Beyond Ashes of Empire [Repost from Temp Boards]

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Mechalich, Sep 7, 2012.

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  1. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Title: Ashes of Empire
    Author: Mechalich
    Timeframe: 12 ABY - Immediately following Empire's End
    Characters: Various Imperial Military Personnel (Canon and OC)
    Genre: Drama, Politics, Fleet Combat
    Notes: This is in many ways a sequel to the comic Empire's End, familiarity with that work will clarify some references, but is not necessary to appreciate this one.

    This story originally appeared on the Temp boards. It will be re-posted in full over the next several days. Comments of all kinds, positive and negative, are strongly encouraged.



    Dramatis Personae
    (in order of appearance)

    Lieutenant Jarrets - communications officer, Night Shark
    Admiral Ilione Priam - commander of Black Sea Squadron
    Captain Kelsen - commanding officer, Night Shark
    Lieutenant Calthame – sensors officer, Night Shark
    Colonel Garvus – Yardmaster, Monarch Yard
    Moff Ergus – Governor of Relus
    Admiral Hennat – commanding officer of Pesh Squadron
    Admiral Kraven – commanding officer, Erebus
    Captain Govith – commanding officer, Bramble
    Ars Dangor – Imperial Advisor
    Xasha – bounty hunter
    Lieutenant Helerem – bridge officer, Pilum
    Vice-Admiral Gredge – commanding officer, Assertor
    Rear Admiral Lorip Tallance – commanding officer, Deference
    Captain Roderick Bissel – commanding officer, Spearpoint
    General Vecd – commander of the 127th Fighter Wing
    Captain Maxcrith – commanding officer, Bloodglaive
  2. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Chapter 1: Fires of Gravity

    At the heart of the Deep Core, where the stars swirled together in battle at minute distances, darkness was a fleeting, swiftly forgotten thing. In every direction space glowed blue and red and yellow. The rare gaps slipped away swiftly as the stars screamed through their tight orbits surrounding the heart of darkness at the center of the galaxy. The constant light unnerved many; its feral power dwarfed everything they accepted. Most ships daring this region traveled by sensors alone, blanking their windows to hide the brightness.

    Except here.

    The backdrop of the Beshqek system was no different than any other in the Deep Core. Countless stars surrounded it at tiny distances, folded about this little pocket of solace in a teetering array, always threatening to drop down and snuff it out. A glance out any viewport readily revealed those mighty globes.

    But no watcher would bask in their luminence.

    Blue and eerie, glowing with colors no man could name, this barrier ensconced the star system fully within its mantle. Here there was darkness, for that glow was a pale and wan thing. It begged for the dispersive solace of greater light. All the system bowed beneath this strangely luminous shadow, a shade born not of any star, but emerging from within the depths of the fifth planet.

    All who entered the system experienced that strange illumination, but none spoke of it. A taboo kept without words, it was instead realized through the unconscious foreboding of all who came to this dread place.

    Such was Byss, seat of the Emperor in his second life.

    Beneath the watchful eye of the Imperial Citadel, a baleful gaze extending to the far reaches of the star system, billions labored to provide their overlord with the tools of conquest. Millions more toiled in the space-based shipyards and docks to build warcraft and stations for the fleet. Finally there were the myriad thousands in fleet itself, the largest conglomeration of military might in any one star system of the whole galaxy.

    Hidden in the heart of the maze of fire that was the Deep Core the fleet seemed excessive to most commanders; ten times the size and more of any force that could possibly be transported to this planet of shadow within light. Yet all served with a nervous edge, for the presence of the Emperor suffused the system, hovering behind the eyes, ominous and overwhelming. The fleet would keep watch, always fearful. No matter the terrors it presently defended.

    “Admiral, we have an update from Fleet Command,” the communications officer, Lieutenant Jeretts, announced from the crew pit.

    “And what do they have for us now?” Admiral Priam1 stood at the front of the bridge, staring out into the paleness of Byss, a space cluttered by the many objects festooned about the swirl-color world.

    “Strategic Artillery Command reports that repairs to the Galaxy Gun have been completed,” Jeretts summarized. His tone was steady, calm, and rapid, the hallmarks of a veteran officer. “They are powering the weapon up now.”

    “So, the pause is over,” Priam stared out at the vast needle-shaped machine. Her stomach roiled looking upon it; the greatest power in the galaxy, or so it seemed, a planet-destroyer hidden and protected at the Empire's center. The Rebellion was collapsing in the face of those missiles, but the Admiral could not help but feel cheated by the device. Her career, and the possibility of grand battles, reduced to riding heard on a giant cannon. “Order the squadron to yellow alert,” she told the lieutenant. “If the rebels have forces to send, they'll do it now, while the Eclipse II is absent.” She suspected that their starfighter attack on the Emperor's flagship had been launched for precisely that purpose, to draw supporting forces further from Byss in the hopes of one final suicide run against the Galaxy Gun.

    Priam willed them to come. Let there be one last true engagement.

    Yellow alert sounded, and auxiliary crew moved into position, bringing the Night Shark up to combat readiness. In the nearby surrounding space other vessels, star destroyers and support ships, did the same.

    “On Yellow Alert Standby Admiral,” Captain Kelsen2 updated from the rear of the bridge.

    “Very good,” Priam clocked the speed of response on her wrist chrono. They were getting better. They weren't Death Squadron, not yet, but her ships had matured into a real fighting force.

    “Admiral, the Galaxy Gun is repositioning,” this was the high, snap-quick voice of Lieutenant Calthame, the young sensors lead.

    “What's their trajectory?” Priam mused aloud. High Command would never tell her, of course. That wouldn't serve the ego of Umak Leth. He treated the world-smashing superweapon like his private toy.

    “Protecting their barrel direction against the star map, admiral,” Calthame reported. “It appears they are aiming for the Japrael Sector.”

    “Onderon,” Priam whispered. Turning towards the stars she smirked slightly. Leth planned to destroy the Emperor's attackers in a play for favor. Such ploys were dangerous gambles, and in this case surely unnecessary. The rebels didn't have anything capable of bringing down the Eclipse II.

    “Admiral!” Calthame's voice rose to a fever pitch, and her military decorum collapsed. She was simply screaming across the deck. “Unauthorized realspace reversion! It's...the Eclipse II!”

    “What?” Shocked through to her boots Priam rounded on the command chair. “Project it! Now!” she ordered.

    A holo-model of the system sprang to life before her.

    The massive black dagger-form of the Eclipse II, fifteen thousand kilometers of death-dealing star dreadnaught, had emerged shockingly close to Byss. Unsafe and out of control, the vessel was charging at full speed.

    It was heading straight for the long spindle-form of the Galaxy Gun.

    “By the Empire! No!” Priam couldn't hold the emotions in.

    Everyone on the bridge turned in horror, watching as, over a space of mere seconds the two superweapons converged.

    The Galaxy Gun attempted to turn, but it was a giant barrel, not a ship, and had no capability to maneuver rapidly. With utter inevitability the two machines smashed together.

    The reinforced prow of the Eclipse II cleaved clean through the Galaxy Gun, causing the missile-thrower to fracture and break in many places. Catastrophic failures blew apart the seams of the device, and it crumbled to pieces almost instantly.

    Cries of shock and awe exploded across the bridge.

    Priam, in front of it all, stood in stony silence, unable to believe what had just happened. Before her eyes inertia pulled the great dreadnaught into a careening whirl, spinning and rolling madly.

    Decades in the fleet reasserted themselves in only moments, as the cacophony before her became intolerable.

    “Silence!” Priam bellowed, demonstrating lungs that had retained power into middle age. “Sensors! Report!”

    Eclipse II is spinning on its axis,” Calthame's voice jumped and shuddered, but she managed something close to coherency. “The ship reports it is out of control. Galaxy Gun is...silent.”

    The bridge of the Night Shark fell deathly quiet.

    Something blinked on the sensor display.

    Priam's eyes went to it at the same time as Calthame's.

    “What?-”

    “Admiral...the Galaxy Gun...it was armed during the collision,” the young woman's face was a white sheet. “And now it's fired.”

    Eyes wide, Priam turned to scan her bridge. Such madness required an immediate response. “Someone tell me what that means...now!”

    The explanation came, unexpectedly, from the helm. “Admiral, without guidance the missile will follow the basic laws of the universe, it will be governed by...by...gravity.”

    Priam was not a scientist, but no one served as an officer aboard a starship without some understanding of the nature of physics. Her head whipsawed around, staring out the viewport again, and realizing what the dominion of that oh-so-basic physical force implied.

    The projectile would circle in upon Byss itself.

    Missiles from the Galaxy Gun could not be stopped; they would tear through any opposition until they struck their target.

    But this missile had no target.

    “Helm,” Priam made a desperate decision. “I want a microjump now. Put us in front of that missile.”

    “Admiral, the target's too close to Byss, we'd slam flat against the planet's atmosphere!” the helmsman protested.

    “Stang!” Priam smashed her fist into the command chair. “Are there any ships in position to intercept?” she thought desperately. “Or one of the Hunter-Killers?” The massive droids might just be big enough to trigger a premature detonation.

    “There are no ships in position,” Calthame shook her head.

    “The Hunter-Killers are too slow,” someone in the crew pit, in the near-panic Priam could not tell who it was, shouted.

    Several more frantic suggestions were offered, each more desperate than the last, but none had any chance of working. The reality of what was about to happen settled over Priam, a crushing mountain upon her.

    Byss was lost.

    “Lieutenant, get a connection with High Command, now,” Priam demanded of Jaretts. “And open a main channel to the entire defense fleet.”

    “High Command's channels are scrambled, but I've got the fleet.”

    “Open it all the way, make sure everyone hears this,” Priam wasn't the ranking officer in the system, far from it, but Night Shark was standing the command flag for this shift3. She had emergency authority. “This is Night Shark to all ships,” she spoke forcefully into the command chair. “Byss is lost, repeat, Byss is lost, this is not a drill. This is not an error. All ships are to execute emergency evacuation orders immediately. Repeat, all ships to evacuate immediately. Rendezvous at Point Besh. This is an emergency evacuation order to all fleet and civilian vessels, execute immediately.” Details came to her as she spoke, and they rambled into her command even as veteran captains were already jumping to lightspeed in the distance. “All ships docked on Byss, emergency launch now. Do not wait, do not stop, you must launch now, the planet is lost.”

    Priam killed the transmission and turned to Jaretts. “High Command?”

    “Coming through now.”

    “This is fleet command,” the voice on the other end was stretched by nerves beyond the point of recognition. Staring down the certainty of death and breaking apart. “Confirm orders from the Night Shark. All ships are to evacuate immediately. Night Shark is confirmed in emergency command under Contingency Rule 1.51. All ships evacuate immediately...”

    “Engines, prepare for mircojump and hold us there, but I'm not leaving until the last second,” Priam ordered the rest of her ship.

    “Sir,” the chief engineer's voice intruded over the intercom, distraught and worried. “That'll put considerable strain on the engines, we might not make the jump when-”

    “Noted and overridden, hold us at the edge,” Priam refused to leave until she was sure she'd done all she could. Byss was dying. There must be something she could save.

    “Acknowledged.”

    “Status of the Eclipse II?” the admiral questioned. That ship was a fleet in and of itself. If only it could be preserved...

    “Rotating on its axis, and its heavily damaged, the engines will never regain control in time,” a tech officer answered from her left.

    “Stang,” Priam hissed. “Order the crew to abandon ship, perhaps some will manage to outrun the shockwave.”

    Her eyes were glued to the sensor projection as the errant missile began its ever-quickening descent into the atmosphere of Byss. Nearby a handful of ships, the lucky ones primed on their launch pads, dashed desperately for space. She wondered if any of them would survive.

    “Admiral, I have an incoming priority transmission from Monarch Yard,” Jaretts announced, pulling Priam's attention back to the present.

    Monarch Yard was the largest of the many shipyards surrounding Byss, shipyards Priam suddenly realized were all doomed to be shredded in the shockwave to come. It was one more blow among many. “Put them through,” she ordered as her mind struggled to keep pace. That mighty shipyard had been the birthplace of the Eclipse II, had completed the Eclipse, and now hosted four grand star dreadnaughts, all incomplete.

    Night Shark, this is Colonel Garvus, commanding the Yard,” the voice was remarkably composed, thick and scratchy with age. “We have released Autarch and Heseriarch, but the Despot is not equipped with a hyperdrive at this stage, and the Sovereign's is locked down for repairs.”

    The Sovereign-class4, ships only marginally less powerful than the Eclipse-class, were star dreadnaughts built for the promise of an Empire stronger than ever. Priam knew she had to save the two ships, if at all possible.

    “Do Sovereign's shields function?” she asked the distant Colonel desperately.

    “Yes ma'am, they are fully operational,” the cagey veteran on the other end replied.

    “Divert all power to shields immediately prior to shockwave impact,” she recalled the old tactics the academy still taught for enduring a pulse cannon blast. “Ignore the limiters, burn out the shields, the reactor, whatever it takes; you just have to hold through the wave.”

    “Understood admiral,” the colonel agreed, though he sounded no more confident than Priam felt. “And the Despot?”

    “Do its shields function?”

    “No.”

    “Then tell the crew to lock the ship down and take shelter,” she offered, knowing how hopeless it sounded. “Perhaps the bulk of the vessel will endure,” the Sovereigns were massive, it might be possible. “We shall send rescue teams as soon as possible.”

    “Understood.”

    “Admiral, Galaxy Gun missile has impacted the surface!” Calthame's voice rode over all other sounds.

    “What's our evacuation status?” she demanded of Lieutenant Jarrets.

    “Sixty percent of the fleet has jumped clear,” the man swallowed. “The number is rising as we speak. Sixty-two....sixty-four...”

    In the window beyond Byss began to crackle and boil.

    Impossibly fast the planet shifted to red. Then it blasted apart.

    “Shockwave incoming!”

    “Hyperspace, now!”

    Priam stared at the oncoming blast until the stars shifted to starlines and everything faded to blue.

    What happened to the Empire now?


    Chapter Notes

    1. Priam is a canonical character, as are the majority of the significant roles in this piece. I made the choice to invent characters only when an existing person could not reasonably be place to fill a necessary role. However, most of these characters are drawn from obscure sources and are based on very limited information, so the overwhelming majority of the resulting characterization is my own. Priam is one such character, appearing in a single canon source: the comic Boba Fett: Overkill, for a handful of panels, in which she was identified only by rank.
    2. Captain Kelsen, Lieutenant Jaretts, and Lieutenant Calthame, and generally all other lesser bridge officers identified in the work are original characters. I have chosen to use family name identification as the primary means for all such characters, fitting with common military protocol.
    3. I have invented the concept of ‘standing the flag’ based on a limited understanding of how Imperial fleets are commanded at this level. Canon establishes that in many circumstances it was common for the captain of a flagship to take command when the admiral of a fleet was indisposed. The Byss Defense Fleet is large enough, however, that it contains many admirals who would be superseded by such an arrangement. Moreover the flagship, Eclipse II, being subject to Palpatine’s whims, would often be absent. The resultant mechanism I have invented is that the flag rotates through a series of admirals depending on who is on duty at the time.
    4. The Sovereign-class dreadnaughts, introduced in the story here, are canonical, though much information about the ships is rather vague in note. The names are taken from the Dark Empire Sourcebook, but the status of the individual vessels and other information is my invention.
  3. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Chapter 2: Martial Crumbs


    Priam collapsed into her command chair as the blue of hyperspace closed around them. She paused to take a deep breath, knowing only seconds of peace existed before they emerged and chaos engulfed them again. The bridge remained silent, each officer doing much the same as their admiral, all trying to sort out what had just occurred.

    The Eclipse II, the Galaxy Gun, Byss, and some as yet uncounted portion of the fleet that failed to escape - these were the losses. By any estimation they were grave indeed. Coupled with the recent loss the of the Eclipse and the World Devastators Priam suspected that, when they emerged from hiding in deep space, the rebels might well have fleet superiority once again. If they did the destruction of the Byss shipyards meant they were all but certain to maintain it.

    “Realspace reversion in five seconds,” the helm called to Captain Kelden.

    “Communications, be ready with additional channels,” the captain relayed to the crew pit. “We’re going to need them.”

    The stars reappeared in the next moment. Night Shark surged forth into the outer section of the system, pulling into loose orbit around the frozen iceball of Pellut1.

    Hundreds of other ships, military and civilian, clustered together.

    “Communications to all ships,” Priam ordered, standing up again. She felt impossibly tired, but the blank, pleading stares of the crew kept her on her feet. She had to keep her place, to try and pull the pieces together. “Tabulate all present vessels. Match military ships against the order of battle and civilian vessels against the customs database as they report in. I want a list of every surviving vessel and a list of the losses assembled as soon as possible.”

    “Admiral, space is getting awfully crowded here,” Jaretts reported from sensors.

    “Give me general fleet com,” Priam said without hesitation. Grabbing the speaker she took one deep breath, and then began to give orders to the fleet, not knowing what portion of it survived. “This is Admiral Priam of the Night Shark, exercising emergency control on the order of High Command. All ships to red alert. All Byss Defense Fleet vessels form up in skirmish formation by squadron and prepare to repel possible attack. If the rebellion has ships nearby they will try to strike at us.” It was an obvious tactic, if she had a fleet in deep space she’d be proceeding towards Byss with all possible speed. Priam doubted the rebels would truly attack; they were liable to celebrate instead, but it gave the troops something to do. “All civilian vessels are to move into holding orbits around Pellut until further notice. The Beshqek system is presently under emergency interdiction; all Imperial Customs vessels move to enforce blockade protocols. All ships report to command and standby for further orders. There will be an announcement at…” She glanced at her wrist chrono. “07452.” She had six and a half minutes to assemble enough order from chaos that she could address the ships.

    Killing the transmission, she turned to Lieutenant Calthame. “Loop that message to all commands.”

    After the nod, Priam turned back to the bridge crew. “Status in the green?”

    Terse acknowledgments returned. It wasn’t really needed to know such things, but the men needed confidence. Everyone was cracking at the seams.

    “Admiral,” Calthame’s voice broke through the daze; buried in that high treble was a terrible foreboding. Matters were about to get worse. “I queried the fleet command channel for possible contingency orders, but all I received was an emergency code from the Eclipse II. It’s highly encrypted sir, we only received it as the duty flagship.”

    “Forward to my station,” Priam returned to her chair. Carefully she tapped out the password for the duty flag officer, a code she’d memorized months ago when appointed to potential command of the Byss Defense Fleet. She’d rarely used it since, but it was seared into her memory. Orders from the Emperor himself could come across that clearance.

    Perhaps, she hoped, they did so now.

    The result was short video file, covered with code at the edges, all confirming it was fully legitimate and from the Eclipse II.

    Priam saw nothing of the message, barely noticed the face of the admiral, heard only the words.
    “This report is to announce the death of our Emperor, Palpatine, at the hands of rebel agents on the planet Onderon at 2300 today,” there was a pause as the officer shuddered, his ship shaking as it made the unexpected transition into hyperspace. “Repeat, we are reporting the death of Emperor Palpatine on Onderon at the hands of rebel agents…3”

    “No, this can’t be happening…” Priam whispered.

    “Admiral?” Kelden’s voice was thick with concern.

    “It makes sense now, how the Eclipse II could be lost…” Priam realized. The Emperor had destroyed the first flagship himself. Surely, if he’d been aboard he could have prevented the collision through his sorcery, or torn apart the Galaxy Gun’s errant missile. Only in his absence did this incredible disaster become possible in any way.

    Unable to muster the strength to answer the captain, or even stand up, Priam simply looked at her wrist chrono. She had to address the fleet in three minutes. It seemed an impossible task.

    “Admiral, what was the message?” Kelden demanded, actually going so far as to grasp her cuffs with his left hand.

    “The Emperor,” she spoke flatly, all energy drained from her lips. “Is dead. He was killed on Onderon, yesterday.”

    “Dead?” Kelden shook his head. “No, the Emperor is immortal!” the officer denied. “He’ll come back again, in a new body, just as he has before.”

    For a moment Priam dared to hope. Yes, the Emperor had faced death before, and survived. He had clones, secret tanks rumored to exist in the Imperial citadel, and some fell Force power that allowed him to move between bodies.

    Tanks in the Imperial Citadel…

    “Byss is gone,” Priam announced it anew, as if realizing the destruction for the first time. “The clones, if they were there, are gone. The Emperor…he may truly be dead this time.”

    Silence enveloped the bridge.

    Priam looked at her wrist chrono. 0743; two minutes before the fleet must be addressed. Keeping that promise, keeping military discipline. That mattered to her; it was the one thing she could hold to in the terrible moment.

    But if someone else could address the fleet, that would be best. “Lieutenant,” she stared at Calthame. “We must address the fleet. Who is in command?”

    “Sir?” confusion warred with horror on the young woman’s face.

    “I have emergency authority,” Priam noted. Explaining it felt good, grounding. “But we have escaped Byss. Command falls to the senior surviving officer. Who has command?”

    “I…I don’t know sir,” Calthame stumbled.

    “You have ten seconds to find out,” she tried to glare, but the strength of it wasn’t there.

    “Sir,” the lieutenant tapped at her terminal. “Querying the ships now. Eighty-one percent of the fleet has reported. Fleet command is…silent, sir, we have no contact on that channel, no activity. No one escaped Byss.”

    “Senior officers of the fleet?” Priam was far from the only admiral on Byss. “Comeg? Kedler? Tandres?4”

    “Admiral Comeg was aboard the Galaxy Gun, Admiral Kedler was on Byss attending a strategic planning session,” the litany was brutal. “Admiral Tandres…” Calthame paused. “The Warmonger reports Admiral Tandres was spending the day with his family on planet.”

    Calthame turned directly to Priam. “Admiral, all ships are reporting. You have seniority. The fleet is yours.”

    “By the Empire,” Priam sank deeper into her chair. It could not be true, she refused to believe it. Could it be possible for one woman, out of less than a dozen with the rank of admiral5, at the age of forty-six, to command the most powerful fleet in the galaxy?6

    Her chrono blinked. She had to address the fleet.

    Wrenching her body from her chair with both arms, the Imperial stood on unsteady legs. She kept her left hand on her the arm, relying on the cool fabric for support. “Open fleet-wide channel,” she told Calthame.

    It took three tries; the woman’s composure was equally frayed.

    When a short burst of static signaled connection, Priam spoke. “This is Admiral Ilione7 Priam to all commands. I have several announcements to relate.” She paused, struggling to gather strength and force the words past a block in her throat. “First, as most observed from sensor reports, the Eclipse II, flagship of the fleet, collided with the Galaxy Gun, resulting in the destruction of the latter. This resulted in a misfire of the weapon, causing an unguided warhead to collide with the planet Byss.” She looked down, unable to stare into the projector, taking comfort in the solidity of the gray deck beneath her feet. “As a result…of this…collision…” Priam struggled to continue. “The planet Byss was destroyed. The entirety of the population is presumed…dead…pending further information. The Eclipse II and a considerable portion of the Byss Defense Fleet were also lost as a consequence.”

    The next piece was the death of the Emperor, but the admiral could not make the words come out. After a moment, she stopped, and diverted to a practical, manageable statement. “As a result of these acts, an emergency blockade of all traffic in the Beshqek system has been declared. All ships shall move to maintain this until further notice. All fleet tender and support vessels are hereby ordered to return to Byss orbit following this announcement to begin search, rescue, and salvage operations. This fleet shall give every effort to recover all surviving citizens of the Empire.”

    Save the citizens of the Empire. That was good. Priam took strength from those words. She had command, a command that, for the first time in her life she wanted no part of. There was no one else to pass it to, and she had to act now, act to save lives, to preserve the fleet. That was what a soldier did. These were her men now; she had to take care of them.

    This gave her the resolve to relay that last piece. “Finally, we have received word from the Eclipse II’s command station prior to its destruction.” She raised her head, and stared directly into the feed, headless of the clouds in her eyes as tears approached. “Current reports indicate that, at 2300 hours yesterday, Emperor Palpatine was killed in combat with rebel operatives on the planet Onderon. I repeat…the Emperor was killed on the planet Onderon. This is not an unconfirmed report, but comes directly from fleet command.”

    Priam paused, and turned to Calthame. The lieutenant, shocked out of frozen fascination, stared back, eyes as saucers. The admiral paused the feed. “Append the message from the Eclipse II to this, never mind the encryption.” These men and women, the soldiers of the Empire, needed to know.

    “At this time,” Priam continued. “Command has devolved to myself under transference as the senior officer of the fleet. My orders are as follows: maintain system interdiction, maintain fleet order, and prioritize search, rescue, and salvage. Further orders will follow.”

    She killed the holofeed and slumped back into her chair.

    “Very good admiral,” Kelden was suddenly next to her. He held out a cup. The steaming smell of hot caf wafted from it. “Thought you might need this.”

    Priam normally hated caf, she thought it foul tasting, but she grabbed the cup and poured the liquid down, savoring the heat of the stuff as it surged through her throat. That warmth gave a bit of life to her bones. “Thank you captain,” she told him. “Now tend to your ship. We must prevent outbreaks of unrest.”

    She had been in the Outer Rim after Endor, when the announcements came. The memories were brutal. If there was anything she could do to prevent that from happening, it had to be done now. “Captain,” she amended. “Prepare the hangar bay for arrivals. We will convene a war council at 1200.”

    “Sir,” the captain acknowledged.

    In the same vein, Priam took the keys to her command chair and composed a brief message to the remaining admirals and senior captains of the fleet. They would need to be unified going forward.

    “Lieutenant Jaretts,” she ordered the sensors officer. “How much of the fleet did we lose?”

    “Eighty-one percent of the ships survived admiral,8” Jaretts summarized. “But most of the ships lost were older vessels with slow hyperdrive activation speeds. We’ve preserved eighty-five percent of fleet firepower, not counting the Eclipse II, of course.”

    The dreadnaught was a massive loss all on its own, but Priam took some solace in the report. Most of the fleet had survived. Perhaps her actions had managed to save lives already. The others would be mourned, must be remembered, but for now, she had neither the strength nor the time.

    “What of the non-military services? And civilian vessels?”

    “Large numbers of both sir, I’m still sorting through it. So far the interdiction order appears to be holding,” Jaretts confirmed.

    “What about the hunter-killers?” Priam suddenly recalled. Working made her feel better, it restored confidence, facilities. “Do we have command of those?”

    “Those were under the command of Imperial Customs; we don’t have direct authority…”

    “This is system is presently under martial law, lieutenant,” Priam managed something resembling a moment of cheer at that announcement. “Get a hold of whoever commands customs and find a way to assert control of those droids. I want that blockade maintained.”

    “Yes sir.”

    She needed the blockade to keep the fleet together, to meld it back into a single unit. Otherwise it would surely scatter across the galaxy.

    “Let’s find out what our civilian ships contain, maybe there’s something useful aboard all those freighters,” Priam was more than happy to inflict a little suffering now. “We’ll seize all supplies and components for fleet use.”

    “Admiral, I have a call for you from the Warmonger,” Calthame interrupted. “The captain wishes to know who commands his squadron in Admiral Tandres’ absence.”

    “Put him through,” Priam answered, knowing this was but the first of many missives she must answer. The fleet had to be restored, made whole and strong after these blows. That was a commander’s task. She only wished she did not begin exhausted.


