Story and art by Leela Starsky
see You Could Use Another Good Kiss home page
The collapse caught everyone by surprise. Avalanches were a constant threat in Hoth's hostile environment, which was why the Alliance forces had built the base well away from the mountains. This latest, distant event shocked even the most cynical among them.
Leia Organa moaned and tried to catch her breath. She'd been completely winded when Han Solo threw himself protectively over her. Now he pushed aside ice, snow, and a mountain of debris as he struggled to stand. Finally upright, Solo looked around at what had been the supply depot.
He glanced at the princess. "You all right?"
Leia had managed to get to her hands and knees, but was still trying to catch her breath. ''I think so."
Solo unhooked his comlink. "Solo to Control. Come in."
Leia surveyed the damage as she staggered to her feet.
"Solo to Control. Come in."
The ice above them creaked sickeningly and they looked up, then at each other. Solo lowered his voice, ''I don't like the sound of that." As Leia picked her way through the rubble and ice, Solo returned his attention to the comlink. "Control, this is Solo. Come in, please."
Leia looked back at him from the wall of ice that had been the middle of the aisle a few moments before. "Han, this looks pretty bad." She was rewarded with a sour look that all but shouted, You don't say!but she persevered. "There's probably a ton of cables and circuitry down between us and Control, causing all sorts of interference."
"If there isa Control," he pointed out.
Leia paled visibly. That thought obviously hadn't occurred to her.
Solo moved to the other end of the small space in which they were trapped and climbed a shelf to get a better look at what was supporting the ice over their heads. What he found wasn't encouraging. "Bein' held up by the shelves..." he muttered to himself. Reaching up, he ran his gloved hand gingerly along what had become the ceiling. The original ceiling was a mess of wiring, ducts, and smashed lighting underfoot, making the floor a good meter higher than it had been. The bottom shelves were completely buried.
The whole chamber was dimly lit by the ice above, which suggested there was daylight on the other side. Solo wondered how thick the ice was and if there might be some way to dig out without bringing the whole lot down on top of them. He didn't like their chances of surviving another cave-in.
Abruptly, a small part of the ceiling gave way, knocking him from the shelf and sending a small shower of ice and snow cascading over him. Leia looked up, horrified.
"Han!" She hurried over to him.
"I'm all right, I'm all right," he said, sitting up.
Worry swiftly dissolved into anger. "What the hell are you trying to do? Get us killed?"
He gave her a dirty look. "Yeah, right." He jerked his thumb at the ceiling as he got to his feet, and said, "The only thing holding that up is those shelves."
Leia looked at the shelves. The supply containers were designed so that, when stacked, they bore their own weight. The structure wouldn't support the enormous weight of the ice pressing down from above for very long. She glanced back at Solo. "How long?"
He shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine." He started to rifle through the shelves.
Leia shook her head and wondered aloud, "What could have caused it?"
"Probably all your yelling," Solo quipped as he carefully moved a box.
''I wasn't yelling," she said indignantly.
"You were so," he said, pulling a package out of a storage container.
''I was not.And if I was, it was your fault."
Solo opened the package, looking suitably pleased with its contents. "It's always my fault." He held a sealed cup out to her and smiled. "Mescu tea?"
''I hate mescu tea," she grumbled, but she took the cup.
Solo sat down, his back to the shelves, and peeled back the container's cover. The princess sat opposite him and did the same. Within thirty seconds, steam was rising from the cups. Both sipped gingerly at the scalding liquid as they considered their predicament. Studying the space they were trapped in, Leia realized she felt more irritated than worried. Of all the people I had to be trapped with,she thought. And with only mescu tea!"How long before anoxia sets in?" she asked.
Solo thought a moment before replying. ''I don't know...maybe an hour." He gave her a quirky grin. "Depends how much heavy breathing we do."
Ignoring his comment, she asked, "So what do we do? Try and dig our way out or wait for them to dig us out?"
"Do we wait for someone who may never come, or use up what oxygen we've got trying to dig our way out without bringing half the base down on us?"
Leia sighed and stared into her cup. "Some choice."
"I'm open to suggestions."
"Try the comlink again."
Solo did, with no luck. Suddenly a thought struck him. "Wait a minute." He climbed to his feet.
Solo looked hurriedly up and down the shelves. "With any luck..."
Leia followed him. "What?"
Solo ignored her, searching avidly.
He saw what he wanted. "Ah-ha."
Not tall enough to see what he was doing, Leia asked irritably, "What?!" When he climbed up and pulled himself into a shelf cavity, she became seriously alarmed. "Han, stop it--you'll ruin the integrity of the shelves!" He emerged a moment later with a black box that Leia regarded with amazement. "A radio?"
