main
side
curve
  1. In Memory of LAJ_FETT: Please share your remembrances and condolences HERE

Beyond - Legends Interregnum II (Action/Drama | Luke/Mara, Kyp, Pellaeon, Wedge | Epic) [Complete]

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Bel505, Sep 30, 2021.

  1. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    I can't take credit: that's just an expansion on the descriptions from X-Wing: The Bacta War. Michael Stackpole invented all that!

    Thanks so much for the feedback, everyone. This week I'm going to start finishing the story here. I'm not going to parcel it out either, I'm just going to post it all, since it's already available elsewhere. Also, I have added our new cover art, by the magnificent Isabelinski, to the first post!
     
    vader_incarnate likes this.
  2. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Chapter 28


    The last time Carias had been on Coruscant, it had still been Imperial Center. At the time, he'd commuted from the luxurious apartment furnished by COMPNOR—a reward for his many years of service and status as a founding member of ISB—to ISB headquarters. A tower in the Imperial Palace that had extended underground into a sprawling compound, ISB headquarters had been furnished with all the lavish decadence that the Empire had to offer. Expensive wood furnishings from a dozen different worlds so that each room would have its own decor and scent; stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Empire's rise; manifold other luxuries that were gifts from a grateful Empire to its most loyal defenders.

    It had all been abandoned when the decision to sacrifice Coruscant had been made. The Rebellion had stolen the furniture, smashed the windows, and chased ISB out of its own headquarters. Carias and his family had been among the millions of evacuees from Coruscant, and the memory of Mon Calamari Star Cruisers battering Golan stations into uselessness still evoked a fury in Carias.

    He had been content to keep that fire simmering to drive him in years past. He was slavering to unleash it now.

    His return to Coruscant had not been the glorious restoration that he'd long dreamed of, and he was not ensconced in his old office with the scent of Fijisi wood and caf that he remembered. Instead, he was hidden away in Eyrie Tower, the guest of Black Sun, and the situation was irritating for both him and his host.

    The large sitting room near the top of Eyrie Tower was not up to ISB standards, but it was still quite luxurious. Glittering transparisteel windows looked out over Argosy District and the busy evening air traffic that lined the sky with lights, while the room was filled with comfortable sitting chairs and expensive artifacts, each of which had been placed here by one of Coruscant's former Vigos.

    Coruscant's current Vigo settled into a comfortable chair across from him. "I think we'll be able to get you out tomorrow," Roeder said unceremoniously, without any of the natural deference that Carias would have expected during the heyday of the Empire.

    "What has taken so long?" Carias asked with a frown.

    Roeder's gaze hardened. "The New Republic is taking the attack on the Molalla Astor very seriously," he said, speaking each word as if it ought to be obvious. "Their security measures are extremely tight."

    "Then why do you expect to be able to get me off world tomorrow?"

    "It's now been almost two weeks since the attack," Roeder explained. "The blockade is starting to cause serious backups at the spaceports, and the Municipals are putting heavy pressure on the New Republic to lift the travel restrictions. That pressure is only going to grow as vital supplies start to become scarce. The inspections teams are also tired and overworked, so the New Republic is becoming less judicious about who is responsible for inspections."

    "I see." Carias nodded, rubbing his lower lip as he sank back into the comfortable armchair. "You've done well, Vigo Roeder. I will see you rewarded handsomely for your service."

    "Will you?" asked Roeder.

    Carias' eyes flashed as he glared at the impudent criminal.

    "From the news," Roeder continued, folding his arms across his chest, "the Empire is not doing so well. The newsies are reporting that the New Republic has battered your fleet and taken a half-dozen significant systems, and that General Antilles has instituted a blockade around your fleet at Carida."

    "Do not believe everything you see from the Rebellion propaganda machine," Carias glowered. "They lie."

    "Doesn't everyone?"

    "The Empire only lies to reveal the greater truth."

    Roeder's mouth opened, and then he closed it again. "Right," he said, noncommittally. He stood. "I'll leave you to your HoloNet call. We'll have breakfast tomorrow, and then I'll get you off world on the first transport I can." He nodded—not quite deferentially—and then withdrew.

    Carias waited until he was gone, and then sealed the doors to the room. Making sure his appearance was appropriately formal, he approached the Holocomm unit in the center of the room. He plugged in his personal scrambler and waited.

    It took a few minutes before the system stirred to life. Multiple flatscreens activated and faces started to appear. "Colonel Carias," said the familiar face of Adrian Welko. "It's good to see you well. I was concerned."

    "Colonel Welko," Carias greeted him warmly. "I hope your promotion and new duties are treating you well."

    He had expected the innocuous greeting to bring an innocuous response. "Much has happened, Kaday," Welko said seriously. "The time to act is growing near."

    "Indeed it is," said another voice. Grand Inquisitor Halmere, dressed in his typical white and black armor, sat behind an imposing black desk, with a massive symbol of the Empire glowing with an inner light behind his head. "Colonel Welko, you called this meeting?"

    "I did," Welko said. "I no longer have faith in the loyalty or competence of the senior leadership of the Imperial Starfleet."

    Carias glanced over the arrayed faces. Most of them were carefully blank (all of the Inquisitors were, though there weren't many of those left); a few of his fellow ISB Colonels nodded their agreement. Carias' eyes fell on one particular familiar face—the slate blue eyes of Brakiss, the only one of them not sitting behind a desk. The image quality of Brakiss' feed was poor, and behind him was a jungle…

    Welko was busy explaining something about treason, accusing Admirals Deshorn and Pellaeon—and a whole list of officers of lesser reputation and rank—of deliberately sabotaging the Imperial war effort. "Admirals Pellaeon and Deshorn did not volunteer for the Empire," Welko continued, "but for the Old Republic. They serve the Empire out of habit, and did not undergo the same training and conditioning that younger officers did. They are not obedient, nor are they respectful, and we can no longer tolerate a Starfleet whose allegiance is an open question."

    The assembled ISB Colonels began to argue amongst themselves, but Carias couldn't tear his eyes off Brakiss. The Apprentice Inquisitor shouldn't be on some jungle planet, he should be here on Coruscant, helping Carias escape. His skill with warping perspectives had been proven, and with Brakiss' help it would have been easy for Carias to slip off Coruscant… but the Inquisitor had vanished. Carias had assumed he'd been captured or killed! Clearly he hadn't been… unless the Rebellion was using him as a spy…

    He opened his mouth to ask, to accuse, but Brakiss' eyes seemed to bore into his from the far side of the HoloNet. I don't need to ask about it, he thought, feeling dazed. I will just let it go.

    "The loyalty of the Starfleet has been an ISB concern since the Empire was founded—"

    This treason from our most highly placed commanders is an outrage.

    Carias cut Welko off. "—And we have no choice but to deal with the threat within," he said passionately. "Admiral Pellaeon's failure to win the battles he has been given can only be explained by either incompetence or treason. Admiral Deshorn's defense of him suggests that those traits are common in the higher ranks of the Starfleet. We know that Admiral Rogriss was likewise suspect. How high does it go? Given all the resources that Grand Admiral Thrawn had at his disposal, why did he not crush the Rebellion? And how did men like Piett lose battles like Endor, where they massively outnumbered the Rebels?"

    Brakiss was still staring at him.

    Carias slammed his fist down on the desk, the jolt of pain feeding his fire. "The Empire needs to be made strong once again, and it cannot be as long as the Starfleet is filled with treasonous incompetents. ISB has loyal officers filled through the Starfleet's ranks. We can promote our own to command the fleet!"

    One of the representatives of the Council of Moffs, Moff Disra, cut through the chatter. "Can we be assured that those loyal officers will have the same level of competence as the officers they will be replacing?"

    "After Endor and Bilbringi and Chazwa, can they be worse?" scoffed Colonel Welko. "Pellaeon has proven time and again that whatever his reputation among the Starfleet, he cannot win battles when it matters."

    "We judged Kaine wanting and disposed of him," Carias hissed, "because the Empire needed strong, loyal, and dedicated leadership. With us at the Empire's head—" he nodded at Grand Inquisitor Halmere, who had been watching silently "—we have assured that. But if we do not have strong, loyal, and dedicated officers in command of the Emperor's fleet, the Empire will have a foundation of quicksand."

    "Then it seems to me," said a new voice, and all eyes flicked to the face of Apprentice Inquisitor Brakiss, "that the time has come to remove the rest of the disloyal."

    All eyes went to Halmere. All in the meeting knew that the Grand Inquisitor spoke for the Inquisitorius. "Let us take a vote," said Halmere.

    It took a minute, and the vote totals popped up.

    It was a uniform decision, with all present voting in favor.

    How could it be otherwise? Carias thought. It is so manifestly the right decision.

    "I will inform Admiral Deshorn that I accept his resignation," Colonel Welko said with grim satisfaction.

    "We will need to move ISB operatives onto ships with disloyal commanders," Carias cautioned. "To ensure that the arrests and handover of power are orderly. Let's move ISB teams onto Reaper and Chimaera, as well as other ships with questionable COs—"

    "I would like to be assigned to Carida," said Brakiss, almost hungrily. "An Inquisitor on hand to identify loyal and disloyal officers will be useful."

    Welko frowned. "I don't need you on Reaper, but our ISB presence on Chimaera is thin. I'll send you there."

    "As you wish." Brakiss said, nodding obediently.

    Carias was trying to puzzle through why Brakiss' request bothered him when a shrill alarm went off. He frowned, wondering what was wrong with the HoloNet communication, and then he realized the alarm was from Eyrie Tower itself. He stood in alarm, terminating the communication, then staggered and fell as the whole building shook.

    * * *​

    Leia wasn't thrilled about the armor that Han had argued her into. It was bulky and uncomfortable compared to the armor she was accustomed to wearing during the heady days of the Rebellion… but her old armor had been the best of sparse, salvaged equipment from system defense forces and smugglers, and this time Han had spared no expense.

    Her objection was mostly cosmetic. The shiny covert-ops armor with its micro-latticed greaves, reinforced cuirass, and top-of-the-line filter mask reminded her of nothing so much as Darth Vader.

    She, Han, and all Madine's troopers were wearing masks to filter out toxins—just in case Black Sun had more Yerite—and the one she was wearing deadened her breathing. Still, a bit of discomfort was well worth it to avoid any further battles with nerve agents. She'd had quite enough of those already in the last week.

    The three commando drop shuttles descended from Coruscant's low orbit, their up-armored hulls carefully hidden from the local orbital control by a combination of chosen trajectory and electronic scramblers. The sky behind them was just glowing with the first trickles of sunlight as Argosy District steadily turned towards Coruscant's star, and the light reflected off the massive, opaque presence of Eyrie Tower.

    Beside her, Iella Wessiri was far less heavily armored, though she too wore a mask. "Carias cannot be allowed to escape," she ordered the commandos. "I'd prefer to take him alive to stand trial, but not so much that you should take unnecessary risks. Do what you have to. Aurek Company will be landing on the executive pad, the rest of us will launch an attack on the rear escape tunnel to flank them and cut off a potential avenue of escape."

    "Councilor?"

    Leia tightened her grip on her lightsaber. They'd allowed Black Sun to run rampant on Coruscant for far too long as it was. The corruption that infected Coruscant's local governments was endemic and deeply rooted—Black Sun was an old, old organization, one that had gained prominence as Coruscant itself did—but it had seemed unavoidable, just a fact of life. Now that unavoidable fact of life had aided the Empire and helped to kill Garm Bel Iblis, not to mention the dozens of others who had been killed during the attack on the Molalla Astor.

    It had nearly killed her. It had nearly killed her children. It was harboring a fugitive.
    "Breaching formation, I'm on point. Remember, they killed our people."

    Next to her, Han checked his blaster, holstered it, and grabbed a rifle and bandolier of charges from the shuttle's weapons rack. "You all right, sweetheart?" he asked, the mask giving his breathing a rasp common in her nightmares.

    She tried not to think about that.

    "Yeah," she said with a firm nod. "I'm fine. Let's get him."

    Iella had her hand on her ear. "Aurek Company is landing on the roof now. Kapp reports intermittent resistance."

    Leia looked out the window of their assault shuttle, and she could see flashes of red and green light atop Eyrie Tower. As she watched, the flashes grew in volume and intensity, and then faded.