    Chapter Notes

    1. Pellut – this iceball at the edge of the Beshqek system seems a logical place to have designated as a rendezvous point.
    2. Time is a funny thing in stories spanning multiple worlds. This assumption of early morning is based off Palpatine’s death in the middle of the night on Onderon. While there’s no way to know what time it would be locally in the Beshqek system, I have tried to convey that a relatively short time has passed since the Emperor’s death.
    3. I am making a fairly substantial assumption with this announcement here. Empire’s End establishes that Umak Leth did not know the Emperor was already dead (and had been for however much time it required the Eclipse II to return from Onderon to Byss), but Eclipse II did not leave Onderon until after the Emperor’s death and it seems likely the vessel would have been aware of the Emperor’s demise. If nothing else, the Imperial Sovereign Protectors aboard should have felt the death of their master in the Force.
    4. These are all canonical imperial admirals, though we know essentially nothing about them beyond names and ranks.
    5. It is not clear how many admirals the Imperial Navy actually contained, but we do know the proportion of those who were female was very small. I have chosen an arbitrarily low number to stress the unusual nature of this situation.
    6. This statement refers specifically to the most power force in any one star system. There are no doubt more powerful sector forces and armed units in various places, but the Byss Defense Fleet is the largest single conglomeration of military force in any one place, that any one person might reasonably exercise total control over.
    7. Canon does not establish Admiral Priam’s first name. In mythology, Priam was the ruler of Troy. Ilione was his eldest daughter, so I consider that a fitting appellation.
    8. Various sources imply that at least some fraction of the Byss Defense Fleet was destroyed when the planet exploded. What proportion of the fleet is not known. I have chosen to allow the vast majority of the fleet to survive based on one observation: the Millennium Falcon was able to escape despite having to detach from the Eclipse II, the only vessel actually heading towards the planet when the missile was launched, first.
  4. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Chapter 3: Lesser Resolutions


    The Night Shark’s primary briefing room was crowded with a sea of Admirals, Vice-Admirals, Rear Admirals, and Senior Captains. There were several dozen in all, the chief officers of the Byss fleet and any other forces that had occupied the system. Also present were Colonel Garvus, the shipyard officer who had commanded Monarch Yard, and Moff Ergus, an elderly political appointee who served as governor of Relus, the system’s other inhabited planet.

    Priam focused on the two other true admirals present, Hennat and Kraven1. Both represented potential threats, especially Hennat commanding Pilum, a Vengeance-class dreadnaught. Kraven, a man with a history in starfighter command, held his flag on the Erebus, a Secutor-class. He was more pliable than his counterpart, but either man had a claim almost as strong as Priam’s own, and she knew it.

    She had no intention of letting either admiral, or any other officer, take the command now. Four solid hours of wrangling the fleet into some semblance of order had convinced her of that. She would have given the command away to any willing applicant before, but now she' be damned if anyone else tried to seize power without earning it.

    They were still pulling men from wreckage over Byss, and bad news along with the good trickled in constantly. There was a running feed on the wall of updates as the officers continued to arrive in ones and twos. Many captains watched it with quiet desperation, hoping to separate the living from among the vast lists of dead and missing.

    The admiral couldn’t look at it anymore. She was barely holding together, trying to keep her body language calm despite the stimulants the corpsman had pressed on her an hour ago when she practically collapsed in her chair. It was all madness.

    By 1210 everyone had arrived, and the stormtrooper honor guard proceeded to shut the doors on the assembly, barring outside eyes from this critical deliberation. Priam took the command position at the lectern, staring out at the gathering. It was unnerving, all those weathered expressions, so very different from addressing a squadron council. The haunted look behind so many faces made it worse. See these men and women, all trained and experienced in the needs of command and control, she could only imagine what the enlisted ranks, many very new indeed, were suffering.

    Seeing this, Priam decided to dispense with expected formality. “So…” she began, testing the intercom. “Here we are. It is not where we were yesterday, or frankly where any of us wish to be, but we are here, so we must endure and persevere nonetheless.”

    “I know our losses are immense, immeasurable even,” she continued, and the words flowed out unimpeded, she couldn’t have stopped them if she tried. “Losing the Emperor, losing Byss, losing the weapons we relied upon; the deck has collapsed beneath us, and I think we all feel as if we’re hanging by our fingertips. We all wish time to mourn, to settle in and puzzle out our new circumstances, and I wish we had that time. But for now,” her voice rose stridently. “We must work to climb back up, to hold fast to all we have left, lest more be lost. Officers,” she proclaimed. “We have lost much, yes, but the fleet survived, and so now we must choose the path for the fleet.”

    Silently, Priam waited, wondering what the first question would be, and who would ask it.

    It came, as she had feared, from Admiral Hennat. He was a middle-aged man, at least twenty years older than she, with many more years of service, but he’d transferred out of the planetary militias before joining the Empire, and he’d not achieved admiral’s rank until two years after Yavin.

    His question was deviously simple. “Are we truly certain the Emperor is dead?”

    “No, we are not certain,” Priam stalled. She was running without anything resembling preparation, and her tired brain moved sluggishly through the implications of anything not directly military. “I imagine that, considering the Emperor has multiple recorded ‘deaths’ on record, true certainty is not possible.” She noticed a considerable amount of nervous shuffling in the back at this, and felt the urge to join. Though she had much practice suppressing that urge, she’d never fully accepted the Emperor’s strange ability to cheat death; or a number of his so-called Force powers for that matter.2

    “Without that knowledge, how can we proceed?” Hennat countered.

    It was a trap, though to what purpose Priam was unsure. She could not dodge it either, the question must be answered. She stalled further, telling them what they already knew. “Byss is destroyed, the Eclipse II and Galaxy Gun are destroyed, and our shipyard facilities. These are facts that cannot be changed, and they will remain whether the Emperor is able to reconstitute himself somewhere else in the galaxy or is lost to us forever. Communications officers are watching the HoloNet, and all preliminary evidence confirms that the Emperor will not be coming back. The rebellion has wasted no time proclaiming a Jedi named Brand a hero for dragging the Emperor into the underworld.” That report was two hours old, but its strange specifics were convincing. The rebellion had never released such a detailed account of events at Endor.3

    “Whether the Emperor returns or not,” Priam chose her words carefully, struggling to avoid providing an endorsement for either eventuality. “We must proceed to serve the best interests of the Empire, and resolve that he would wish us to preserve his New Order with all our strength in his absence, temporary or otherwise.”

    “Without Byss, what can we preserve?” the question was shouted from the back by a senior captain Priam did not know. The words cut into her, for she had no answer. The Galaxy Gun had bowed the galaxy down at their feet, but without it systems would flock back to the rebellion. The brutal campaigns of Operation Shadow Hand had turned the people against them. It was the post-Yavin scenario all over again, fear compels obedience only so long as the weapon remains. Remove the weapon and fear turns to anger, and anger leads to uprising.

    “Who cares?” this was the bellowing voice of Captain Govith, a giant of a man with tremendous personal presence. He was also the commander of Bramble, a mighty Praetor-II. “If there’s no Emperor, what Empire is there to sustain?”

    Anything but academic the question had been contested by world-smashing fleets for over six years, with the general answer being nothing but carnage.

    “Will you claim the throne Priam?” Admiral Kraven spoke for the first time. His voice was quiet, and he had a slight lisp, but the words cut through the muttering.

    “Claim the throne?” she stumbled over the words, hardly able to believe them. Thankfully that hesitancy revealed her decision to herself, and to the rest. “No,” Priam answered after recovering. Agreement could be seen in the eyes of others. “Command of this fleet has fallen to me, and I intend to command you all to a true purpose, but I am no Emperor, only your ranking officer.”

    “Excellent,” a narrow, nasal voice filled with the drawl of the cultured Core intruded upon their deliberations. “I shall be glad to have such a committed commander to lead my forces.”

    The door slid open to admit the speaker. Priam’s head whipsawed around, immediately suspicious and knowing the timing had been contrived. All other eyes followed hers.

    Flanked by two men in the black and gold armor of the Novatroopers, a tall, thin man in red robes glided into the briefing room. He wore a grand, voluminous red hat to give him additional seeming height. His gaunt face, with pale, crumbling skin was marked by long, elegant, dangling mustachios.

    It was a face Priam knew, and not a welcome one. “Ars Dangor4,” she slurred, eyes narrowing at the Imperial Advisor. “I was not aware of your survival. Have the rest of the Advisors likewise endured?”

    “Regrettably,” he spoke the words with a sneer that made it clear none of the regret was his own. “I do not believe so. I escaped death on Byss only through the good fortune of being in a hangar onboard the Galaxy Gun when the blow fell. An inspection tour you see.”

    “I’m glad you survived,” she suspected the words were hardly convincing, for they were a bald-faced lie and Priam had never been good with those, but she pressed ahead. “But this is not your place. This system is under martial law, and this is a military council.”

    The advisor faced her with a narrow smile, projecting a false friendship. “A military council, I see, but the discussion, which I could not help but overhear, sounded very political. Oh and,” he pointed a skeletal finger. “I see Moff Ergus there. If only the military is welcome surely he should not be permitted.”

    Priam ground her teeth. The kriffing advisor had turned her own words against her. Playing politics on the Empire’s grave. She’d known the man, like all his kind, was a snake, but this was too much. Where had he been hours ago? Couldn’t he have announced the Emperor’s death to millions? Surely it would have sounded better. “Very well,” she offered, hoping to defuse the pressure the man represented. “You may remain and observe matters. Perhaps your expertise will be useful in informing our decision.”

    “That is kind of you Admiral,” Dangor’s smile was filled with spite. His eyes burned. “But I’m afraid I shall be taking a more direct role in the decision-making process. It would not do for the Imperial Regent to fail to exercise the necessary oversight of his fleet, surely not.”

    “Imperial…Regent…” Priam muttered, stunned. Only now did she recall the words spoke as Dangor entered, referring to the fleet as his property. Belatedly she realized it was not the admirals she must fear most, but this unexpected attack.

    “Yes, the Regent of the Empire,” Dangor set his face and addressed the assembled officers. “Gentlemen, I must assure you all, the Emperor is not dead. His body has been slain, true, and his spirit cast about the galaxy, but he will return. Secret cloning tanks were hidden in remote locations against just this contingency. It may be months or even years, but our true lord will stand before us once more.”

    It was possible, Priam could not find fault with the possibility. The Emperor very well might have built secret facilities on other worlds. More clones could exist. The rebels’ claim of binding his spirit somehow was backed by no evidence, and could easily be propaganda.

    All this she privately conceded, but she did not believe. She did not believe, because she saw only a blatant play for power by a man with a history of the same. Yet she dared not say the words. Politics demanded otherwise.

    Captain Govith, tall enough to match Dangor and his hat, was not intimidated by the advisor or his novatroopers. He spoke first. “And the Emperor made you regent? You, not one of his Dark Side Adepts? That makes no sense, Sedriss was Executor, why not another of the breed?”

    Silently the admiral thanked the blunt captain for his level head.

    Dangor, undaunted, fired back. “Those who wielded the Force had proven somewhat…disloyal of late. There is evidence that they may have conspired with Skywalker to cripple the cloning program. My loyalty to the Empire is beyond any doubt, and I have commanded before, perhaps that is why the Emperor saw fit to chose me, though I do not claim to know his mind, only to fulfill his command.”

    “Claim is an excellent word,” Priam countered, feeling she must speak up. “Imperial law provides for transfers of command, my position follows from that.” She let the words hang. Dangor did not rise to the bait, but it did not matter. His silence served to confirm her position before all the others.

    The contenders for the might of Byss had been reduced to two at a stroke.

    “There is nothing to provide a regent for the Empire,” Priam continued. “Perhaps the Emperor did make such a provision, but without evidence any man could claim such a title.”

    “You desire evidence then?” Dangor smiled. “Well then, you shall have it.”

    The advisor pulled out a comlink, raising it high above his head. The little speaker cackled to life, and the room fell silent.

    “I am engaged in a project to restore my body completely, freeing it from these unstable clones,” the voice was unmistakably Palpatine’s. The words, syntax, the tone, everything matched the scratchy, deteriorating meter of the most recent body he had worn. “The process is risky, requiring complete mastery of the dark side,” the recording continued. “Even if I succeed on Korriban, I may be incapacitated for some time while my flesh is restored to its full strength. Should that happen, the dark side adepts cannot be trusted. You have served as steward of the Empire before Dangor, and if I am unable to return immediately, you will do so again. All must be kept in readiness for my triumphant return.”

    Dangor cut off the comlink. “This was transmitted from the Eclipse II immediately prior to its final departure from Byss,” the advisor explained simply.

    Priam stared at the man, even as the chamber erupted in shouts and outcries. Her eye was on Dangor alone. The truth, and the choices it required, was vaporous and clouded.

    The voice was Palpatine’s, but that meant nothing, a perfect recording could easily be synthesized. The statement itself, that was muddier. Palpatine could have said such a thing. Certainly his seeming appointment of Dangor expressed little confidence in the man; it conveyed only that he was the best of an extremely limited set of choices. That was plausible.

    Despite this, Priam found she was not convinced at all. The advisors had controlled the Empire before, Sate Prestage and Ars Dangor each had grasped the reins for a time, and their efforts had been complete failures. Palpatine did not repeat mistakes. He would not have appointed them again. He would have wanted someone unquestionably trustworthy to guard him as an invalid, someone without ambition. Priam was certain of it. The choice, had it truly been the Emperor’s, would have gone to some utterly brainwashed pawn – a royal guardsman perhaps.

    It would never have been a manipulator like Dangor.

    And the Emperor would never have been so casual about handing over the reins of power.

    “Order!” Priam demanded, spiking the intercom. The terrible audio whine produced quiet almost immediately.

    “Master Dangor,” she turned to the advisor. “With regret, I find your evidence to be decidedly lacking.” She gestured casually toward his comlink. “A simple audio file? You could have produced that in ten minutes with the help of a protocol droid. I cannot believe the Emperor would have entrusted an office so immense as regent through such paltry means.”

    “Are you denying my claim, admiral?” Dangor countered, confidence unwavering. “I admit that this communication has its weaknesses, and how I wish the Emperor had passed over the full authority of office, as I am certain he intended to do prior to his convalescence. It was the rebellion, which laid him low unexpectedly, that is the cause of confusion here.”

    “The rebellion?” Priam countered. “Possibly, but I think it more likely that our Emperor never intended to perish, and had no intention of handing over the throne to another. I do not see a regent, I see a man trying to seize the throne through a childish scheme.”

    “The Emperor is not dead!” real force emerged from Dangor’s frame, and his voice rose in a way that surprised all who heard it. “He will return to us! We who serve his New Order will be honored for our successes in the interim, and punished for our failures. I am the Regent, by the Emperor’s own will! If you oppose me, Admiral, how long will you survive when the Emperor returns?”

    And so the trap was sprung.

    Priam saw it come at her, the words a missile, but she could only turn to face them. Dangor’s press was a good one. If the Emperor lived, he was either correct, or an audacious liar who would inevitably be destroyed when Palpatine did return. To oppose him thus was to claim him mad, and the officers would never accept that.

    Only one choice remained.

    “The Emperor,” Priam spoke softly, letting the microphone work for her. “Is dead. There are no secret cloning tanks, so spirit possessions, nothing to save him. His ancient enemy, the Jedi, have trapped him forever.” Sadness enveloped her words, unexpectedly. She’d never loved the Emperor, but now, truly acknowledging his death, she felt great loss. “Without him, there is no Empire.”

    “So you would trap these soldiers here, deny the Emperor’s return, and turn this fleet into your private army?’ Dangor mocked, addressing the captains, not her. “Absurd. The Empire is not dead, and the Emperor will return to us. This fleet is a weapon of his will. With it, we shall attack Coruscant, and retake the capital of the galaxy.”

    “Coruscant is devastated, a wreck,5” Priam could not believe the blindness of such a statement. “We could never hold it against counterattack, much less rebuild the planet.”

    “The Rebellion has taken our capital, so we will take theirs,” Danger countered, smooth and easy. “The Emperor must have a suitable seat of power, or would you hand him a ruin?”

    “Fool!” Priam’s pride beat out her restraint. “You would throw this fleet away, into a meat grinder against the rebels, to die above the sky of a world that has already claimed the lives of too many Imperial soldiers!”

    These words had weight, the admiral could tell, and she saw that Dangor noticed as well. The Emperor had spent the lives of his men prolifically, and these captains had not loved him for it. They were not eager to throw lives and ships into battles unwinnable.

    Dangor did not deflect this attack, but assaulted Priam instead. “And what would you do, admiral,” he made a sneer of the title. “If this fleet were yours? Are you happy enforcing your little blockade and pulling together the scraps of our shamefully smashed capital while the rebels regain the galaxy? I will restore Imperial rule in the Emperor’s name. What could you possibly do?”

    The barrage of words crushed her. Standing silent with her mouth open, Priam could not summon any response. Byss had been shattered for mere hours, the fleet was barely patched together into a semblance of order, and here she was facing a demand for grand strategy. She had not considered it at all; there was nothing in her drained mind to bring forth as a concept. Only her intuitive knowledge that fever dreams of conquest had burned with the Eclipse II.

    “That…that was the purpose of this council,” she managed at last. The weakness of those words came back in glares and disdainful glances from the assembled command. “We would devise a strategy to redeploy the fleet…”

    Dangor watched, allowing her to squirm. The floor was open for other voices again.

    Admiral Hennat stepped into it. “Coruscant’s defenses have not been rebuilt since it was taken in prior months. The rebellion has no headquarters there. For the Empire to be a true Empire, it must rule the capital. Master Dangor is correct; the Emperor will return to us, we must fight accordingly.”

    “You really want to die over the skies of Coruscant?” Captain Govith countered. “We tried that a few months back, a disgrace to the Navy that will live forever. I’m not about to repeat it.”

    With these words the shouting began again. Priam watched at the captains began to divide into camps, men and women choosing sides. Tempers flared, and she suspected it was only a matter of time before someone, quite possibly Govith, threw the first blow.

    She spiked the intercom again. “Enough!” She glared at them all. “We are ranking officers of the Imperial Navy and we will not squabble as children. Master Dangor,” she addressed the advisor coldly. “The fleet does not accept you as regent, and I am placing you under house arrest, pending an investigation into charges of treason for a false claim to the Imperial throne.”

    “I am the regent,” Dangor countered, unruffled by the threat. “And I do not accept your orders. However, I do not believe your intent to be malice, you are simply overwhelmed by circumstances admiral. As such, with thanks for your quick action earlier today, I am promoting Admiral Hennat to command of the Byss Defense Fleet. You are relieved of duty, Admiral Priam, and you will be reassigned pending review.”

    “As I do not acknowledge the legitimacy of your authority, your order is disregarded,” Priam snapped back, glaring at the man, but noticing that Hennat had moved to stand beside Dangor and his novatroopers.

    The impasse was set; the admiral could see it clearly. She had stormtroopers beyond the door, Dangor had novatroopers with him. Every commander wore his service pistol. Continued escalation would lead to a bloodbath in the briefing room.

    She could see what happened next, vision provided through the glaze of exhaustion. With their leaders dead the fleet would descend into chaos, every ship for itself, and the survivors of the carnage to follow would disperse to a dozen commands. It would be the mutiny once again, only even more pointless.

    Dangor wouldn’t blink. The advisor didn’t reason as a military man. She could see it in his eyes. His body twitched; arms barely at his sides. Any moment now his mouth would open and order the novatroopers to gun her down.

    It was up to her to prevent disaster, but to do that, she had to play into Dangor’s hands.

    It burned inside.

    “Admiral Hennat,” Priam announced carefully. “Have your men take Master Dangor into custody aboard the Pilum and confined to guest quarters.

    Gasps broke across the assembly.

    Priam did not let up. “It appears the fleet is not yet ready to deploy. This council is therefore adjourned, all commanders are to return to their units and continue operations to restore readiness.”

    They were not a mob, they were trained navy officers, and Priam retained command for the moment. Stormtroopers fell in around Hennat. Dangor was escorted from the room. Other officers followed.

    The advisor turned his head to smile at her as he was escorted out.

    She could only scowl back, knowing she’d lost this confrontation.

    In the end, though there was much grumbling, all but two men departed.

    Admiral Kraven remained, and Moff Ergus as well, but they were not together.

    Priam looked at both as the doors closed. Carefully she left the lectern and slumped into a chair. The strength to stand any longer was rapidly leeching away.

    “Admiral?” she addressed the holdout.

    “Coruscant is madness, Dangor is unfit to command a landspeeder, and the Emperor’s hopefully dead for good this time,” he rattled the words out quickly. “But this fleet’s full of Byssians, and they’ve just lost everything. If you want their loyalty, you’ve got to give them something.”

    “I understand,” she did, mostly. “But there’s been no time…”

    “Think quickly then,” Kraven counseled. “You just averted one battle, but Dangor won’t sit idle. He’ll marshal support, and if he gains the advantage, he’ll attack.”

    “I know,” that was obvious. If Byss still existed, Priam would be worried about assassins, but the Night Shark’s crew was fully hers. Dangor would have to make his move with ships. She looked at Kraven; trying to take the measure of the man. “If he attacks, where will you stand admiral? Will you stand by the chain of command, or not?”

    “If we can beat Dangor’s push, then I will back you,” he answered. “But I’m not dying for you. If you can’t muster the strength to take the fight to him, then I’ll find another commander who’ll welcome my ship, and I won’t be alone.”

    “I understand,” it was a weak choice, and Priam had no respect for it, but she had to remain courteous, for now. Were the fleet hers as it should be she could reassign this muddled admiral to some reserve post of limited consequence, but for now she needed him. “Please return to your ship admiral, and take command of blockade maintenance. My command staff and I will formulate a deployment for the fleet.”

    “Understood,” he rose and turned with good military bearing, but Priam could not fail to notice he left without saluting.

    Then it was only the Moff who remained.

    “Ah, admiral,” Ergus was an elderly man, face much lined and wrinkled. He spoke with the highly cultured accents of Axum, his homeworld, and a slow, deliberate pacing. “A troublesome business all this.” He plucked off his hat and ran a gnarled hand through the few remaining wisps of white hair. “To think we are liable to come to blows over the ashes of our throneworld, and without even stopping to mourn our great Emperor. Deplorable, truly deplorable.”

    “So you do not believe Dangor’s claim then?” she seized on this seemingly positive vote from the old man.

    “Well…that depends…” he mumbled. “As to the Emperor’s survival, well…secret cloning tanks or the like seem very much in character with his meticulous planning, but I read the release from the rebels even now making its way across the Holonet. Luke Skywalker never struck me as the type to lie about such momentous matters6, and if anyone was in a position to know such things, it would be that most accursed of our enemies.”

    This verbose answer rambled considerably in Priam’s estimation, but it seemed to hold the kernel of truth.

    “As for the regency, well…” Ergus shook his head. “Ars Dangor has served the Empire well in his way; there can be no doubt of that, but the Emperor would never make him regent, and certainly not in such a cavalier fashion. The idea that anyone not wielding a lightsaber should sit atop the Empire at Palpatine’s will is utterly preposterous.”

    “I agree completely,” Priam smiled generously. “And I hope this means you will support me in holding the fleet together.”

    “Ah, yes, the fleet…” Ergus’ eyes looked somewhere far away. “I am not a warrior, my dear, and wars are not my concern. However, before you called this meeting I received some truly disturbing news, and that I’m afraid, concerns the fleet.”

    “And this was?” Priam’s suspicions rose. It had not been a day for glad tidings.

    “It came from an observatory actually, part of the military navigation office on Relus you see,” the Moff was not to be budged from his slow, rambling approach in coming to a point. “An unusual group to address me, but they were right to do so. You see, they deduced a small, but regrettably significant shift in the position of the Byss Run following the events of this morning.”

    “The hyperlane moved?” this did not seem to be news, hyperlanes moved all the time, and those in the deep core were notoriously chaotic, but something buried in Priam’s memory struggled to emerge, imparting a significance to this statement she, tired as she was, did not yet grasp.

    “Yes, and apparently this motion is accelerating,” Ergus continued. “I’m told the ultimate projection is quite…grave. You see…it appears that a high security transmission system on Byss itself was used to calibrate the S-thread boosters needed to maintain the hyperlane against the continual motion of the spheres. Without them the results are…”

    “Collapse,” Priam concluded, as her mind suddenly caught up with the narration. “Without Byss to anchor it, this system will become completely inaccessible.”

    “Yes, that’s it exactly.”

    “How much time?” the admiral questioned urgently. “We’ll have to make certain the fleet deploys away from the planet before the window closes.”

    “Certainly my dear, you will need to do that,” Ergus’ voice was dry and grave. “But there is a somewhat more…substantial…problem with such impeding isolation.”

    She looked at him, and recalled just who she was talking to. “How many people are on Relus?”

    “As of the most recent census, eighty-four million,7” the old man had the figure ready instantly.

    “Can the planet sustain them?” it was one thing to be marooned in the deep core, but Priam wanted to know if this was a navigational suicide pact they faced.

    “Regrettably no,” there was a shake of the wizened skull. “Relus functions primarily as a training ground, mustering facility, and bulwark for Byss. We have always been subsidized. Current agricultural projections suggest sufficient food for less than half the population, and that number is sure to fall as technology breaks down in the absence of continued imports. Those quick-thinking astronomers have also suggested that debris from Byss is likely to impact Relus rather heavily over the next few centuries, and if the planetary shield is compromised…well…there might be nothing left.”

    “I see,” it was yet another crisis added to the list. “I will commit the fleet to the evacuation of as many citizens as possible, and we can make use of commandeered civilian vessels as well. I will have the current ships in the system listed for you. Please begin to put together a series of evacuation plans.”

    “Thank you me dear,” Ergus smiled. “But I had hoped for somewhat more…concrete assurance.”

    Looking at the old man, this earnest anachronism of civility extending his hands into bare-knuckle military politics, Priam could not help but sympathize. What had Ergus to offer her? Or Dangor? The answer was very little. Eighty-four million refugees was a burden, not a boon, and whatever resources the planet could muster meager. She knew the plans, and Relus was well stocked with defensive might, but it all lacked for mobility. In battle he could offer a few escorts and starfighters, hardly a Moff’s fleet.

    The admiral realized Dangor would utterly ignore this man. He had no chips with which to trade in the zero-sum political games the advisor was used to. He could not even muster the force of opinion, having been chosen to govern Relus precisely because he was no threat to anyone. Those alone made Priam want to help him.

    Far more importantly, she was not going to leave eighty-four million Imperial citizens to die.

    “I can promise only this,” she told him, staring into rheumy eyes. “If I retain control of the fleet, no ship will leave this system without having loaded onboard as many of your citizens as it can safely carry.”

    “That is…something…at least,” Ergus sighed. “And it is real, not a dream like Coruscant and the Emperor’s rebirth yet again. For that, the resources of Relus, such as they are, are at your disposal.”

    “Your have my thanks, Moff Ergus.”

    “I shall leave you now, my dear,” he told her, rising on unsteady feet. As he turned to go, he paused at the door, turning back. “I believe you were correct, Admiral, when you said ‘there is no Empire.’ You would do well to think hard on what dreams Imperials have left, without an Empire to serve.”

    This cryptic comment left Priam curled up in a briefing chair, wondering what she could do now. Ars Dangor would rally a portion of the fleet to his folly of Coruscant. For all its madness, it was a simple, comprehensible idea, easily expressed in this time of emotional need. How to find another option, and how to convince hundreds of thousands of soldiers to follow it, was her challenge.

    Sitting in a darkened briefing room, it seemed utterly insurmountable.

    “Dangor’s a liar, a liar, a liar,” Priam found she was whispering to herself, barely fighting off the urge to close her eyes and sleep. “His evidence is a sham, datapad trickery, that’s all. How can he take the fleet with the voice of a protocol droid?”

    The voice was Palpatine’s, and in that, lay the answer to her question. The Emperor was all-powerful, and with the Emperor dead, there was no one to speak against him.

    Or was there?

    Priam shot to her feet.

    “Lieutenant Jaretts,” she keyed the internal comlink on the lectern a moment later. “I need a summary report on salvage progress over Byss, and I need it now.”