Solo put it down between them and started prying the rear panel off. "If we can find some way to retune the frequency--"
"We'll be able to contact the base! Han, that's brilliant!"
He grinned at her. "And you thought I was just a pretty face."
Outside the base, General Rieekan grimly surveyed the destruction. From here it looked like almost a third of the base had collapsed. Not good at all. He shook his head and headed back to Control. Several of the command team, including the seismic officer and Skywalker, were poring over maps of the base when he returned. They looked up expectantly at him as he joined them.
''I hope it's not as bad as it looks," was all he would offer.
"From what we've seen and the communications that have gotten through, section seven's completely collapsed." Skywalker pointed to the pertinent parts of the map. "Six, eight, nine, and ten partially, and five and eleven have suffered major damage."
Rieekan growled, picturing the state of the ships in section eleven, "That's the south entrance..."
"And Supply," one officer reminded him.
"What about the viability of the rest of the base?"
"It looks stable."
"So did section seven," Rieekan pointed out.
The seismic officer plunged ahead, "From what we've been able to tell, sir, it was the local avalanche that triggered it."
You don't say,Rieekan thought tersely, but he kept his mouth shut.
"It seems there's a fault in the surface ice running from the base of that mountain straight through section seven."
"What??" Now Rieekan was cross. "Why the hell wasn't it picked up sooner?" No one answered him. Finally, he asked, "How many people are missing?"
Lt. Pritcher spoke up. "So far we've got twenty-three casualties and sixteen missing."
Rieekan nodded resignedly "Casualties in the med center?"
"Or on their way."
I suppose we should be grateful we still have a med center,Rieekan thought sourly. "Fine--we know where they are. Concentrate on locating the missing. Bring up the list."
A column of names replaced the map on the data screen, and everyone winced as they recognized a friend or loved one. Luke Skywalker saw Solo's name and went cold. Then he saw Leia's and had to force himself to breathe.
"Okay," Rieekan said matter-of-factly. "Everyone take a copy. Let's see if we can find out where each of these people was last seen. Be back here in half an hour."
"Okay," Solo said, optimism heightening his tone. "Let's try it." He switched the radio on and nothing happened. Not even static. "Uh-oh."
He pulled a panel off. "No power pack."
Leia could not believe their bad luck. "Then there's nothing we can do."
"Well...I wouldn't say 'nothing."'
Leia looked at him and he held up his comlink. She hurriedly produced her own. "Are they compatible?"
He removed the energy cell from his own comlink. "No."
Leia smiled hopefully. "But you can fix it so they are?"
Solo gushed, "Princess, your faith in my electronic abilities overwhelms me!"
She grinned and scolded, "Don't let it go to your head." She handed him her comlink. "Can you fix it?"
Already at work, Solo muttered, "Do you think everything in the Falcon's
Leia rolled her eyes. "Is anythingin the Falconcompatible?"
"So the number of missing is down to eight, correct?"
"Yes, sir. All in section seven," Luke replied.
"Where's the list?" Rieekan asked, then found the names himself. "Ah." He stared at them grimly. "Have we had any fatalities yet?"
Luke nodded. "Two. Streetol and Burke. Caught in a secondary collapse while trying to rescue Garron. It was near section seven."
"That, of course, is the big danger," Lt. Pritcher mused. "Any work we do is going to cause more falls. If there are survivors trapped in air pockets, such a collapse could kill them."
"And if we don't try to get them out, they'll die anyway," Rieekan replied. "Seems to me, we have no choice."
"Haaa..." Solo crooned excitedly.
Static blared at them.
"What'd I tell you?"
''I never doubted you for a moment."
They grinned at each other.
"Solo to Control. . . "
I n Central Control, they were all startled when the familiar voice crackled at them suddenly. "Solo to Control...hey, anybody home?"
"It's Han!" Luke blurted happily.
Rieekan reached for the com.
"Solo to Control."
"Captain Solo, this is General Rieekan!"
"Where are you?"
Solo glanced at the mess around him. "Ahh...what used to be Supply."
"How many of you?"
"Just me and the princess." He grinned at her. "Real romantic." A baleful glare from the princess only served to widen his smile. "We're sealed in on all sides and there's a really deadly looking slab of ice above us--"
"Are you hurt?"
"No, but we could use a little air."
Rieekan considered the map. "Any idea of your position?"
Leia's voice crackled through the speaker. "Aisle Eight-See. Right on the corner. About eight meters up."
A comm officer punched in the coordinates. A moment later, the computer had illuminated Han and Leia's position. Rieekan silenced the com from his end and looked to his command crew for suggestions. The officers looked as much at a loss as he felt.
Pritcher stated grimly, "There's no way we can dig in. Not without bringing the whole thing down on top of them."
"What if we go from above?" Rieekan asked.
"Same problem. Plus we've got night only half an hour away."