    "Aurek Company is pushing into the building and meeting heavier resistance. Alarms are active throughout the building," Iella announced. She turned towards Leia and Han. "We have snubfighter support, and the Mon Calamari frigate Ceratide is moving in as we speak to offer low-orbital deterrence against Black Sun reinforcements." She tapped the shoulder of the shuttle's pilot. "Take us in, and don't forget to knock!"

    At the pilot's laconic acknowledgment Leia hurriedly made for one of the seats next to Han, strapping herself in securely as Eyrie Tower rapidly grew in the shuttle's forward window.

    They didn't slow down as they closed the distance. "Brace!" cried their pilot as the building grew huge before them, and then the hammerheaded assault shuttle slammed into it. There was a horrible, metallic screeching as the shuttle's engines vibrated with the effort, and then it punctured through half a meter of reinforced durasteel and slid inexorably into the building, sending a shower of debris spattering down towards Coruscant's lower levels.

    * * *​

    Iella gripped the arms of her chair with both hands, her blaster rifle resting slung across her chest. The engines of the assault shuttle howled as it breached the exterior of Eyrie Tower, the sounds of shattering transparisteel audible even over the cry of the shuttle's overpowered engine. All at once the shuttle's trembling stopped, the repulsorlifts dying as the shuttle settled to the ground—on the inside of one of Eyrie Tower's mid-levels.

    She slapped her chest, retracting the crash straps. "Move!"

    Madine's commandos were already ahead of her. Their serious faces were invisible behind their gas masks, but they moved with the same precision she'd come to expect from the New Republic's elite shock troops. The two forward hatches in the assault shuttle parted and the armored men and women streamed through them, covering one another. There was no blaster fire—not yet, Iella thought grimly.

    "Secure this area," Iella ordered as she stepped out of the shuttle herself, waving the troops forward. "Then we move upwards one floor at a time."

    "Yes, ma'am!" one of the troopers replied with a quick salute.

    Leia and Han were beside her, Leia unrecognizable behind her armor and mask—although Iella could always identify her by the lightsaber the Councilor had in her hand. "I really wish you'd stay here, Councilor," Iella said cautiously. "We surprised them by breaching the building here, but we're going to run into opposition as we fight our way up—"

    "Don't bother," Han said with a shake of his head. "I already tried."

    "You have a Force-sensitive on your strike team, and you want to say no?" Leia asked in an arch tone. "Don't be silly. I'm much more fun in a fight than Luke. Let's go."

    Leia left Han and Iella behind, marching off in the wake of Madine's troops and shoving her way to the front in a way only someone who was a seasoned politician and military commander could get away with. Iella looked at Han as they followed, having to up their pace to keep up. "She got out of bacta less than a week ago," Iella pointed out. "She should be resting—"

    "She knows," Han said dourly. Unlike Leia, he was clearly still feeling the effects of his wounds—he still had a slight limp. "Believe me, I tried. Then Winter tried. But Leia's determined to catch Garm's killer, and she knows that with her here you have a better chance of doing that."

    "Right," Iella agreed sourly. She picked up her pace, jogging to keep up with Leia. "Well, the faster we have Carias, the faster we can get her someplace safe."

    "You said it, sister, now come on, let's get after her."

    As Han and Iella moved swiftly forward, Iella considered the level of intensity that the Solos operated at as a matter of course and shuddered internally. Wedge wants to be an architect. He wants to sit somewhere green and build a house for us.

    * * *​

    "What happened!?" Carias snarled, grabbing Roeder by the shoulder and spinning him around.

    The Vigo was arming himself, and a team of his bodyguards were likewise grabbing weapons from the confined armory that lined one wall of the panic room, and he smacked Carias' arm away. "I should be asking you that!" Roeder retorted. "There's a New Republic assault team on the roof, and a second one just breached the building ten floors down!" He cursed, shaking his head. "I never thought they'd do something this bold, not after the last time, but then I didn't know you were going to try to murder Mon Mothma!" He pointed at his bodyguards. "You lot, head down and engage the team climbing up. The rest of you, head up to fight off the team on the roof."

    "We've finally got a response!" gasped out one of Roeder's techs, this one dressed in a uniform of the Coruscant Constabulary.

    "Put me in my Constabulary uniform with the filter!"

    "Ready!"

    Roeder pushed Carias. "Get out of the way!"

    Carias stepped back at the push, taking the opportunity to grab a blaster rifle for himself. The communications flatscreen flickered to life, revealing the face of a blonde, bearded human male, wearing a beige command tunic. On the man's collar were the rank insignia of a New Republic General, and surrounding him was a clean bridge, white and neat, with Mon Calamari crewers manning the stations.

    "This is General Crix Madine, commanding the frigate Ceratide. I say again, Argosy District Constabulary, do not approach Eyrie Tower or you will be fired upon. New Republic forces are engaged in a law enforcement operation within Eyrie Tower and will respond to any interference with deadly force."

    Roeder tugged his tunic down and activated his holocam. "This is Colonel Roeder of the Coruscant Constabulary. As the ranking officer of the Constabulary in Argosy District I demand that you cease this operation at once! All law enforcement on Coruscant is the domain of the Municipal government and you have no authorization to proceed without our consent!"

    Madine looked at him, and the General's eyes were cold. He held up a datapad. "I have here a list of all members of the Argosy District Constabulary who have been compromised by Black Sun. You, Roeder, are no true Colonel. You are a senior Black Sun official and must surrender yourself into our custody. Stand down at once—" Madine leaned forwards, his eyes narrowing "—Vigo, or I cannot guarantee your safety. I repeat: any Constabulary vehicles that attempt to approach or leave Eyrie Tower will be fired upon."

    Fliry Vorru must have sold Roeder out, Carias thought, stunned. He knew that Vorru was in bed with the New Republic—despite all their protestations about the Empire's corruption, the Rebels were just as bad—but he'd never imagined that Vorru would deliberately sabotage his own organization to this extent!

    From Roeder's expression, the Vigo was just as stunned. Roeder stammered, took a moment to breathe, and then gazed steadily back at Madine. "This is an illegal action, and I will see you prosecuted for all the lives and property lost because of it! Colonel Roeder to all Constabulary forces: resist with all necessary force! That's an order!" Roeder didn't wait for Madine to respond; he slapped the com pickup to end the conversation, shaking his head. "I can't believe it," he muttered. "That bastard!"

    "Will the Constabulary come to our aid?"

    "That's a Mon Calamari frigate out there that would destroy any of our airspeeders easily, and I'm sure there are snubfighters on call too. But some of my people might still fight it out, because if I go down, they'll go down too!"

    "Do you have an escape plan?"

    Roeder glared at him. "Of course I have an escape plan," he snarled. "And if you make it worth my while it can include you as well. But the rewards had better be stupendous because this is all your fault!"

    * * *​

    Madine's commandos moved with the quick precision and attentiveness born of tough training and tougher experience. Blaster rifles swept over the corridor as they moved deeper into Eyrie Tower, then started to climb.

    The mid-levels of Eyrie Tower were mostly offices: numerous businesses, both legitimate and illegal, had expansive complexes within the massive structure. Occasionally they passed a droid as they hustled up the emergency stairs, winding their way upwards—the droids cowered, as Leia would expect Threepio to if put in a similar position—but one of the troopers always lunged forward at them and planted them with a restraining bolt before they moved on, just in case.

    Her danger sense provided the first warning that they were about to encounter the enemy, but even as she opened her mouth the first snarls of blaster fire came from above them. Red blasts slammed into the stairs, sending up plumes of vaporized permacrete. One of the troopers fell; the others swung their rifles back up the winding staircase and returned fire.

    Leia ignited her lightsaber. The emerald blade emerged with its snap-hiss, its hum filling the confined staircase, and she flicked the saber out to deflect a blaster bolt harmlessly into the wall.

    She had never trained as much as she should have, she admitted. But there was always something else that demanded her time—the New Republic had been her father's dream, and she owed it to Bail Organa to fight with everything she had to achieve that dream. She had enough training though to be confident with the lightsaber, and she could feel the Force, its guidance and its power, as it guided her hands to block more blaster bolts.

    Leia rushed up the stairs, lightsaber brandished like a beacon. Beside her, Iella's blaster rifle snarled, a red bolt of energy taking one of the Black Sun criminals in the chest. Leia stepped over him, glanced back down the stairs to see the rest of the team coming up after them.

    Han behind them, gamely limping ahead of the commandos, laying down a stuttering carpet of cover fire and cursing all the way. "Go get him!" Han yelled.

    "I'm on point," Leia ordered coldly, before Iella could object. "The rest of you stack up behind me and follow me in."

    "Councilor!"

    Feeling the Force for the right moment, and basking in their acknowledgements, she swept her blade through the door the Black Sun team had retreated through and pushed it open.

    She spun her lightsaber in a confident arc—Luke had emphasized blaster defense during their training, and for weeks she'd had tired arms as she built up the needed muscle and experience—and she spattered multiple blaster bolts away from them. Behind her, Iella's blaster rifle fired and fired again, its bursts of coherent energy joined by Han's and the rest of their strike team, as the Black Sun gunners fell.

    They moved farther into the room and the space behind them was filled with New Republic shock troops in heavy armor. Leia couldn't cover them all, but their heavy armor meant most hits were not fatal.

    "Where's Carias!" Iella shouted over the din.

    "I don't know!" Leia called.

    "Follow your instincts!" the Corellian shouted back.

    Leia nodded and picked a direction. She didn't have any reason to take the hall as it followed the outside of the building, but it felt right. That was good enough for Iella, who tracked after her confidently.

    Her danger sense saved their lives. She grabbed the back of Iella's vest and hauled her back just as the hallway in front of them erupted with grenade explosions—dazzle and conventional. Leia shook her head, trying to clear it, and then Black Sun goons were on them. Still dazed, she lashed out awkwardly with her lightsaber, feeling the tightness of her wrist bracers as she cleaved through the barrel of a nearby blaster rifle.

    Someone struck her from the side and Leia stumbled, falling behind a structural pillar. She hadn't had a sense of danger, so she flinched in surprise, looking back to see Iella Wessiri grapple one of the Black Sun gunners—a large, muscular Gran in worn Constabulary gear.

    Aside from finding her pleasant to talk to, Leia hadn't spent much one on one time with Iella, and she'd never seen her fight.

    In combat, Leia improvised, Winter flowed, and Mara danced.

    Iella brawled. Her rifle lay smashed and sparking at her feet; she went for the blaster pistol on her hip but the Gran smacked it away and it thudded off a transparisteel window out of her reach.

    Leia shook her head back and forth, trying to clear it. Iella's foe swung a blaster rifle towards her, and Leia reached out in the Force and pushed the barrel of the weapon slightly askew. The shot went wild, and Iella stepped in close and broke the Black Sun goon's nose with an upward palm strike. As he rocked back into his remaining comrade, the Corellian plucked a vibroblade off the back of her combat belt, closed the distance and buried it deep into his chest, using his large corpse to screen them both from his compatriot.

    Leia stretched out her hand for Iella's fallen blaster pistol; the weapon leapt off the ground and soared into her palm. She twisted to aim it, her finger closing inside its well-worn trigger guard, and two bolts lanced into the last man's chest.

    Iella checked the corpses, grabbed a nasty-looking rifle off one of them, and then pulled Leia to her feet. Leia spun the pistol in her hand with a casual familiarity that most Republic Councilors did not possess then handed it back to the Corellian, who holstered it with an appreciative chuckle.

    The two women pressed on, weapons readied.

    * * *​

    Carias had no choice but to follow Roeder. He'd been at Roeder's mercy ever since he'd come to him for sanctuary after Kaine's death—Carias felt a pang of guilt at that thought, but only a pang—and Brakiss' inexplicable disappearance. The plan had been for them to meet up after Brakiss and Brinner killed Organa Solo's Jedi brats, but the attack on the twins had gone sideways and the planned reunion and escape had never happened.

    He was furious. He was furious at the Rebellion, for its treason; at Kaine, for his more personal betrayal. At Coruscant, for letting the Rebellion rule it like a docile nerf in a slaughter chute. At Brakiss, for his disappearance, and at Roeder for his idiocy.

    At himself, for getting into this mess.

    How did it come to this?

    They burst into a small room, lined with enormous transparisteel windows. It was a large, open space that looked out onto the glittering skyline, and in the middle of it was a simple airspeeder of mundane make.