    Chapter Notes
    1. Hennat and Kraven are canonical imperial admirals. Colonel Garvus and Moff Ergus are my creations, though they fill inferable positions.
    2. This reference touches on a key unanswered question of the Dark Empire, what the officers knew, and how they reacted to it. The Resurrected Emperor wielded Force power far more openly than he did pre-Endor, and died multiple times in the process. How the officers reacted is not answered by the source material and I have somewhat weaseled around the matter.
    3. Another big assumption here: that the New Republic would choose to announce the Emperor’s death more or less immediately. It seems probable that they would have, given the need to immediately present the destruction of the Galaxy Gun in order to swing galactic momentum their way. Luke Skywalker would surely have credited Brand specifically, and so I feel safe in using his name here.
    4. Ah, Ars Dangor, the most notable canonical character to appear in this tale. Choosing to use this character specifically was somewhat difficult. In a sense Dangor is a reference point, serving as the representative of all the non-military interests vying for control of the Empire after the Emperor leaves the stage permanently. I chose Dangor largely out of notability; he was a very high placed personage who held control of the Imperial Ruling Council for a time. He is also known to have been involved in the Imperial Mutiny over Coruscant at the beginning of Dark Empire. Dangor’s history ends there, and he does not reappear in Crimson Empire. That made him ideally suited for use in this story.
    5. This is a reference to the fighting over Coruscant that opens Dark Empire. Though some months have passed since (it’s not clear exactly how many, since the comic is somewhat vague on the passage of time), but Jedi Search implies that the New Republic did not begin reconstruction until after the final death of Palpatine.
    6. This bit of commentary references Luke's time as supreme commander of Imperial Forces during Dark Empire. As a result of that service most of the principals in this story can be assumed to have met him in person, even if only in the context of briefings.
    7. The precise population of Relus is not listed but it is referred to as ‘millions.’ So I have chosen a number. Other factoids about the planet are likewise my conjecture.
  5. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Chapter 4: Sides

    The waiting was brutal. Sitting in a holding pattern, circling around a frozen sphere of ice in a grand ring made up of thousands of starships, it weighed on the mind. Movement was impossible; they were surrounded by a second ring of angry customs vessels, crewed by distraught Imperials eager to shoot anyone who gave them the opportunity. Massive droids the size of starships swarmed amongst them, ready to gobble up any ship that failed to tow the line and remain in place.

    Freighters, liners, drone barges, and any other kind of transport that the galaxy could dream up joined in that great circle. They ranged from small courier starfighters to mammoth bulk tankers the size of a Star Destroyer, but nobody moved. There were Interdictor cruisers nearby, each six hundred meters of wedge-shaped anger with the power to lockdown hyperdrives until the droids came. For the truly suicidal who contemplated passing by the line, the eye could see a massive collection in the distance, a fleet of incredible power, more than marshaled to any one battlefield in decades.

    And yet, all of this was not the thing that truly held the grand menagerie of starships in place. No, it was the image seared into their minds from hours before. The horrid fascinations of watching a planet boil away to nothing before blowing apart.

    They weren’t ready to leave yet.

    The ring of civilian vessels was alight with rumor. The Imperials had not ordered communications silence, and so a certain class of excitable spacer had taken to the airwaves, sending the missives flying fast and furious. Speculation, assumption, and kriffing insanity all joined together in a turbulent mix, as no one had the truth at all.

    A few facts existed, to be sure, captured on sensor screens and burned into eyeballs. The Eclipse II, a black mammoth of ego, had crashed headlong into the Galaxy Gun, a thing of even greater madness. That had let loose the missile that was being called Nespis’ Revenge, on behalf of the beloved space city it had destroyed only days ago. Byss had fallen to that missile. Population databases claimed the planet had nineteen billion, seven hundred and fourteen million residents.

    Some morbid soul had called it ‘Ten Alderaans.’1 There was no escaping the comment now, despite the bitter recriminations and vicious insults it had drawn.

    No one had any idea why it had happened. If the Imperials did, they weren’t telling, no matter how many times they were asked. Theories had cropped up like weeds to fill the gaps. Most centered on the madness of the Eclipse II’s captain, or perhaps the Emperor himself, but far-fetched possibilities abounded, from rebel sabotage to droid revolution to hive viruses. Everyone wanted an answer, or at the least to know what the Imperials knew, but so far nothing was forthcoming.

    There was a lot of blame circulating for that, though it was far from universal. Ships cleared for the Byss Run were filled with loyalists, and many in the ring were grieving for suddenly lost relatives and friends. They claimed that the navy was simply too busy to deal with questions right now, or too scared to admit they had no idea either.

    Everyone wanted to know what happened next.

    One ship sat quietly among the multitude, watching and listening, saying nothing. Its pilot rested in the cockpit, nervous as the others, but revealing it differently. This one stared not at the Imperial ships overhead, but down at the planet below, wondering.

    Thinking of a planet below was frightful. It was astonishing to contemplate, the destruction of a whole world. Billions of years erased in seconds; eternity squelched out. The accomplishment of such a thing, the energies required, made the mind rebel.

    And yet, Byss was only the latest. Men’s wars had risen to the level that claimed the worlds themselves. How long before stars were claimed in combat, and the power of human weaponry rent the galaxy itself to shreds?

    It was a sobering thought, and deepened the silence. Death seemed closer this day than ever before.

    Around and around they went, hours stale. It seemed liable to last a day or more at least. The only true news came from the wreckage of Byss, for the Imperials had blocked the HoloNet. This was largely positive, reports of survivors pulled from ship and shipyard, whole vessels recovered, engines burned out, but it failed to inform.

    The swirl of com traffic continued.

    On that lonely little ship, it eventually cut through. A sharp, blast betokened an incoming transmission.

    Thinking the transmission innocuous but potentially important the pilot tapped the receiver to acknowledge. “This is Diva’s Sting, go ahead.” Only after responding did the protection become clear. The channel was self-scrambling, heavily encrypted, and passed through multiple dead-man relays; eyes-widened.

    “Xasha?2” it was the voice of a woman, sharp and commanding, but raw and overworked. “You’d better be there.”

    “I am,” Xasha leaned forward, staring at her console in confusion. The voice was vaguely familiar, but it was hard to recognize through the digital clutter.

    “This is Admiral Priam,” the introduction was terse. “I need you for a job. Now.”

    “Priam?” Xasha turned her heard, looking up at the fleet above. One of those great gray triangles was the Night Shark, an imperial star destroyer she was more than a little familiar with. “Didn’t you give the evacuation order?”

    “I did,” the admiral’s voice was tightly wound, absent the easy confidence Xasha recalled. “And I inherited command of the fleet as well.”

    “Command of the fleet?” Xasha sat bolt upright. She could count ships as well as any, and while the number had shrunk from a few hours ago, it was still a fleet among fleets. “You?” That didn’t seem likely.

    “Everyone else is dead,” Priam said with finality.

    “Oh,” there was no arguing with that answer. “So, you have a job?”

    “Yes, adjust your communication settings to the following instructions,” the admiral appended.

    A stream of technical specifications flowed across, and Xasha set about implementing them carefully. It helped that she was matching Imperial technology to the same; it would have been a labyrinthine task otherwise.

    In a few quick minutes of work she had the adjustments ready, and keyed the new frequency.

    A small holo-projection of Admiral Priam appeared atop the pilot board. The admiral’s sharp eyes projected the same razor focus as always, but behind that outward confidence Xasha saw a haggard face, with strain focused around those prominent cheekbones. It wasn’t surprising of course, but it was somewhat eerie to see evidence of humanity in an imperial officer; they seemed to spend so much effort trying to eradicate it.

    “This line is secure as can reasonably be achieved,” Priam began. “But I’m going to be brief and avoid repetition even so.”

    “What’s the job then?” Xasha asked. Imperial machinations and codes were of little interest to her, she’d rather the new fleet commander just spell it out.

    “I need you to agree before supplying anything else,” Priam said flatly.

    “Are you serious?” Xasha could hardly believe it. Bounty hunters didn’t take jobs blind; that was a stupid way to die. Priam’s face never wavered, and the bounty hunter blinked. “Okay…” she’d worked with the admiral before, she was respectable, and trustworthy for an Imperial. That earned a bit of listening, but only just. “Maybe, but that’s asking a lot, and by that I mean credits.”

    “The job pays five million, half in advance,” there was no hesitation.

    “Five million?” Xasha was aware that her jaw was hanging open in front of the holo-image, and willfully forced it closed. That was an insane amount of money; enough to buy a capital ship. More importantly, enough to pay off all debts and still retire comfortably on some rustic resort world. For five million, she might just have to bet her life on a blind assignment.

    Not completely blind though, never that. “Okay, I’m interested,” she suggested, trying to keep everything formal, business-like. “But this had better be short term; I’m not going on retainer for you.”

    “One job, it takes no more than three days,” Priam explained. “And it’s in-system.”

    That sounded promising. One high-risk, high-reward job, and it had to be doable, at least in Priam’s estimation, no one would throw away two and a half million otherwise. Xasha wondered if the admiral was over-estimating her skills. Possibly, she figured, but hopefully not to a lethal level. One sticking point remained. “How do you have five million?” she didn’t recall Priam sitting on an aristocrat’s inheritance or anything. “They don’t pay admirals that much.”

    “That’s not important, I have the money,” those narrow eyes were steel. “At least, so long as you can take a transfer. Local cash flows are…constrained.”

    Blowing up a planet had unforeseen effects. It would almost have been humorous, if it did not bring reminders of the tragedy, still incredibly raw. “I have a secure account…on Muunilist,” silently she thanked Boba for that piece of advice.

    “Perfect,” Priam answered. “So do you accept?”

    “I keep the two and a half if the job goes sour?” Xasha hedged. “You won’t be coming after me with a star destroyer?”

    “If the job goes sour, I will very likely be dead,” Priam’s voice was hard, but her face did not lie. “So it will be yours free and clear. I need you for this X, you’re the best person at hand, and the only one I can trust at all to carry it out.”

    Stay alive for three days, maybe less, and leave Byss with two and a half million. It was too good to pass up. Even if the job was madness and she had to try to run the blockade, it was worth the risk. “I’m in,” Xasha decided. “What’s the job?”

    “I need you to prove Ars Dangor is a traitor to the Empire,” the admiral began.

    “Dangor? Wasn’t he Palpatine’s, like, number two stooge?” Xasha wasn’t sure; the Empire’s upper echelons were a cluttered mess that made Black Sun’s byzantine hierarchy look positively open.

    “More or less, yes,” Priam noted, iron unabated. “Now he’s claiming to be Imperial Regent, which is a lie. Your job is to find the evidence.”

    “Regent?” Xasha blinked. “Wait, what?”

    “Oh,” she saw Priam pause, and briefly look away. When the holo turned back the grainy image revealed a woman in intense pain. “I’d forgotten. It seems the communications blackout is working, at least. Xasha, the Emperor is dead.”

    “You’re kidding? Wasn’t he immortal?” the only way to treat the madness of it all was to make light of it. Immortality was not supposed to exist.

    “He’s dead,” Priam was distraught, but her core was made of pure durasteel. “The rebels shot him on Onderon. A Jedi named Brand dragged his soul into the next life. Dangor claims he will return, and that the Emperor made him regent before he died. Those are lies I will not let stand.”

    Hearing this, Xasha looked out her viewport, up and away from the ice below to the vast constellation of Imperial ships above. Hundreds of capital ships, a full strength force including some of the most powerful ships ever built; Priam in command, but Dangor the regent. “Stang…” she whispered.

    “You begin to see the importance of this task?” the admiral noted icily.

    “Sure,” the bounty hunter had no desire to be in the middle of the impending imperial infighting. “Prove Dangor’s a traitor, avert turbolaser barrage, simple stuff, no problem.” Her mouth narrowed and she stared at Priam. “How in the hell do I prove that?”

    “You go onto the Eclipse II and find the evidence in the files there,” the admiral said it as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

    “The Eclipse II?” Xasha’s jaw dropped again. “That thing’s in pieces in the middle of an asteroid field!”

    “It is in a number of very large pieces,” Priam amended wickedly. “Including the ones that would contain the bridge tower and the central computer, and the ship was destroyed without executing a purge.” Her digital projection met the bounty hunter’s eyes. “Get aboard and find me something X, or this fleet’s going to tear itself apart, and if Dangor wins, he’ll attack Coruscant. Billions of lives are at stake here, so will you keep your word?”

    “I’ll do it,” Xasha answered. Not over her word, of course, a bounty hunter who didn’t know when to cut and run was either dead or Boba Fett, and she was neither. She’d do it for five million, and because Palpatine’s hat-wearing stooges were ultra-grade sleemos, while Priam was only a mid-grade. Besides, it was only asteroids and the dead, those were survivable.

    “Give me your account number and I’ll transfer the money and send you a list of target points and data retrieval codes,” Priam wasted no time. “Once you have them, get started immediately.”

    “Uh…sure…” Xasha scrambled to input numbers. She wasn’t going to let the money pass by. “Just one small problem. I’m stuck in the gigantic civilian line up of,” she suddenly realized the implications of Priam’s fleet command. “Your blockade. I can’t find your evidence if customs hauls me in when I try to run.”

    “A fair point,” Priam raised a hand to her chin, considering. “You’ll have a diversion. I’ve kept the civilians in the dark too long. Most are true imperial loyalists, and they should know the truth.” She launched a wicked smile. “Of course, some will be malcontents, smugglers, and other unstable persons. No doubt the news will convince many of them to attempt to flee. Your skills are up to the task, I hope?”

    “Sure,” Xasha smiled back. It was her kind of plan. “Give me ten minutes.”

    “Done,” Priam agreed. “And Xasha, find me that evidence.”

    “Got it,” the bounty hunter responded as the transmission went dead.

    Xasha vaulted from her chair, running to her arms locker, already counting seconds. Ten minutes and falling.

    She pulled open the arms locker even as she was shrugging her way out of casual coveralls. As the left hand peeled off underclothes the right was grabbing a black body glove off the racks. She squeezed into it at full speed, writhing and twisting to slide the tight garment on so it fit to her skin. “Girl, you’ve been spending too much time aboard ship,” she shook her head at the feeling. Five months wrangling ships for Imp customs and she’d probably gained as many pounds. “Time to burn some calories.”

    She began to strap on her armor, choosing the fully sealed outfit for zero-g operations. High boots with shin guards, composite calf armor, flexiplast pelvic girdle, chest plate front and back, shoulder pauldrons, elbow shields, bracers, gloves, sealed neck-piece with air supply, and finally the helmet to top it all off, she knew the pieces intimately, having assembled the suit precisely to her needs from dozens of sources over the years. Snapping the final connection into place the bounty hunter booted up the helmet optics, checked oxygen flow, and was assured of her readiness.

    The suit had a built-in vibroblade at the right wrist, but that was the least of Xasha’s weapons. She added a powerful blaster rifle to her back harness, a set of grenades to the belt, and slotted her Scorpion-7 blaster pistol into its customary place at her right hip. All of that was standard; she added a few generic security spikes, portable power cells, and electronic data crawlers to her utility gear for the mission.

    One minute left and she slid back into the pilot’s seat, ready and able.

    Carefully Diva’s Sting moved from idly sitting in line to ready to burn hard and evade pursuit. It was a tricky maneuver, powering up slowly without having anyone notice and ask questions, but she’d had a lot of practice. The after-market sensor shielding and passive electronic warfare suite helped tremendously. She still considered those her best investment.

    “Okay Priam,” Xasha muttered. “Time to unleash the storm.”

    The announcement cut in seconds later, a broad-spectrum clear-channel broadcast to all ships, settlements and commands, accompanied by a set of powerful Imperial overrides that meant you had to listen, whether you wanted to or not. The steel-eyed admiral, voice focused and forced, proceeded to speak in carefully measured tones, audibly controlling her pace through an effort of will millions could hear.

    None of that lessened the impact of four simple words: ‘The Emperor is dead.’

    Those words launched a thousand ships in seconds, with more joining the fray in a hurry.

    Even as she mused that she really hadn’t accepted the reality of a dead emperor, Xasha had turned the Diva’s Sting hard in for Pellut, diving into the thin atmosphere of methane and trace gases that clung to the iceball. She wasn’t alone; dozens of seasoned smugglers had broken with her, following the path close to the planet in the hopes of drawing customs into pursuit before bursting free on the far side.

    Most fell behind quickly, unable to keep pace with a Delta JV-73 at full speed. A handy few, including ships known across the fringe, outpaced her. That suited Xasha just fine. She wasn’t in a race to leave, and nobody went after the ships in the middle.

    “A toast to the dead Emperor!” some fool with more courage than sense shouted on an open channel less than a minute into the break. “Last one to the Run buys the drinks!”

    Xasha shook her head. Some people were truly un-salvageable.

    Hair trigger imperial agents, angry and distraught, didn’t take kindly to being insulted, and the would-be drunkard ate a dozen concussion missiles instead.

    On the far side of Pellut Diva’s Sting left the flying column, breaking toward the inner system in a hard run low. Far above she saw the vast majority of civilian shipping hadn’t moved an inch, or had quickly moved back in line once the imperials went live fire. Customs vessels swarmed around them, now supplemented by TIE fighters and escorts from the fleet.

    Ironically, Xasha now had to escape all those vessels in order to save them. She didn't find it amusing.

    Pulling up from Pellut's atmosphere, the bounty hunter chose a direction, gunned the engines for a quick burst of acceleration, and then carefully killed all active emissions. She turned on the active stealth systems, and sat white knuckled as her ship flew on into the void, unaccompanied by any other vessels. Chaos was her only true protection now.

    Whether the imperials were simply fooled, tired, or deflected by slight of hand from their commander, no one followed. Diva's Sting sailed on, heading for the inner system at high speed. Once she was beyond pursuit range, Xasha jiggered her transponder, mimicking an actual military shuttle. Then she programmed in a microjump.

    It was time to pull words from a metal corpse.


    Chapter Notes
    1. The destruction of Byss is, in my mind at least, among the most chronically mismanaged of all Star Wars tragedies. Twenty billion people destroyed by a tragic accident that mostly serves to clean up the loose ends of the Dark Empire plotline, a good part of this story is my rebellion against this neat and pat wrap up that completely disregards the human cost this must have had. Further references to this event will be present throughout the work.
    2. Xasha is a canon character, appearing in The Force Unleashed II comic, which she survives. She is not mentioned in any other material, but I found the character appealing, and worth using here. It seemed logical that Priam would call upon another woman for assistance, and Xasha is one of relatively few female bounty hunters in canon.
    3. This is a canonical shuttle class.
  6. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Chapter 5: Assertions


    “How many vessels escaped the system?” Hennat was asking one of his subordinates for details.

    “Not very many sir, Admiral Priam's plan to inform customs beforehand seems to have been very successful,” some lieutenant answered.

    Dangor found this annoying. It was a minor incident, and probably inevitable, but it still bothered him to see the woman achieve anything. She was refusing to go away, and that was a problem.

    Now all those civilians believed the Emperor was dead. He'd immediately broadcasted a denial and denounced her, but she'd moved first. All because customs deferred to the supposed ranking officer.

    The civilians were irrelevant of course, the fleet would keep them in line in the absence of a planet, and propaganda would erase a few announcements in the heat of the moment. Despite this, he was furious the woman had stolen a march on him. He thought he'd read her completely, all military and proper. Her early announcement made no sense. It was a risk the admiral shouldn't have taken. She hadn't needed to take it; there was no strategic reason for it.

    He found that puzzling.

    Dangor didn't let puzzles lie. Puzzles generated problems, solutions did not. “Admiral,” he called from his appropriated seat in the command chair. “Would you have announced the Emperor's death so soon?”

    “No your Excellency,” Hennat answered. “I would have moved the fleet into full encirclement first.”

    “Indeed...” Dangor looked at the central projection of the fleet. “So why did she do it? What was the purpose?” He would have preferred to chalk it up to incompetence, but Priam was not an incompetent. The advisor wished she had bowed down to him, she would have been a far more capable commander than Hennat, but the woman was being annoying willful. The price of letting women rise too high in the military he supposed.

    “I cannot see any purpose behind the action,” Hennat was muttering at the edge of the advisor’s attention. “Obviously we had to inform the civilians at some point, but the fleet’s own disposition is uncertain, it was not wise to engage in any operation.”

    “Perhaps she did it to secure the loyalty of customs,” Dangor grumbled. There was something to that. Those who obeyed once would be more likely to obey again, which was now an obstacle he would have to overcome, but it seemed irrelevant. Unless the admiral was contemplating bringing those inspection vessels into a firefight, none of it would matter when she was dead.

    He was certain there had to be another reason, but what?

    “I’ll have the tactical section run a thorough analysis sir,” Hennat was still muttering. Dangor stared at the man blankly, considering this folly. It was such a banal comment, a testament to the absurdity of protocol, that it rendered a judgment all its own.

    Hennat’s record was known to Dangor, he’d read the file on every ranking officer that had heeded the Emperor’s cry. The man was a talented squadron commander, a master of level-headed command and proper adherence to doctrine. He was a perfectly capable manager of military force.

    He was not, however, a leader. Indeed, he was almost certainly unaware of the true nature of leadership.

    Priam was a leader, any woman in her position would be.1 Her record was exemplary, and filled with instances of actual warfare. With the grand admirals dead, she would have been on Dangor’s short list to take actual fleet command. He’d even advised the Emperor to promote her only a few weeks previous. Her Outer Rim background gave her respect among the military, even as it neutralized her as a political threat. She was ideal.

    Except she was too smart and too practical to believe his lies.

    For that, Dangor knew, Priam would have to die.

    To his great regret he had no simple means to accomplish that particular deed. All of the best tools had perished earlier in the day. His assistants had probed the crew of the Night Shark, but no obvious candidates emerged. As was typical of veteran imperial officers, the ship was almost an extension of the admiral’s being. He would have to destroy the whole thing.

    The loss of one star destroyer was, ultimately, of no true consequence, and so this path presented few difficulties to Dangor’s mind. The trouble came in insuring that one star destroyer was the focus of the matter. Blowing up the fleet to kill the admiral would be highly regrettable. He needed enough ships for Hennat to take Coruscant with. That would be enough to gain him the foothold necessary to reclaim the galaxy.

    The advisor was well aware that his adversary shared the same caution. Indeed, he was quite certain she considered every ship relevant and mourned each and every life lost out of some absurd sense of duty. That was his advantage, the delusion of the fleet officers that they, and their decisions, mattered when it came to control of a galaxy-spanning imperium. They had no idea of the true level upon which power was exerted; the real nature of the Emperor’s creation was sublime in a way they could not possibly imagine.

    He intended to leverage that failure of vision on Priam’s part to take the fleet in hand. He had already begun. Coruscant was the obvious, essential move, and the men had fallen in line behind such an attack. His foe would be forced to offer whatever strategy she formulated secondhand, struggling to catch up. Such moves only played into his hands. Already his agents were moving through the fleet, applying the leverage of the Empire’s leadership to each and every commanding officer, turning them to the Regent’s cause one by one.

    By the time Priam believed she was ready to move, she would have naught but her own ship.

    Dangor rather looked forward to having the Pilum blast it to dust.

    A man of great personal control, the advisor did not allow such fantasies to distract him from matters at hand. Priam had moved early, revealing the Emperor’s death before she had a strategy in place. Indeed, she had taken a move Dangor had expected to make himself, and all to no obvious purpose.

    He forced himself to categorize the conditions, enumerating each and every outcome no matter how small, of the announcement. The civilians had been alerted, customs and the fleet had acted to control them, and the ships had been cowed; only a handful had escaped.

    A handful had escaped.

    Dangor’s dark, thin lips spread in a twisted smile.

    “Admiral, do we have a list of which vessels escaped customs and left the system?” he asked the soldier.

    “Yes my lord,” Hennat responded instantly. “Do you require it?”

    Dangor nodded curtly, cursing the man for a simpleton. Of course he required the list, otherwise he would not have asked. These military men had no understanding of the subtleties of language.

    In due course the report appeared at his command chair, and was perused briefly. It contained what he had expected – a mixed listing of smugglers, pirates, and other rogues, all in fast, heavily armed ships and crewed by the annoyances of the fringe that were generally useless but could prove occasionally dangerous around the margins of a task.

    Exactly the sort of pool a cunning admiral might draw upon for a clandestine agent.
    The conclusion, when it came, was certain. Dangor trusted his deductions; they had made him the man he was. Priam had engineered the ruckus in order to spring someone in her employ. He imagined the precise name could be divined from the list with a little effort, but did not bother. Who it was meant nothing; their purpose meant everything.

    He focused every mental effort to divining Priam’s intent. What did she hope to accomplish?
    ‘I find your evidence to be decidedly lacking’ he recalled the words from their meeting earlier. It had been a typical soldierly approach, challenging the evidence, not the claim. Practical and pointless, as if the evidence had mattered then. The populace would not care, faith, and the desire to believe would move them before any facts would…

    Dangor’s train of thought crashed to a halt in mid-gallop. The populace – it suddenly occurred to him that circumstances had changed – Byss was destroyed. His regency depended not on convincing the Imperial masses, now banished to distant worlds in the north of the galaxy, but upon several million soldiers in a small, decidedly quantifiable grouping of ships. Priam had reached for evidence, and so would the other soldiers, the men who had never believed in the Emperor’s true vision, only in the Empire’s great power.

    Then there were the Byssians2, a full third of the fleet, men and women loyal to the Emperor above anything else. They had worshiped their fallen monarch almost as a god. Priam would never convince most of them, no matter what ‘evidence’ she sought to unearth, but convincing even a few might spur them to irrational action.

    It was time, Dangor decided, to accelerate matters. He would find Priam’s agent and destroy him, but first, he would render the entire matter irrelevant.

    Quietly he reached into his coat and took out a personal comlink. “Captain, your services are required on the bridge at once.” The order passed he sat and waited for several minutes, considering his choice of words.

    Silently and with the stealth of men moving about on ordinary orders, the bridge slowly admitted new residents in ones and twos. Over the course of a few minutes they filled in, taking up sentry positions along walls and in alcoves, out of sight and out of mind. No one noticed the men in black and gold armor until over three squads had assembled.

    “Admiral Hennat,” Dangor rose from his chair, taking full advantage of his height. It was a psychological weapon he never forgot. “Prepare a message to the fleet. Admiral Ilione Priam has acted beyond her authority in breaking the communications blackout. By order of the Imperial Regent she is hereby relieved of command and ordered remanded to the Pilum to face disciplinary action. She is to comply within the hour, or measures will be taken to secure her person.”

    There was a moment of predictable silence. Then there was a subsequent even-more-predictable protest. It came, as Dangor had known it would, from the Pilum’s executive officer, Lieutenant Helerem, the ship’s senior female officer.

    “You can’t do that! You may be the Imperial Regent, but Admiral Priam’s the dutiful devolution commander. There’s been no change of command; you can’t just order her removed, you’re not the Emperor!”

    “I speak for the Emperor,” Dangor replied icily. He did not even bother to keep the disdain from his face. “All Imperial authority is mine to wield.”

    “Like hell!” Helerem spat. Dangor did not watch the woman, but looked carefully at a number of bridge officers and non-commissioned personnel who appeared to agree with her. “You’re insubordinate! This is the Imperial Fleet; we don’t take orders from you. Admiral,” she turned to Hennat to make her appeal. “Shelter this man if you like, call him regent if you want, but don’t expect us to lie down and obey him over the orders of our proper commander!”

    “Admiral Priam has made a mistake,” Hennat vacillated. “She is wrong to think the Emperor is dead. She just needs convincing, time to get over her grief-“

    “No,” Dangor cut the useless man off. “Priam is not struggling with doubt. She is an ambitious usurper who thinks to take this fleet and become a warlord. As regent of the Empire, I will not allow this to stand.”

    “The hell you won’t,” Helerem’s service pistol came to hand in a single, smooth draw. “I’ll not stand by and let you slander the admiral’s good name.”

    “No,” Dangor frowned sadly. It was truly pathetic, really, how it had played out. It was almost too obviously in line with expectations. “You won’t stand at all. Captain, please secure the bridge.”

    “Secure? But I don’t-“ Pilum’s captain protested for a second, before his head turned, and he realized where the order had actually been directed.

    E-11 blaster rifles snapped up from ready. Helerem’s eyes went wide with panic. She was still turning to aim when four bolts took her in the chest.

    Her smoking body was smashed back from the bridge walk. It flopped unceremoniously down into the crew pit.

    The novatroopers did not stop at one. Others had drawn weapons, or simply appeared agreeable to the lieutenant’s words. They suffered for this predilection with swift lethality.

    A few managed to return fire at the men in armor, but none claimed anything more than a few scraped plates.

    It was finished in seconds, leaving Dangor to deal with a distraught Hennat. “Are you insane?” the admiral protested. “Those were my men!”

    “A necessary maneuver,” the advisor explained impatiently. This one was such a weak tool. “We must have absolute control over this vessel. Anyone attempting to support Priam must be removed. Admiral, you must now order the fleet to form up on this ship. It is a time for choices to be made.” Dangor turned to the novatrooper captain. “No doubt we have been denounced in turn.”

