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It was a useful skill for a hunter to possess.

But by the time the Millennium Falcon Millennium Falcon took off, X-7 was as close to impatient as he ever got. His prey was in sight, and he was like a coiled sand snake, ready to strike. took off, X-7 was as close to impatient as he ever got. His prey was in sight, and he was like a coiled sand snake, ready to strike.

The Delayan communication system couldn't be trusted, especially with Vader's forces approaching the sector. X-7 forced himself to wait until he had returned to the ship. Then he forced himself to wait until he could slip away without anyone noticing. He sat patiently as Luke and Han bickered, as the protocol droid chattered and the Wookiee roared, as Han and Leia maneuvered around each other with icy politeness that barely masked their anger.

He waited until he got the privacy he required, and then he opened a secure channel to the Imperial Center and delivered news of his success.

"There is no doubt?" the Commander asked, barely disguising his eagerness.

"No doubt. The boy flies like no human I've ever seen," X-7 said, transferring his recording as they talked. "He was up to the task, I'm sure of it. And it's the only explanation for why the princess allowed a young, untrained recruit from the edge of the galaxy into her inner circle. Nor could she have lied under the influence of the serum. Luke Luke Skywalker Skywalker destroyed the Death Star." destroyed the Death Star."

"Then he must die," the Commander said. "And soon, especially if the Dark One is on the hunt."

"As you wish."

"Do it however you'd like," the Commander said. "But make sure you shift the blame to someone else. After the kill, you'll stay with the Rebels and continue reporting on their activities."

"Consider it done."

The day, like most days on Yavin 4, had been unbearably hot. But as the sun set, a cool breeze cut through the humid air. Chucklucks buzzed and twittered from the Massassi trees, and bellybirds swooped overhead, slicing through the golden sunset. On nights like this, it wasn't uncommon for some of the younger recruits to strike up a game of smashball in one of the clearings.

It also wasn't uncommon for Luke to take a swoop bike ride through the jungle, glorying in the wind on his face and the world rushing by. It reminded him of his days racing across the dunes on Tatooine-the only moments in his childhood when he'd truly been happy. As if pushing the swoop fast enough he could outrun life.

X-7 knew this, because Luke had confided in him. They were, after all, friends.

X-7 knew many things.

He knew which swoop Luke preferred to use.

He knew where on Yavin 4 a person could find ample quantities of explosive detonite charges.

He knew how to access Han Solo's bunk, and where its hiding places were. He knew where, for example, a person could hide ample quantities of detonite. Hide them precisely enough that Han would never suspect they were there-but that a cursory search of the bunk would quickly reveal them.

X-7 also knew how to rewire the ignition on a swoop bike, connecting it to the small packets of detonite tucked safely into the repulsorlift engines and the engine intake valve.

"Going out for a ride?" he asked, as Luke passed by. X-7 had positioned himself far enough from the swoop to avoid any shrapnel; close enough that he would be able to watch.

Luke grinned sheepishly. "You know I can't resist weather like this."

"I know," X-7 said. "It should be a memorable ride."

"Let's hope so," Luke said, hopping onto the swoop and waving goodbye.

Consider it done, X-7 had told the Commander, and he meant this literally. He had served the Commander for more than ten years, and never once had he failed to accomplish his mission. Once the order was given, its result was inevitable.

Luke Skywalker didn't know it yet, but he was already dead.

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