    "An escape vehicle?" Carias asked.

    "Yeah," muttered Roeder.

    Through the transparisteel there was a flash and they both turned towards it. The glowing, almost organic form of a Mon Calamari frigate descended towards the planet's surface, repulsorlifts humming to keep it aloft. The frigate put itself between Eyrie Tower and a swarm of gleaming airspeeders, some in Constabulary colors with flashing sirens.

    "At least I have some loyal employees," muttered Roeder, and then the frigate opened fire with its ion cannons. "I should increase death benefits again."

    The airspeeders stubbornly refused to alter their trajectory, and the frigate was in no mood to take chances. When the airspeeders closed to within five kilometers of Eyrie Tower it opened fire; bursts of blue ion lightning and precise quad laser fire spat towards the airspeeders. Chaos filled the sky as the airspeeders fired back before falling like stones or exploding in violent showers of shrapnel as the Coruscant skyline turned into a massive lightfight.

    "The Rebellion will have snubs here any minute," Carias said as he jogged back towards Roeder. "They'll cut off all exits. We need to use the distraction to escape."

    "Let's get the engine running." Roeder turned away, pulling open the door to the airspeeder, then placed his hand down on the controls.

    AUTHORIZED USER RECOGNIZED. WELCOME, DRIVER 1.

    Roeder goosed the airspeeder's repulsorlifts to thrumming life. The vehicle lifted a few inches off the floor as they warmed, the air around it shimmering in response. Carias pulled open the passenger door—

    They'd locked the door behind them, but it wasn't reinforced against lightsabers. The glowing, humming green blade carved easily through the locking mechanism, and then with a hefty shove it flew open. Two figures entered, one with a lightsaber and the other with a larger rifle.

    Kark it. Organa Solo herself!

    She moved surprisingly well for someone who had been near-comatose not that long ago. Dying here might be worth it if only he could take her with him!

    Roeder reached for the airspeeder's controls, but the taller figure fired, and the long beam of a disruptor carved through the unarmored airspeeder window without any effort, sizzling through the pilot's seat, Roeder… and the speeder's control panel.

    The venal Vigo's corpse went slack, fell forward and hit the airspeeder's accelerator. There was an enormous whoosh as the airspeeder's engines flared, then Carias was spinning, his arm and wrist in sudden, excruciating pain as the airspeeder leapt forward before he could finish getting inside.

    There was a rain of shattered transparisteel and a sudden howl of inrushing air. Roeder's corpse and their escape airspeeder burst through the window and out into the sky, out of control.

    Carias hit the ground in agony, clutching his broken wrist and arm. In the sky beyond the airspeeder staggered, smoking and twirling, dipping down towards the distant ground. It made it barely a kilometer before the Mon Calamari frigate casually destroyed it with a single, contemptuous quad laser burst.

    And Colonel Kaday Carias found himself staring at the tip of an emerald lightsaber, gleaming plasma less than three inches from his throat, as his eyes moved to the terrifying, almost insectile mask that gleamed behind it.

    * * *​

    Leia stared at the fallen form of Kaday Carias, her lightsaber pointed directly at his face.

    She remembered his cold smile during their first and only meeting, when she'd still had hope for peace. Before he'd tried to kill her. Before he'd tried to kill her children. Before he had killed Garm Bel Iblis and Mobvekhar and the Palace Security teams.

    She'd always known she was angry at the Empire. Angry for what it had done to the galaxy, angry for all the people it had killed, angry for taking her father and her mother and her home. Angry at it for forcing her apart from her brother, angry at it for torturing Han.

    It was like the lightsaber in her hand wanted to lash out. As if there was a spirit in the back of her mind, urging her to make that easy swing, carve Carias from stem to stern. He would have killed her babies if he'd had the chance—innocents, still learning to speak, all love and curiosity—and he would have taken them from her. Or taken her from them.

    It would be so easy. So easy to extend her arm and twirl her wrists. No force needed at all, just an easy, effortless swing of her lightsaber.

    She stared down at his fallen form, the fear on his face, and wished it was Tarkin at her feet. Wished she'd had this lightsaber on the Death Star, had been able to fight back then as she was able to now. What kind of a galaxy was this that had such people in it?

    She could feel the Force, tempting her. The Dark at the corners of her vision, her raspy breathing through the gas mask she wore…

    Iella Wessiri put her hand on Leia's shoulder. "Good job Councilor," she said, her scavenged disruptor rifle slung and her blaster pistol covering Carias. "I've got him covered."

    Han stumped up behind them, armor battered with recent damage and Force-sense heavy with pain and fatigue. Even if he was not Force sensitive, he was unmistakable to Leia—and his hand replaced Iella's. "Damn it, Leia," he growled frustratedly. "That was too close! I almost lost you once already!"

    Her rage faded, and she could see it for what it was.

    Leia closed her eyes, and the hum of her lightsaber died. "I'm alright," she said to her husband. "What are we going to do with him?"

    Carias stared up at her, eyes redolent with pain, fear and anger. "Just kill me, Councilor. If you ever considered yourself any kind of soldier, then..."

    I'm not a soldier, I'm never a soldier, Leia thought loudly and with feeling. "I am killing you," she said coldly through her breathing mask, "the only way you'll understand."

    She stepped back and nodded to Iella. The Corellian woman lifted and fired her blaster, sending a ringed burst of blue energy into Colonel Carias's chest and leaving the Imperial murderer slack on the permacrete.
     
    Chyntuck and Gabri_Jade like this.
  3. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Chapter 29

    Despite their best efforts, the Holocron remained silent… and the humid warmth of the Yavin jungle grew even more oppressive.

    Luke felt malevolent eyes trace his every step.

    They made their way along the path that the Holocron had set them on with focused haste. None of them was eager to go back to sleep—not after what they had already endured for a few restless hours—and it felt important to move as quickly as they could.

    Which still felt like a crawl through the muck. As night descended once more, a powerful presence draped over them like a thick, choking haze. Something was watching them from the dark corners of the Yavin jungle once more; the eyes of predators stalking them and growing more confident.

    That was not Luke's only concern. Kyp had been distant even before they'd arrived on Yavin, but unlike the others he'd steadily refused to open up about his dream. He followed along, with a distant, sometimes almost vacant expression that left Luke uneasy. Kyp was Luke's first real apprentice, the first true apprentice of the New Jedi Order, and Luke felt he was failing him… even if he had no idea what to say or do about it.

    He thought Kyp should be with them because even though he didn't feel like much of a Jedi compared to the Masters of old, Luke and the others were the only bulwark he knew of with any experience against the Dark Side. If Luke had left Kyp alone with Jacen and Jaina and Leia, who knew what Dark dreams could influence him to do absent training? Even on the trip over, Kyp had come a long way. He hungered to learn.

    Still, the presence of Exar Kun loomed over them, even heavier and more oppressive than it had on Coruscant, or when they had landed, or during the night when he had invaded their dreams. He was out there, plotting… and waiting.

    "How much farther to the temple?" asked Tionne brightly, the only one of them who had kept any cheer alive in these taxing circumstances. The woman was irrepressible, and Luke was grateful. As Luke walked, he idly pondered whether the Force had called them to Vjun for the Holocron, or to rescue Tionne, or both.

    "We'll get there tomorrow," Mara replied. Her voice had a ring of tension and strain, and Luke reached out to her in the Force. Whatever the Darkness that surrounded them, she shone like a beacon in his eyes, and he felt her reach back. For a fleeting moment, they each held the other in their mind's eye, and each took strength from the knowledge that together they were greater than the sum of their parts.

    "And then what?" Kyp interrupted the moment. "We still have no idea how to even fight Exar Kun!"

    "The Force will guide us," Luke said confidently. "It brought us here to face him because we must, and if we listen to it and trust our instincts it will show us the way forward."

    Kyp scoffed, shaking his head and looking away wordlessly. Skepticism radiated off him in waves.

    The boy's reticence had been palpable ever since the night before. "Kyp are you sure you don't want to talk about your dream?" Luke asked.

    "I was back on Kessel," Kyp snarled angrily. "I don't want to talk about it, I don't want to think about it."

    He shared a glance with Kam. "All right," Luke relented, "but if there is anything else—"

    "Uh-oh," came a voice from beside him.

    Luke turned towards Tionne, saw her staring out into the jungle, her expression pinched. "Tionne?" He reached out with the Force, extending his consciousness to sprawl through the nearby foliage, feeling…

    Feeling the absence of all large animal life.

    They were abruptly alone.

    "They're out there," Tionne whispered, clutching at her oversized blaster rifle, her equally oversized double-viol strapped to her back. "Like drunk malcontents at the back of a crowd."

    The Dark descended over the jungle around them. Luke could feel it settle around them, a thick bite of chill taking the heat away. And beyond that chill, dragging the blanket over them, he could feel the same presence he'd been feeling for days. Menace creeping at the back of his mind, lurking in the shadows behind him… stalking him. The same presence that had invaded his dreams the night before and stolen the face of Uncle Owen.

    We have to face him, Luke thought tiredly. Face him and end this.

    But he'd thought—when they came to Yavin—that it would be with the aid of the now non-responsive Holocron. He reached out, pushing against the chill, finding the small sparks of Light hidden beneath it, the warmth, the life. He reached out to Mara, felt her efforts join his, and then Kam's. Tionne stepped beside Kam, sheltering beside his larger body.

    They waited.

    And then, from the Darkness, came the first of their foes. In the Force the creature—Luke hesitated to call it anything else, because while it had once been a Devaronian, it clearly no longer was—felt both sickly and powerful, like a raging illness growing out of control. It was massive—at least a foot taller than even the tallest Devaronian Luke had ever seen, and its bulk put even Kam to shame. Its skin was covered with an almost metallic-looking exoskeleton. Its eyes were black and pupil-less, and it held in its hands a long staff with an axe-head at the end, jagged and ancient.

    "Sithspawn," Mara muttered. She ignited her lightsaber, Anakin Skywalker's blade humming to life in her hand. "That's a lanvarok."

    Kyp's blaster leaped into his hands, and Tionne's heavy blaster came up slowly but smoothly.

    Luke and Kam both ignited their blades, casting blue and green into the orange of Yavin's twilight hour. "Stay behind me, Kyp," Luke ordered, lifting his blade into a defense stance.

    * * *​

    There was more than one of the… creatures. Each one looked like it had come from a different species. The Devaronian led the trio, with what seemed to be a Gamorrean and a Lepi, though it was hard to be sure. Whatever Exar Kun had done to them had transformed them, emphasizing some of their natural features and removing others.

    In the Force, Kam could feel nothing but malevolence. Focused and intent—intelligent—and thoroughly missing anything resembling compassion or empathy. They were ravenous beasts now, armed with dangerous weapons that they clearly knew how to use.

    "Sithspawn," breathed Tionne in sudden understanding. "Literal, karking Sithspawn!"

    And as if that was a signal, the fight began.

    Metallic discs flew at staggering velocities. Luke caught the one aimed at Tionne on his lightsaber and split it in half, and the remains of it whirled into the jungle. A second horror charged towards Mara; she dodged, keeping it at a distance and scorching the Lepin's furry flesh with shots from her blaster pistol.

    The third—the one that had once been a Gamorrean—roared a ferocious, animalistic battle cry and charged at Kam.

    Before it got close, Tionne answered it with a battle howl of her own; guttural, terrifying, and accompanied by a staccato burst of blaster fire. Bursts blasted past and into the Gamorrean, leaving trails of fire as they grazed Yavin's thick vegetation.

    To Kam's astonishment, the Gamorrean shrugged off the repeated blaster hits with aplomb. The creature had substantial wounds—if Kam had been hit three times with a repeater, he'd be dead for sure—but the slavering creature merely roared a second battle cry and put its head down as it charged.

    The creature whirled its lanvarok at him, and Kam just barely managed to deflect the whirring disc with a glance of his lightsaber. Only the Force saved him from a second disc, which rocketed out from behind the tree line at his side. He dodged that one, reaching out in the Force to guide its trajectory away, and saw a second Gamorrean become visible, the creature's eyes unblinkingly locked on Kam as it emerged from the trees, then it too charged..

    Still more of the horrors emerged, bringing their number up to six or seven—Kam was having trouble getting a solid count, dodging the flurry of discs and swipes. The two Gamorreans were pressing down on him now, and all he could tell about the third horror was its original species had lekku.