    “Playing it back now,” the trooper remarked.

    A holo of Admiral Priam appeared in the center screen. “This is Admiral Priam, commanding the Byss Defense Fleet. Ars Dangor is a traitor to the Empire who has fabricated a command in the name of our late Emperor in order to take the throne for himself. This treason will not be borne. As the commanding officer I call upon Admiral Hennat, to whom custody of the traitor was given, to remove him to the Night Shark where he can face justice by a lawfully appointed military tribunal. This order is to be carried out within twelve hours.”

    Dangor anticipated every result until the final line. “Stalling,” his jaw dropped. “She’s stalling.” It made no sense. Her position was strongest now; she had to know he was eroding it. Why wait? Did she truly believe she would find evidence to condemn him? He did not believe she could be so blind.

    He surmised another possible reason. Priam was a true soldier, and she hesitated to turn the guns of the fleet against itself. His earlier speculation was correct. She would not move until all other options were exhausted. Well, Dangor was happy to let her wait. He would send a shuttle in an hour, and she would capture the stormtroopers on board. Then he would build up his supporters using every means available.

    She’d be lucky to hold her own squadron together.

    “Twelve hours then,” Dangor smirked. “I would if she will learn how to count between now and then.”


    Chapter Notes
    1. This statement essentially reveals the core of why Priam is the protagonist of this story. Due to the nature of Imperial culture, which prizes conformity, favor-trading, ideological purity, and aristocratic internal politics over anything as simple as competence, the vast majority of high-level leaders in the navy by this time are New Order fanatics, toadying yes-men, or shameless manipulators. Priam, by virtue of clawing her way up against constant misogynistic pressure, is somewhat different and has been exposed to something resembling a meritocracy. As a result, her background matches up with the level of skill and ambition necessary to justify these events.
    2. I’m not sure this is an actual term, but something is necessary to refer to the people native to or long-resident of, the planet Byss.
  7. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Chapter 6: Bleak Horizon


    “Admiral, I am sympathetic to your position, I am,” Vice-Admiral Gredge1 was a thin man with a scarred face that gave his scowls a slightly deranged cast. “But my ship is not ready to fight, and neither is any other hull pulled out of the ruined shipyards. I have a skeleton crew aboard, barely enough to operate the engines and continue emergency repairs. Our active crew was plundered during the retrofit in order to supply experienced men for the Eclipse II.”2

    “Are you telling me you intend the most powerful ship in the system to stand aside from this contest?” Priam growled. She was not happy with this idea. There were too many commanders sitting on the fence. At least those Byssians who’d declared for Dangor had chosen a side.

    “If I bring the Assertor into battle all I’ll do is ruin the ship,” Gredge’s voice was hard. “I need a crew I don’t have before I can serve anyone, and my ship’s not alone in that.”

    That was a fact Priam knew only too well. The fleet was massively under-crewed. Too many ships had escaped by tearing out of drydock under desperate override. Fully a quarter of all vessels in the system were crewed only by yard workers or a skeleton crew. They couldn’t fight today, tomorrow, or for weeks.

    “I agree that you need a crew,” Priam put Gredge off for a moment. “And I’m working on finding one. I’d draft from the civilian vessels in system, but few have spare people aboard; the security concerns were-“

    “I know,” Gredge supplied. His face was hard, and Priam matched that scarred stare only with difficulty. “I also know where I could get a crew.”

    “And where is that?” skepticism ruled Priam’s voice. She’d been over that question.

    “Relus.”

    “But that’s-“ Priam began, and then stopped. She recalled her words to Moff Ergus. The planet needed evacuation. Gredge’s ship needed a crew, and so did others, dozens of vessels, including the huge Sovereign–class ships. The total might run into the millions.

    It wasn’t the whole planet, but it was a start. “I have Moff Ergus’ personal com frequency,” Priam told Gredge. “How far have you considered this plan?”

    “I have a team of R3 droids pooling the census data now, going name by name for every vacancy I can identify in the fleet,” the Vice-Admiral’s answer was immediate, practiced.

    “I’m transmitting the Moff’s frequency now,” Priam knew better than to hesitate. Gredge was prepared, and he’d come to her before Dangor. This was her chance to secure his support. “Consider yourself in charge of logistics and supply for the fleet from this moment forward. I’ll formalize it later, for now, if anyone objects, send them to me.”

    “Understood,” Gredge nodded. “I’ll begin drafting a transport and processing plan immediately. We’ll need to reassign a large number of officers to training commands, the facilities on Byss claimed all the existing assets and-“

    Priam cut him off. “Draft the plan,” she told him. “I’ll review it as soon as there’s time, but I have to deal with Dangor first. Otherwise, you’ll have to present him with your plan.”

    “He wants my ship to fight,” Gredge scowled again. “He wouldn’t listen to my objections. The man doesn’t know the first thing about war!”

    That last phrase, Priam had already learned, was her only true weapon against the Imperial advisor. If Xasha failed to deliver, and the admiral knew the clock was ticking, she’d have to win based on those words alone.

    To do so, she had to display her knowledge, even if the compromise was painful.

    “Salvage operations are currently being commanded out of one of the Kissarm moonbases, if I recall the latest report,” Priam summarized.

    “That’s correct admiral,” Gredge’s face glanced away, and she suspected he was confirming from a datapad on his desk.

    “Good,” she agreed. “I want you to take Assertor, along with any and all vessels that are not combat ready into Kissarm’s orbit. Stay there until command is finalized and we began redeployment from Beshqek.”

    “Understood, I will begin pulling vessels off the line immediately,” Gredge acknowledged. “With your permission admiral, I would like to redistribute crews in order to optimize continuing salvage operations; if we could save B-11 and B-16 that would have immense value toward sustaining fleet operations.”

    “I thought those shipyards were a lost cause,” Priam had seen that report. They were entangled with pieces of Byss itself, all thrown together when they entered hyperspace at the last moment.

    “Admiral, I believe that if I can assign sufficient men to operate all of Assertor’s tractor beams, we can effect a successful extraction,” Gredge’s enthusiasm colored his scars.

    “Very well,” Priam was willing to cling to any ray of hope in the present. “You have my permission.”

    “Thank you Admiral, Gredge out,” the transmission went dead.

    “Small victories, small victories,” Priam mumbled as she collapsed into her chair again. There was satisfaction to be had in winning over Gredge, and more in seeing that not every officer had forsaken initiative, but it wasn’t enough, and she knew it. Even without the damaged ships in the calculus, the Byss Defense Fleet had the firepower of a full sector group, not counting the battlecruisers and dreadnaughts still in the system. Her battle group, the ships she could truly count on, was only a fourth of that.

    The other fourths, Priam knew, had belonged to Comeg, Kedler, and Tandres. In practice Hennat had exercised command over Comeg’s portion while the High Admiral led the entire fleet. Most of that grouping was lost to her; it was Kedler's and Tandres’ leavings that she must secure.

    So far it was not going well.

    The door to the admiral’s command deck rang.

    “Enter,” Priam was grateful for any distraction.

    The intruder resolved before bleary eyes into Lieutenant Calthame, bearing a food tray. “Your meal, admiral,” the lieutenant spoke stiffly.

    Priam eyed the lieutenant carefully. She ought to be looking at a droid instead, or at best some lowly ensign. Calthame had chosen to take over someone else’s duties when she must be deeply busy herself. It was a sign she cared.

    The admiral found she was oddly touched.

    Spinning her chair around, Priam motioned to the lieutenant. “Sit.”

    “Sir, I have duties to return to-“

    “They’ll keep,” Priam repeated the gesture. “Sit down.”

    “Yes sir,” Calthame was too smart to refuse a second time.

    The meal, hot and savory, slid onto the small table between the officers. Finding she was utterly famished, Priam tore into it with a will, ignoring the presence of the young woman until she’d half inhaled the dishes.

    “So,” the admiral spoke when she’d begun to slow down. “You wanted to see me?”

    “No, sir, I-“ Calthame protested.

    “You were worried about my health,” Priam surmised. “Don’t be ashamed, that’s an important quality in a subordinate, no commander can command if she’s exhausted and famished.”

    Wisely the lieutenant chose not to reply to this statement.

    “I am tired,” Priam decided, looking at the young woman, almost as exhausted as she. “And I’m in no shape to fight like this, but I can’t rest, not yet.”

    “Why not sir?” the prompt was subtle, careful.

    “Because the way things are going if I napped now I’d wake up to find Dangor’s stolen the fleet out from under me,” admitting that stung, but it also felt good to say openly; to admit the truth of where they were headed. “And once that happens, well, this ship is in for a short fiery end.”

    “We are all prepared to die in Imperial service, admiral,” Calthame said quietly. “And that might be better than having to serve Ars Dangor.”

    That was the sort of hyperbole junior officers used to try and impress commanders, but Priam could see the earnest emotion on Calthame’s soft face. The lieutenant truly detested the idea of the advisor’s rule. “Why would death be preferable?” she asked, suddenly curious.

    “Because I don’t want to live to see the fleet sacrificed over Coruscant,” Calthame answered. “To watch the final death throes of the Empire. After today, I couldn’t go on.”

    “I won’t have us die over Coruscant,” Priam insisted.

    “I know admiral,” Calthame replied. “But-“ she stopped suddenly.

    “But what?” Priam demanded. “Speak freely, kark it, I want an answer,” decorum was among the casualties of this incredibly trying day.

    “But I am not certain the fleet knows that,” her reply was timid, whispered, but they were too close for the words not to be heard. “We have not announced a strategy.”

    “I know,” this weighed upon the admiral. She knew it was necessary. “But there’s been so little time…”

    “A strategy is the most important thing now,” Calthame interjected. “Officers who can be swayed by promises will be swayed, and those who seek personal advantage will make their choice, but those loyal to the Empire, they require a strategy.”

    “Dangor offers vengeance,” Priam spoke, sick to her stomach at having contemplated it many times. “He appeals to our pride. Take Coruscant, a ruined world from which we cannot retreat, a hub of hyperlanes that can be attacked from all sides. The core despises us; the Galaxy Gun will not soon be forgiven. There is nothing to rally there. It is a deathtrap.”

    Calthame was nodding, but she said nothing more.

    “A strategy,” Priam looked at her junior forlornly. “I never had to contemplate grand strategy before. Just command a squadron, a fleet. That was all I wanted. I know all the classic moves. The simple choice is to go into the New Territories, to base ourselves in Imperial worlds and try to drive east, to retake the Hydian and those potentially still loyal worlds Zsinj held.”

    “Why not then?” Calthame asked.

    “It’s a loser’s choice,” Priam answered. She’d run through the future in her mind so many times now it had become an old friend. “The fleet will not fight for such limited goals; the people will not rally to us. Our units will be dispersed by the needs of pacification and defense. The rebels will strike at us with strong forces and righteous anger. Ships will bleed away to serve Harrsk and Teradoc, or fight for control of limited returns. That won’t preserve the fleet.”

    “Is preserving the fleet the primary goal?”

    “Of course it-“ Priam stopped. The girl had hit on something critical. She saw it clearly then, looking down over crumbs. Dangor’s existence had tilted her focus, bent it out of shape. “The goal is to win the war, to defeat the rebels and reestablish galactic empire.” She stared at Calthame then, and saw the hope in the lieutenant’s eyes. It made saying the next words so very hard. “But that is impossible.”

    “Impossible?” the young woman’s shock was genuine.

    “Without the Emperor there can be no unity,” Priam explained. “You don’t remember, you weren’t in the fleet yet, for those dark days after Endor. The chaos of it, the madness as we tore at each other in rage, breaking the Empire in the search for leadership, destroying our strength and letting the rebels take charge of the ruins. It will happen again, you are living it now, me and Dangor. We’re just the first step. Without unity, there was no hope for victory then, and it’s all the worse now. Then we had unbelievable superiority; now, the rebels have us matched, and the galaxy’s production is under their control.”

    “Can’t we…create…unity somehow,” Calthame offered. “Some sort of symbolic victory?”

    “If only it were so easy,” Priam shook her head. “Sate Prestage, Ysanne Isard, Dangor once before, they all tried and failed, even Grand Admiral Thrawn couldn’t achieve unity, though he almost won past the doubters. Kriffing noghri…” The admiral stopped. “Won past the doubters…”

    “Unity through victory?” Calthame supplied.

    “Not the best of slogans,” the admiral joked gruffly, even as her spirit soared. She did not believe, not really, but it was an idea, a real idea that meant something. For the first time in the course of the awful day she thought the fleet might achieve something meaningful. “But it has possibility. The Empire, what’s left anyway, is military men and women. Dangor is the last of the old guard, the political rot that has always been our bane. The fleet will follow victory, if we can deliver it.”

    Priam spun around, activating her terminal again, bringing up a galactic map. “Victories that we could win, not symbolic, no,” she muttered. “That’s Dangor’s play. Military victories, something meaningful, a way to hurt the rebels, retain Imperial advantage.”

    “What are our advantages?” Calthame prompted, sliding forward beside the admiral.

    “Fleet strength,” Priam answered. “Ships, hulls, crews, the might of the Imperial military; the rebel fleet is still small, and it’s scattered, dispersed by the Galaxy Gun and the loss of Coruscant. They’ve gained control of the galaxy’s industry, they’ll build us under soon, but for now, we can put up a fight.”

    “So, we have to reduce their industrial base then,” Calthame reasoned.

    The lieutenant was dead on, matching Priam’s thinking exactly. “Reduce their industry, put them back on the defensive, and get the worlds howling for protection, that’s our move.”3 She reached up to the map, slamming a finger down on one point. “And that’s our target.”

    Calthame stretched forward, reading the mark. “Kuat?”

    “The Emperor’s agents reduced much of the garrison,” Priam elaborated. “The rebels haven’t rebuilt yet and they currently don’t have a major fleet there. It’s vulnerable. Take Kuat, and we can steal the current production run. Then we smash the shipyards-“ She stopped, struck with an inspiration. “No, we offer them to Teradoc, or Harrsk, or whichever warlord wants them. Let them fight the rebels while we move on.”

    “Move on? But to where?”

    “Commenor, or Duro, or maybe Fondor,” Priam tossed out names. “It doesn’t really matter, any major world the rebels rely on for support. Reduce their shipyards to slag and move on; force them to pull their fleets back to the core. Once we do that, then we return to the New Territories and fight in strength.”

    Priam turned to stare at Calthame, expecting jubilation, but finding only skepticism. “Will that really win the war?”

    The admiral deflated, sinking back down. “I don’t know,” she answered after a long silence. “No,” she added a moment later. “At best it gives us a fighting chance.” She looked back at the map, wondering, knowing so much of the galaxy belonged to the rebellion. Her eyes gravitated to the little glowing dot representing Kuat. “But I do know that KDY’s a legitimate target, a military target, the biggest there is. That’s a real victory and we could take it with this fleet. That’s enough for a strategic foundation.”

    “I’ll help you write it up, admiral,” Calthame’s formality returned suddenly. “It seems an excellent plan.”

    Startled, Priam blinked, and only then did she recognize that she’d been scheming with such a junior lieutenant. “Yes…yes,” she spoke hesitantly. “We must do that, and quickly. I want to announce it to the fleet in an hour.”

    “Of course sir.”

    The resulting document was slapdash, shockingly informal by the standards of Imperial military planning. It was miles above Ars Dangor’s vague plan to besiege Coruscant, however. Without daring to take time for review, Priam simply submitted it to every captain in the fleet, allowing them to make their choice.

    Once done, she turned over command of the Night Shark to Captain Kelden. She had time for only a few hours sleep. In the morning she would learn what choices had been made, and who she had to lead against the traitor regent.


    Chapter Notes
    1. Gredge is a canon character.
    2. I am presuming here that the Eclipse II was to a degree rushed into service following the unexpected loss of the Eclipse, and that trained crew was plundered from other dreadnaughts to help make up the need. This would also help explain why R2-D2 was so easily able to take control of its systems. Assertor is an Assertor-class dreadnaught, a massive 14 km long ship introduced in The Essential Guide to Warfare.
    3. This is something of a scorched earth (scorched galaxy?) strategy, but it seems intuitive to me. The Galactic Civil War is somewhat unusual in that, compared to certain historical conflicts, it was relatively bloodless and little effort was made to smash the industrial base of the other side, with major foundries changing hands almost seamlessly. That the retreating Empire never embarked upon this sort of strategy (though Isard’s Kytros Virus is the same principle) seems to be a testament to their delusions of success even at a very late stage.
  8. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Chapter 7: Past Hesitation

    “Admiral, the fleet’s formation has shifted,” Captain Kelden was reporting. “Vessels dispersed during the final watch of the night, moving to new positions. The fleet now encompasses two formations. One centered here, on the skirmish lines you laid out yesterday, and another assembled in parade formation on the Pilum.”

    “And there was no fighting?” Priam felt remarkably refreshed. The best stims in the galaxy couldn’t substitute for good old-fashioned sleep, even if she’d only managed three hours.

    “No sir, it was all without violence,” Kelden’s voice betrayed his own surprise at that.

    “Dangor is hoping I’ll surrender,” Priam reasoned. The treacherous worm didn’t wish to waste ships until he had to. She suspected it was the only thing they had in common at present. “But I won’t bow down to a traitor who thinks he can impersonate the Emperor and take the throne.” She looked back to Kelden. “So who went where?”

    “Admiral Hennat has the Pilum, but Warmonger sided with us,” the captain answered. “And Assertor and a large number of other vessels have withdrawn to salvage operations.”

    Gredge’s word had proven good, and the other two dreadnaughts in the system had split between the two commands, though Priam regretted that the Vengeance-class was more powerful than the Bellator-class.

    “Captain Govith’s Bramble is with us, but the Adherence, Deference, and Obedience1 all rallied to Dangor.” The results among the battlecruisers were less favorable, but this time the most potent ship had chosen the admiral.

    “We retain ten of twenty-four star destroyer class vessels, and roughly forty percent of all lesser ships,” Kelden concluded. “Though our force is biased towards smaller ships, particularly frigates, compared to larger cruisers.”2

    “Forty percent,” Priam spoke with finality. She could have hoped for more, but it hardly mattered. It was certainly enough to fight with, and she saw Admiral Kraven’s contingent had fallen in with her. Regrettably she also knew that if it came to battle, a bloodbath was inevitable. In triumph, she would obtain nothing.

    Not a religious woman, she nevertheless prayed Xasha would succeed in time.

    Not yet ready to devise a battle plan, she asked one more question. “Is there anyone still on the fence?”

    “Yes sir,” Kelden grimaced, and his voice was tinged with contempt. “Colonel Garvus has moved his three ships, the Autarch, Heseriarch, and Sovereign to a point off-line between both fleets.”

    “What’s his game?” Priam wondered aloud. “He can’t mean to fight with those ships.” She knew Autarch and Heseriarch were close to functional and had at least some armaments aboard, but Sovereign was a burned out shell that required towing to move and had no power. Moreover, the former yardmaster had nothing but construction workers onboard, not an actual crew.

    “Perhaps he just plans to make a big show of pledging his support to the winner,” Kelden suggested.

    “Perhaps,” Priam recalled that thin old man. He’d had dangerous eyes. She was certain he was plotting something.

    Pushing the thought aside, she looked to the order of battle. She had to plan a general engagement of immense proportions, and she had to win. “Hennat will command for Dangor then,” she mused.

    “Yes sir,” Kelden answered. “The chatter makes that very clear.”

    Priam knew Hennat, and she knew Dangor. The admiral would be hesitant, tentative with the advisor watching over him. He’d present a textbook approach to grind her down with superior force, the general imperial method. It would ruin the fleet, and any plans to take Coruscant, but it would win.

    Unless Priam could beat it.

    To beat an Imperial with an inferior force you couldn’t fight like an Imperial. You could fight like a rebel, but Priam didn’t have their fighters.3

    “Sir, I have a full materials layout of the Pilum,” Kelden offered. “If you wish to make it a priority target.”

    “No,” the admiral shook her head. “Not the Pilum.” She understood Kelden’s point. This was not truly a battle between fleets. It was a battle between people. It would be far simpler if she and Dangor could settle the matter with pistols in a hangar bay. If either died, it was essentially over. “Dangor won’t be on it, he’s too much of a coward. He’s on one of the Allegiance-classes, probably whichever is in reserve.”

    “That will make it difficult to reach him.”

    “It will, yes, but I don’t think we’ll play that game,” Priam knew she needed to be unconventional. “Captain, prep our squadron for a run against the Pilum, we’ll plan on simply sending holding forces against the wings.”

    “But if Dangor isn’t on the ship then…”

    “I know, just plan the attack captain,” Priam brushed him away and pulled the battle readout in front of her face. Dangor at the rear of the fleet and no way to get to him without smashing through a dreadnaught, a rebel could have sent fighters, she needed something else.

    Her eyes caught on a listing from the lower section the reading, organized by proportion: Tartan-class patrol cruisers eighty-percent to her.

    The kernel of a plan began to take shape in the admiral’s mind.

    “Lieutenant Calthame,” she ordered. “I need a secure line to Admiral Kraven opened from my command room; eyes only.”


    * * *


    “Forty percent,” Ars Dangor was muttering it incessantly. “Forty percent…what kind of kriffing incompetents am I working with?”

    Forced to stand at the front of his command deck because the Imperial Regent had occupied the chair that was rightfully his, Rear Admiral Lorip Tallance4 did his best to ignore the continual mumbling and the succession of barked commands to the network of political subordinates that had miraculously re-formed from the survivors of Byss over the past day. He'd said nothing to stop that commentary, regardless of the effect it was having on command deck discipline, and had received a set of pills from the command tower orderly to calm the pain in his aching knees.

    He’d been standing for over eight hours, and hadn’t slept in twenty-nine. That was considerable wear on a man of his eighty-one years, but he would endure, the regent was on his deck.

    To sustain him, he could draw upon a great new reservoir of emotion, one that had so far proven quite bottomless: his burning need for revenge.

    Twelve grandchildren, eight nieces, four nephews, two uncles, one aunt, a brother, two sisters, three daughters, a son, and his lovely wife; Tallance could see the faces every time he closed his eyes for even a second. The more distant relatives and those related only by marriage were too many to count. His family had been eradicated, burned to almost nothing in a single fiery moment. He had only one grandson left, a boy fresh out of the academy, serving as a lieutenant onboard the Pilum. One youth, and his vengeance, that was all that remained.

    He would have that revenge; he knew it in his very soul. The rebels had wronged the Emperor; shot him in the back if the reports told true. Palpatine was not as other men, no, he was a god among the lesser mortals, granted great power by the heavens in order to bring order to the galaxy. He would return; it was inevitable.

    And when he did, those who had dared to oppose the rightful order of things would suffer; they would suffer indeed.

    Dangor understood this. The regent was a vile man without respect, but he saw the truth, he had faith in the greatness of the Empire. He would give them Coruscant again, a foundation that would anchor their vengeance, and the control of the galaxy that was the Empire’s by right.

    The others simply did not believe, they lacked vision; lacked faith. Tallance felt bad for Priam and her followers. Deluded by cynicism in the guise of pragmatism they sought to reduce the war to naught but ships and soldiers, a slog in the gutter over nothing but temporal power. They could never grasp the sublime ideal of it all, the essential essence of the Empire that would me; must be.

    Dangor grasped that truth. It was the one quality that redeemed the politician’s many faults. The regent was a necessary evil, a creature required to hold the Empire together by the ties of allegiance and economics in the absence of the Emperor’s overriding will. Where soldiers would fight out of duty, the gilded tongue of the tall man would move all those who supplied them with the tools of war. For that, such indignities as must be endured would be.

    Priam would be educated in her mistake through the cleansing power of the Empire’s military might. Tallance regretted the casualties that would surely ensue, especially among the junior officers and enlisted men. Like that poor lonely grandchild of his they were too young to understand, to fully comprehend the needs of the great imperial design. They would simply obey orders as they had been taught, and trust the leaders who had betrayed them.

    He did not regret the necessary deaths. Priam, Kraven, Govith, the recalcitrant Garvus and Gredge, and all the other captains who had chosen to form up beside the Night Shark. They would die, and in the purging the heart of the Empire would be purified again, as it had been over Coruscant so recently, and made ready for the Emperor’s return in triumph.

    All these things and more Tallance whispered into the back of his mind over and over again, trying to silence the voices there. The doubts whispered by subordinates and comrades, the spectral faces of the offices slaughtered on the command deck of the Pilum, the dread he saw on the faces of his crew when they looked at the black and gold novatroopers, and worst of all the voice of experience; that one spoke with the tone and syntax of Grant, the Grand Admiral he’d once served below. Now it spoke a single word, over and over in an endless loop; a simple, short, and tiny word that crystallized all doubts into one.

    Kuat…Kuat…Kuat…the world had become a millstone upon Tallance’s mind. He knew exactly why Priam had mustered her forty percent. The logical, clinical, professional part of him desperately wanted to pick that destination over Coruscant.

    The litany of dead relatives had crushed that part of him soundly hours before, but it remained just strong enough to torment his resolve. Only Priam’s death would free him from this weakness, he was certain of it now.

    It was a death he was likely to play little part in, however, for Deference slunk along at the rear of Admiral Hennat’s formation, leading the reserve squadron. When battle came his role would be supportive only. His command would fall into place in the holding force of the line while the Pilum plunged in with a heavy escort and blasted the Night Shark to pieces. Unless Priam tried to suicide drive through the fleet, she would never come under his guns, they would fire at naught but flanking escort cruisers and wheeling fighter squadrons.

    It was not enough, and many of the men agreed. They had lost families too, and wanted to be on the battle line. He had told them to wait for Coruscant, even as he prayed he could wait that long himself.

    “Sir, five minutes to deadline,” his sensors officer reported, one of many updates in the long sequence.

    Tallance turned to look back at Dangor. No, the Regent would not be delivered into Priam’s hands. The tall man was not even in Hennat’s custody any more. The chain of command had long since been violated, the break marked by smoking E-11s.

    “Regent,” Tallance approached Dangor and caught the advisor’s attention.

    “Yes, admiral?” the tall man appeared distracted, furiously jabbing commands into his comlink.

    “Sir, it may be prudent for you to withdraw from the command tower to your chambers,” the rear admiral suggested, doing his best to sound perfectly respectful. “It is likely to be safer if Priam makes a run at this ship.” As far as anyone under Hennat could tell that remained the rogue admiral’s only chance at victory, so caution was warranted even from Deference’s secure rear position.

    “Oh, I suspect we are quite safe,” Dangor smiled wickedly. “And I wish to observe the outcome in person.”

    Regretting principally that he could not get the advisor off the deck before going into battle, Tallance only nodded. “Very well my lord, but be advised that we will be commencing combat operations in one minute. I suspect Priam to begin her assault immediately when time is up.” He knew the woman only vaguely, but pointless waiting was not in her profile.

    “Oh, no doubt,” Dangor answered, still smiling. “However, I do not intend to wait for her.” He pointed to the sensors desk. “A full-holo representation of the Night Shark, if you please.”

    Grinding his teeth at this usurpation of his authority, Tallance turned and nodded to the deck officer to carry out the command. The advisor had some scheme to play, and he did not like that idea. The Pilum charging down as the great spearpoint of vengeance and shattering resistance was the right and proper ending to this drama, not some cloak and dagger machination. Priam had held forth for the honor of the navy, and that honor deserved to be fought straight-up.

    The image appeared, displaying the pale dagger visage of a Star Destroyer ready for battle, all weapons primed.

    It also illuminated a small, Lambda-class shuttle and an escorting squadron of TIE interceptors. “My lord what is…” Tallance questioned.

    “Nothing substantial,” Dangor answered, smirking. “But I felt that if Priam wished to see me so badly I might as well oblige her.”

    “My lord…” the admiral had a sinking feeling in his stomach. “Admiral Hennat intended that Priam should strike first.” No one wanted to be the first to spill the blood of their fellow Imperials, who had all been loyally serving the Emperor less than a day previous. Additionally, the strangely non-communicative Sovereign-class vessels under Colonel Garvus remained hovering between the fleets. Those vessels, even lacking crews as they were, could not afford to be ignored.