"We could wear spacesuits to protect us frorn the cold," Luke suggested.
The lieutenant shook her head. "A spacesuit's not going to stop you from being blown away."
Luke's patience cracked. "So what do we do? Just leave them to die?"
The seismic officer suggested, "We could try going under."
Rieekan was glad to grab at anything positive. "How long will that take?"
"The cutters would have to be at the lowest setting because of the vibrations," he admitted honestly. "It could take days."
"Too long," Rieekan stated. "They're running out of air, remember."
"Unless we could get an air line to them from above," Pritcher said. "Drill a small hole in the ice above them."
"It'll collapse," the seismic officer replied. "Any vibration--"
"I know how we can cut a hole without vibration," Luke said quietly.
"How?" Rieekan demanded.
Luke removed his lightsaber from his belt and presented it to them. "With this."
"Luke, get topside!" Rieekan excitedly turned the com back on. "Princess, Solo--we've solved your air problem."
Solo's voice crackled back. "Glad to hear it."
"Getting you out's going to take a little longer."
There was a long pause from the other end before Solo asked, "How much longer?"
"We're going to try coming up from underneath. It could take a couple of days. How well dressed are you?"
"Why, General? Looking for a date?" Rieekan grinned as Solo continued. "We'll be here. We might be a little frozen, but we'll be here. What's happening with the air?"
"Skywalker's going to cut a hole in the ice above you with his lightsaber, then feed a line through."
"Good. It's getting pretty stuffy in here. I'm going to sign off now, General. The power supply to this thing is limited."
"Fine. We'll call you when we've got more news."
Chewbacca had insisted on accompanying Luke on his expedition, and even he had suited up against the evening temperatures. Their helmet lamps crazily lit the way, creating sudden shadows in the half-light. Luke seriously wondered if they might not be better off without them. Reflections off sudden flurries of sleet and snow didn't help matters. Most of their energy was spent simply staying upright in the increasing wind blowing across the barren ice field.
He stopped and checked the glowing display from the mapping device strapped to the back of his glove, altered their direction slightly, and staggered on.
"Getting a little dark in here."
Leia looked up at the ice. "Must be nearly night."
Solo got to his feet, desperate for something to do. "Let's see if we can't find a light of some sort."
They both started searching the shelves, opening any container they could safely move. Neither of them had any luck finding a lamp, but Solo found another carton of tea drinks and Leia unearthed a bag of thermal blankets at the bottom of a container of bed linen. Intent on finding a light source, Solo decided to risk climbing up to the next level.
"Careful," Leia warned.
But Solo had seen just what they were looking for. Just out of reach...no, a little more than that. He had to climb into the shelf cavity and slide along it a little way to grasp the lamp. The shelves creaked and the ice above rumbled.
Leia was all but hopping with nervousness. "Han, get out of there."
"I've almost got it..."
But the noises were getting louder. "Han, get out of there!"
He grabbed the lamp. "Got it." And switched it on. "Uh oh..."
"What?" Leia was frantic. The light spilling out from the shelf suggested it worked, so what was the problem?
"We've got company."
Solo vanished deeper into the shelving and Leia stared at the roof, certain it would come down on them. Then the whole shelf started shuddering.
"Han!" All she could hear was struggling and grunting. "Han, get back here now!'' The roof rumbled and Leia edged away from the shelves.
Leia just caught the lamp he flung at her. She held it up to see better and could just make him out, edging backwards toward her. He was dragging something big. Company. Oh, no..."Who is it?"
Solo grunted, "Can't see his face."
"Is he alive?"
Solo's legs emerged. "You think I'd go to all this trouble if he wasn't?" He climbed out and down, and Leia helped him lift the body down.
"It's Virdon," she said, pulling her glove off, and sliding her hand in between the man's collar and neck. "He's alive."
Solo was insulted. ''I said he was!"
"All right. All right."
''I think his back's broken. He probably was on the ladder, leaning into the shelf when it happened. The collapse pushed him further in--then something big caught him. He was damned hard to get out."
Leia briefly confirmed the man's injuries. ''I hope the damage isn't irreparable. He probably shouldn't have been moved without a backboard."
Solo glared at her. "Hey, I did my best."
''I know, Han, I know." She pulled a thermal blanket out of the bag she had left beside the small carton of self-heating drinks.
"But it isn't good enough!" Leia opened her mouth to disagree, but Solo didn't give her the chance.
"What should I have done? Left him there to die?"
"No, of course not--"
"It doesn't matter what I do. It's never good enough for you."
Leia shook her head, irritated. "Will you listen to yourself?"
Solo gave her a savage look and hissed, "Of all the people I had to be trapped with, why'd it have to be you?"