    Beating an upbeat aria about Nomi Sunrider, Tionne came in at his flank. She pumped three blaster shots into the Twi'lek's stomach, then she slammed the white-hot barrel of her blaster into one of the Gamorreans like a club. The beast screamed in pain, swiping at her, and Kam lashed out and removed the offending limb.

    His lightsaber twirled. The horrors were dangerous, they were big and they were strong… but they weren't impervious to the lightsaber's plasma blade.

    Tionne fired another blaster shot.

    "You know you have a lightsaber, right?" Mara yelled at her.

    "Honestly," Tionne shouted back, lashing out with the gun's barrel again, "in a fight I just default to whatever's heaviest and makes the loudest noise!"

    Kam killed the first Gamorrean with a simple lightsaber slash. The remaining Gamorrean was on fire, and then Luke Skywalker was there, his green lightsaber flashing decisively, dismembering Kam's opponents with two quick, precise cuts. "Kam, where's Kyp?"

    It took a second for the words to process. When they did, Kam turned and looked in every direction. He didn't see Kyp anywhere, so he reached out to the Force. "I don't know," he said, alarm growing. "I don't see him; I don't feel him."

    There were fresh howls of battle-rage from the jungle, and new foes trundled forward. There were more of them this time. Unlike the first bunch, which had been armed with the ancient lanvaroks, this group was armed erratically. Some carried blasters, others bore cruel looking vibroweapons.

    "I have to go find Kyp," Luke yelled.

    Kam nodded, holding his lightsaber higher. Tionne was at his side, and she was already slapping a fresh gas cartridge into her blaster like a pro, letting the weapon cool so she could shoot again.

    Luke stared at the Force-horrors, offered Kam an apologetic nod, then sprinted into the jungle.

    Mara appeared at Kam's other side, and they lifted their blue lightsabers up in matching defensive stances. "Ready?" Mara asked grimly.

    "Let's kick this up-tempo!" Tionne answered, sending out a burst of blaster fire. In response, the Force-horrors bounded forward towards them, ravening with rage.

    * * *​

    Kyp stumbled through the jungle. He didn't know where he was, he didn't know where he was going… and yet, he felt guided inevitably forward, as if there were a harness wrapped around him latched to a tether. A gentle one. Encouraging. Paternal.

    There was a voice with him, smuggled into the back of his skull. This way, the voice whispered, and Kyp heard in the voice not just guidance but promise. This way, the voice promised, come and I will give you everything you want. The Empire will fall before you, broken and powerless, and all will be made safe once again.

    Your family will live.

    Your friends will live.

    The galaxy will be at peace, safe from the ravages of the Empire's war.

    Everything you want, you can have. You can take it for yourself. All you have to do is listen to me, do what is necessary and you can become all you were meant to be. A true Jedi.

    The jungle was thick, but it parted effortlessly for his passing. Wrinkled trees opened, revealing tunnels and smooth pathways through vegetation. Predators refused to pounce, even though he has only his blaster for protection. The ground seemed to guide his step, as if he was following a well-trodden trail. His pace and anticipation grew.

    Can you feel it? the voice asked. All the potential of the moment? The paths opening before you, the power in the Force you could have? Feel all the life that surrounds you, and the vigor that life gives the Force? All that could be yours.

    Kyp saw Star Destroyers crumple in his mind, their metal hulls smashed inwards. He saw Imperial bases scorched and blistered, TIE fighters falling helpless from the sky like raindrops. He saw stormtroopers, row after row after row of stormtroopers, blotted away by a massive fist, slapping down and leaving smashed armor. He saw Imperial officers feeling small and impotent, helpless against the power of the Force.

    Yes, the voice encouraged. Yes, all that is possible, if it is desired by a true Jedi. Imagine it—the Empire broken to your will. Unable to harm anyone ever again. Unable to take parents from their children, or children from their parents. Peace will reign forevermore.

    The jungle caressed him, leaves brushing past him, wet with moisture. Feel, the voice encouraged, and Kyp did. He felt the life in those trees, gleaming bright with power. It guided him almost lovingly, the Force embracing him as Kyp had not been certain it ever would. He felt cold and hot, the air around him shivering with power.

    The same power that had saved Han Solo's life at the garden on Coruscant. The same power that had saved Jaina's, and Winter's, and Chewbacca's and Jacen's.

    He needed it.

    He emerged from the jungle all at once and stumbled to a halt, nearly falling into a pool of still water. Beyond the expanse of water, an easy swim away, was a temple. It gleamed black as the night, glittering with corusca gems that were embedded in the stone, flickering with some inner light. But the structure itself was almost irrelevant, because Kyp could see how it was inscribed with the Force, glowing a glorious crimson in his vision.

    Is not your home protected against unwelcome intruders? the voice chuckled softly in the back of his mind. It seemed to flow within his skull, words and presence growing bolder. This way, Jedi.

    Kyp knew where to go. The Force told him.

    There was a long line of steppingstones, barely visible in the water, and Kyp carefully put his feet upon them, then skipped across them. They were slippery, but he found that the Force would keep his feet from sliding from the stones, and he made the journey across more quickly than he would have expected, practically gliding. His feet were soaked by the time he was across, his pants dripping with warm water.

    The temple was even more incredible up close. Its walls were covered in hieroglyphics and other symbols that he did not understand, but he could feel in them the same sense of power that surrounded the rest of the structure. That power was almost oppressive in its weight, pressing down on Kyp and yet also welcoming him. The air went cold with a sudden chill that shivered down his spine. Following the sense of presence, he circled the temple and found the entrance.

    Come inside, the voice invited him.

    Kyp pushed the door open.

    The hieroglyphs were just as common inside the structure as they had been outside, or perhaps even more so. There was only one large open space within, with a series of unlit torches in a large circle around the exterior of the space. "What is this place?" he asked, and it occurred to him only after he'd spoken that he had no idea if the voice would hear him.

    The voice did hear him.

    The place of my greatest power, the voice murmured, though there was something in the voice that suggested its owner was not content with that fact. It carried old resentments, old hatreds, and Kyp instinctively knew that even if the statement were true—and this was the place of the voice's greatest power—that it was also not a place the voice liked very much.

    You are wise for one so young, the voice murmured approvingly.

    The light from the door to the outside offered dim illumination, and Kam's eyes focused as he adjusted. There were statues lurking in the shadows, clustered in a smaller circle, their positions patterning the torches. It was an odd place, and the dark reminded him unpleasantly of Kessel. You'll help me defeat the Empire? he asked nervously. That presence was lurking in the Dark, now outside his skull as well as within it, as if one with the very air that Kyp breathed.

    I will, the voice promised. But I do not think you will need very much help. You have all the potential of a true Jedi. All you need to do is use what you have already been given.

    Alarm bells went off in the back of Kyp's mind. The true predators of Kessel—the people, not the spice spiders—had known how to use honeyed speech to lure a would-be co-conspirator. Nothing came free. And what is it you will want in return? he asked.

    Nothing you have not already given me, my young Jedi, the voice promised. All that you dream of doing will benefit me as well.

    The orange twilight from the exterior was suddenly overpowered by a swell of green, which arrived just as the hum of the lightsaber that projected it did. Kyp turned around and faced Luke Skywalker.

    "Kyp, it's not safe in here," Luke said, his lightsaber swaying from side to side as he gazed into the shadows. "Can't you feel that presence? Come away, quickly!"

    * * *​

    Luke could feel Exar Kun. The sickly film of oily presence that had shadowed him on Coruscant, and ever since his arrival here on Yavin 4, was neither sickly nor a film in this place. It was Dark and powerful, almost tangible, as if the act of swinging his lightsaber would have to cut through more than just air before striking any target.

    He waved at Kyp again, wanting to get out of this place, desperately wishing that Master Vodo or Sunrider could emerge from the holocron to offer him guidance. But he did not have the holocron—it was in Tionne's possession—and even if he did have it, it had not recovered from Exar Kun's last attack.

    And Exar Kun seemed even more powerful here.

    He could almost hear the Sith spirit whispering in the Dark, but it was just meaningless whispers. The myriad of hieroglyphs was likewise gibberish, but somehow Luke knew, he knew, that the whispers and the hieroglyphs spoke with the same tongue.

    He feared that he was not the only one to hear the voice, because Kyp had not moved. The boy stood, stunned, closer to the center of the room. He stared back at Luke, clearly aware of Luke's presence but either unable or unwilling to respond to it.

    Luke stood a slow step forward into the Dark. "Kyp, listen to me. That voice you're hearing is Exar Kun. It's Exar Kun, Kyp. I promised Han that I'd look after you, and that's just what I'm going to do, but right now I need you to walk towards me, this place isn't safe…"

    The shadows seemed to grow in intensity, pushing back the green glow from his lightsaber and turning it a sickly yellow. They swirled around Kyp, making his brown hair grow even darker, changing brown eyes fade to a blackish-gray.

    Luke took another step forward. His grip on the Force was still strong—the moon was strong in the living Force—but there was something that made him feel vaguely nauseous. The shadows swirled closer, clinging to his lightsaber. Luke focused, concentrating on Kyp, but he was having trouble seeing clearly…

    "Come here, Luke," said a familiar voice. Startled, Luke turned his head, not wanting to look away from Kyp, and found himself staring into the eyes of Owen Lars.

    "Come here," Owen encouraged. He patted Luke's shoulder as the speeder came to rest in the homestead garage. "See? I told you we'd get home without any problems," Owen said, popping the speed canopy and pushing it up.

    "Kyp!" Luke insisted, his voice dry and raspy. He could still see Owen beside him, but Owen couldn't be there, Owen had been dead for—

    "I bet Beru already has breakfast ready for us," Owen continued as he helped Luke out of the speeder. Luke's feet touched down on the ground, but there was something unsteady about his footfall and he stumbled forward. Owen caught him with both arms, laughing. "Careful, Luke! You never know what you might find on the floor of the garage, we should really turn the lights on!"

    The green of Luke's lightsaber flickered as the shadows suffocated it, and now Luke couldn't even see Kyp, not without its light, and even the light from the sky behind him was gone.

    Owen wrapped his arms around Luke and hugged him tight. "Don't worry. It'll be alright. You're here at home, and there's nothing to be afraid of." The hug grew tighter and tighter, and Owen's eyes were gray. With sudden alarm Luke started to struggle, but he was just a boy and Owen was a full-grown man, and the unsteady footing that had caused Luke to tumble turned to sand. He could feel the sand crawling up his legs, already knee-deep, and Owen's arms gripped him tighter and tighter.

    Luke gasped for breath. "Kyp… need to… get to Kyp…"

    "No, you don't," Owen reassured him, his smile turning sinister. "I've already got him."

    Luke couldn't breathe, his tiny hands groping against Owen's impossibly strong arms, but he was sinking, and the sand was at his neck and it was rising, and then it was above his lips, above his nose, above his head, and Luke was falling, he was falling and he kept falling, kept falling and falling…

    "Kyp… need to… get to Kyp…" Luke gasped as his lightsaber clattered from his hand. Kyp watched in horrified astonishment as Luke fell to his knees, struggling against an invisible foe. Kyp could see the shadowy presence surrounding the Jedi Knight, astonishingly strong.

    Luke gasped for breath. His knees went out from under him in an instant, blue eyes suddenly blank, and he collapsed to the floor and was still.

    "Luke!" Kyp gasped, taking two steps forward, he hadn't wanted this, the Empire was his enemy, whatever mistakes Luke had made he was still a hero… but even as he tried to move towards Luke, Kyp found that he could come no closer to the fallen Jedi.

    He is not dead, the voice—Exar Kun—promised him. Merely sleeping. He is misguided, and he would seek to stop us. When we are done he will wake.

    "But…"

    If you wish to destroy the Empire, the voice said, much more harshly, you must come with me. This is your chance to be a true Jedi. Make your choice.

    Kyp didn't remember making a choice, exactly, but his legs started to move, slowly at first and then faster, as Exar Kun guided him through the jungle.

    * * *​

    Even as she engaged fully in combat, with the Force horror bounding after her, Mara Jade still spared a moment to worry about Luke, to ground herself in their love. The Emperor's Hand would have thought her weak, but Mara scoffed at the callow idiot she had been.