    “The opportunity to end this with a minimum of bloodshed is too important to pass up,” Dangor countered in a tone that made it clear the matter was settled.

    Tallance was left staring at the image, even as two great fleets commenced final preparations for battle.


    Chapter Notes
    1. These three ships are Allegiance-class battlecruisers. The names I’ve chosen are all synonyms of Allegiance.
    2. The exact size of the Byss Defense Fleet is a matter open to considerable debate. I have chosen a size that I’m comfortable with for this battle, a full sector group augmented by a small number of battlecruisers and dreadnaughts. This represents only really half of the true strength that would have been observed in Dark Empire, with a great many ships not at combat readiness or of course destroyed when the planet exploded.
    3. Though this is partly a throw-away comment, I find it worth mentioning. Admiral Priam is sitting on a perfectly good tactical template for defeating a larger conventional Imperial force – the one the New Republic’s been using for six plus years, but without sturdy fighters such as X-wings, she can’t implement it. I find it interesting that, even should innovative Imperial commanders have wished to adjust tactics post-Endor, they were limited by the design legacy they’d been bequeathed.
    4. Lorip Tallance is the highest-ranked and most significant original character in this work. There really are no canonical rear admirals to draw upon.
  9. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Chapter 8: Echoes in the Hull


    The most massive and powerful warship ever constructed in galactic history, arguments from speculative archeologists notwithstanding, the Eclipse II had not died easily. Hijacked by rebel agents, it had smashed the Galaxy Gun to flinders while taking only modest structural damage in return. Spinning wildly on its axis and out of control from the momentum shift, the destruction of Byss had rent the great vessel asunder, fracturing it into countless pieces large and small.

    As perhaps the only ship in the system that had been proceeding toward Byss when the planet detonated, the Eclipse II had been closer than any other ship to the blast. Physical debris had smashed it in addition to the massive shockwave that had crippled most other vessels unable to escape. Pummeled by these first, it had possessed no chance to survive the resulting conflagration.

    And yet large hulking sections, burned out and devastated but otherwise complete, had somehow survived. Xasha stared out at these fragments, now floating within the debris field that represented the planet’s puny physical remains, in awe. To think that anything had endured was astounding.

    Priam had forwarded data on the ship’s last moments during her transmission, and it told a tale of brutal incompetence and, at the end, tragic heroism.

    Hijacked by the rebel strike team, the captain had ordered assaults on their entrenched position, but had otherwise allowed the sabotage to proceed. Measures that could have halted the starship’s rogue flight, such as manual engine shutdown or a full computational purge, were suggested only to be overridden at the top1.

    The meta-narrative of the log, transmitted in the ship’s final moments, became clear as Xasha read through sequentially. The commanding officer, Uther Kermen2, had been unwilling to take any action that might permanently damage the ship. No doubt he was thinking of taking the Empire for himself. It doing so, he’d cost the Empire everything.

    Xasha found this amusing.

    The ship’s chief engineer had obeyed orders until the moment they’d pulled out of hyperspace, seconds from impact with the Galaxy Gun. His actions were recorded clearly: a decision to have subordinates initiate a progressive engine shutdown by overloading auxiliary reactors; shield maximization; the destruction of the hardline datalinks enabling rebel sabotage.

    In the bounty hunter’s estimation these moves would have succeeded, the dreadnaught would have righted itself before smashing into the planet and the ship would have been in need of nothing more than heavy post-battle repairs.

    Only when Byss was struck by the Galaxy Gun did the ship’s doom become complete.

    Even in those moments, while most of the crew scrambled for escape pods and shuttles in a vain attempt to jump away and survive, the engineer had remained in place, rerouting power, increasing shield capacity, and locking down bulkheads to preserve as much of the vessel as possible. All the while he’d broadcast his orders, and those had relayed back to the Night Shark as high command fell silent.

    A massive chunk of debris had impacted the ship’s bow, splitting her and preventing a complete envelopment by the shields3. Other pieces had subsequently smashed through the broken coverage, cleaving off chunks of the vessel and leaving the others more and more exposed. By the time the main shockwave hit there was no chance. The bow had been vaporized and the superstructure was fragmented under the cosmic force of planetary destruction.

    But the ship, positioned by controlling the rolling motion through well-timed thruster application, had taken the blast edge on. The ruined bow had absorbed the heaviest part of the blow. As the shockwave proceeded, the wave action had moved through the central superstructure, funneled down the central cavity of the axial superlaser, unleashing a spiral cracking motion that shook the ship apart from the inside out and was destined to be studied by demolitions students for decades.

    It was this strange destructive pattern, curiously, that had spared large sections of the ship, throwing them off from the vessel even as the bulky core of the dreadnaught moved forward to shield them from the remainder of the blast. Much of the bulbous stern now hovered, scattered in chucks ranging from a handspan to several hundred meters in length, within the embrace of seared asteroids.

    Imperial engineers, working the salvage operations, had calculated that perhaps fifteen to twenty percent of the ship had survived as something more than floating scrap. While only a very modest proportion of the warship, the Eclipse II had possessed such incredible internal volume that this meant there were literally star destroyers worth of material floating in the debris.

    Salvage teams would not let that material go to waste, and plans were already being made for retrieval. Swirling asteroids gave men pause, however, and with a system rendered full of hulks and ruins by the Galaxy Gun, the black dreadnaught was last on the list. For now Xasha was alone in her approach to the ship.

    Diva’s Sting came in soft, running silent and powered down towards the asteroid field. To be noticed would be to fight, and the bounty hunter knew she was hopelessly outgunned. Stealth was the order of the day, and moving at a constant velocity on an unchanging vector disguised her as just another piece of shuttle-sized debris - hardly a priority.

    She was only minutes out from the asteroid field before an active sensor finally pinged her. No response followed immediately. Monitoring the chatter on the local reclamation frequencies Xasha caught the designation of a ‘rogue delta-class shuttle, unpowered – headed towards the debris field. Somebody snag it with a tractor.’

    A quick scan of nearby craft pegged two utility tugs4 as the only vehicles in range. Holding the controls lightly, ready to trigger an emergency escalation to full power, Xasha waited, checking vectors.

    “I’ve got this one,” the tug to port and above signaled. Overhearing this she watched as the other unit moved away, called to other duties immediately.

    Now there was only one tug to beat.

    The little hauler had no shields, limited armor, and no weapons. Xasha could have blown it apart and charged past. It was the safest solution, and many bounty hunters would have chosen it. Imperial officers always accepted a modest amount of imperial collateral damage on high profile missions.

    It was a safe solution, but was also a stupid and unprofessional one. In Xasha’s moral calculus, professionalism ranked high.

    So she waited, watching the convergence of the two ships, holding, holding, bare-knuckled as she estimated how long it would take the tug pilot to achieve a lock.

    It wasn’t until he was in range that she powered Diva’s Sting back up.

    “What? This ship’s active!” disbelief encouraged by too many continuous hours in the cockpit made the man sluggish.

    Xasha pulled her ship into a sharp turn, arcing not away from the tug, but toward it, charging past on an almost head to head trajectory, ruining the angular leverage of any tractor attempt.

    “Too close, I can’t get a lock.”

    “Get out of there you idiot, that thing’s got teeth!”

    “Kriff…”

    Xasha smiled as she blew past. It was always fun to have your skills confirmed in real time.

    “Get security, we’ve got a rogue shuttle headed into the debris field.”

    “What in the stang are they doing?”

    “You think the navy cares? They’ll blast ‘em and ask their corpse for answers.”

    The final statement was an all-too-accurate description of what the likely response would be, at least in Xasha’s experience. This was not especially worrisome at the present, because no ship was in range to catch her, and no captain was likely to follow her into the asteroid field. They had more important things to worry about than an apparently suicidal shuttle pilot.

    At that thought, the bounty hunter was struck by the suspicion that there probably had already been several flights like these; hopeless imperials charging towards their death in the embrace of their ruined homeworld.

    Grimacing at the image, she vowed to avoid joining them.

    Diva’s Sting raced ahead at full throttle until the asteroids closed in on all sides. Only then did she cut the power down and focus on maneuvering, dodging and weaving among the tumbling stones.

    Great chunks of former planet, many still glowing from the incredible heat of detonation, swarmed about the shuttle. Xasha maneuvered swift and sure, and to her surprise the difficulty was less than she anticipated. Though she hopped from one large chunk to another, and small meteorites battered at her shields, Diva’s Sting weathered the storm well. Too much of Byss had been simply eradicated for it to pose a threat to a ship as small and nimble as hers.

    Docking with the Eclipse II proved more challenging.

    Jet black and without power against the backdrop of space, the fragmented ship was almost impossible to observe even outlined against the glow of the deep core’s myriad stars. Forced to rely on instruments alone, Xasha skimmed low across the ruined superstructure of the stern, slashed past the bent and broken engines, and came about near the ventral surface. Several small hangars remained more or less intact, and she grappled up to one via force cylinder, before launching physical bolts into the armor to anchor her shuttle in place.

    As the bounty hunter slowly pulled her ship fully into the ruined hangar, bumping up against loose crates and a number of dead bodies as she did so, the proximity sensor in the cockpit went off.
    “What in the galaxy?” Xasha snapped, looking to her sensor board.

    “Kriff,” she barked a moment later, when the anomalies resolved as Gamma-class assault shuttles.

    They were headed her way, looking at the broken hulk just as she was.

    “Looks like Dangor figured out what I’m here for,” Xasha muttered, even as she continued to coax her shuttle into place. Seconds later, unwilling to wait any longer, she killed the power, silencing her vessel and hopefully rendering it undetectable once again. She knew it was a race now, and she didn’t intend to lose.

    “One little lady in the dark, versus a whole bunch of stormtroopers, all searching for something that may not exist,” Xasha quipped as she tapped the beacon call that would activate her ship from afar. “Just a great way to earn a cool five million. Great.”

    Giving the seals on her armor one final check, Xasha surged to the airlock.

    With a rush of depressurization she tumbled out into the dark.

    Even a small, subordinate hangar on this dreadnaught was large by the standards of ordinary starships, and Xasha tumbled out into vast open space. Everything was jumbled around her, massive amounts of gear, cargo, and even whole fighters floating free. The ship had still been tumbling when the engineer pulled the power from the inertial dampers. She realized that explained the mess, and it was sure to be everywhere.

    Tapping her jetpack for a quick burst to carry her down toward the nominal floor, Xasha glided across, looking for a path towards the main computer, centrally located somewhere in this ravaged section. Her helmet displayed a schematic map overlaid atop the visuals, but it was of depressingly little use. Debris and wreckage was everywhere, obscuring any path. Worse, the engineer’s lockdown meant all blast doors were closed, obstacles no hand-held shaped charge was smashing through. She’d have to crawl and squirm through the cracks opened by the ship’s death throes in order to make any progress.

    “I should have asked Priam for ten million,” Xasha grumbled as she made her way to a narrow crevice in the hangar wall. “Fifteen maybe.”

    The bounty hunter squeezed through the gap, feeling the armor plate scrape against the ruined bulkhead, internal vibration the only sound.

    Guided by her helmet floodlights, Xasha pushed off, flowing down the empty hallway in zero gravity. She gave quick shoves against the wall to speed her motion, but was careful not to build too much velocity. Obstacles were everywhere, loose equipment, packaging, and bodies.

    The Empire’s finest, dead and floating. The dreadnaught had held a crew close to a million in all, the most loyal and practiced troops Palpatine could find. Now nothing but burned husks, scorched by radiation overload, remained.

    Xasha tried to avoid touching the bodies. It was a matter of respect. These men would have to wait for the salvagers to receive proper rites.

    The key to her passage was not a weapon, but a simple plasma torch, needed to cut her way through broken turbolift shafts and past cars. The silence of the whole process was eerie, watching a stream of sparks cut through thin durasteel plating, crawling through the rough circle and then kicking out and onward. Down she scrambled into the bowels of the vessel, in a great hulking section on the underside of the main superlaser shaft. Only the digital grid guided her, for she would have been hopelessly lost otherwise, the ruin impenetrable in its vast complexity.

    Somewhere above, the bounty hunter knew, troops in the service of Ars Dangor sought out the same prize as she, but there was no way to monitor their progress or even detect the wretches. Her helmets sensors could peer through the wreckage for a hundred meters or so, nothing more. Conflict, if it should come, would be close, sharp, and swift.

    Nothing disturbed the bounty hunter’s progress. Even the mouse droids were dead. The ship made for eerie company, but Xasha forged ahead, focused on getting to the computer core.

    She came in from above, spilling out of a maintenance shaft of power cables from the top. The vast towers of servers stacked around the globular central core greeted her with cold silence, chill and empty. The area was remarkably free of bodies. No one had stayed here, near the center of the ship. They had all perished in flight, trying to reach escape pods.

    “So, here we are,” the bounty muttered, descending to a soft crouch among those reinforced databanks. “Now where to begin?” Priam’s call for evidence was rather vague, but Xasha knew Dangor had claimed to have a transmission from the Eclipse II to support his claim. If she could prove that transmission had never happened, that would undercut the advisor.

    Her layout directed her to the relevant server, and the bounty hunter grappled the tower bodily, shimmying down to the base. Normally, access to such highly secure equipment would have been impossible without a battery of passcodes and clearances, but in this state, emergency shutdown, the data was vulnerable.

    Xasha took a security spike from her belt, handling it with care in her armored gloves. She looped it into to a portable power cell and a blank datapack. Then, slowly, she inserted the security spike into the maintenance port at the base of the tower.

    The system flickered and hummed to life, sputtering and damaged. Only a third of the indicator lights managed to turn green, the rest was a sea of yellow warnings, red errors, and black emptiness. Xasha ignored the indicators and brought up the emergency directory. Pulling file numbers and sorting it through her helmet’s system, she zeroed into the relevant segments. Stuck in emergency safe diagnostic mode, she could do nothing but pull blind dumps of the logs and try to read them back on her armor’s drives later.

    The method was cumbersome and slow, but it worked.

    Xasha counted the seconds as she waited in silence, eyes on the sensor screens of her HUD, looking for any possibility of interlopers, trusting her armor to alert her if it found the evidence she needed.

    Five full minutes she knelt at the base of the tower, churning through chunks of the main computer, only to be interrupted by a sharp negative blast of static at the end.

    The executive summary spooled across her screen in plain text. All communications logs from the past two weeks were lost.

    “Stang,” the bounty hunter hissed. Disappointment filled her. “So much for the easy way.” Extracting her spike and pushing off, Xasha floated towards the other side of the chamber. The next option was the internal security video. If she could search those, it might be possible to pin any mention of Dangor, or another successor.

    That particular data slog was spared the bounty hunter, when the relevant server failed to even power on.

    “Huh,” Xasha considered, wondering where else in the computer she might try.

    As she rose up, floating free, the ranging sensor in her helmet went off.

    “Stang!” Xasha swore. She grabbed the nearest connecting spar and pulled, flipping her body upright towards the ceiling. Her data retrieval equipment vanished into her belt, and her weapons emerged into her hands.

    Tucking behind cover, but a straight shot below the cable conduit she’d entered through, the bounty hunter waited. She held her rifle crouched against her body in her left hand, the trusty Scorpion-7 in her right.

    Sparks flew from the main door to the chamber, down and to the left of Xasha’s shielded position. The pale blue sparks came from a heavy laser cutter, the kind featured on spacetrooper armor. Xasha felt her confidence sink.

    The sparks slashed through the door’s central seal, and then the bulkhead was pulled back by great strength. Spacetroopers for certain; Xasha’s grip on her weapons tightened, but her glance surged upward, thinking of escape.

    Floating into the chamber, however, were not the armored zero-g warriors, but men in black and gold stormtrooper armor.

    She’d never seen them in the flesh before, but Xasha knew novatroopers by reputation, and she knew their armor was no stronger than that of an ordinary trooper’s.

    Well trained and capable, the novatroopers entered with vigilance, rifles out, helmets moving in rapid scan of their surroundings, but they betrayed one failing – limited zero-g experience. They failed to look all the way up until it was too late.

    Xasha didn’t hesitate; she saw her chance at ambush and took it.

    Her weapons spat laserfire.

    The rifle thumped and skipped in her left hand, locked on full auto, barely aimed, simply throwing deadly ruby streaks at the foe. Nevertheless, the storm of bolts clipped the first novatrooper in the shoulder, spun him about, and stitched its way across his back before clawing through the stomach of the second man. The pair pitched and rolled, dead bodies sprawling to the deck in unnatural positions.

    The next pair of troopers came in firing, aimlessly shooting upward to support their allies. Xasha lined up her shots with her pistol carefully, blowing through the helmet of the first on his second step through the door, and knocking the second in the gut as he dropped to roll.

    Couching the rifle against her and continuing to spray the stream of death, she bent her knees to increase cover as novatroopers fired around the edges of the bulkhead, seeking to drive her down.
    She waited, undaunted in the face of counterfire, ignoring the ruby bolts as they scored cables and conduits nearby, until a novatrooper poked his head out to line up a shot.

    Her pistol shot took him in the left eye.

    Without stopping, Xasha slammed the pistol into its holster, tensed her leg muscles, and jumped, clearing the cables and squirming up into the ceiling access.

    The novatroopers flooded through in a rush in the next moment, firing in every direction. At their rear, her helmet’s software caught a pair of armored spacetroopers bringing up the rear.

    Then she was into the tunnel, pulling her body along with all her might, until she crashed into the wall with sufficient force to knock the air from her lungs.

    Recovering quickly, Xasha reoriented and shot upwards, hearing the enemy pursue. In her mind she ran through the count; two spacetroopers, twenty novatroopers, and that again in the other shuttle. She’d cut the numbers down a little, but it was still time to run.

    “Hells Priam, why’d you let Dangor send so many!” she cursed as she ascended through an empty turbolift shaft.

    Scrambling away with pursuit coming from below, Xasha chose a new path, darting deeper into the wreckage, hoping to blast out the ruin on the other side. The second group was there somewhere, hunting for her. Charging through silent, ghost-haunted ruins was doubly terrifying when certain knowledge that someone was chasing you added to the mix.

    The novatroopers followed slowly, with the steady pace of military doctrine. Xasha out-paced her pursuit easily, but the wreckage proved a more substantial obstacle. Faced with a massively torn series of bulkheads compressed down onto each other in an impenetrable mass, she was forced to turn and squirrel her way up three decks before lurching to starboard, still seeking an exit.

    Concerned only with escape, she gave little thought to the pursuit of evidence.

    The only way out on the starboard side was through a hole in a secondary supply hold. Xasha’s wireframe overlay knew this, and Dangor’s men had access to the same data. The route inevitably led to the primary freight transport tram.

    The bounty hunter dropped in firing.

    A full squad of troops, eight men plus the sergeant, waited in cover outside the cargo access. They opened fire in unison as Xasha rolled in from a side corridor.

    “Kriff,” the bounty hunter rolled in place, letting of the slightest of jet pack blasts to tuck in behind a floating crate. “Kriff, kriff, kriff,” she swore repeatedly, firing back around the edge blindly. Her fury was directed mostly at herself, for walking into exactly what she feared most. Gritting her teeth, she hunkered down and searched for a way out.

    The cargo crate, which must have massed twelve tons, shuddered at her touch.

    “Thank the Empire for zero-g,” Xasha smiled, and turned left. She pulled her rifle back down; then gunned her jet pack at full bore.

    Slowly the crate began to gather speed and slide down the empty tramway.

    Xasha rolled out, firing again, trying to occupy the minds of the imperials. Even as she kept her arms busy directing a stream of ruby death, her legs swam and thrashed, adding a hailstorm of debris to her barreling crate. Electrical paneling, a toolbox, two loose disposal barrels, a fried mouse droid, and the body of a warrant officer all went sailing in the direction of the novatroopers, propelled by the merciless physics of the airless emptiness.

    Taking a graze to her side, banked off her armor for little damage, Xasha descended to the wrecked tram housing and grasped a heavy durasteel plate. Bracing it before her body, she grappled the thing and charged, screaming forward behind her makeshift shield.

    The troopers held their ground, dodging the improvised missiles as they crashed against their cover, avoiding damage and pouring on a merciless fire. The plate in front of Xasha rose to a searing white heat, and she was forced to guide it by fingertip alone.

    At the last blaster bolts started to pass through, and the bounty hunter peeled out, seeking the promised security of a cargo maintenance alcove in the side of the shaft.

    A bolt of hyperaccelerated crimson particles slashed across the back of her shin.

    Xasha bit down so hard she tasted blood in her mouth, and she hit brutally, body disjointed. The impact was felt in every bone.

    ‘Pain, not blasters or vibroblades, is the great killer of bounty hunters,’ she heard Boba’s voice in her mind; one of the lessons he’d left her. ‘Discipline conquers pain, and separates the living hunter from the dead.’

    Xasha tucked the injured leg under her body, clamped her mouth down and drank in the copper-iron taste of her blood. She brought up both weapons.

    The white-flaming durasteel piece passed over the novatrooper line. They moved aside, but otherwise ignored it as they had the other projectiles.

    Smiling wickedly through the agony, Xasha detonated her grenades.

    There was no explosion, for there was no air to conduct one, but the bounty hunter’s weapons were not fragmentation devices of no use in the vented wreckage. Out from the plate that had carried them streams of bright-green foam, neon bright and glowing, blasted in all directions.

    Striking walls, panels, flooring, and novatrooper armor, the foam cohered and hardened instantly. Force of contact triggered internal crystallization and formed into a solid with the strength of plasteel. Armor joints coated, feet bonded to deck plating, and trigger fingers were ruinously trapped against guards.

    Xasha pressed off from her alcove with her right elbow. She took her blaster rifle in both hands, and waved in back and forth in a figure eight, autofire engaged.

    Armor cored and smoldered, and the men died in place, held motionless by the support of the glop grenades.

    “Stars I love those things,” she spat, gurgling in her water straw to clear the blood from her mouth.

    Leg aching, but thankfully possessed of no need to walk, Xasha trudged on. She had to hurry ahead, there we more out there, and no sign of the space troopers.

    It was only when she reached the breach in the hull and pulled out onto the black outer surface of the ship, the she considered the next step. “Kark,” she hissed.

    The computer had been her best play, but that was lost now. Novatrooper blasters would have made short work of any remaining evidence.

    Bringing up the wireframe model of all debris areas, Xasha allotted five seconds to consider her choices.

    Then she picked the bridge. It had a full security suite, and anything important, like designating a successor, was most likely to have happened there.

    There was only one problem. The bridge was in a completely different chunk of wreckage, one hundred and fifty kilometers of open space away.

    Diva’s Sting could bridge that gap easily, but a pair of assault shuttles was in the way.

    “So much for the easy way,” Xasha shook her head. There was another option, a reliable option, but it required taking a giant leap into oblivion.

    She tried a few steadying deep breaths. It didn’t help.

    “Stang,” she hissed, and set her body to the task even as her mind rebelled. She crouched down, held the trigger for her jetpack, and bent her remaining good knee.

    “Come on X, you’ve got this. In three…two…one…” Eyes closed, tongue quivering, Xasha slammed her thumb down on the button trigger and jumped.

    She gave it five full seconds, shooting up and spinning as she went, accelerating at full bore to hundreds of kph.

    Then she killed thrust and floated, surrounded by emptiness and distant wreckage.

    In the distance there was movement. Dialing the magnification on her helmet camera up all the way, tiny shapes could be seen closing together.

    “So, guess it’s started then,” she noted, wincing at the pain in her leg. “Sorry Priam,” the bounty hunter had thought there would be more time. Moving through the ship had taken too long. She turned to the black shrouded hulk before her, and resolved to keep going. They hadn’t engaged yet, she might still make the deadline. According to the chrono, she still had forty minutes until the admiral’s ultimatum expired.

    Lights blinked inside her helmet, and Xasha’s eye was draw to the magnified image of two rocket bursts. Bright yellow against a black ruin backdrop, they could mean only one thing. The spacetroopers were after her.

    “Kriff,” Xasha swore, feeling desperate. She was in the open and exposed, facing an opponent her weapons were poorly suited to damage.

    Rotating in space, gliding along in the frictionless environment of weightlessness, the bounty hunter could only watch and wonder. She prayed they couldn’t spot her.

    Ten seconds later the pair of troopers gunned their jetpacks and moved onto an intercept course.

    Xasha ran.

    Full burn, a torrent of flame kicking out behind her, she charged toward the command tower wreckage, hurtling along with all the acceleration she could manage.

    From pursuit, the spacetroopers fired off micro-torpedoes, and then lazily advanced as they guided their weapons of destruction to the kill.

    Rapidly descending numbers in front of her nose marked the path of impending doom as Xasha fled. Clenching her hands hard, she gasped for breath and struggled against the rising sense of panic as those missiles closed upon her.

    “It’s only two, it’s only two,” she muttered, wondering idly why they’d not fired more. Probably conservative Imperial doctrine, but it represented her only chance.

    In the distance the top of Eclipse II closed rapidly, as Xasha’s speed continued to rapidly increase.

    The missiles, considerably faster, closed the distance in great chunks.

    Ten seconds to impact.

    Hands shaking, but knowing the timing was critical, Xasha wrenched a grenade free of her belt and let it go.

    She burned for one breath more; then killed the jetpack.

    The fiery fragmentation device detonated.

    The outburst was nothing in comparison to a starship, but the burst of thermal radiation and tiny cloud of silvered metal fragments took up more space than an armored human.

    The first torpedo diverted and detonated.

    Following its companion, the second dashed into the fireball and doubled its power.

    Smashed by the shockwave, Xasha tumbled and spun, rolling through space even as the curved hull of the dreadnaught rose beneath her feet.

    Out of control, she knew what that meant.

    “I’m not smashing flat on a dead cruiser!” she spat, and wrestled her jetpack charge into place.

    The rockets, groaned, sputtered, and then ignited. The falling distance numbers slowed, but not enough.

    Gritting her teeth, Xasha squirmed, flailed, and rolled, knowing she couldn’t pull up in time.

    She slammed into the coal black hull, jetpack first, with a terrible crunch. The jetpack shattered, and she rolled, armor burning and fending off pieces of shrapnel born of her own gear.

    One seal failure, two abrasive punctures, a burn through at the elbow joint. Oxygen screamed and hissed free of the suit from all four holes, but Xasha couldn’t worry about them now. Every bone in her body ached, but she had to move, rolling with care along the hull, flipping down and into a ragged hole nearby, crouching and hiding, knowing the spacetroopers were still in pursuit.

    The HUD said she had ten minutes of air, falling with each heavy breath. Her suit injected her with pain-killers that numbed the agony, but she knew her body was weakened.

    “Focus, X,” she spat, tasting blood again. “Got to get down, got to plan.”

    Moving fast, she pulled her ruined jetpack off, leaving it to float at the edge of this three meter pit. Snapping her head about, she caught a pile of loose girders, floating free, and choose that for her hiding place.

    The long durasteel tubes might hide her from visual scanning, but she had to obscure her thermal and radiation signatures as well. Knowing there was no time to do a good job of it, she settled for an old trick of the trade.

    A painful old trick.

    Slapping instant foam patches over her compromised integrity, Xasha reached into her belt and pulled out a long narrow tube. She held it out in front of her at arms length.

    She pulled the pin, bit down as hard as she could, and pressed it slowly downward.

    The CryoBan grenade detonated a meter and a half below her feet.

    A chemical burst expanded in all directions, and every surface it contacted was covered in a thin film of supercooled ices.

    Xasha’s armor protected her, but the frozen stream dashed along every surface, and bled over the foam patches, sealing them completely by bonding to the flesh beneath.

    It burned with the pain of a thousand hells.

    She screamed as loud as her lungs would go, knowing no one could hear.

    Coated in ice, freezing cold and dampened, the bounty hunter waited.

    Two minutes later, borne on wings of exhaust, a spacetrooper poked his head inside her little refugee.

    Large and boxy, his heavy metal plated armor covered his body and distorted the skull-like helmet features of the headpiece. His back was topped by a shoulder mounted grenade launcher, his right hand bore a heavy blaster cannon, and the deadly proton torpedo thrower attached to the left.

    Elite soldiers these, the man moved with caution and vigilance, covered in back by the watchful gaze of his companion.