Leia regarded him darkly. "Funny, I was just thinking the same thing." She took out her irritation on the metallic blanket, shaking out the folds violently.
Solo oozed sarcasm. "Gods forbid we should have something in common!!"
Leia spread the blanket out and straightened up to face Solo. Feeling suddenly breathless, she snapped, "Will you settle down? You're wasting oxygen."
"See! That's just what I mean!"
"What? What'd I say now?"
"Haven't you ever lost it?"
Leia frowned. "Lost what?"
"It.You know. Control."
Leia was suddenly assaulted by the memory of Tarkin's offhanded obliteration of her home and family, and was shaken to the core. ''I..." I've lost more than you couldever know,she thought. "No..." He looked down at her, almost with loathing. "You're too in control to feel much of anything."
The radio squawked for attention and he moved away, leaving Leia struggling to control how suddenly close to tears she'd been. But the familiar fury rose to protect her from any such loss of face--fury that he had the power to invoke such strong emotions in her.
Solo answered the radio, and Luke's voice crackled at them. "Hey, Han. How you doing down there?"
Solo couldn't help sounding surly. "Great, kid."
"Hey, you two aren't fighting, are you?"
"No. Whatever gave you that idea?" Han quipped sourly.
"You'll use up all your oxygen," Luke said warningly.
Han struggled to contain his annoyance. "Well, you're here now; hurry up and do your bit with the lightsaber."
Han and the princess heard the hum of Luke's saber, and then hard, blue-white light turned the ice ceiling into a prism.
"I've taped the oxygen line to it." Luke said. "Okay, lowering now."
From their underground prison, Solo and Leia watched the glowing blade approach, hailed by a thin stream of water.
''I see it..." Solo said, then reached for the hilt as it emerged. "You're through." The lightsaber hung suspended by the oxygen line, and Solo turned it off before disconnecting the thin hose. He handed the saber to the princess and sniffed the tube. "This isn't working, Luke."
''I haven't switched it on yet," Luke told him.
"Tell him about Virdon," Leia suggested, attaching the lightsaber to her belt.
"Oh, yeah. We found Merac Virdon in here. He was in the next aisle; got caught in the shelves."
"Great! Is he all right?"
"We think his back's broken."
A lot of the enthusiasm went out of Luke's voice. "Oh."
"Well, at least he's off the missing list."
"How many are missing?" Leia asked.
"Six--no, five now. You're in the area worst hit." There was a significant pause. "You're very lucky to be alive."
Solo glanced around their dimly lit cave. "Yeah, well, we're not out of here yet. What's happening there?"
"Doing our best. Someone wants to say hello."
Chewbacca growled across the static, and both Solo and Leia smiled.
"Hi, Chewie. Hey, pal, how about putting some pressure on the rescue team for me?"
"Han!" Luke chided in the background, but Chewie had quite a bit to say. Some comment made Solo chuckle, then a moment later he glanced at the princess and pointedly looked away.
"Yeah, sure," he muttered. Chewbacca went on until Solo, obviously uncomfortable, cut him off. "Yeah, yeah--very funny. Get back inside before you freeze. Solo, out."
He sniffed the oxygen tube again. It still wasn't operational.
"What'd he say?" Leia asked, tucking a blanket around the board on which Han had laid Virdon. It was just a remnant from a collapsed shelf, but it was safer to move the man on that than on nothing at all.
Leia wrapped another blanket around the unconscious man and looked up at Solo, vaguely amused. "You're embarrassed."
Solo dismissed her, concentrating on the tube. "Come on, Luke, switch it on."
Leia stood up and felt suddenly dizzy. Stars swirled across her vision and she lurched, putting a hand to the wall for support.
Solo looked worriedly at her. "You okay?"
"I'm fine. I stood up too quickly. Lack of air..."
Solo switched the radio on. "Come on, people, we need air in here."
I n Central Control, the mood was one of great consternation.
"Why don't they have air?" Rieekan asked the appropriate officer.
''I don't know, sir. It all checks out."
Rieekan spoke into his com. "Luke, have you switched it on?"
"Yes, General. There may be a kink in the line. We're checking."
Solo rolled his eyes and switched off in disgust. "Kink in the line!"
"Han, you know what conditions are like out there."
"Yeah, and I know what they're gonna be like in here soon!"
Ten minutes later, Luke evidently found the problem with the air hose and the line started hissing softly. Solo stood under it, breathing deeply, and Leia joined him.
''I hadn't realized how bad the air had gotten," Leia said quietly.
"Anoxia's like that."
Some hours later, General Rieekan joined the section seven excavation crew. They seemed to be progressing better than expected.
"How's it going, Commander?"
The man in charge looked optimistic. "Slow but steady, General."
"If we continue at this rate, we could be through by morning. But don't tell those trapped inside. Personally, I think it's going toowell."