    The creature was massive. Lepi did not usually grow to two meters in height, but this one comfortably exceeded that height, and it was fast. The lanvarok the… creature… wielded was out of poisoned projectiles—all it carried had been embedded into trees or lost in jungle undergrowth—but it was still dangerous.

    The Lepi leapt, launching himself at her; Mara dodged behind a tree and got an up-close view of the creature's weapon as it sliced deep into bark. Fancy footwork was impossible here, there were too many dangers upon the ground under her feet, too many treacherous stones or roots, but distance and measure still mattered.

    With an undulating bellow, the Lepi lodged the axe-like head of the weapon in the tree she hid behind a second time, sending splinters in every direction. Mara twisted her wrists, her lightsaber carving through both the tree and the lanvarok alike. The Lepi was left with nothing more than a stick, and it was not happy.

    Its fangs flashed, drool and mindless rage the only sign that the creature had even noticed what had happened to his weapon. Clawed fingers lashed at her and she spun away, her arm extending as she twirled. The sky-blue blade carved through the Lepi's arm and hand, sending the hand one way while the arm went the other.

    The creature barely seemed to notice as it lashed out at her with its other hand, and Mara calmly parried the strike with her saber, depriving the Lepi Force horror of its second hand. The beast lunged, fanged teeth lurching towards her, and Mara cut the beast in half. It fell dead at her feet—she shot it twice in the back just to be sure—and then she leapt away.

    Tionne was sticking with her blaster, a massive T-21 light repeater on a single-operator sling. The slight woman handled the weapon well despite its heft, showing a deceptive strength and an iron determination. A chain of green bursts chewed into another one of the Force horrors—that one had once been a Weequay, Mara was pretty sure—and the horror was able to sustain a string of hits before it collapsed, still crawling in Tionne's direction.

    Mara finished it off with her blaster as she made her way past it to Tionne. "Where's Kam?" she called, waving her lightsaber as she watched for more foes.

    "He led three of them into the jungle!" Tionne called back, slapping a fresh cartridge into her repeater. "There are still more of them out there!"

    "I know," Mara muttered. She could feel them, lurking behind the tree line. They were hard to sense—they seemed to blend with the deepening sense of Dark that swelled all around them—but she'd seen at least eight and had only killed four of the creatures.

    "Where did they come from?" Tionne asked, still catching her breath.

    "As you said, sithspawn in the most literal sense." Mara closed her eyes, reaching out through the Force, looking for Kam, Kyp, and Luke. She found Luke first—even in the Dark that surrounded them, Luke was easy to find, gleaming brightly. She found Kam seconds later—Kam felt the brush of her mind against his, and she could feel his returning touch. "Kam is fine," Mara reported to Tionne. "He's still working on the third of those three horrors." She reached out to Luke again, but he was focused and distracted and the Darkness around him was growing… there was something… someone… with him…

    Her eyes went wide. "Oh kriff," she gasped. "Come on!"

    She sprinted through the forest, trusting the Force to guide her steps. Tionne followed after her, stumbling more slowly but doing a remarkable job of keeping up as Mara carved through the jungle with her lightsaber, dodging past larger trees as she raked through the forest towards Luke.

    He was in trouble. She could feel him struggling, feel him fading, and panic and terror clawed at her throat. No, that couldn't happen, she wouldn't let it!

    They burst into a sudden, unexpected clearing. There was a small lake, its water eerily still, and in the middle was an island with a Sith temple, gleaming obsidian with glittering points of light embedded in the structure.

    Standing just inside the entrance, surrounded by shadows, was Luke Skywalker. In horror, Mara watched as the green lightsaber fell from Luke's hand, blade sputtering out, and then he fell to his knees.

    Mara charged across the lake in a few bounding steps, her footfalls instinctively finding the stepping stones hidden just under its surface.

    The storm-blue lightsaber nearly cut her in half as she landed. At the last second her landing turned into a low roll and the blade swept above her instead of through her chest.

    She popped back up to her feet, spinning around. The weapon's wielder was young, barely older than Kyp, with hair and eyes as blonde and blue as Luke's. His smile was nothing like Luke's though, all menace and hatred, and Mara could feel the Darkness clinging to him, just as she could feel it radiating off his lightsaber.

    She didn't recognize him, and he didn't introduce himself. He merely held his lightsaber out in front of him, the blade extending parallel to the ground, and double-tapped the weapon's hilt. A second blade extended from the weapon in the other direction, revealing the double-bladed lightsaber.

    Mara didn't care.

    She could feel Luke slipping away from her. The presence that was her Farmboy, who had for months always been there, with her in her mind. The comforting reminder of companionship and camaraderie, of love and affection, grew dimmer with each passing second.

    This man who stood between her and Luke could be armed with a thousand lightsabers. She needed to get to Luke and he was in her way.

    Without a word, she attacked.
     
    Chyntuck and Gabri_Jade like this.
  4. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Chapter Thirty

    Mara pounced. She slashed forward, turning an overhand strike into a pointed thrust that jabbed at the blonde man's chest. Rather than deflect it with his lightsaber he sprang backwards in alarm. Mara wasn't about to let him regain his footing; she leapt after him, her lightsaber grazing against the stone of the Sith temple before clashing against one of his double-blades.

    He responded with a lightning attack with the second blade, forcing Mara to retreat, but that lasted only a moment. She bounced on the balls of her feet, dodged to her left and then attacked from his side. Their blades clashed together in a series of almost synchronous clashes, sky-blue blade jolting with each brush against the storm-blue of the double-bladed lightsaber.

    A corner of Mara's mind wondered where he'd found the thing. But most of her focus was on the fight.

    And on Luke.

    She could feel him slipping farther and farther away from her, as if he'd been submerged under a thick liquid, opaque and inky. The bond they shared—the connections that Mara knew intertwined their lives with a deep, comfortable intimacy that Mara could never have, would never want to have, with anyone else—were coming unspooled. The threads were fraying at the edges, and fear and panic clutched at her chest.

    This boy, this… Inquisitor, if that's what he was… he ought not be any match for her. She had decades of training and was in her physical prime. She sparred weekly, sometimes even daily, with the galaxy's foremost expert in lightsaber dueling. And she could feel her opponent's uncertainty with the weapon, see the unfamiliarity in his stance, in the way he shifted his weight, and all it would take was a single strike and then she could go help Luke—

    But he parried her again and again. He seemed almost as surprised by his successes as she was, but as he succeeded he grew more confident, more comfortable, and Mara grew only more desperate.

    * * *​

    Brakiss could feel Exar Kun's hand on his. Feel the way it guided his grip on the double-length lightsaber hilt. Feel the way Exar Kun responded to his opponent's attacks, anticipating and parrying, occasionally lashing out with a quick thrust to put her off balance.

    He could feel her growing fear and desperation, and he reveled in it. This was one of Luke Skywalker's new order! A Jedi! And she could not pass him, could not go to her teacher—

    (Her lover, Exar Kun whispered the correction, the Sith's tone one of smug satisfaction that Brakiss well understood)

    —to his aid as Exar Kun strangled him.

    Brakiss didn't need his Master's help. Not for this. Let Exar Kun deal with Skywalker, he was going to deal with this one and he was going to enjoy every second of it. He lashed out with a series of swipes, left then right then left again, using both ends of his double-bladed lightsaber to try to maim his opponent, wanting to draw out the moment, draw out her fear and desperation—

    He turned and blocked barely in time. Kam Solusar's lightsaber slammed into him from the side, sending him sliding back. "Go!" Kam yelled to Mara, and then Brakiss was under siege.

    Fear transformed from his weapon to his foe faster than Brakiss could blink. Solusar's blade was just as blue as Mara's, but Kam was a more solid opponent and suddenly size and strength mattered. Brakiss tried to use the flexibility of his weapon, reaching out in the Force to beg Exar Kun to help him once more, to guide his hand, and he could feel the Sith spirit starting to retake control with a sense of chastisement at Brakiss' impetuosity.

    Kam smashed the length of his single-bladed lightsaber into Brakiss' weapon. Brakiss felt the vibrations to his core and he ducked, instincts telling him to lift and block, and Kam Solusar's weapon sliced between Brakiss' hands and split Exar Kun's lightsaber in half.

    Brakiss rolled back frantically, finding himself not with a single weapon but with two weapons, one in each hand, and no idea how to fight in that style!

    There was a sense of annoyance, more than anything else, and Brakiss' hands started to move once more without his accord. His motions became fluid—other than the moments Exar Kun tried to use muscles that Brakiss had never trained for this kind of combat—and it was like Brakiss became an outside observer, confined within his own body, as Exar Kun and Kam Solusar fought through him.

    Two lightsabers clashed against one, and while Brakiss did not control his arms he could feel them tiring. He could feel Exar Kun's strain and concentration, the difficulty of waging the battle against Solusar while the ghost also fought whatever other battles he had to fight.

    "Kam, get back!" called the voice of the last member of the Jedi party—the one who carried an instrument, whose name Brakiss still did not know.

    Kam leaped backwards, putting distance between them. They both turned towards the new voice, expecting blaster fire—

    A bolt of red energy rocketed down from the sky. Even as Exar Kun deflected it away Brakiss could feel the heat and blister of a proximity burn. Water vapor exploded in every direction as the laser burst struck the lake. Brakiss felt his head turning to look up, could feel his eyes focusing, and up in the sky was an X-wing.

    The musician's repeating blaster was swinging towards him, and Kam had his lightsaber held in a high two-handed grip, looking for an opportunity to lunge forward.

    Brakiss was surrounded.

    Almost surrounded, Exar Kun corrected. The ground rumbled and their stolen freighter—with the few remaining members of the Glow Spiders aboard—rose out of its hiding place. The jungle seemed to retract to allow it to rise, then grow back to permanently any trace of its landing place. The hammering thrum of repulsorlifts grew louder, making the ground tremble.

    Exar Kun spun, deflecting away a pair of blaster bolts from the musician's repeating blaster, then turned back as Kam lunged towards him… and leapt into the air as the freighter soared overhead. The long docking ramp was open and welcoming, and Brakiss felt his feet and body cushioned by the Force as he made the impossible leap.

    Brakiss' hand hit the ramp control and it started to rise. Exar Kun's control fled as quickly as it had come, leaving the Apprentice Inquisitor in command of his own body again, and he grinned and tossed the big man a mocking salute right before the ramp sealed.

    * * *​

    Mara could feel the menace within the Sith temple. It was everywhere, impenetrable, and she grabbed Luke with both arms and hauled him bodily back out of it. She collapsed outside—his limp weight was hard to manage, and she was more tired than she had thought. She tried to reach out to the Force for strength, but either the Darkness of the place or the fear in her heart made that kind of concentration difficult. She placed her hand on Luke's cheek, closing her eyes, forgetting the Force to give herself strength, seeing the bond they'd forged, through enmity and companionship, through hatred and compassion.

    He didn't respond. He didn't respond at all.

    She put her head on his chest, checking his heartbeat. It was slow but steady—more akin to sleep than any kind of combat wound. His breathing was likewise slow and steady, but his eyes were still beneath his eyelids.

    "Is he alright?" asked Tionne, because the others were with her now. Luke's X-wing was still hovering nearby, and while Mara could not feel him in the Force, she could still see in her mind's eye Artoo-Detoo's trepidation, hear his nervous warble.

    "I don't know," she said, shocked at how steady her voice was given the turmoil in her heart. "He's not dead, but he's not responding to me. Not even—" her voice finally broke, just for a moment "—not even in the Force," she finished stubbornly. "Where's Kyp?" she asked belatedly, looking around.

    "He was on the freighter," Kam said, sounding exhausted. "He was flying it."

    Mara heard his unspoken addition. He betrayed us.

    Tionne was holding their comlink. "Artoo says that someone sabotaged the Tempered Mettle. A lightsaber slash through a coolant line. He says it's not safe to fly. They used the repulsorlifts to elevate the ship enough for Artoo to get the X-wing out to help."

    Mara nodded dully. Under other circumstances, the news that someone had taken a lightsaber to her ship would have provoked a lot more than a nod, but she had Luke Skywalker's limp body in her lap and that was all that mattered. She stroked her thumb over his pallid cheek, hoping the touch would bring him back to life.

    "Artoo," Kam asked through the comlink, "can you trace the freighter's hyperspace trajectory?"

    There was a whistle.

    "Artoo says the freighter's trajectory could indicate several different destinations, but the most likely destination is the Carida system," Tionne translated.