    Xasha stilled her breathing and hung motionless, hearing every tiny vibration from cracking ice as her body twitched and shivered.

    The trooper noticed the icy sheen on the bottom of the hole, reflecting brightly on the bottom of the secondary hull plates. He drifted down to investigate.

    Xasha attacked.

    She kicked out and pulled forward, throwing durasteel cylinders in every direction, scattering them in the air as she descended.

    The trooped turned about, raising his weapons, but she was already too close.

    Shoulder first Xasha pulled into the man’s chest, within his firing arc.

    Pulling her right arm across her body she attacked with the only weapon that offered any hope of success – her wrist-mounted vibroblade.

    With all her strength she went for the left eye.

    Transparisteel cracked. Xasha hit it again even as the trooper swung his right arm with crippling force into her back.

    Breath flew from her lungs, but she did not let up. She jabbed again.

    The eye-plate resisted for a moment, then burst apart.

    Six inches of ultra-sonic vibrating metal plunged into the skull beneath.

    The spacetrooper went into spasms.

    Xasha didn’t stop, couldn’t stop. The trooper’s companion was above, and he charged now, seeking for a clear shot.

    Reaching up with both hands, retracting her blade with a flick of the wrist, Xasha flipped over the thrashing, dying, spacetrooper.

    Blaster bolts ricocheted off the armor in the next moment.

    Shielded by her kill she worked fast, grabbing the spacetrooper’s left arm. Yanking on him hard, using their joint inertia to provide alignment, she pulled the man’s launcher into line with his ally.

    Her right wrist moved, the bloody blade sprouted again, and Xasha jabbed up from below, cutting into the wrist mount behind the trigger mechanism. The blade snapped off as she pulled her arm back, but the cut was made.

    Slashed clean through, a single spark jumped across the nanometer-width gap.

    The launcher fired.

    The missile took the second spacetrooper full in the chest at a distance of ten meters.

    The explosion blew the man apart, throwing his remains tumbling into deep space.

    It also slammed into his dying companion, crushing him, and Xasha behind him, back into the hole with tremendous force.

    A massive weight slammed down for half a second, and then was gone, as the blessing of weightlessness let Xasha throw several hundred kilograms of spacetrooper off her traumatized joints.

    “Kriff…” she hissed, barely believing she was still alive. “And that’s only half of them,” it felt good to joke, putting a little distance beyond the brush with death.

    She was left floating free in a hole in the hull of the Eclipse II, a good hundred meters from the base of the command tower. The only propulsion source she possessed had been thoroughly destroyed.

    That left only a single, morbid, option.

    Spacetrooper armor was designed to be controlled internally, and had few weak points, but taking the brunt of a miniature proton torpedo detonation had loosened things up. Working swiftly, Xasha was able to wrench off a single nozzle from the backpack. Using a pair of tweezers from her medical kit she was able to trigger the ignition, getting a little bit of thrust from the fumes.

    It wasn’t much, but she felt better knowing she wasn’t doomed to drift forever based on one misstep.

    She stepped back out onto the hull.

    The bridge tower rose high above her, a spindly thing missing a large proportion of its total mass. Magnifying the image, she could see the shattered transparisteel windows of the bridge itself.

    “Target acquired,” Xasha forced herself to smile through the pain.

    She guessed the angle and jumped off.

    The guess proved efficacious, and only a pair of tiny corrections was necessary before she grasped the lip of the shattered viewport and slipped inside.

    The bridge, unlike any other portion of the ship Xasha had yet seen, was not littered with bodies. It was, instead, entirely empty, in a clear failure of leadership the command crew had evacuated.

    Their cowardice disgusted the bounty hunter, but it hadn’t helped them, all those who’d fled the bridge had died when the shockwave from Byss smashed their shuttle before it could obtain sufficient escape distance for lightspeed.

    Even knowing this, the empty command stations made for an eerie feeling.

    The bridge guard station was accessed behind the primary doors. Those doors were wide open, and Xasha simply walked over and started to power up the station. She moved as quickly as she dared and her battered tissues would accept, knowing the enemy had to be converging. She had minutes at most.

    The footage proved remarkably accessible; a unique consequence of the system being on when the blow had fallen. Therefore all the protections had fallen and the footage was free to browse. Radiation damage had ravaged much of it, but the scratchy holo-camera feeds could be read, intermittently.

    Unfortunately, the Emperor was hardly present. “Lord and master of the Empire,” Xasha muttered as her search crawler returned minimal results. “And he doesn’t bother to command the galaxy’s biggest baddest ship from the bridge?”

    Observed only in limited moments of command, it was clear that Palpatine had said nothing about succession while on the bridge. If he’d recorded the order Dangor claimed, it hadn’t been in a place this console could see.

    That left open the question of where the Emperor had spent all of his time. Luckily the security footage proved capable of answering that quandary.

    “I am returning to my private chambers!” the Emperor had lashed at his subordinates prior to departing for Onderon.

    Located at the base of the command tower, and still within this piece of wreckage, they represented Xasha’s last possible destination.

    It was not one she had any desire to see.

    Apparently, Dangor’s novatroopers shared this sympathy, for their assault shuttles buzzed the bridge tower even as the bounty hunter was turning from the security console.

    “Kriff!” Xasha spat, diving for the cover of a turbolift shaft.

    The bridge shook from the nearby impact of turbolaser fire on un-shield, burned-out armor.

    “That isn’t good,” Xasha muttered, struggling to cut through the floor of a turbolift car and plunge down. Eclipse II’s bulk was immense, but without any protection, the assault shuttles could do vast amounts of damage rapidly.

    Her eyes narrowed beneath her helmet, knowing she had but one choice.

    Xasha triggered the beacon call on her belt. “Damn you Priam, if you cost me my ship!”

    At that same moment the chrono monitor in her helmet hit zero. The deadline was up, and the battle had surely begun.

    This triggered a second set of cursing as she plunged down the circular shaft, the ship shaking from repeated turbolaser shocks. It was time to cut and run, but the enemy was in the way. Now only the evidence could save her.

    If it even existed.

    As Xasha descended, a secondary pictograph displayed inside her helmet. On it the assault shuttles grew and grew, at an increasing rate.

    Then they turned desperately, and flashes of fire scored the space between.

    The pass lasted less than ten seconds.

    Diva’s Sting, damaged and smoldering, blasted away at full speed. The final image from the rear sensors showed the assault shuttles in hot pursuit, but two spacetroopers descending toward the command tower.

    “Win some, lose some,” Xasha grimaced, struggling to hurry onward. The ship would survive; it had a speed advantage and was running straight at full bore, all its limited slave circuitry could manage. The assault shuttles would circle back once they learned this, but by then they’d be too far to matter.

    One bruised bounty hunter, two spacetroopers, and one dead ship were all that remained now.

    Xasha crawled onward.

    Floating down through the empty tube, she matched the emergency markings to her schematic. The level was utterly barren, the bottom section of the command tower, the most heavily armored juncture on the ship, and all for Palpatine. The Emperor had shared his level only with power conduits and digital cables. The rest belonged purely to his apartments.

    “Paranoid bastard,” the bounty hunter mumbled, pulling her body along.

    The Emperor’s door was open, a surprise. A great double-paneled thing of plated armor backed by an elegant inner door of actual wood guarded the chamber. Xasha tapped it, noticing the grain. “Kriin-wood?” she looked at the analysis her helmet provided. “From kriffing Alderaan? Damn…”5

    Four bodies surrounded the entryway, two without and two within. All wore the red and black robes of Imperial Sovereign Protectors. They’d died at their posts, blackened in irradiated fire. Their cloaks and armor plates were charred from the shockwave, but the men had never retreated.

    Xasha admired their dedication even as she cringed at such incredible stupidity.

    Then it was on to the belly of the beast.

    The chambers were opulently outfitted, though much of their glamour had been burned away by the fiery destruction of Byss. Not complete, most of the mountings and alcoves designed for the display of artwork lay empty, as did most other features. The flooring was pristine, spotless, and even the corners shone. The Emperor had spent little time here; Xasha suspected the man had barely even slept in his final weeks.

    She had interest in only one room, the private audience chamber and command suite that occupied the center of the set. Two rooms down from the foyer, it was a simple, circular construction. A tall, high-backed throne sat in the middle, and all the sides were designed to display high resolution screens. A quartet of holoprojectors dotted the floor, all the tools for an Emperor to pass on his commands.

    It was done entirely in black, and there had been no main lighting, only a few emergency floor panels at the edge; a suitable design for a lord of darkness.

    Unnerved, Xasha avoided looking at that chair, and pushed swiftly toward the back of the room. Prying back a widescreen panel, she located the control console beneath. “Come on, come on,” she muttered, hurrying, knowing the spacetroopers were in pursuit.

    Placing her power cell down, she slid a spike into the access port and powered the system up. The panel flickered to life, and she punched in a swift imperial command sequence to bring up the file directory, searching for the audience chambers security logs.

    Nothing happened.

    “What?” Xasha keyed the sequence again.

    Nothing moved. Puzzled, she pushed back to the full extent of her arm’s reach, scanning the panel. It should have taken her command; there was no error message, no blocks.

    She noticed a small yellow indicator blinking at the bottom.

    It was marked with a single small text word: override.

    “Huh?” Xasha searched the panel. “Override? Override to what?” She spun around, wondering if there was another access point.

    Her gaze fell on the Emperor’s throne.

    “Oh, come on…”

    It was too obvious, and vaguely nauseating. Pushing off, she floated across and grabbed the chair by its high back. Sure enough, the keypads on both of the long armrests were active, drawing on her power cell.

    “No passwords at all,” Xasha noted as the console whirred to life beneath her gloved fingertips. The system was completely unguarded.

    She pulled up the security footage, and began to run back everything from the previous week at rapid intervals, flashing across ten minutes each second, searching for the key conversation that would supply her needs.

    As the playback flickered on the armrest’s embedded holoprojector, Xasha noticed two other buttons, tucked away on the inside left. Bright red and square, they did not appear linked to any other system.

    Curious, she hit the further forward of the two.

    A trigger panel in the ceiling snapped open, and a long, deadly barrel dropped down.
    Instinctively dropping back and pulling her pistol, Xasha stopped when she realized the system was inactive. “An autoturret,” she muttered, examining the device. The gun was heavy; she figured it was at least a light turbolaser grade weapon, enough to smash anything that dared to come through the door. Glancing back at the throne she saw a tiny manual targeting panel had emerged.

    Xasha smiled wickedly. “Maybe I’m not dead after all,” she laughed.

    Still curious, she pressed the other red button.

    A small panel, no more than a handspan in width, shot open on the right armrest. Thirty centimeters of electrum-coated cylinder popped halfway out.

    “Kriff…” Xasha reached over and grabbed the device. “The Emperor’s lightsaber.”6 She turned it over in her hand. The thing felt cold, and her fingers quivered at the touch. Her overwhelming impulse was to put it down.

    Suppressing the emotion, she clipped the weapon to her belt. It was worth too much to just discard, evil-feeling or not.

    Hologram Palpatine brooded on his throne, cycling through the hours. The guess had been right; the Emperor seemed to have left sleep behind.

    Then he was gone for a long while, having left his chambers for some mysterious purpose. Xasha floated to the ceiling, grafting every power cell she had left onto the autoturret. She figured she might get one good shot.

    Her helmet crackled with electrical activity. The spacetroopers were nearby.

    The record moved on inexorably, and at length the Emperor returned. Xasha stopped the playback, catching something different on his face. The haggard, brooding distortion of before had gone, and it was replaced by new vigor. As Xasha watched, Palpatine’s broke into a wide smile of anticipation that made her hackles rise. Had she not known he was dead, she might have run for it then and there.

    Then he summoned two of his Royal Guard before him.

    “Real time, and with audio,” this was the first time the Emperor had addressed anyone in his chambers in days. If he was going to talk about the future, this was her best chance. She quickly adjusted the feed.

    The floor vibrated.

    An alarm rang in Xasha’s helmet.

    Arm painfully extended around the back of the throne, Xasha sheltered behind it, fingers touching the actuator. She’d aimed blind, not daring to waste power moving the turret. One shot was all she had, one strike at the moment the spacetrooper entered the room.

    “If he blows this whole damn throne apart, I’m dead,” she clenched her teeth. “Please be a sentimental idiot, please, please.”

    The second spacetrooper marched in ten steps behind the first.

    “Kriff!” Xasha swore, but she didn’t move. She had to take down at least one.

    The spacetroopers advanced slowly, lumbering along in their heavy armor through the elegant apartments. They were wary, knowing their comrades had fallen, and carried weapons at the ready.

    The audio feed marked time in Xasha’s helmet. The Emperor addressed his guardsmen. Palpatine’s voice was weak and ragged, and the nearly muted feed could barely be heard.

    The spacetrooper floated towards the entrance.

    “Almost there…almost there…” Xasha watched through digital eyes. “One more step, come on, one more.”

    The hulking silver viewports scanned the chamber, and focused unerringly on Xasha, catching her thermal image easily. The spacetrooper raised his heavy blaster cannon.

    But he didn’t fire. Instead, he gave a tiny burst of the jetpack, rising up so he might fire over the throne.

    “Die you kriffing sentimentalist!” Xasha fired.

    Blindingly bright, the turret fired. The turbolaser struck the armored frame full in the chest at point-blank range.

    The spacetrooper slammed to the floor, a smoldering hole in his core.

    Silent death in space, Xasha heard only the words of the audio feed, as the royal guardsman answered his fallen master in strong, dulcet tones.

    “The Royal Guard will preserve you, lord, no matter what the adepts rule.”

    Eye wide, Xasha knew she had it, the piece of evidence she needed.

    The second spacetrooper shot forward.

    Heedless of caution, spitting cursed and fury, Xasha rolled right. She tapped down on the controls and froze playback. “Buffer thirty seconds and transmit!” she shouted to her armor, triggering the secure frequency Priam had provided.

    She hit the button just as the spacetrooper fired.

    Blaster canon bolts sought Xasha’s life, and she curled up behind the throne, knowing the end had come.

    Detonations shook and vibrated that chair, but they did not penetrate.

    “Stang?” Xasha turned and looked up, seeing chemical smoke from the chair, but no burn-through. “Palps armored his throne?”

    The spacetrooper clearly came to the same realization, and shot around, moving left to gain a clear vantage.

    Unwilling to give in without a fight, Xasha lunged, reaching for her blaster, hoping to score a lucky shot in a joint.

    Her hand closed upon a different object, cool to the touch.

    The spacetrooper aimed slowly, seeing no attack.

    Xasha ripped the cylinder free of her belt. Her body seemed to move of its own accord, striking down on a hidden activation stub.

    Snap-quick, a crimson spear of energy emerged from the hilt, and pierced the armored shell at the neck.

    The spacetrooper twitched once, and then lay still.

    Screaming in rage and terror, Xasha threw the electrum-plated weapon at the wall of the chamber. Her eyes narrowed on it. With great care, she pulled her scorpion-7 pistol, took aim, and fired.

    Again and again she shot the little cylinder from less than two meters distance, heavy blaster bolts coring and pitting the silver surface. The bounty hunter shot blindly, again and again until the whole clip was empty.

    The lightsaber lay against the wall, a ruined shard of metal. Her demons exorcised, Xasha put her pistol away.

    Only then did she wonder if her transmission went through.

    Floating in the foyer, unwilling to look upon the Emperor’s ruined throne, she called for evac.


    Chapter Notes
    1. This is supposition on my part, but the reality is that there’s really no way the Rebel strike team (outnumbered something like 10,000 to 1) should have been able to subvert the Eclipse II for such an extensive period of time unless the crew was actively abetting the process somehow; thus, this excuse.
    2. Uther Kermen is a canonical admiral who was established as highly placed in the Imperial Fleet post-Endor. He seems an appropriate choice to run Palpatine’s flagship.
    3. This event is documented in Empire’s End 2. It is the one instance where we actually see the Byss Fleet take damage from the planet’s explosion.
    4. These are a canon vehicle class.
    5. Yeah, it’s a canonical type of wood, and he would totally do that.
    6. Palpatine had many lightsabers. That he would place one in his command chamber onboard his flagship seems reasonable.
  10. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Chapter 9: Deep Fire/Purge Fire


    His name was Captain Roderick Bissel. He had been born on Byss twenty-two years ago. He’d been appointed captain for valor over Mon Calamari mere months before. He was, as of twenty-one hours previous, an orphan without any living relatives.

    He was currently flying the shuttle Spearpoint towards the Night Shark. The shuttle was packed so heavily with explosives that he’d had to move some of them onto his lap so they wouldn’t block the cockpit oxygen filtration system. He had every intention of smashing his vessel into the star destroyer’s command tower at full speed, resulting in an explosion that would claim hundreds of lives in the service of eliminating one Admiral Ilione Priam.

    He was completely at peace with this decision.

    The twelve pilots in TIE interceptors flanking him were men of similar background, and they too were at peace with their orders to throw their fighters in front of oncoming fire in order to preserve the shuttle’s charge.

    Save the fleet, save the Empire, and ensure Palpatine’s triumph when he returned. Against that, the life of Roderick Bissel and a few TIE pilots was nothing.

    He moved into position, perfectly calm, almost serene. His hands were steady on the steering yoke.


    * * *


    “Admiral, we have a shuttle from the Pilum, it reports that Ars Dangor is aboard to surrender himself,” Lieutenant Jaretts reported from sensors.

    “And the Hutts just offered to pay three decades of back taxes,” Priam, nerves on a razor’s edge, shot back. “Display, now.”

    The screen duly came to life, revealing a shuttle and an escort of fighters, all seemingly proper.

    Priam’s eyes narrowed. She puzzled over Dangor’s scheme. Several possibilities occurred to her. A commando raid, a jamming cloud to disrupt communications, or even a cargo of sabotage droids; these were all possible. Yet none of these convinced her. They were military ploys, and Dangor, as she forced her mind to recall, was not a military man. He wanted to avoid combat, not out of fear of failure or the thought of wasted lives, but because he found it distasteful, inelegant.

    They had the same problem, another claimant interfering with their authority. The simple, refined solution was simply to remove that other person without anyone else involved.

    There hadn’t been any assassination attempts yet. Priam knew he’d try at least one. Looking at the shuttle now, she had to give Dangor credit, it was a brazen move. His confidence in his ability to convince everyone to follow him after this was astonishing.

    Or delusional.

    The admiral wasn’t about to let him find out which it was. “All shields to full,” she commanded. “Fire control; get a tractor solution on that shuttle now.”

    Her men were just as hair-trigger as she was. “Fire control has the solution,” the veteran lieutenant reported the moment the words left her mouth. Priam smiled slightly at the initiative of the troops. It meant they had a chance in the battle to come. “Order that shuttle to halt immediately. We’ll send out an assault shuttle to meet it and conduct the transfer safely.”

    “Shuttle Spearpoint,” Captain Kelden transmitted the orders. “You are directed to halt in space; we will send a vessel to meet you for prisoner transfer.”

    The shuttle responded by charging.

    Its progress before halting was measured in meters. Multiple tractor beams had it pegged instantly.

    The starfighter escort broke in the next moment, twelve sharp-winged fighters charging at the projectors.

    “Ion cannons, kill the shuttle,” Kelden was already shouting orders.

    “All batteries are to fire at will the moment the enemy shoots,” Priam got the order out less than a second before the closest interceptor unleashed a linked quad burst at one of her projectors.

    The Night Shark’s batteries thundered to life in answer.

    “Maximize shields,” Priam called over the rumble. “Raise the bow and brace for-“

    The shuttle burst open, a star blossoming off their bow.

    The star destroyer shook, power flickered as the shields strained, and Priam braced her arms tight against the command chair to hold her seat.

    “Damage report!” Kelden shouted.

    “Shields down to fifty-percent, but holding, no internal damage,” the summary moved at the rapid-fire pace of combat. “Minor damage to axis rotation on projector four, engineers swapping out the gears now.”

    “And the fighters?”

    “Two destroyed, others breaking off.”

    “Let them go, prioritize shield recharge,” Priam instructed. “And get me fleet wide address. Dangor just gave us a present.”

    “Channels are open,” Lieutenant Calthame indicated.

    “This is Admiral Priam to the Byss Defense Fleet,” Priam stood up, hoping to amplify her voice. “The traitorous Imperial Advisor Ars Dangor, has refused to surrender himself to the custody of Fleet command, and has responded by attempting to destroy the command tower of the flagship Night Shark. For these crimes his life is forfeit. I call upon all fleet forces to join me in bringing the traitor to justice now.”

    “Any movement in the fleet?” Kelden asked the sensors officer.

    “No sir.”

    “They won’t move now,” Priam told the captain. “But a few ships may hesitate before opening fire, or perhaps not fire at all.” It was a small advantage, but she needed every one.

    “Admiral, all commands report readiness,” Calthame called.

    That was the final clearance. Priam took a deep breath. It was time to take the irrevocable step, and order her ships into battle.

    She had a small moment of regret that Xasha had not yet called. The bounty hunter was somewhere on the Eclipse II, or dead, but no evidence had yet appeared to answer her plea.

    In her heart, the admiral knew it was too late now, anyway.

    “Order all commands to-“

    “Sir, we have a broad-spectrum communication to all ships, its coming from the Autarch,” Calthame’s voice rose at this surprise.

    “Garvus,” Priam whispered. She knew the man was dangerous, and he’d chosen his moment carefully.

    “This is Colonel Garvus to all commands, representing the Sovereign-class,” the man’s voice was a thin rasp, not impressive at all. Despite this, Priam gave him rapt attention. “In this battle, to the victor go the spoils. I will offer these ships to whichever commander emerges triumphant and with them the power to save the empire.”

    “Give your ships away?” Dangor’s voice intruded back on the channel. “They belong to the Empire, not to some dockyard colonel. This is treason, and I shall take your ships in the name of the Empire.”

    Priam found, to her amazement, that she largely agreed with the advisor.

    “No,” Garvus announced, perfectly calm. “You will not. Anyone who attempts to take control of my vessels, and I am well aware both groups have assault parties at the ready, will be met with annihilation.”

    “What madness is this?” Dangor retorted as Priam listened along with the rest of the fleet. It did indeed seem deranged, but she did not think Garvus was empty-handed, or he would never have made his play.

    “Sir, I’m detecting a massive power surge from the Autarch!” Jaretts reported from sensors.

    “Project it. Now!”

    The display flashed as it spun about to re-focus on the distant dreadnaught. A hulking fifteen kilometer warship, the Autarch was not yet painted and its superstructure had a number of gaps, but it was still terribly intimidating. As Priam watched the entire ship seemed to develop of pale green glow. Then, with deceptive suddenness, it discharged a massive blast of power that wiped the sensors clear.

    “What happened?” the admiral demanded.

    “Sensors report massive directed energy detonation into space,” Jaretts summarized.

    “What kind of detonation?”

    “Sir, the pattern match is consistent with only one known form of output,” the lieutenant visibly blanched. “A superlaser discharge.”

    “Stang,” Captain Kelden swore.

    Priam stared at the image of the mighty dreadnaught in stony silence. Superlaser…1

    “The primary weapons of my ships are still incomplete,” Garvus’ voice returned to the fleet. “And cannot focus their attacks at full power. However, even with dispersion, the energy supplied is sufficient to burn off any shielding and deliver a radiation dose to eliminate every active electrical system and organic lifeform on-board any vessel in range. Prove superiority, Admiral, Regent, and I will end this permanently.”

    “The dockyard bastard’s trying to play kingmaker!” Kelden cursed.

    “Not trying,” Priam said quietly, looking out to those massive dreadnaughts in the distance. “Succeeding. Who’s going to stop him? Even if he only has one shot left,” she doubted the incomplete weapons on those ships were good for multiple attacks. “That’s enough.” She rose to her feet, steamed at this man. Garvus could end it all right now, if he had the courage to pick a side. Instead he was playing his own game to be the man who named the next Emperor.

    She intended that he wouldn’t enjoy the result of his little show. “We’ll deal with Garvus later,” she addressed the shaken faces on her command deck. “Right now, Ars Dangor is our objective. Signal all commands. Battle stations and prepare to advance.”

    There was a long, silent pause. Priam looked out the viewports on the end of her long bridge. Out there, separated by an astronomically insignificant distance, a giant dagger-shaped dreadnaught led a fleet almost half-again the size of her own. Soon, they would begin to tear each other apart.

    She felt calm, collected, and ready. Despite the anger and nerves, she was devoid of fear. The choice had already been made, Priam recognized. Now there was only execution.

    The admiral had no intention of losing. Ars Dangor would not rule the Galactic Empire.

    “All commands ahead one-fourth. Launch fighters according to attack plan Cresh,” the orders fell from her tongue, loud and powerful, the drumbeats of stellar war.

    “Cresh sir?” Kelden asked in some confusion. “Why go to such a secondary plan?”

    “Cresh is the primary plan, Captain,” Priam glanced at the man, fixing her eyes upon him to root out any doubt. “It always has been. I apologize for the deception, but it was imperative that no spy of Dangor’s learn my tactics.”

    Hangars opened, pilots dropped down onto rack bound spheres of death, and starfighters swarmed into the pale space by the thousands. Sharp and jagged interceptors led the way, numerous in this most imperial of imperial fleets, followed by the older broad-paneled models common throughout the galaxy, and supplemented by the geometric solar panels of the TIE/d droid fighters, death-dealing machines without conscience born of the forges of the World Devastators. Other odd designs joined these and those of Admiral Hennat’s fleet emerging on the opposite line; TIE Aggressors, TIE Hunters, TIE Oppressors, even a few of the old advanced models, everything lumbered out now.

    The fighter screens formed up before their advancing warships, now moving slowly towards each other in general line of battle.

    Priam seized the com as that great swarm of black-winged flies charged into space. “This is Admiral Priam to all wings. Commence general Gyrfalcon Sweep2 on the enemy command by divisions. General Vecd, acknowledge.”

    “This is the 127th, we hear you admiral, commencing Gyrfalcon Sweep,” the starfighter commander’s voice was taught with strain. Priam knew he must be unhappy with the order.

    “Sir, why are you-“

    “Save the questions captain, there’s no time for them now,” the admiral cut Kelden off.

    One reminder was enough, and her captain turned his focus completely over to his ship.

    “All squadrons continue advance,” Priam ordered.


    * * *


    Hennat watched as the fighters swept out in front of the two fleets, the TIE swarms converging far faster than the ships behind. His screen spread wide, moving to envelop the enemy while protecting their own ships, to pound on enemy shields and prevent forward maximization. He looked at the sensors, blinked, and stared.

    Priam’s fighters were coming on awfully fast. “Tactics, are the enemy fighters at full throttle? Confirm.”

    “Enemy fighters advancing at full throttle, rapid evasion, they’re…passing through our fighter screen?” the confusion in the tactical officer’s voice was clear.

    “Hennat to all commands, stabilize all shielding, enemy fighter screen is attempting a sweep,” the admiral stared at the display, wondering what madness had seized his foe. “Signal the Deference, be advised that the enemy may be attempting a suicidal attack.” He spoke the words without feeling, even as the enemy fighters wheeled into his formation at full speed, not stopping or dispersing save to dodge opposing fire. Those superiority fighters couldn’t possibly destroy an Allegiance-class. They had no bomber support even, never mind heavy guns. Priam had thrown away her fighters for no reason. He didn’t understand it.

    He was not, however, about to let it lie. “Increase advance to one-half, move squadron to Pentas Closure formation. Arm all batteries; we might as well make this quick.”


    * * *


    “Enemy fighters closing, firing range in thirty seconds.”

    “Standby,” Priam noted, eyes watching that enemy force close, her left index finger twitched over a switch on the com panel, a pre-programmed frequency where all her chips were waiting. Her own fighters were doing as they were told, sweeping through Hennat’s force at full speed. The TIEs weren’t dealing any damage this way as they screamed ahead in preparation to swoop back from the rear, but they took little as well. She watched the casualty reports on the side. So far, very favorable; Hennat, as she knew he would, hadn’t bothered to try and engage her screen.

    “Fifteen seconds.”

    Just a little more.

    “Ten seconds.”

    “All ships full emergency stop!” Priam ordered the fleet, bracing her feet.

