors, anyway. Then you can choose what you want to teach.”
Tank was silent as he considered. Stay on this Star Destroyer and rot in that cell, or… “Let me take a bath first, then you’ve got yourself a deal.” He didn’t want to scare potential students away with just his smell.
Luke’s face creased in delight. “You’re sure?”
“Yeah.” Tank straightened too. “Imagine me, a teacher.” His mom would be so impressed!
Why did he even care what his mom might think?
Luke clapped his hand on Tank’s shoulder, distracting him. “If the Force is with us, we’ll both live to be 900 years old like my teacher.”
The trooper in front suddenly spoke. “Hey Luke, hurry it up! We’re getting fairly close to the station checkpoint, and they’ll be sure to notice that they just saw us even if Solo is taking up all their attention.”
“You’re right; even Han can’t smooze all day about a surprise inspection,” Luke softly said. “Let’s rescue him.”
“You’re the boss,” whispered the front trooper.
Luke pushed his way forward as he unclipped his lightsaber. “Let me go first. If I hold my hands behind my back, it’ll look like this is a normal prisoner transfer.”
A hollow chuckle sounded from behind one of the white helmets. “This is a rescue for the archives. Here’s a guy who was a stormtrooper dressed only in his underwear, and two Rebels dressed as stormtroopers. Now I’ve seen everything.”
“I just hope we get out of here without killing anyone,” Luke hissed.
They didn’t want to kill anyone? Tank could help with that. “All us stormtroopers had standing orders to take Skywalker alive. Say the code 17, 69, 75, 21LS3’ into your helmet mic, and as long as that order is still standing, all the troopers will automatically set their weapons to ‘stun.’”
If armored stormtroopers could look surprised, those two troopers did. “Oh. That makes our job much easier. Thanks.” Both troopers set their weapons to stun as the one who’d answered softly issued the directive through his helmet mic.
Tank was hardly concerned that he had just given private trooper information to members of the former Rebel Alliance. If the war was truly going to end, then they had to stop issuing secret orders.
Luke proceeded down the corridor first, hands held firmly behind his back, hiding his lightsaber. The two fake troopers followed, weapons drawn, and Tank brought up the rear, concealed by the bulkier soldiers. Whispering, he asked, “How are we getting out of here?”
“Watch and learn,” one of the troopers replied in a low voice.
Then they were in the detention block’s anteroom, and all chatter ceased.
With his hands grasped convincingly behind his back, Luke’s index finger twitched towards the trooper on his left, and whoever that was parading around as an Imperial announced to the officer on duty, “New orders. Skywalker is to be transferred to maximum security.”
Two Imperial officers had clearly been involved in an intense conversation, but now they stepped back. The one inside the control ring announced, “I wasn’t notified. I’ll have to clear it with Command.”
The second officer laced his fingers behind his back into a pose of relaxed authority. “Carry on, Lieutenant.” He then prepared to accompany the troopers ostensibly guarding Luke.
The Lieutenant pushed a button on his computer panel. “This is…” and that was when the trooper nearest to Luke shot the computer officer while the second trooper shot the three other Imperials standing just outside the computer ring.
The one officer left alive gave a jump as the bodies slowly slid to the floor. “That wasn’t necessary.”
Ah, Tank thought, this is obviously General Solo.
“They’re only stunned,” the fake trooper told him. He gestured at Tank with his still smoking gun. “He gave us the right codes. Was he ever worth rescuing!”
Hardly mollified, the Imperial officer who was Han Solo retorted, “Lando, I’m amazed at you! You know better than to trust an Imperial.”
“Former Imperial,” Tank corrected from the rear. “I’m a teacher now. I work for Luke.” Those words were just so good to say!
It didn’t impress Fake Officer Solo, however. “Wonderful; another dreamer from Tatooine. Just what we need.” He took his place at the head of the small column of three fake Imperials, one fake prisoner, and one rescued stormtrooper. “Okay dreamers, let’s go.”