    Kam gave her a surprised look. "You speak binary?"

    Tionne shrugged. "Doesn't everyone?"

    "Carida," Mara said thoughtfully, looking up at Kam.

    Kam knelt next to her heavily. "Kyp is going after the Empire. That's where they took his brother, years ago."

    Mara nodded, still resting her hand on Luke's cheek. He was normally so vivacious and expressive… seeing him like this… but she fought past her despair and tore her gaze away from Luke and back to Kam. "Yes," she said, refusing to let her voice crack. "That must be what Exar Kun promised him—revenge against the Empire." She shook her head. "I have no idea what they're going to do with one freighter and a lightsaber, but after what we've already seen Exar Kun is capable of, and… that man we fought was dressed like an Inquisitor…"

    She was babbling and Kam cut her off gently. "Mara." Kam's voice was soft and sympathetic, but also firm. "One of us has to go after him in the X-wing."

    A denial hung unspoken on her lips, and stayed there. "I know," she admitted instead. "And it has to be me, doesn't it."

    Kam nodded. "I've never flown an X-wing, and I don't think Tionne has either. And if he's going into Imperial space, of the three of us you're the one with the best chance of doing some good." He hesitated for a moment, then added, "and of us, you're the better duelist. If one of us must fight that Inquisitor again, it should be you."

    She found Luke's hand and squeezed it. He didn't squeeze back. He wasn't there to tell her, but he didn't need to be. She knew exactly what he would say.

    "You'll protect him?" she asked, hating hearing that tone of voice coming from her own lips, and hating even more that she wouldn't be the one taking care of him herself.

    "With my life," Kam promised.

    She squeezed Luke's hand one more time, ghosted a kiss over his temple, and then handed him off to Kam and Tionne. "Artoo, come down and get me," she ordered. "We're going hunting."

    * * *​

    Kyp Durron managed the controls of Exar Kun's freighter. They weren't all that different from the controls aboard the Millennium Falcon, and Han and Chewie had spent hours with him, making sure he knew how to fly. There were also a handful of aliens—survivors of some Coruscant street gang, he had learned—who manipulated the controls. Each was subdued and distant, and in the Force they were dimmer than they should be.

    He wasn't sure what that meant.

    Even a true Jedi cannot achieve his goals alone, Exar Kun murmured gently. And for one such as I, that is even more true. No matter what I intend, reduced as I am, I can only guide and teach—I do not have the ability to command or control. They choose to dedicate themselves to my cause.

    What is your cause? Kyp asked warily.

    Is that not obvious? I am a teacher. Mine is the ancient knowledge of the true Jedi, knowledge that even the Jedi who ruled before Palpatine had forgotten. I was awakened in this, the era of the Jedi's greatest need, to aid in the creation of the new Jedi order.

    There was a phantom touch on Kyp's shoulder, one that sent a frisson of fear down his spine.

    Luke Skywalker was to be my first student, but the Empire foresaw what would come and corrupted him before I could teach him what he needed to know.

    Kyp trembled, in sorrow and in anger. The Empire's reach was long. He'd seen what it did to even the best and truest of anti-Empire pacifists. They came to Kessel and, if they did not die, they would become just as bad as the guards—collaborators and abusers, desperate. All the Empire touched had to be destroyed, the roots of evil burned, the ground salted to ensure that no fresh evil could grow.

    Yes, Exar Kun murmured. And I am taking you to the heart of that evil. We travel to Carida.

    Carida.

    Carida, where the Empire trained cadets and crew to man its ships.

    Carida, where the Empire turned out stormtroopers by the thousand, to murder dissent.

    Carida, where the Empire stole innocent children and transformed them into both.

    A sudden swell of hope grew in Kyp's chest.

    That's right, Exar Kun encouraged. You may not be able to kill the Empire outright, but we can hurt it. Hurt it so badly that it can never be a threat again. Hurt it so that it cannot you your family, not ever again.

    "Please," Kyp whispered. "Please, we have to stop them."

    I told you, a true Jedi does what he wishes. We do not have to stop them. If you want to stop them, you will have to do it yourself. The phantom hand on his shoulder squeezed, offering reassurance. But you can do it. I can see into your heart, and I see a hardened soul. You have the ability and the will.

    Kyp started to ask another question, but his attention was drawn to the door that led from the freighter's cockpit back into the interior hull. The doors slid open and in stepped a young man, blonde and blue-eyed, and holding twin cylindrical objects, one in each hand.

    Ah, Brakiss, Exar Kun whispered.

    Kyp's gaze met Brakiss, and knew immediately that unlike the others, this man could also hear Exar Kun's voice.

    "Master," Brakiss said deferentially, watching Kyp with clear suspicion. "Are we on the way to Carida?"

    Yes, my Apprentice. We are going to Carida. There we will have the victory you seek, Exar Kun confirmed.

    Kyp felt himself relax. An ally…

    Give me your hands, Exar Kun whispered. Kyp frowned, wondering just how he should do that, or even what exactly the ghost meant, but as Brakiss held out his hands, turning them so they were palms up, with one half of an extended lightsaber hilt in each hand, Kyp realized the instruction was not for him.

    This was my Jedi weapon, Exar Kun whispered. Brakiss flicked his thumb and with a snap-hiss the plasma blade extended, a shimmering, crackling wine dark blue. Exar Kun turned it over, allowing Kyp to see the weapon, to feel the sense of power that simply being near the weapon produced. With it I fought many battles. It will need some repair to function properly as two weapons, but… the blade vanished, and Brakiss deposited the lightsaber hilt in Kyp's hand.

    The jolt of power shocked Kyp into silence. Holding the weapon was nothing like holding Luke or Kam's lightsabers. Even as he gripped it, clinging to it like he was afraid it might go bouncing out of his hand and be lost, Kyp felt as if the weapon drew him in. For a moment he was submerged in its presence, and he could feel Exar Kun so vividly in the Force that it was as if the long-dead Master stood beside him.

    Brakiss' gaze flashed with resentment as Kyp took the blade.

    I will teach you what you need to know, Exar Kun promised. Now, let us go to Carida and take the first step towards fulfilling all that we each aspire to. There is a Star Destroyer we must seize. With it in hand our chains will be forever broken.

    * * *​

    Artoo-Detoo watched warily as Mara moved Master Luke's seat up and accustomed herself to the X-wing's controls. He knew that she had only infrequently flown the T-65, but he also knew that she had extensive experience flying a Z-95 and the controls were the same. The small differences didn't bother her as she ran a quick system check.

    "All systems green," she reported. "Do we have the hyperspace calculations for our pursuit?"

    Artoo whistled in response. HYPERSPACE CALCULATIONS COMPLETE. DESTINATION CARIDA LOCKED IN.

    "Good," Mara muttered. She wiped her eyes, then placed her hands on the controls. The X-wing lifted off the ground, repulsorlifts thrumming. Kam and Tionne looked up, and Artoo sent Tionne and Slips both short goodbyes, and then turned his attention to Mara.

    He was worried about her. He didn't like leaving Master Luke on Yavin, not in his condition, but Master Luke had an uncanny ability—unmatched by any other organic that Artoo had known, and he had known plenty of other candidates—to get himself both into and out of trouble. Of course, Artoo himself was often the one to get his Master out of trouble, but the kind of trouble the Force wrought was not Artoo's specialty.

    Besides, Luke had asked him to protect Mara. Artoo was pretty sure that order had been specifically intended for their adventure on Vjun, but Luke had still asked, and no one had specifically told Artoo that he should stop looking after Mara.

    She didn't speak as the X-wing rose through the clouds of Yavin 4, entering orbit. There was nothing unnecessary in Mara's flying—like the woman herself, it was thoroughly practical, restricted to usages of fuel that were required, and nothing more.

    His scanners told that her physical subroutines were operating under the conditions of stress. Her breaths came just a bit too short, her heartbeat just a bit too quick, and she wiped her hand across her face again.

    He tootled at her in a manner he'd learned humans found reassuring. She glanced back at him briefly but didn't say anything.

    The distance to Yavin's hyper limit dropped. They had more distance to travel than they would leaving most planets—the gas giant's larger gravity meant a larger hyperspace exclusion zone—which gave Artoo the chance to watch as Yavin 4 shrank behind them. The green and white marble that was Yavin 4, spotted with blue, receded as he and Mara raced away from it.

    Something about Mara's expression changed, Artoo noted. The physiological symptoms of grief that his scanners had noticed faded. Her breathing steadied and, to Artoo's astonishment, she smiled.

    It was a sad smile. But a smile, nonetheless.

    The expression settled something deep in Artoo's circuits. He had seen other Jedi torn by stress and grief and had seen the horror that could unfold in their wake. But that was not what he saw on Mara's face.

    The distance to the hyper limit reached zero and Artoo watched as Mara pushed the hyperspace lever down without hesitation.

    * * *​

    This is how it feels to be Mara Jade, right now.

    Your life was a lie. Raised from childhood by evil insidiously disguised, you became its tool. You murdered in the service of evil, for the sake of evil. And every minute, you felt that you were not only doing good, but doing necessary good.

    There are days you hate yourself. Long nights you stay awake, thinking about the lives you took, wondering how much good those snuffed out lives would have done. Which ones would have led worlds against Palpatine's evil? Which ones would have been champions, leaders of technology and industry, advocates for civil rights and stalwart foes of corruption? Which ones would have been your friends had Palpatine never taken you from your parents and twisted you into the Emperor's Hand?

    Those nights are rarer now than they used to be. You serve a greater purpose than yourself again. You are doing actual good in the galaxy now. Talon Karrde has a heart, a conscience. He was the first to prove to you—to prove to you—that you could both have power and seek to do good.

    You could be greater than even that. You could be a Jedi. You could dedicate yourself to the galactic good, to the Force that binds all life in the galaxy together. But how can you be a Jedi if you do not truly trust yourself? How can you be a Jedi when, in your heart, you still fear that your freedom is a lie? That your new life, the good you do, is a lie? How can you accept in your hands responsibility for the good of all when you still sometimes lay awake wondering how could I have been so blind?

    You have a lover who sometimes convinces you that you could. When Luke's arms twine around you, his breath warm on the back of your neck, his mind just as warm in its touch against yours, with his unfettered, implacable confidence in you, you start to believe that you could. Maybe. You hope secretly to be persuaded someday, that his love and hope will be enough to not only make you happy—because in those moments, you are ecstatically, indescribably happy, the kind of happiness you never thought you could ever have and still think you do not deserve—but also to persuade you that despite your proven failure of judgment, your naivete that put even Luke's nearly-delusional optimism to shame, that you can be a Jedi someday.

    But he isn't here. This X-wing is his: you can feel his presence surrounding you, his scent in this cockpit, his droid watching you nervously as you make the run for hyperspace. They are all lies. He is on the planet you just departed, unresponsive, perhaps even dead. The signs of his presence in this cockpit are lies, because you can't feel his mind against yours. You search and you search and you search and he's not there, and you have to fight back a wave of tears and despair because without him, without his arms and mind, his hope and dreams, you can feel your happiness cracking, fracturing through you, breaking your soul once more in two.

    Because you love him.

    It is not the first time you have admitted it, in the quiet privacy of your own mind. But it is the first time the admission lingers, the first time you stop and look at it. He is proof, proof more concrete than your allegiance to Talon Karrde, that you can both have power and seek to do good. You love Luke Skywalker because he is good. You love his ridiculous optimism, you love the way he smiles, you love his confidence, you love his self-doubt, you love his unmatched ability to rise to any occasion.

    You can feel your heart shattering as you leave him behind. You are unsure if you'll ever smile again.

    A path without Luke Skywalker spirals out before you, and it is a long and lonely one.

    It would be so easy to turn back. To race back to the man you love, to hold his body and beg him to return to you. To reach out in the Force and try to call him back from the purgatory he has been sucked into. To give in to resentment at a galaxy which has already taken so much from you—taken your parents, your innocence, your trust, your service. To give in to hate, that the galaxy could be so cruel as to give some of those back, to give you the utter joy of the love you share, the kind of love that you never realized you wanted, and then reduce your world back to ashes.

    And yet…

    You don't turn back.

    You put your hand on the hyperspace lever, feeling where his hand usually grips the worn controls, and push it down decisively. The universe bursts into a whirl of light and you leave Luke Skywalker behind.