    Massive vessels, tens of billions of tons of starship, suddenly reversed thrust. Braking with emergency force men and women were thrown against consoles, bulkheads, and terminals as inertial dampers struggled to compensate.

    “Enemy fighters in range.”

    “All ships immediate Torton Defense Protocol!3” Priam ordered, and followed up with elaboration of the obscure maneuver, energy pouring through her. “All shields to max. No weapons, repeat, do not return fire.”

    Ignoring the confused looks blossoming on the entire bridge crew, the admiral hit the button on her comlink. “Captain, execute the trap.”

    “Yes sir!”

    Through the fleet, vessels suddenly broke formation. Sharp, cylindrical ships of small stature alongside the massive star destroyers and heavy cruisers; they were little vessels of only a few hundred meters in length. Frigates really, an afterthought in most plans of fleet engagement, they now moved amongst the great ships, moving in counter to the fighters swarming down on them.

    Then they opened fire.

    Point defense laser cannons sprang to life, shooting in all directions, heedless of the vessels they were backstopped against. Tartan patrol cruisers, Lancer frigates, and a handful of other anti-starfighter vessels streaked through the fleet, sharks surrounded by great whales, snapping up the sharp-toothed feed fish that dared assault them.

    “All vessels, weapons free, but respond with point-defense batteries only, conserve all power for shield strength,” Priam ordered.

    Explosions sprouted like weeds in space as the escorts found their marks. TIEs channeled into the small spaces between dagger-hulls had nowhere to run, and could only charge the gauntlet of enemy laser cannons.

    “Reverse the fleet,” Priam directed, watching the casualty count, the fighter numbers plummeting almost as fast as they could be registered. “We must not let Hennat close with us.”


    * * *


    “Break! Break!” Darklight Four knew he was dead the moment the Tartan emerged from behind the Night Shark. All his joy at being in the primary attack wing on the enemy flagship had turned to ash when laser cannons opened up. Strikes against the shields of the destroyers massively outnumbered those of his comrades, but the mighty ships shrugged them off, while his TIE wouldn’t survive as much as a single hit.

    Pulling his fighter into a tight barrel role, he tucked in and raced for the Night Shark, blasting along the hull as a laser cannon tracked behind him. “Six, this is Four, you still with me?”

    “Four, this is Seven, Six’s gone, we’re being eaten alive out here.”

    Backblast from a close graze threw the pilot forward in his seat, banging his helmet against the display. Wrestling with the stick he dove to port, peeling away from the star destroyer in a ploy to cut under the Tartan. “Where’s lead?” he called, not looking at the board, just running, flying by instinct alone, throwing his fighter around until alarms screamed from the strain.

    “Lead’s dead Four,” that was Nine, the youngest pilot. “I can’t reach the XO.”

    “There’s nobody left!” It was Seven again.

    Daring a glance at the squadron board, the pilot’s eyes went wide inside his helmet. Four fighters left. Four of twelve remained; two-thirds of the squadron lost in moments. All the officers were gone, he was senior.

    “Break off!” he ordered, acting on pure instinct. “Increase to full throttle, get past Night Shark and corkscrew to the top of the formation. They can’t have damn Tartan’s everywhere!”

    “I can’t hold-“ Nine’s fighter blew apart as he tried to turn.

    Seven pulled in behind Four a moment later, and the fighters dashed for safety, pulling around the engine mount of the destroyer. “Ten, form up,” Four ordered the remaining survivor. “Ten!”

    “Can’t make it…stabilizer’s out…I’m rolling…” the pilot’s voice vanished into a scream of despair.

    The TIE splashed against Night Shark’s shields and was gone.

    “Kriff!” Four could feel tears in his eyes, in spite of the suppression hormones in his helmet.

    They blasted past the star destroyer and left the Tartan behind. The two TIEs angled up, trying to group up with other survivors and break through this maze of death that had seized them.

    An escort carrier, blocky, lumbering, and thuggish, pulled into view ahead.

    Widely regarded as a joke by the fleet, always kept back from battle zones and letting its starfighters do the fighting for it, the TIE pilot recalled one thing about the ship now: it had ten point defense batteries.

    The carrier’s guns tracked down, firing as they came.

    Four knew he was dead. He could see his family, dead on Byss, waiting for him on the other side of his eyes.

    “For the Emperor!” he shouted as he pulled into a final barrel roll.


    * * *


    Hennat watched the carnage unfold in silence. A massive lump had settled into his stomach, and his throat smelt of bile. “Damn you Priam…” he muttered under his breath, so low no one else could hear. The shame of it was too much, he could barely stand, and he couldn’t face his bridge crew.

    But the battle was still young.

    “Recall our fighters,” Hennat ordered.

    “Sir, if we pull them back now losses will only…” the tactical officer objected.

    “I know!” he knew it all too well. “Issue the recall!” he would not be questioned, not now. Priam’s about face meant they’d never reach in time.

    “Sir, enemy fighter sweep is returning,” the sensors division called.

    Hennat did need to be reminded, he could see it all on the display, and he knew what would happen. He’d just ordered his fighters, his scattered and disorganized squadrons, to run out of a hailstorm and into the open jaws of the enemy’s screen, now hungry for blood. Their casualties were about to double, but he’d had no choice. The alternative was to let his opponent cut them up into nothing.

    “Order our fighters into defensive positions covering the fleet,” the admiral relayed. “Have someone reorganize the commands.”

    “That means conceding space superiority to the enemy sir,” the tactical officer questioned cautiously.

    “So be it,” Hennat noted. “Let Priam send her fighters to harass us, we’ll destroy her with superior fleet strength. Accelerate closure maneuvers. All ahead three-quarters; bring us in line with the Night Shark.” Embarrassed and ashamed, Hennat knew he hadn’t lost yet, not even close. Priam’s little trap might have even won the battle quickly for him. She’d kept her flagship in front, where it was vulnerable.

    The admiral hated fighting Dangor’s way, it sullied the navy’s reputation, but with Garvus playing with his superlaser, killing Priam was all it would take.

    Pilum was up to the task of spearing his foe in the heart.

    “Order all wings to advance at full,” Hennat ordered. “Close off enemy support and skirmish, but do not attack. Squadron Pesh will engage Black Sea Squadron and destroy it.” He saw no reason to unnecessarily damage the other vessels. He had superiority at the focal point; it was time to use it.

    “Sir, enemy fast attack escorts are advancing,” the sensors officer noted. “They may attempt to flank us.”

    Pilum could shrug off attacks from all the Tartans, Carracks, and Lancers, and other frigates Priam possessed, but the same could not be said of his other ships. “Launch all remaining fighters and shuttles. Have them put up a defensive screen to keep them busy.”

    “Sir, our recon and bomber squadrons are not equipped to-“ the tactical officer began.

    “I am well aware of that,” Hennat answered. He ground his teeth together in the face of the loss of men and materiel he was committing too. “But we just need to keep them busy for a time.” The dagger-shape of the Night Shark was advancing toward him. It seemed such a small thing to be so great an obstacle. “All batteries are to prioritize the Night Shark. I want this finished.”


    * * *


    “Admiral Hennat’s Pesh Squadron has moved into the lead,” Jaretts noted. “Heading directly matches ours.”

    “Disperse fighters to attack by wings,” Priam commanded. “All ships to assemble for combat by lines. Flanks hold the enemy.” She looked at the display. Hennat’s moves were obvious. They matched her predictions almost exactly; any academy student could have predicted them.

    Predictable didn’t mean they were poor moves; not exactly. Hennat had condensed his fleet strength and moved hard directly against her flag; taking his dreadnaught to where it was most effective. His best crews and her best, a proper point of decision where he had overwhelming advantage.

    The textbook response was to withdraw, burst her fleet to a wide formation and use her space superiority to disrupt enemy lines and grind down opposition fleet strength.

    Priam would have none of it. It was a losing strategy, and even if it somehow triumphed, both forces would be shattered. She was going to gamble everything instead, and unlike Dangor, she was putting her body in first.

    “Hold Black Sea Squadron4 in place. Order Acklay, Cecaelia, Demonsquid, Karkinos, and Sedna to attack enemy escorts. Signal Bloodglaive to move into trailing position behind us,” She outlined her plan to her squadron.

    Ships dispersed accordingly, with lesser vessels following the star destroyers.

    “Just us and the Bloodglaive versus Pilum?” Kelden questioned, though the captain’s body language was confident. “You have another trick in mind admiral?”

    “Maybe,” Priam answered. “But right now, all that matters is guts. Com,” she turned to Calthame. “Get me all speakers on this ship and Bloodglaive.”

    “Understood,” a moment later the lieutenant signaled readiness.

    “To all crew of Night Shark and Bloodglaive, this is Admiral Priam,” she was confident as she spoke, she felt confident. Betting everything took away the stress. The die was cast; all that remained depended only on Hennat. If her men performed, they would seize the moment. “Our vessels are about to charge the enemy flagship. There can be no hesitation now. Everyone must remain focused on their duty, no matter the damage, no matter the breaks, we can succeed and we will succeed, because we are Imperial soldiers of the Imperial Navy!”

    A rough cheer greeted these words.

    Pilum closing on maximum battery range in thirty seconds,” Jaretts broke up the jubilation. Voices dropped, hands tensed, and thousands bent to their tasks with intense focus.

    In the distance turbolaser fire could be seen as the wings of the fleet moved into battle. Even in the light skirmishing that ruled the tentative approaches ships burned and smashed, and vessels were ruined. Headed for a storm far more formidable by far, Priam could only stare outward.

    “Advance, all-ahead half,” she ordered.

    Black Sea squadron rose up, rumbling in loose formation towards the dreadnaught barreling down up them.

    The admiral stood, knuckles white on her command chair. She grasped the comlink tightly; her second button primed once again, all to give one critical order.

    It all came down to Hennat now. How would he jump?


    * * *


    “Black Sea squadron has dispersed to engage our primary combat lines,” sensors reported. “Night Shark and Bloodglaive on direct approach to Pilum.”

    Bloodglaive is not part of Black Sea squadron,” the tactical officer noted.

    “She must have pulled it from another unit,” Hennat cut the man off. “It doesn’t matter; two star destroyers are no match for us.”

    “Enemy deployment would seem to insure their destruction,” the tactical officer expressed little confidence in his words. “They cannot engage in this fashion. Do they intend a sweeping maneuver to mirror the fighters before?”

    “No,” that was idiocy, star destroyers couldn’t play at fighter tactics. Hennat stared at the array in puzzlement, sharing the tactical officer’s credulity. Priam’s deployment made no sense. He stared at it again and again, knowing there was a scheme embedded in it. She’d already shown great cunning, and this maneuver had to conceal a trap.

    Night Shark was an Imperial II-class Star Destroyer, a ship matching her specifications in every way. She’d not been in drydock for over a year. Her capabilities matched that of thousands of other vessels. There was no trick she could pull to threaten a Vengeance-class seriously.

    The trap had to be Bloodglaive. Procursator-class and non-standard, it could conceal any number of surprises. He did not trust the placement behind Night Shark.

    Could it be a ramship?

    “Slow to one-fourth,” Hennat ordered. “Open fire at maximum range. Change our angle of approach to focus on Bloodglaive. I want that ship rendered dead in space.”

    “Sir, that will allow Night Shark the opportunity to move on our ventral hangars if she accelerates hard,” the tactical officer cautioned.

    “We no longer have any fighters to launch,” Hennat corrected. Pilum wasn’t the Executor; he had plenty of ventral surface guns. “If she wants to take sustained fire on the underside, we will destroy her accordingly.” With the Bloodglaive gone, Night Shark could fire off every weapon it possessed for hours and still not batter through his shields. Besides, the ship was liable to crack like an egg before it even got that close.

    “Commence firing.”


    * * *


    Hammer blows shook Night Shark as the Pilum opened fire. The shields battered and buckled, and the crew sat tight-mouthed as they shot back. Their own stream of turbolasers, so mighty and impressive at all other times, seemed feeble compared to the great deluge of power now being directed at them.

    “Wait, wait,” Priam was muttered into her thumbs, held tight in front of her mouth now. “Wait…”

    Pilum has changed angle of approach,” Jaretts called over the thunder of battle. “Moving to concentrate fire on Bloodglaive.”

    “Captain Maxcrith,” Priam ordered. “Commence your attack.” Extending her right hand toward the viewport the admiral put her whole body into the gesture. “Night Shark, all ahead flank. Engines, give it everything you have!”

    The star destroyer tore forward, even as pummeling bled off the shields.

    Above, the great dagger of Pilum began to turn, pointing downward even as the smaller Imperial-class vessel darted in as fast as she could; a little fish looking to tear into the belly of the vast descending predator.

    “All batteries, hit ‘em hard!” Maxcrith’s call echoed over the com.

    Bloodglaive’s main axial gun batteries opened up, heavy turbolasers slamming the dreadnaught’s bow. The Procursator was all forward as a vessel, a giant battery of a ship, designed for the sole purpose of crushing the enemy in front. Now it fired at full power, unleashing everything in its gunnery suite.

    Against this surge Pilum responded with a flood.

    Turbolasers, ion cannons, concussion missile barrages, world-shattering weaponry unleashed to fill the empty space between the two vessels.

    Bloodglaive’s shields crumpled, her armor turned red. Then the ship began to melt.

    “Keep firing!” Captain Maxcrith’s last words tore over the com moments before the bridge liquefied before Priam’s eyes.

    Imperials true to the end, the crew obeyed their commander. Bloodglaive’s batteries sang their song of death and destruction until the superstructure collapsed completely and the mighty vessel exploded in a final fireball.

    Priam looked up out the viewport, the great bulk of the dreadnaught hung in front of them.

    Night Shark shuddered.

    “We’ve lost shields!”

    “Maintain advance,” Priam ordered, even as the distant bow of her vessel began registering explosions and streams of gas decompression as armor plate smashed and buckled. She looked at the tactical display, the map of her and the Pilum, all that mattered now. They were close, so close.

    It had to be in time.

    “Armor plate is losing consistency, engine output dropping; we’re registering systems failures throughout the ship.”

    “Damage control!” Captain Kelden ordered. “Keep us on course.”

    Priam stared at the screen, thumb with the comlink button half-depressed. Her mind calculated.

    Fifteen seconds.

    “We’ve lost primary port side ion engine.”

    “Lockdown the reactor leaks, evacuate the irradiated compartments.”

    Ten seconds.

    Night Shark rumbled, bridge power flickered.

    “Portside crew barracks lost, we’re venting stormtroopers!”

    A glance, and yes, bodies were flying out of the superstructure near the bow.

    Priam ignored it, they did not matter now.

    Something detonated next to her ear.

    “B…ge….it!” her ears rang from the explosion, her eyes burned and streamed. Priam felt the cool deck beneath her hands and realized she’d been thrown from her chair.

    Pushing off from the floor she felt hot blood on her scalp, and sensation came flooding back.

    “We’ve lost starboard deflector dome, damage to the command tower!” someone was screaming, the admiral could no longer remember who it was.

    It didn’t matter, only the timing mattered. She looked to the sensor display, now ragged and scored by jagged streaks of static.

    They were there, directly under the main engine housing bond point, one kilometer behind the bridge.

    “Roll ship!” Priam ordered. Her hand clenched, jabbing down on the comlink. Pain spiked from an unregistered wound in her arm, and she cried out. Heedless of the pain she turned it into orders. “Launch all fighters!”

    “Sir?” Kelden, on his knees and clinging to the edge of the crew pit, objected.

    “Roll ship and launch all fighters damn you!” Priam howled. “Now!”

    Still taking fire, the Night Shark rolled on her axis, turning to the right, her hangar bay moving perpendicular to the Pilum.

    Fire continued to rain down. Priam grabbed her command chair with a death grip.

    And smiled.


    * * *


    “Rolling? Why are they rolling?” Hennat wondered. The move was absurd. It would only prolong their deaths, even as it pulled the majority of Night Shark’s batteries out of the firing arc. “Continue the attack, this is almost over.” He considered that perhaps the hit to the command tower had depressurized the bridge and the battle was already won. It was the only explanation that made sense.

    “Sir, the Night Shark appears to be launching fighters,” the tactical officer’s voice was filled with puzzlement. “Their roll appears to be facilitating a mass-launch maneuver. Perhaps Admiral Priam is attempting to evacuate.”

    That would prolong matters severely. “Order guns to target any launches,” Hennat ordered. “Priam must not escape us.” He regretted that was a largely fruitless gesture, his heavy guns were no use against fighters. He cursed the loss of his starfighter screen.

    “Missile locks!” the voice of the sensors officer spiked full on with panic.

    “A few bombers are not-“ Hennat started to object - until his eyes fell on the tactical display. “That witch…”

    One hundred forty-four…two hundred eighty-eight…four hundred thirty-two…the numbers kept rising.

    Hennat understood what had happened instantly, and how, during the grand fighter sweep earlier, everyone had missed it.

    Night Shark hadn’t launched a single superiority fighter. It hadn’t had any aboard.

    Priam had replaced her entire complement with Scimitar assault bombers.

    Seventy-two bombers, two missile launchers apiece, firing as fast as they could cycle. It was the end; they were utterly destroyed.

    “Sir, your orders?” the tactical officer searched desperately. “Sir?”

    Hennat said nothing; he simply waited for the missiles to come.

    The first wave hit. Pilum quaked.

    The second wave struck, and the ship gave a great cry of agony.

    The third wave came; everything on the bridge went dark.


    * * *


    “We have missile detonations on the Pilum,” Kelden's voice rose, stronger with every word. “Power fluctuations throughout the ship. Batteries have ceased firing.”

    “All batteries fire everything we have,” Priam shouted. “Execute Ascendant Assault! Destroy that ship!”

    Turbolaser fire joined with the succession of missile detonations as the great dreadnaught shuddered and cracked. Priam's gunners focused on the points directly above them, where the engine housing met the primary keel. Slowly the ship began to split down the middle.

    A massive crack tore through the dagger-hull, and Pilum began to come apart.

    “Punch us through!” Priam wiped the blood from her face and stood tall in front of the command chair, pain from shrapnel erased by the surge of adrenalin rushing through her system. “Come on men!”

    Generators to the redline, the damaged star destroyer rose up, nose first, driving toward the belly of the dreadnaught; a great spike of firepower.

    The Vengeance-class ship, thin and elongated, shed pieces and chunks, holed by missile barrage. Turbolasers cut out from those holes, widening them. Soon inertia took over, as the tremendous bulk of the vessel began to tear in multiple directions from the motion imparted by its own death throes.

    Chunks of hull plate smeared across the Night Shark, scraping against her battered armor, but Priam would not stop.

    Engines billowing smoky exhaust, hull raining pieces of debris, and bodies pouring from ruptured compartments, the battered star destroyer punched through to rise above the corpse of its vastly larger foe.

    Priam couldn't hold down her emotions. She grabbed the com and signaled for a broad-channel transmission.


    * * *


    “By all the stars and moons...” Rear Admiral Tallance watched in awe as the Night Shark emerged from the fragments of Pilum; a monstrous phoenix rising from the ashes of its prey. His jaw was hanging open; the moment was too stunning to appreciate with logic.

    Then the intercom barked.

    “Dangor!” it was a raw, triumphant scream, full of rage, hatred and fury unmatched in Tallance's experience. “I'm coming for you next!”

    Many men, even strong, capable leaders, would have quailed before that battle cry in that hour. Faced with the spectacular reversal arranged by the enemy, rational response was all but impossible. Tallance turned to face the regent, expecting an order to retreat.

    Ars Dangor sat calmly in the command chair. His face was taught, but his demeanor composed, and his body betrayed no sign of fear. “Rear Admiral Tallance,” he eyed the officer coolly. “You will take command of the fleet from Admiral Hennat. Press the attack.”

    “My lord I don't-” surely the regent was joking. Tallance couldn't imagine leading his reserves in after that display, morale had just been routed. Worse, he could not overcome a sudden spike of doubt burning in his chest. How could they seek to oppose such a valiant commander? She was too valuable to purge.

    “We retain fleet superiority,” Dangor noted coolly. “Priam has destroyed one ship, but she was almost destroyed in the process. Her ship is badly damaged and exposed. Order surrounding vessels to close in and eliminate her.”

    “My lord, I would...” Tallance paused, struck by indecision. The battle raged all around him, Imperial tearing at Imperial. Fleet superiority was retained by the regent's men, but starfighters raced among the fleet tearing at them, slowly accumulating damage that evened the odds. Priam's Night Shark was exposed and vulnerable, certainly, that was true from a purely tactical perspective, but even if destroyed her loyalists would never surrender now. Worse, Tallance no longer could say for certain if his uncommitted ships would even obey the order to attack.

    So he stopped, wondering if the distant Heseriarch would turn and end it all by blasting him apart. It almost seemed a preferable fate than the slow obliteration of the fleet. How could that be the Emperor's will?

    “Admiral Tallance, you must order an attack, I want Priam dead now!” Dangor rose to his feet.

    The regent's face held no hesitation. Tallance knew he must attack, or Dangor would order his stormtroopers to eliminate him and find another commander. He must serve the Empire, and Dangor was the regent. He'd made his choice, there was no turning back. “Relay orders to all commands, all reserves are to move to attack. All remaining ships from Squadron Pesh shall concentrate their assault on the Night Shark. Bring us to flank speed.”

    “Sir, I have another open-channel broad-spectrum transmission,” the communications officer called out.

    “More words from Priam?” Dangor scoffed.

    “No, sir, the transmission is being routed from the Night Shark but the source is elsewhere, location unknown, and it's a holo-file.”

    “Play it,” Tallance ordered. If the enemy commander thought this important enough to flood the channels with it, he intended to know what it contained.

    The holo was dark, grainy and low quality. Tallance recognized the source as a shipboard security camera immediately. Limited, scratchy audio accompanied the feature, but the initial words were missed in the shock of the image.

    It was a holo of the Emperor!

    Clad in dark robes, leaning heavily on a staff as his clone body rotted, the figure was nevertheless instantly recognizable. From that, Tallance knew the camera had to be onboard the Eclipse II. Probably the Emperor's private chambers, if the decor was any guide.

    Two men knelt before him, faceless men, but known by their garments perfectly – the red robes of the Royal Guard.

    The audio came across. “-sorbed the Jedi child,” the Emperor was speaking, his voice damaged and raw from the corruption of his clone body. “I.......child....myself. …..adepts will pr-.......rule....cannot....trus.....must guard me against.......claimants.”

    The guardsmen saluted. “The Royal Guard will preserve you, lord, no matter what the adepts rule.”

    “The adepts...” Tallance turned the words over in his mind. From the guardsman, and here, buried in the static of his weakened voice, even the Emperor himself had made it clear. The admiral did not understand the nature of this ‘child’ in his master’s plan, but one thing was true. The emperor had meant for control to pass to some cadre of his dark side adepts, just as it had passed to Sedriss QL before.

    He had never mentioned regency by Ars Dangor.

    “You lied,” Tallance turned on the advisor. “You lied about all of it.”

    “No, this is a fabrication, a trick by Priam, as she grows desperate and knows death approaches,” Dangor protested defiantly, though he appeared pale for the first time.

    “You lied,” Tallance repeated. He knew the truth of it. There was nothing Dangor could say. He knew the truth, and cursed himself for a fool. Priam had been right all along. “That is the Eclipse II's internal security footage. Someone is beaming it from the ship's wreckage right now,” Priam had one-upped them all again. Rather than simply denouncing Dangor, she'd sent a trusted subordinate to find the truth.

    “Believe what you want admiral,” Dangor snapped, anger crossing his thin face. “It no longer matters. The battle rages on, you've already committed your treason, mutinied against your admiral. You've sided with me now, and you have to see it through.”

    There was a certain truth to the words of the politician, the admiral admitted. He had sided with Dangor and followed him on the path of treason. He'd believed the lies and turned his guns upon fellow imperials in the service of those lies. Only by victory, by the rewriting of those lies into truth again, could he survive.

    Dangor smiled, and Tallance knew it had played out over his face.

    The admiral looked out onto the battlefield, where the Night Shark struggled to pull back from an advancing encirclement that would soon destroy her. Fight for the lies for a few minutes more and none of it would matter.

    “There is no way out admiral,” Dangor continued. “The choice was already made; to change your mind now would be your destruction.”

    “Destruction?” Tallance whispered, still looking at the battered star destroyer in the distance. “Destruction?” Night Shark hung above the ruins of Pilum. His grandson has been on-board, he recalled suddenly, his last living relative.

    “I have already suffered through destruction,” the admiral said softly.

    He turned to face Ars Dangor. Slowly, with careful and deliberate movements, as his muscles recalled something they hadn't done in a long time, he reached down to his hip. There, moving by memory alone, he flipped forward the cover on his holster and grasped the well-oiled hilt of his service pistol.

    Slowly, feeling the weight of the blaster against his palm, Tallance raised the stubby gun up and took it in both hands, placing it before him. Without hurrying, he took aim directly at Dangor's skull.

    “You can't shoot me! I'm the regent!” the advisor bellowed. “Guards, stop him!”

    The novatroopers on the bridge were Dangor's men through and through, they would obey any order or command and never think of treason, but they were also the Emperor's men, more than anything else. Imperial honor guards, they stared at the holoimage in front of them, paralyzed by indecision.

    “This is madness, Tallance, stop this, I'll make you supreme commander!” Dangor protested. “You'll be my right-hand when I rule the Empire.”

    “No,” the admiral said sternly, finally grasping the truth Priam had revealed during the council of war. “Without the Emperor, there is no Empire.”

    He fired a single bolt.

    It struck Ars Dangor between the eyes. The advisor crumpled to the floor instantly.

    “Order the fleet to cease-fire,” Tallance said the words quietly, only the captain and nearby officers could hear. “Admiral Priam is your rightful commander.”

    “Sir-” the captain turned, and his eyes filled with horror.

    The destruction wrought by believing Dangor's lies was too great a burden to bear. There was a price to be paid. Tallance raised his pistol to his right temple.

    He never hesitated.

    The blaster gave a second sharp rapport.


    * * *


    The news spread through the fleet at astounding speed. It took only moments for the cease fire to take affect. Fighters stopped chasing each other in elegant whorls; the mighty turbolasers of capital ships fell silent. Missiles exploded in empty space at the call of fail-safe codes. Energy dissipated into the black of space.

    Aboard the Night Shark, and all the other ships of Priam's fleet, there were no cheers.

    “All crews to stand down from battle stations,” Priam collapsed into her command chair, only now noticing it was riddled with tiny tears. “Prioritize damage control and medical aid. Send orders to our marine units to dispatch a holding force to all surrendering vessels.” She paused, feeling utterly exhausted and wondering how badly she was bleeding.

    There would be time for that in a moment. For now, she had to pull the pieces together. “Erebus is to move into holding formation above the Sovereign-class vessels. It is to dispatch all troops to take command of the ships, and I want Colonel Garvus in custody.” She was not done with that one, not even close.

    “Vice-Admiral Gredge is to take temporary command of any undamaged vessels we possess and organize a defensive screen. We will assemble a full command council, including all captains from all vessels, on-board the Heseriarch in twelve hours.”

    “Understood sir,” Captain Kelden saluted. “Corpsman, see to the admiral immediately,” he gestured to a man standing in waiting.

    Priam sat back and let the man work, suddenly grateful for the excuse. Her eyes drifted closed. Rest was welcome, for now. She wasn't ready to grasp victory, not now.

    As she drifted there, someone played the security recording from the Deference. The details blurred together, but she heard one sentence very clearly.

    “Without the Emperor, there is no Empire.”

    As she drifted off into medicated sleep, Priam grappled with that truth, and what it meant she must do.


