Chapter 42: "Take him over there, against that tree. Shoot him."

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Lance Dare put his hands in the air. But he didn't walk anywhere.

"I'm not a rebel," he said.

"Walk," the trooper ordered again. This time the command was accompanied by a prod of the blaster into his back.

He walked.

Ella copied his example. She raised her own hands and followed.

"I'm definitely not a rebel!" she protested. "Look at me! I crashed out here last night and am trying to find my way back home." She nodded at Lance. "I don't even know this man - I've only just met him!"

"The ground commander will decide that."

They walked for a minute until they came to a clearing in the shade of the marl trees. There Ella saw a white freighter, with several Imperial troops guarding it. They were commanded by a single officer who wore the familiar grey tunic, recognised across the galaxy. Ella was ushered toward him.

"Sir, we caught these two rebels entering the forest."

The man inspected them with complete contempt.

"So, you are the last of the rebels that belong to this smuggling ring?" he asked, giving a quick nod to the stationary vessel. "Illegal medicines, prohibited compounds, energy cells, forbidden literature, a custom transponder arrangement that looks like it is set up to provide the ship with a false identity." He crossed his arms behind his back and stared Lance full in the face. "This planet and its refugees is under a strict sanction of what can and cannot be imported. That is the agreement brokered between both Farsalt and the Empire to allow them to host the scum of the galaxy until a more . . . final solution can be found for them."

"The people are near starving!" Lance Dare erupted. "The compound generators can't provide for them all - not nearly enough. They are far too restricted in what they can manufacture. What harm is any of these supplies doing to you? You won't find a weapon amongst them!"

The officer's face twisted into an incredulous expression.

"How naive! You break the Emperor's command because you believe you have a moral duty to do so? You know, as do I, that every drop of medicine, every power cell, every engineered molecule you have smuggled in is as dangerous to the galaxy as a battalion of terrorists. You are changing the conditions of their asylum and are thus breaking the one law that holds sway in the galaxy: the Emperor's law."

"But he's dead!" Lance Dare yelled. "He's–oof . . ."

The trooper behind the smuggler brought the butt of his blaster down onto the back of his neck.

He crumpled to the ground at the officer's feet.

The officer glared at him. "That is treasonous talk in the extreme. I was about to send you and this girl back to our headquarters at the palace, to be questioned by my commander, as I have already done with your crew mates. But now, I will execute you." He motioned to the trooper who had struck the smuggler. "Take him over there, against that tree. Shoot him."

Lance Dare was dragged to his feet. He shook his head and blinked stupidly.

"Wait . . ." he muttered. "I-I didn't mean to–"

"Carry on," the officer ordered. He looked at Ella. "You will be spared his fate. You will remain a prisoner of the Empire and be questioned accordingly."

Ella was numb. She couldn't believe that a man was about to be killed for uttering just three words.

She looked at Lance and then back to the Imperial officer. Their eyes made contact.

"Wait!" she said suddenly. "Wait."

"Wait!" the commander said loudly. The troopers paused, and Lance Dare lifted his head to watch.

"You shouldn't do this," she pleaded. "He is far more valuable to you alive. You should send us both to the palace as prisoners. Please, you–"

"Perhaps I shouldn't do this," the officer muttered. He turned to Lance Dare. "You are far more valuable to me alive. You shall both be sent to the palace as prisoners."

Ella watched in silent disbelief at the man's change in decision. The troopers hesitated.

"What are you waiting for? Proceed with my commands," the officer instructed. "Load them both on the carrier and send them to the palace. We'll follow when we secure the ship."

Ella was escorted to the nearby carrier, a speeder that was designed to carry troops and cargo over short distances. She had her hands cuffed behind her and was forced to sit on a metal bench. Lance was pushed down next to her, similarly bound, whilst two troopers and the pilot joined them aboard.

The carrier lifted off the ground and glided forward.

Lance leaned close to her.

"Thanks," he whispered. "I thought I was a goner. But I'm surprised he changed his mind–"

"Quiet!" the trooper watching over them said.

The carrier gained speed, and Ella and Lance said nothing more. Within just a few minutes, the vast outline of the palace appeared on the top of the rocky promontory above them.

And above that the outline of an Imperial Star Destroyer blighting the morning sky reminded Ella that she was now a prisoner in her own home.

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The sudden execution order for Lance is intended to surprise readers - how often in Star Wars are our heroes captured only to escape a short time later? This was also supposed to represent the Empire in a 'real life' way - where in World War 2 occupied Europe people suspected of being linked to resistance would be summarily executed on the orders of some relatively low ranking officer. Such abrupt orders are usually missing from the Star Wars canon, but it's a worth while reminder of the kind of regime the rebellion were up against.

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