    Because you love him.

    Because this is what he would hope you would do.

    Because, deep in your heart, you still cannot stand the idea of not doing the necessary good.

    Because there is no way you will dishonor his legacy. If he is to die, you will not allow the meaning of his death to be your failure.

    In that moment, you realize something else, too. This was your final test.

    The realization does not make you happy. But perhaps it is enough. It, and the fact that though his mind is silent, you can still feel him with you.

    And so, you cling to something Luke taught you.

    You hope.
     
    Chyntuck and Gabri_Jade like this.
  5. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Chapter 31

    Brakiss' new 'apprentice' barely spoke. With so many of the Glow Spiders dead, those who remained were even quieter and more reserved than Kyp, refusing to even look in Brakiss' direction—the ship needed as many capable hands crewing it as possible. Kyp, conveniently, had received some training in the operation of spaceships, and he had taken a seat on the bridge and spent almost all of his time there, manipulating the controls or staring out through the bridge window at the spinning stars of hyperspace.

    When Kyp did speak, it was consistently monosyllable.

    Master? Brakiss thought to the spirit of Exar Kun.

    Exar Kun's voice was slower in responding than it had been on Yavin, as if being off-world once again put strain on his ability to speak and commune. Yes, my Apprentice?

    Are you sure he is worthy of being my Apprentice?

    There was a rumble of dark, amused laughter in the back of Brakiss' mind. He is powerful in the Force, and his anger has deep veins. He will make a powerful Sith.

    Brakiss didn't like that answer. He didn't like that Exar Kun had recruited a second, and he didn't trust the way Kyp refused to so much as meet his eyes. Even furtively. I do not trust him.

    Trust is irrelevant, Exar Kun chastised. You have the Force. You dominate, you control, you have power and you exercise it as you will. A Sith does not need trust. A Sith has fear.

    Brakiss wasn't sure that Kyp had any conscious awareness of his presence, much less feared him. Kyp was distant, somewhere far away in his own mind. He does not fear me, Brakiss complained.

    And whose fault is that?

    His back stiffened, hearing the challenge for what it was.

    * * *​

    The bridge of the Star Destroyer Chimaera was a quiet place, humming as officers monitored ongoing repair efforts. The ship had returned to orbit Carida—it had been placed near the bottom of the repair list, as other Star Destroyers underwent serious repair operations in the extensive fleet construction facilities—but as a gesture of respect for Admiral Pellaeon, Chimaera had been returned to the location it had possessed while Pellaeon had served as the academy's finishing instructor. Below them, the busy, sprawling academy campus could look up into the sky and see the dagger shape of Chimaera, for all the cadets to aspire to.

    But, thought Lieutenant Phelik Mytov, they do not see the same pristine white dagger that I saw for my years at the academy.

    No, Chimaera was bruised and burned, scarred from the battle at Chazwa. The students did not look up and see pristine white, but imperfections and wounds, signs of weakness, signs of defeat.

    Because they had been defeated. Again.

    Mytov maintained a close watch over Chimaera's systems, waiting for the signal to come. He had been on edge for days, full of gritty anticipation, keeping his hands from trembling and keeping his face utterly professional. When the signal finally came, he could feel his heart almost stop from the shock of it—even if there was no surprise—and then restart, beating even faster.

    INQUISITOR IN-SYSTEM. INBOUND TO CHIMAERA.

    The Inquisitor was arriving aboard a nondescript freighter, one that could have been found in any one of a thousand systems. Mytov carefully sent the quiet confirmation and then put the proper codes into the system, clearing a docking space for the freighter in Chimaera's hangar.

    Then he sent his carefully worded response.

    AWAITING ARRIVAL. PREPARATIONS UNDERWAY.

    Mytov glanced around him, but none of his fellow officers were paying him any attention. And why should they? He'd been the model cadet, and now he was the model officer. After all, anything the Starfleet could do, ISB could do better. Mytov had been a member of COMPNOR's Sub-Adult Group growing up on Coruscant, before the Rebellion's treachery had stolen his homeworld, and he knew what winning this war would take.

    Above him, Admiral Pellaeon was talking quietly with Commander Dreyf, both of them reviewing intelligence reports.

    He meant well, Mytov thought. Pellaeon truly believed he was doing what was best for the Empire. But there was no longer any room for incompetence, no longer room for anything less than total belief in the New Order. Pellaeon was the last holdover from the old guard, an Old Republican in loyalties and sentiments. It was time to turn the page.

    He frowned as his system beeped at him again.

    There was another vessel arriving in-system, in the wake of the Inquisitor's transport. And, he thought with growing bafflement, it was a far more conspicuous vessel. An X-wing? What is a lone X-wing doing coming to Carida?

    His system beeped. He looked down, pressing the buttons to bring up the incoming message. To his surprise he found it was triple encrypted, and using an ISB encryption no less—one that had only been sent out to all their outposts a few months before, and was still in active service. He glanced around, then withdrew his datapad—the one with ISB programming—and transferred the message for decryption.

    EPSILON-BETA-BETA-NINE-NINE-SEVEN ARRIVING.

    He frowned in surprise. That was an ISB identifier! He queried his ISB-provided datapad and his eyes widened in surprise. A Colonel? Catriona Lavalle—and she was a highly decorated veteran! A senior ISB operative! The higher-ups must have recalled her to ensure that the change of command aboard Chimaera would proceed without issue!

    No one had said she was coming, so it must have been a last second change. He carefully sent the confirmation code, then cleared the X-wing for landing, a grin spreading across his young face. A Colonel! No doubt she took the X-wing from a dead rebel!

    This day was looking better all the time.

    * * *​

    Mara made sure she knew what her quarry's destination was, mused briefly on the irony that it was Chimaera, then held her breath as she sent her message. Every ship in-system had turned its attention to her as one, sensors lashing out at her and Artoo as they flew into the heart of the most heavily defended system in the Empire. If they decided she was a threat…

    But the codes that Artoo had stolen from the ISB facility on Vjun worked as intended, and the attention faded.

    Artoo whistled to announce the arrival of a return message on the ISB frequency. It appeared on her HUD.

    AWAITING ARRIVAL. PREPARATIONS UNDERWAY.

    Mara arched an eyebrow. Had they been expecting someone? That would be convenient and might explain why the ships were not challenging her. The arrival of an X-wing ought to be a serious concern for Carida, given the prevalence of New Republic recon flights keeping an eye on the system's defenses, but after her message the Star Destroyers seemingly decided she wasn't a threat.

    She had been hoping for that but hadn't really known if it would work.

    She goosed the X-wing's throttle, moving speedily towards the looming shape of Chimaera through the dense cloud of TIEs and Star Destroyers surrounding her and Artoo. Above them, Reaper cast a long shadow.

    "What are we doing, Artoo?" she asked, her voice awed. This was insanity. Even if they did manage to catch up with Kyp and stopped him and Exar Kun from doing whatever it was that Exar Kun wanted to do, there wasn't going to be any way to get back out again. She and Artoo would surely become Imperial prisoners, and that wasn't going to save Kyp!

    Artoo whistled mournfully.

    Mara's eyes narrowed as she followed Kyp, keeping her own presence as small as possible, hoping to avoid Exar Kun's notice. Despite the insanity of it all, she wasn't hesitating, and wasn't considering changing course. Exar Kun had to be stopped, whatever it was he intended, and the only one who might have a chance to stop him was her.

    And if there was any chance at all to save Kyp, she had to try.

    Artoo's answer to her question rolled across the bottom of her screen.

    PROTECTING PEOPLE.

    Mara sighed softly. Of course the droid would sound like Luke. She wondered if Luke had rubbed off on Artoo, or if Farmboy had gotten a touch of his own mischief from the old astrodroid. "Point," she muttered.

    * * *​

    Kyp turned his half of Exar Kun's lightsaber in his hand, then turned it again. The handle gleamed, jagged and sharp at the end from where Kam had cut it in half, threatening to slide into Kyp's skin as it turned. He kept turning it, watching the light gleam off the semi-reflective material.

    He could feel the Empire all around him. There was a rigorous procedure to the Empire, a sense of malice aforethought. There were Star Destroyers spaced evenly in every direction, and he took satisfaction from the fact that so many of them were damaged. Bel Iblis had been right, he thought bitterly—the New Republic had indeed given the Imps the thrashing they deserved.

    But the war wasn't over. It would take someone like him to end the war.

    Can you feel all the power this Empire possesses? The silky voice of Exar Kun whispered in the back of his mind, tendrils settling into possessive place. The Emperor did not just rule them. The Emperor made them his, and his they are still. Even after his death they have not been freed because they do not wish to be. They crave a new Emperor to fill the void. Either they will be ruled, or they will be destroyed.

    Then I will destroy them, Kyp thought back fiercely.

    Exar Kun had no face to watch, but Kyp could feel the ghost's emotions. That is your choice. As I said, to be a true Jedi is to take the galaxy and impose your will. The Emperor imposed his, and now to undo it someone else must impose theirs in his place.

    The ancient spirit left his next sentence unspoken, but Kyp realized his message all the same. If Luke will not impose his own order, then it will have to be someone else. Kam and Mara cannot be trusted. Leia is not strong enough in the Force—not yet.

    That was a shame, because ideally Leia would have been Kyp's choice. But with all those candidates eliminated, that left only one choice. Only one person could be trusted.

    Himself.

    They were at the perfect place for it, too. Fate had delivered him to Carida—the world to which his brother had long ago been kidnapped. The world that was the cradle of the Empire, where young men were taken and turned into Imperial killers. Fate had delivered him to Carida and provided everything he needed to crush the cradle.

    The Empire would probably kill him in the process, but that was all right. Han would be safe.

    There was just one thing he needed, one thing he had to remember, one tool he had to have. He closed his eyes, thinking back… thinking back to Kessel and his escape from that horrible place, and to Linuri and the assault on the Imperial base he had witnessed. Thinking back to Mara Jade frantically putting codes into Imperial-built computers to override and hijack their systems and turn them to her own ends.

    Focus, Exar Kun encouraged. Reach out to the Force. Bring the memories into your mind's eye and immerse yourself in them. Watch her hand move… watch the display. Let the Force fill in the pieces you do not have.

    He closed his eyes, his hand moving in an imitation of Mara's frantic gestures. He let the fingers fall over the console in front of him, experimentally moving his fingers. He felt Exar Kun guiding him to the Force, and he felt the Force respond, guiding his fingertips. He tapped the number pad, the pattern becoming clearer, and again and again he repeated it until it felt right, and then he did it again, and again, until the pattern happened as naturally as breathing.

    The freighter jolted and he looked up in surprise. He blinked as he saw the massive Star Destroyer hangar bay looming before him as the freighter was drawn into the hangar slowly; inside groups of Imperial pilots, stormtroopers, and techs went about performing their duties to an abomination.

    He tapped the code into the computer again, confirming that he was right. The computer didn't respond to the code at all, but the Force… the Force whispered that he was right.

    And with that, he had everything he needed. Chimaera herself would be his weapon.

    Good, Exar Kun praised him. You are a natural. And now it is time for your final test.

    Kyp frowned. My final test?

    There were footsteps behind him, and in the Force he could feel the presence of Brakiss.

    Kyp still was not quite sure what to make of the slightly older man. Exar Kun had told him that Brakiss was his agent, someone who executed his will, but beyond that had left him a mystery. Deliberately, Kyp thought sourly, the way the machinations of men like Fliry Vorru—when he'd still been a prisoner on Kessel—had always been obvious manipulations, but it wasn't clear what the end of the manipulation was.

    "We have arrived," Brakiss announced confidently, dressed in his same, nondescript but vaguely military outfit. "Our mission is to assert the dominance of the Imperial Inquisitorius and seize control of this ship in the name of the Grand Inquisitor. The Empire commands—"

    The words turned to haze. This man was an Inquisitor? An agent of the Empire?

    Oh yes, Exar Kun whispered, the amusement thick in his voice. Did he forget to mention that? And not only an Inquisitor. He was the one who tried to kill you and your family.

    The memory of that horrible afternoon resolved in Kyp's memory. He could see the three ISB men standing in the thicket of bodies, Mobvekhar's corpse still on the ground at the feet of the leader. Their weapons swung towards Han and Winter, Kyp saw Han fall wounded beside him. Kyp saw himself rise up, reach out to the Force and twist it to be what he wanted, what he needed it to be, and their bodies erupted with impacts before they fell—

    And in the background, at the corner of his vision, he saw Brakiss huddled beside a hedge.