    Chapter Notes
    1. Like the Eclipse-class the Sovereign-class dreadnaughts were designed to employ an axial turbolaser. Canon is silent on how far construction of these vessels actually went, but I think it’s more fun this way.
    2. The Gyrfalcon is, of course, a real-world bird of prey, but then so is a Peregrine, so why not?
    3. There is actual a tortoise-like Star Wars animal called the Torton, from Naboo. Sometimes the EU just provides.
    4. I have invented the name for Priam’s squadron. All of the ships are named after aquatic creatures of Star Wars or Earth myth.
    5. The Prosurcator-class Star Destroyer is one of the classes introduced to canon in The Essential Guide to Warfare. It is notable for having heavy turrets on the main axis. I have interpreted this as the ship serving a heavy battery role.
    6. Priam borrows her Scimitar Assault Bombers from the Erebus, Admiral Kraven’s Secutor-class Star Destroyer that serves as a carrier. The vulnerability of a star dreadnaught to this kind of heavy missile attack is based largely on The Bacta War.
    7. Palpatine’s address to the Royal Guard is my invention. In canon, he agrees to allow his Dark Side Adepts to watch over his youthful body while on the surface of Korriban, where there are presumably no cameras. Still it seems reasonable that he would have left such dictates to his guardsmen.
  11. Keila_ Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 1, 2000
    star 2
    I've only had a chance to read the first two chapters, but so far, I like it. It's well written, and offers a perspective that we rarely get to see in the SW universe. One minor quibble though: would a ship really be named "Despot" (even by the Emperor) given the negative connotations the term has?
  12. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    I appreciate the interest, thank you. As for the Despot, according to canon yes. The four Sovereign-class vessels are named in the Dark Empire Sourcebook; they are not my creation. Anyway, cheesy though it may be, this is also the Emperor who named the Annihilator, Merciless, and Tyrant. Subtlety was not a strength of Imperial capital ship naming practices.
  13. Draconarius Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 27, 2005
    star 4
    I imagine it would be quite hard to maintain subtlety or originality for even 1,000 ship names, let alone the 25,000 the Empire was running at its peak.

    Anyway, I've read through all of the current chapters and I am loving it so far (even if it took me a minute to figure out why there were numbers showing up in the middle of the text. It might be better if those were smaller sized or greyed out, perhaps). It feels kind of like a written successor to TIE Fighter, just with more star destroyers. Which is a very good thing. :D
  14. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Chapter 10: Aftermath


    The main hangar of Heseriarch was cavernously vast. Lacking fighters the empty space went on and on. Assembled soldiers were insufficient to fill it up, and the cluster of captains crammed in front of a hastily erected podium was a wan and meager display.

    Priam stood in front of them all, flanked by a guard detachment of stormtroopers. Her key supporters sat behind her. Several chairs were empty, filled only by memorial holos.

    Too many, by the admiral's reckoning, far too many.

    The Battle of Pellut, as the name would inevitably be, would award no medals. Priam would not give out honors for killing imperials tricked by the lies of a traitorous conniver. She would limit promotions as well, though some were inevitable to fill the gaps opened in the fleet by casualties.

    The council began with those elevations, read off one by one by a staff officer. Most of those so elevated took their new posts with proper gravity for the shift. Few expressed discontent.

    Admiral Kraven was among the latter group, glaring long at Priam when it was announced that he was being removed from line service and placed in charge of administration as the foundation of a new High Command. It was a dangerous move, and Priam had only made it in the knowledge that for the present Kraven would be far too busy to plot against anyone.

    The promotion of Gredge to full admiral and command of Logistics, Resupply, and Training was the final statement before Priam was given to announce her new fleet deployment. The admiral, still wearing a large bandage around her head, took the lectern. She looked out on the assembled brass, and wondered what they would think when she told them her choices.

    There was one small matter to be addressed first. “Colonel Garvus,” The admiral called the thin old man to the podium.

    Garvus walked up proudly, chest out, exulting that his ship had been chosen for this meeting, and was Priam's new flagship. As he was the last to be mentioned, he doubtless expected a reward for his actions in the battle.

    The old man's sharp eyes met Priam's when he reached the lectern.

    Quick-witted, the colonel did not like what he saw, and took a half step back.

    “Lieutenant,” Priam called to the head of the stormtrooper guard. “This man is a traitor who is guilty of gross misuse of imperial materiel for personal gain and gross dereliction of duty. He is to be executed immediately.”

    Garvus blanched. “You can't do this; I'm the only one who knows the codes to these ships, without me you'll never-”

    “The Emperor also knew the codes,” Priam glared. “And they were preserved aboard the Eclipse II. Lieutenant...”

    Eight E-11's were leveled.

    “Ready...”

    Garvus lunged towards Priam.

    “Aim...” gnarled hands wrapped around her shoulders, reaching for the throat. The admiral never moved.

    “Fire!”

    Eight bolts struck the traitor in the chest. His body slid down to the plasteel bleachers.

    Priam stepped over it and back to the lectern. “With that concluded, there remains only one matter of discipline left.” she noted, looking out into many faces that had supported Ars Dangor. “At this time, I call upon all command-rank officers who supported the traitor Dangor to surrender into custody. You will not be punished for your participation in this mutiny,” she told them, noting the calm that spread through the nearly panicked group after the stormtroopers' action. “But your commissions are forfeit. You will be allowed to take all personal effects with you into immediate retirement on Relus.”

    “But we'll be marooned!” one man, less sensible than the rest, heckled.

    “Consider the isolation a blessing,” Priam sneered, annoyed that political considerations made sparing these men necessary in the first place. “That way, no one in the rest of the Empire will be there to judge you.”

    Silence followed this remark. No one else sought to provoke their immediate end. This surprised precisely no one. Tallance had not been the only mutineer to choose oblivion. The strong willed were not the ones slinking back.

    “As for everyone else,” Priam turned back to her loyalists. “As soon as salvage operations are completed and the fleet is fully loaded with recruits, troops, and passengers, we will be departing the Beshqek system permanently. All Empire-owned civilian vessels, and all volunteers, will also be accompanying us. Other ships will be devoted to refugee transport to Prakith, the nearest stable system.”

    “Most of you are expecting us to travel east through the Deep Core and attack Kuat,” Priam's voice rose, knowing she must seize this moment. “But that will not be our destination.”

    A hushed murmur spread through the assembly.

    “Our fleet is now too damaged and weakened by battle to wage that campaign. Rapid assault and movement is no longer possible, and we are a year of repairs away from full strength. By that time the war will be over, the rebellion's industrial build up will eliminate any chance of a military victory.”
    “The Holonet reports that a former Imperial Royal Guard named Carnor Jax1 has claimed to be the Emperor's Heir and is assuming control of the Fleet in the New Territories, but we now know that he is just as much a traitor as Ars Dangor.2 I will not place this fleet, won for the Empire at such great cost, in the hands of a false master to wage an un-winnable war.”

    “My fellow admirals, captains, and commanders,” Priam's gaze swept over the group. “We must face the truth. The Emperor designed for all he built to crumble to ruin in his absence. Though I believe, as you do, in the ideals and greatness of the New Order, of the superiority of a united military government over a chaotic and squabbling republic, we cannot, in our present state, sustain those ideals.”

    “To do so, to preserve the New Order in a form that can survive without the guidance of the Emperor's unique insights, we must make a complete and total break with the past. We must build the Empire without the burdens of the Old Republic, without a rebel movement struggling to rebirth a false past, and without the painful holdovers of past wars. To do this there is only one option: we must begin again the work of building an Empire in virgin territory.”

    The murmurs rose, and true shouts of confusion and anger joined them.

    Priam bulldozed ahead, knowing she could not stop now. “From the records of the Eclipse II we have possession of a route to the west, past the Celestial Wall and into the Unknown Regions. There, in the Trendath System, is a monitoring station on a habitable planet that will serve as the base of our new Imperial state.”

    “Colonize the Unknown Regions? Madness!” Someone shouted the words Priam had fully expected.

    “It is the only choice!” she retorted. “Anywhere we travel in known space the rebellion will follow, and we will be left to fight a rearguard action while the state crumbles beneath us. The Emperor promised us ten thousand years, but his Empire will not see even one hundred unless we act to move beyond the reach of our enemies. We will retrench into new territory and stabilize the state, building a new, uniform practice of Imperial rule unburdened by the favoritism of the Core. We will have centuries to grow before the rebels can challenge us, time enough to become invincible.”

    “This is my command, and this is the path I have chosen,” Priam thundered. “The choice is clear, to follow the dream of Empire, or the false traitors who would claim its territory. I choose the dream!”

    They did not cheer, they did not object, only stood in stony silence.

    It was enough.

    “A full deployment plan with details for each vessel will be transmitted to all ships. We will begin the transfer to Trendath as soon as the first lines are fully prepped. The entire operation will take less than two weeks, at which point the Beshqek system will no longer be safely accessible. That is all, report to your commands.”

    Priam turned, stepping over the still cooling body of Colonel Garvus, and walked off the stage. The stormtroopers followed her out.


    * * *


    Priam’s private chambers on the Heseriarch were vast in scope, but Spartan in furnishing. Given a command suite that had been planned to potentially accommodate the Emperor himself at need; she had multiple rooms, vast technology, and considerable luxury at her disposal. In the unfinished state of the ship, that also meant barren floors, an incomplete bed frame, and a mouse droid working to finish the ‘fresher.

    It was hardly a space suited for entertaining guests, but the rest of the dreadnaught was in similar straights, and the admiral’s room had the modest advantage of privacy. That some designer had chosen to stock the liquor cabinet prior to completing the bar also helped. Priam had no idea if the Emperor had been a connoisseur of fine alcohols, but someone, possibly Garvus, had planned as if he was.

    “Correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t these particular vineyards destroyed during the New Sith Wars and the soil was never restored to par?” Priam’s guest muttered incredulously, staring at the bottle on the table between them.

    “That’s what the database says, yes,” the admiral smiled softly.

    “So this is what, twelve hundred years old? And costs how much?”

    “About twice the five million I paid you for that job,” Priam shrugged. “Not that we’ll find a buyer where we’re headed.”

    The blue-haired woman tossed the glass back, draining wine in a single long pull. “Stang!” she expelled as she slammed the crystal down to the table. “It’s good to be the Emperor!”

    “I hope,” Priam looked at her visitor cautiously. “That you aren’t referring to me. There was only one Emperor, ever.”

    “Then you’d better come up with a better title, fast,” Xasha shook her head, purple throat spots flashing in the pale fluorescent light. “You’re off to found a new Empire; you can’t keep going by admiral.”

    “Something to consider,” the admiral admitted. Labels had meaning and power; she knew politics at least that well. She had a few ideas along those lines.

    The imperial looked into the half-Theelin’s3 eyes, wondering. “Tell me X, and be honest. Did I make the right choice?”

    “Hell if I know,” Xasha shrugged, leaning back as she refilled her glass. Thick reddish liquid poured over the transparent gloss. “You want an Empire to last for a thousand years, then yeah, heading out into the unknown’s probably a better bet than slugging it out with admiral fish-head, but I wouldn’t put money on either one.”

    “I really would have attacked Kuat,” it seemed important that someone, anyone, believe that. Priam continued, her words earnest, her eyes searching for recognition in bounty hunter eyes. “If Dangor hadn’t survived, if I’d had the whole fleet from the start…”

    “Hey, I believe you,” Xasha shrugged again, openly relaxed and uncaring. “But fighting each other seems to be what imperials are best at.”

    That truth seared hot and furious. “That’s going to stop,” Priam vowed. “I will build an Empire that is a force for unity, for order. We will tame the wilds of space, and bring peace to the people. That was what was promised, and I intend to keep that promise.”

    “Well, as the rebels say, may the Force be with you, ‘cause you’re going to need it,” Xasha smiled lazily. She sipped her wine in contentment. The fate of the galaxy was clearly a concern far from her mind.

    “I have a fleet, I will trust in that,” in Priam’s view, the Force had cursed the Empire from the start. They’d do better without it.

    “Takes more than warships to build an Empire.”

    “That’s true,” the admiral knew. She was already working hard on administration, logistics, and a governing plan that would form her fleet as the core. “The fleet serves one role, one scale, other agents will be needed for more…precise…tasks.”

    “Hey, why are you looking at me like that?” Xasha sat bolt upright, limbs quivering.

    “I can’t let you go X,” Priam spoke quietly, and with real sadness. It hurt to trap this woman who had done so much for her. “You know too much. You’d sell our destination to the rebellion in a heartbeat.”

    The bounty hunter didn’t deny it. “Are you going to lock me away?” The admiral was glad she made no move to attempt something foolish. Xasha had always been very level-headed for one of her kind. It made her all the more valuable.

    “If I must,” Priam noted with regret. “But I would hate to lose your talents. Once we leave the Deep Core behind there will be no HoloNet, no hyperspace maps, and no way for you to spill your secrets. You can work for us X, I need your skills. You’d be doing the galaxy a service, and I assure you the pay will be good.”

    “And how will I spend it? Ha!” Xasha countered. “You’ve just stolen five million from me, stashed away on Muunilist where I can never use it. How much more will you take?”

    “I’ve every confidence you will find a fine place to retire out in the Unknown Regions, when the time is right,” Priam offered a small smile. “As for that five million, you’re free to do whatever you want with it, until the links are lost.”

    “Great, just great,” the bounty hunter downed her glass and poured another. “I knew I shouldn’t have taken that job.”

    “You fate would have been much the same,” Priam smiled wickedly. “I’m not letting any armed shuttles go. This way you have an extra five million credits and a friend in the highest of places.”

    “And some grade double-a quality booze,” the woman smiled recklessly. “Okay Priam, you’ve got me good, you manipulative Imperial witch. So what’s the plan?”

    Priam pulled a small disk of metal from her pants pocket and placed it down on the table. “This new Empire will need to remake certain organizations we are leaving behind. The skills of a bounty hunter are well suited to one in particular. I would like you to be the first of the Protectorate Rangers.”

    Xasha picked up the badge, flipping it over in her hand. “Nice symbol,” she said.

    It was as close to acceptance as Priam would ever get.


    * * *


    Slave I drifted through the outer rim, carrying its master along on a mission for his current employer, Gorga the Hutt. Though the highly automated ship required little attention in such an intermediate moment as this, Boba Fett sat at the controls as always, vigilant to the last.

    To his surprise, the ship’s message buffer beeped after receiving a routine news update. Someone had sent a packet to an old personal address of his, one he’d all but closed down years ago after it had been compromised. No one should know he still had a quiescent program monitoring the relay.

    The message was text only. Before opening it Fett checked the log from the Holonet, scrounging around with a few highly illegal tools to determine the message’s origin. He discovered only that it had routed through so many relays any trace was impossible.

    Curious now, he opened the message in a partitioned datapad. The plain text pulled his eye in immediately.


    Boba, you’re a hard man to track down, but I know you still check all those old dead addresses of yours, just in case. I always held out for the chance to say this in person, but that’ll never happen now, so here it is: I’m sorry. I know I betrayed your trust in the worst way, but I want you to know I wouldn’t have done it if there’d been any other choice. I wish things didn’t turn out the way they did. I loved you then, I really did, and I always hoped you knew that. If you didn’t, you’re hearing it now.
    I know no apology is enough, and that you’ll probably never forgive me, but I hope you can find the way to, someday. If you don’t, I’ll never forgive myself.
    We’ll never meet again. By the time you get this I’ll be beyond even your reach for good. Circumstances have forced me to leave something behind, and I wanted you to have it. It won’t repay the damage I’ve done, nothing could, but it’s the best I can do to pay off my regrets before I go.

    Yours,
    -X


    Fett stared at the message, and read through it again, before stumbling over the postscript. It was a simple formulation, an account number and password. He recognized the setup as that of Muunilist instantly. With swift strokes of the keys he directed Slave I to access the account. He put in the password manually and brought up the contents.

    A five followed by six zeroes stared back at him.

    Boba Fett looked at the number carefully, wondering where the money had come from. He read the letter a third time, and all the memories of those days twelve years ago flooded back. A different time, simpler, younger, it seemed a lifetime ago.

    “You’re right X,” Fett muttered into the message. “I’ll probably never forgive you, but I suppose five million’s not a bad down payment.”4

    Looking out the viewport at the stars, the galaxy’s best bounty hunter couldn’t help but wonder – what had Xasha done to earn it?


    Chapter Notes
    1. It is not clear how quickly Carnor Jax asserted control over the ruling council, but since he was planning to do so before the Emperor perished, it was probably quite rapid.
    2. Palpatine’s physician, who was complicit in the conspiracy to sabotage the Emperor’s clones, was onboard the Eclipse II. The statement assumes he left evidence behind.
    3. Canon does not precisely establish Xasha’s species, but as far as I’m concerned she’s half-Theelin.
    4. SPOILER WARNING: Xasha apologizing to Boba Fett references a plot point in the Force Unleashed II comic. Essentially she was initially hired in a honey trap to secure his genetic material so the Empire could make clones of him.
  15. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Chapter 11: Protectorate

    The soldiers who escorted him wore stark white armor and helmets vaguely like skulls. They moved as men were wont to do, though with the stiff and formal motion of hard military training. General Datar supposed they were men, and his scouts had said they represented a human government, but he was far from certain. They were silent, but communicated seamlessly, as if they shared one mind, and they never took their helmets off, not even after hours of waiting as he’d delayed going with them.

    Though he prided himself on his courage, Datar privately admitted to fearing these white blaster-bearing specters. He wished his own bodyguards were with him, a security blanket to assuage his trepidation. Not that they would be much use, if the scout’s reports could be believed. That armor had been seen to absorb direct hits from Skullclaw rifles, and the weapons of his men could not match even that power.

    So he had agreed to go alone, to prove his courage to this leader he was to meet. Let these men see that Datar was a man of courage, that the Ippara1 were a valorous people.

    That had been his plan, but he no longer imagined these soldiers as caring. The scouts had said they were called stormtroopers; that a single battalion had captured an entire Skullclaw base losing not a single man. He still did not believe that, not entirely, but it was starting to seem far more likely with each moment.

    The meeting was on neutral ground, the abandoned mining tunnels of Ippar’s second moon. He’d landed at one end, they at the other, but the stormtroopers had met him as he’d arrived.

    The general had instructed his fleet to dash across the moon and destroy the enemy shuttle if he did not return. He was wondering if that was simply ordering men to their deaths in vain.

    They walked for some time, Datar guessed they covered at least three calthans, but the armored men displayed no signs of fatigue. Eyes front and unmoving, they flanked him as he emerged onto the opposite landing pad, facing a small shuttle.

    It was a squat thing, painted a drab gray and with a rectangular body and sloping nasal cockpit. Three high wings extended up from the fuselage, and the general recognized that the outer two must fold down when in flight. His eyes focused on the long blaster barrels extending from the front of the frame, and from those outer wings. This was a military shuttle for certain.

    “Inside,” the stormtrooper on his left side spoke. The voice was synthetic, the creation of some device inside the helmet. Datar found it unnerving.

    The general did as instructed, climbing the boarding ramp under the nose. Inside was a well lit square space, obviously converted from some different original purpose. A table had been erected there, outfitted with some kind of display device.

    There was an empty chair on Datar’s side. A human female sat in the other.

    He had always thought humans weak-looking, with their pale pinkish skin and scraggly hair; nothing to match the steel-blue sheen of the Ipparan body. They did not have the strength to wear metal either, and crafted clothing of cloth, with no copper or bronze to symbolize achievements. Humans were a species of traders and bargainers, not warriors.

    Upon viewing this woman, he had to admit that humans apparently concealed diversity he had not imagined. She wore her hair close-cropped beneath a small, ornamental cap, and a tightly fitted uniform of olive gray covered her body in a sharp cut military array. It was unmarked save for some kind of rank badge on the left breast, but he had little attention for that, instead focused on the eyes. Sharp-slanted, dark and iron-hard, they were the eyes of a true warrior, fearless and dispassionate.

    “Sit,” the female told Datar.

    He did so, sinking into the high-backed chair and maintaining upright posture. He would not be intimidated.

    The human placed her hands on the table. They were covered by fine black gloves. Her right hand held some small computational device. “General Datar,” the woman read without glancing. She spoke excellent Bocce2. “Military autocrat of the Ippara species, ruler of eighty-percent of the planet Ippar and its three moons.” The woman summarized without looking at her screen.

    Datar was not impressed. Such memorization was easy.

    “Became the ruler as a result of popular revolt against the existing council of elders after failure to repulse continued raids by the Skullclaw pirate clans. Built a small space fleet to defend Ippar, but succeeded only in reducing Skullclaw damage to the economy from thirty-five percent to thirty percent of annual gross output. Facing rebel pushback for destroying traditional challenge structures among the military.” The human looked him straight in the eye, un-intimidated by the copper plates bolted to his brow. “Are the particulars correct? Or have my intelligence services made a mistake?”

    “You are correct,” Datar said stiffly. It was all common enough knowledge. He felt no shame in hearing any of it save that of his failure against the Skullclaws.

    “Good,” the woman supplied. “My name is Admiral Ilione Priam. I also hold the title Lord Protector, which makes me ruler of the Imperial Protectorate. Tell me general, have you heard of us?”
    “Only in rumors and trader’s tales,” Datar admitted. “And from my scouts’ report of your recent battle with the Skullclaws.”

    “Very well,” Priam told him. “The purpose of this meeting is simple, general. I intend to convince you to join my protectorate.”

    “You mean you want me to surrender,” Datar had heard the reports. This woman had a fleet capable of sweeping away the Skullclaws like titch flies. His tiny force could not possibly withstand her. “But the Ippara will stand strong even in the face of annihilation.”

    “A commendable sentiment,” Datar detected a twinge of a smile on Priam’s stony face. “But you misinterpret me,” she continued. “The Imperial Protectorate does not propose to conquer you. My government does not operate on that scale. We are an interstellar state. A planet such as yours, and the star system where it resides, is a member, not a territory.”

    “Explain,” Datar demanded, guard up.

    Priam punched a key on the display device on the table. A holographic map of the galaxy, one far more detailed than any the general had ever seen, sprang up. The admiral pointed to a spot near the middle, and the image shifted.

    It resolved into a diagram familiar to Datar, a model of the Ippar system.

    “This is your star system,” Priam explained, speaking with slow deliberation. She tapped the image again, and it spooled out into a loose map of several dozen stars. A ragged red circle spread around close to half of them. “The red area is the zone that, according to current estimates, suffers from regular Skullclaw attacks. There are at least twenty inhabited systems, and the pirates have multiple bases.” She tapped the image again, this time it resolved into a large square filled with uncountable stars. “This is a section of the galactic grid map, known in our charts as J-11.3” A wide gray half-circle expanded out over perhaps a quarter of the region. “This represents the current borders of the Imperial Protectorate.” She reduced the image back to the several dozen stars.

    The gray line now cut through the middle of it. “Ippar, as you can see, is on the edge of our territory. It is my intention to expand that boundary.”

    “How many systems do you control?” Datar stumbled, trying to grasp the scope of this entity he was bargaining with. If Priam’s claim was true - which he was far from certain of - then he was dealing with a power far larger than anything he’d ever heard tell of existing in tens of thousands of years.

    “That information is not available to non-members,” the admiral demurred. “Let us simply say that the protectorate encompasses a considerable region of space, and we are growing rapidly. As your scouts no doubt told you, we have a technological and logistical advantage compared to most local entities.”

    “So, if you aren’t to conquer us, what does joining mean?” the general demanded, worry turning to anger in his gut.

    “The Imperial Protectorate is an interstellar government, concerned with interstellar affairs,” Priam answered him, still perfectly composed. Datar suspected she had done this many times. “Our offer is simple: we provide protection for our member planets against threats from space; we patrol hyperspace travel routes and secure the free passage of trade; we enforce an impartial interstellar regime that provides peace for all systems under our protection and fosters growth and even settlement of new worlds. In return for this protection we levy taxes necessary to support our fleet, which each of our member planets pay in accordance with their capabilities.”

    “That sounds like extortion,” Datar countered. “There are those who pay tribute to the Skullclaws in return for peace. I have no interest in such degradation.”

    “You mistake me,” Priam replied, mouth flat. “If you join us, your people become protectorate citizens. They are eligible to serve in the fleet and may rise to any posting according to their ability. Your people will receive, assuming your government desires it, the full scope of imperial technological and educational resources, allowing your people to rise to our standards rapidly. However, you are under no obligation to do so, and so long as the levies are maintained, the Protectorate will not interfere in Ippar’s governance. You, and your successors in time, will retain direct control over the planet. Our intervention stops at the edge of the atmosphere.”

    “You would accept us in service?” Datar scowled. He did not believe it. “The Skullclaws have killed three of my children, but my youngest son survives. What would happen if I enrolled him?”

    “Assuming you became a member immediately?” she raised a thin eyebrow. When she observed from Datar’s steady stare that such had been his meaning, she continued. “He would initially be sent to a remedial education academy, in order to familiarize him with the necessary imperial standards, including language, measures, and technologies. Once matched to this background, he would be tested for aptitude and sent to an appropriate military training center, either for the marine forces, the stormtrooper corps, the fleet enlisted academy, or the officer’s school based on his scores. From there, everything would depend upon his performance.”

    This did not appear to be a lie, but the general was far from convinced. “You say your control stops at the atmosphere. So, my war with the rebels, what of that?”

    “Whatever you wish,” Priam brushed the matter aside. “I do not care, so long as the levies are paid and imperial resources are not devoted to planetary matters. My interest is in interstellar peace and order, not the imposition of a single decree on the lifestyles of countless different species. In fairness I will also say that, should the rebels somehow defeat you, the same terms would apply to them.”

    “So I am to trade the Skullclaws for the Protectorate then,” Datar summarized. “And trust that you will cost less and serve better? Is that the scenario?” He stared at her. “It is not without appeal, but there is one other key matter. What if I decide later I no longer wish to be part of this protectorate of yours?”

    “Then you will be free to leave,” Priam’s answer was immediate. “Our levies will cease, barring the completion of any unfinished projects of course, and our fleet will withdraw, leaving you unprotected. Citizens in service, will, however, remain so, and would not be returning home until they reached retirement. That commitment is not so easily rescinded.”

    Datar would have never believed her if she had not added the last. No one would simply let soldiers go. “And if I say no, what of the Skullclaws?”

    “My fleet will fight the pirate menace so long as it threatens our members,” the admiral told him. “But the pirates are not complete fools. They will realize who is part of the Protectorate and who is not. If they choose to conquer you and leave my worlds alone, then there will be no assistance.”

    Join, or face oblivion then. It was cold, callous even, but it was a military answer. Datar found he was impressed by this human warrior. “Your offer is not without appeal,” he told her. “Draw up the specifics. If I feel these levies provide my people with protection without inducing undue suffering, then I will accept your fleet, so long as it proves more effective than my own.”

    “Oh it will, General, it most certainly will,” the fire in those sharp eyes was most convincing.

    Chapter Notes
    1. This species, like most of the details that crop up in this chapter, is my invention. We’re into the unknown here, off the canon reservation.
    2. I have chosen to have the residents of this particular region of space speak Bocce as a primary trade language.
    3. This nomenclature matches that presented in The Essential Atlas. There is no in-universe means of reference to large galactic chunks, so this seems the best approach.
  16. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Epilogue: Of Empires Great and Small

    Priam returned to Trendath in high spirits. More worlds joined her Protectorate by the day. Soon her empire would be large enough to truly be worthy of the name. So far her design, hammered together from the best lessons of Palpatine’s rule, was holding strong. Success, which had seemed a fever dream over the ruins of Byss, was now becoming something real.

    She awoke in the night in her chambers on Heseriarch to the beeping sound of an incoming live call.

    “Accept,” Priam ordered, throwing a blanket over herself. No one would dare disturb her if it wasn’t sufficiently important.

    A blue-haired face appeared on the screen. “Xasha,” Priam called, somewhat happily. “What has occurred?” her best ranger was not given to frivolous messages.

    “Admiral,” the half-theelin’s voice was deathly serious. “I met up with someone on my most recent deep probe mission. He’s onboard now, says he needs to meet with you.”

    “And who is this mysterious personage?” Priam asked skeptically. Outside the fleet she rarely met with anyone other than planetary governors these days. It wasn’t like Xasha to drag back random strays of the Unknown Regions.

    “He says his name is Baron General Soontir Fel,” Xasha responded without a hint of humor. “He says he represents something called the Empire of the Hand. He claims he has a proposition for you.”

    “I’ll see him at once.”

    End.
  17. imperial_Warlord5 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 8, 2005
    star 1
    wonderful is there a sequel planed?
  18. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Thanks for the interest. I am working on other, non-Star Wars projects at present so there are no plans for future Protectorate stories at this time, but I might come back to the concept at some point.
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