    Do you know what he wanted? Exar Kun taunted him. I can show you. Watch as he reaches for his weapon and prepares to attack!

    Both the Brakiss in memory and the Brakiss in the moment reached for their weapons. In memory, Brakiss' hand slid to a blaster, preparing to raise it with the intent of shooting Kyp down. In the moment, Brakiss' hand slid to rest on the hilt of his half of Exar Kun's lightsaber, his expression growing confused as he saw the look in Kyp's eyes.

    He would have killed your family. He would have killed Han and Jaina, Winter and Jacen. He would have killed you all, because he is of the Empire, and that is what the Empire does.

    If you do not stop them, he will come for them. You know he will. You can see it in his eyes.

    You will stop him. You must!

    The anger that lit in Kyp's belly was a powerful fire. He thought of baby Jaina sobbing against his chest. He thought of Leia in that bacta tank, of Han pacing despondently beside it. Of Mobvekhar catching Jacen when he fell, and how no one was there to catch the Noghri when he fell himself. Of Garm's kindness and acceptance.

    With a cry he ignited his half of Exar Kun's lightsaber. Brakiss stumbled backwards in shocked surprise, igniting his own. The weapon fed the fire in Kyp's belly, adding fuel. Rage burned through his veins, giving him strength, giving him power, and he fell upon Brakiss with a fury.

    * * *​

    Brakiss deflected the first blow, but he wasn't prepared for the intensity of Kyp's rage—an Inquisitor he might be, but he had less experience with the weapon than Kyp did. Kyp had at least performed training exercises with Kam and Luke, and he wielded the lightsaber with the confidence of a novice assailing a neophyte.

    The storm-blue blades clashed, and in the back of the minds of both men was the cackling of Exar Kun.

    Brakiss stretched out to his master in the Force, searching for guidance, for Exar Kun to guide his hand, but Exar Kun did not help him.

    Exar Kun did not help him, and Brakiss was but an Apprentice Inquisitor.

    Kyp slammed his weapon into Brakiss, knocking him back and staggering him. With a swell of Force power Kyp sent a burst of telekinesis forward, knocking Brakiss off his footing for a second time. The Apprentice Inquisitor's arms flailed as he fell backwards, and Kyp Durron buried his lightsaber in Brakiss' gut.

    The weapon burned on either side of the Apprentice Inquisitor's body, for Kyp had run him through. Gasping, mouth opened in shock, Brakiss fell limply backwards, sliding onto the deck, his mouth working uselessly as he stared up at Kyp's enraged face. Pain warped into numbness as he clutched at the hole in his stomach.

    He stared up into Kyp's dark eyes, and he could see Exar Kun in them.

    The boy reached down and gripped the amulet that hung around Brakiss' neck and tore it free.

    Oh, my Apprentice, Exar Kun whispered sympathetically into the back of his mind. Sympathetic, but utterly without apology. Let this be my final lesson to you: in the end, we are all alone. Trust no one. Rely on no one. Betrayal is the way of the galaxy, and it is the way of the Sith.

    And with that Exar Kun's voice and presence slid back out of Brakiss' mind, leaving him empty and so, so cold.

    Kyp was in a daze as he walked down the ramp into Chimaera's docking bay, clad in ill-filling Imperial raiment. A means to your end, Exar Kun assured him.

    There was a line of stormtroopers waiting for him. They saluted and stood at attention. He stared at them, momentarily confused; felt Exar Kun's prompting and gave his voice over to the ancient Force spirit.

    "Is everything prepared?" Exar Kun asked with Kyp's voice. The Sith offered reassurance, whispering in Kyp's mind. We need them to take the ship. They are merely a means to your end.

    "Welcome aboard, Inquisitor Brakiss!" the senior stormtrooper greeted them. "We have ISB assets in key positions aboard the ship, and a Colonel should be arriving in a few minutes. The operation is scheduled to begin immediately. We should make our way to the bridge at once."

    "Of course," Exar Kun said, and Kyp felt his lips shift into a smirk. "Lead the way."

    * * *​

    Lieutenant Cienis Deleste carefully re-allocated resources. As a consequence of the catastrophic New Republic offensive there was a long list of damaged vessels, and an even longer list of TIE pilot casualties. He carefully re-assigned fighters to new squadrons, breaking up fragmented flight groups and creating full units out of the survivors of Chazwa, Berchest, and Joiol. It was difficult… especially when he came across one particular name on the list.

    CAPTAIN HACERY NALLE, 212TH FLIGHT GROUP. AWARDED IMPERIAL MEDAL OF VALOR FOR BRAVERY AND PERFORMANCE. PROMOTION POSTHUMOUS.

    Deleste had to stop.

    He'd competed with Hack at the Academy, but it had always been a one-sided competition. Hack had never held himself up as a candidate to graduate first in their class, he'd always seemed cheerfully impervious to the speculation. He just got up every morning, hopped into a piloting simulator, and put up numbers that were impossible for anyone else to reach. Comparisons to Baron Soontir Fel had made Hack laugh and shake his head self-consciously. Had Deleste lost first overall to anyone else, he would have taken it personally—as genial as Mytov was, there was always more of an edge to their competition. Deleste had wanted to beat Mytov. He'd been happy for Hack.

    One battle. One singular battle. Hack had performed with incredible skill—once the battle was over it was difficult to track exactly how well he'd performed, but there was no doubt that he came out with more than the five kills necessary to become an ace—but in the end, he'd been one of the many pilots lost when the New Republic's reinforcements had swarmed over the 212th. Six squadrons of fighters had engaged the enemy, and five pilots had returned.

    Deleste wondered if Colonel Welko felt guilt over his abandonment of those men to their fate. Reaper could have been there with twelve additional squadrons of reinforcement TIEs, and dozens more on her escorts. The battle could have been won!

    The longer he thought about it, the more certain he became that Welko and the ISB had staked Hack and the Old Man out there to die on purpose.

    At the far end of the bridge walk there was a hiss of multiple lifts opening at once, followed by the click of a dozen boots against deck plating. Deleste and the officers around him all looked up at the sound, then at one another in confusion and wary uncertainty.

    A line of stormtroopers carrying E-11s took up flank positions on either side of the walk. Between them was Colonel Welko. He looked to either side, nodded at the troopers, and then they all started forward. Behind them, the lifts hissed again, and a second group of stormtroopers emerged, and then a third. White armor bordered the walk above the crew pits.

    Lieutenant Cienis Deleste did two things: He surreptitiously flicked off the safety of his holstered blaster, and he tied his personal comlink into Reaper's computer and began recording.

    "Admiral Deshorn!" boomed Welko once he reached the midpoint between the back of the bridge and its forward windows. At the far end, in front of those windows, Deshorn straightened from where he'd been conferring with a group of his officers. Unlike most everyone else on Reaper's bridge, Deshorn's expression was calm and unsurprised.

    "Colonel Welko. You were ordered to stay off my bridge," Deshorn said levelly, keeping his voice calm. The bridge had gone utterly silent, other than the clicking and beeping of consoles and computers, or the soft rolling of mouse droids, but even the mouse droids came to a halt as Welko's boots stopped.

    Welko just smiled, a small, lethal smile that did not reach his eyes. He lifted a datapad from his pocket and read from it, each word a pronouncement. "Mister Deshorn. It is my distinct pleasure to announce that you are hereby charged with cowardice, incompetence, and treason against the Empire."

    Deleste's heart stopped. A gasping ripple went through Reaper's bridge crew, with officers glancing at one another, soft whispers stopping when the stormtroopers above brandished their rifles. The crew pits went very, very still.

    Deshorn just watched Welko calmly, his arms folded behind his back, his expression stiffly still.

    "The Imperial Security Bureau is charged with investigating all accusations of treason. We find you guilty as charged, and we retroactively accept your resignation."

    "A short investigation," Deshorn commented lightly, but his expression contorted into a disdainful sneer.

    "No investigation is needed," Welko replied, his words accusing. "The evidence of your treason is obvious from the most basic facts. The Imperial Starfleet has lost battle after battle. Its leaders are either traitors or incompetents, and both crimes are punishable by death."

    Deleste covertly slid his hand towards his control panel. It was just a simple switch to access Starfighter Command's communication network… and then it was done. An indicator on his console lit up green; Deleste covered it with his hand.

    "You're coming for all of us, then. Every Admiral, every Captain. Losing a battle is treason, and treason is death."

    "We are the Empire!" Welko thundered. "We do not lose battles if we are not betrayed!"

    "You are a fool!" Deshorn shot back. "The Empire cannot win battles when outnumbered three to one!"

    "The Rebels were outnumbered ten to one at Endor! If you cannot win the battles you are given," Welko snarled, "we will find someone who can."

    Deshorn laughed contemptuously. "Who? You?"

    Welko's sidearm blurred into his hand and the ISB man shot the Admiral in the chest.

    Deleste wasn't sure who fired the second shot, but he saw who fired the third. As the Admiral fell, his jacket smoking from a cratered wound, Deshorn's aide smoothly unholstered his sidearm and shot the stormtrooper next to him; the white-armored figure toppled over the rail and into the crew pit. The stormtroopers started firing into the pits, and the officers in them started firing back.

    "It's a coup!" Deleste gasped, scrabbling with his com. One of the stormtroopers above him pointed an E-11 in his direction but Deleste, once a stormtrooper candidate himself, drew down and shot him first. His sidearm left a neat, blackened hole in the trooper's helmet. "Admiral Deshorn has been shot, ISB is seizing the flagship!"

    * * *​

    The running footsteps brought Pellaeon up with a frown. Running on Chimaera's bridge? Nothing was that important. His frown deepened as he saw Lieutenant Tschel charging across Chimaera's bridge walk at something close to a sprint, holding a datapad in one hand and a comlink in the other.

    "Admiral!" Tschel gasped, coming to a halt. "You have to hear this!"

    "Lieutenant Tschel—"

    "Please, sir!" Tschel interrupted him, and if this wasn't the most important thing in the galaxy, Pellaeon swore…

    With a glower Pellaeon engaged the comm. He started to announce himself, but the rush of activity on the other end stopped him before he could. "—cannot win the battles you are given," said a contemptuous voice that Pellaeon did not recognize, "we will find someone who can."

    There was a short laugh. "Who? You?"

    There was the report of a blaster, and then the other end of the link went mad. Blasters erupted and were echoed by the sounds of men struck by their fire. Horrified, Pellaeon stared at the comlink as what had been a conversation erupted into a full-on lightfight. One that did not end quickly, either!

    "It's a coup!" gasped a new voice, and Pellaeon froze as he recognized the voice of Cienis Deleste. "Admiral Deshorn has been shot, ISB is seizing the flagship!"

    Pellaeon snatched his comlink and engaged his personal link to Deleste. "Lieutenant, this is Admiral Pellaeon! Are you there!?"

    * * *​

    The battle on the bridge was short. In the crew pits, with little cover, Reaper's bridge crew were easy targets for the ISB stormtroopers—and not all of them were fighting back. Many just ducked behind their consoles, cowering, not sure who the enemy was as the troopers cut them down or took them into custody.

    Deleste felt the sudden burning of a blaster graze across his shoulder. He stumbled into his console and hit the deck and then a stormtrooper was on top of him. The armored hand grabbed the scruff of his collar and slammed him face-first into his console. His blaster spun from his hand. The stormtrooper hit him again and the bridge went dizzy.

    "Lieutenant!" Deleste's comlink demanded, Pellaeon's voice sounding distorted—or maybe that was his head, Deleste thought dazedly.

    The stormtrooper threw Deleste in his service chair. He felt his bloodied nose, the telltale tenderness of a bad break. He'd have to get a bacta patch for that—

    He heard the arrival of new boots and looked up. He stared down the barrel of an E-11 held by a stormtrooper, and into the eyes of Colonel Welko standing beside him.

    "Lieutenant Deleste, this is Admiral Pellaeon! What is your status?!" his link demanded again, Pellaeon's voice sounding more like it ought to as the dizziness faded to something less than a full body spin.

    Welko jabbed him in the stomach. "You opened a communications link to Chimaera!"

    Deleste felt a calm descend over him. The same calm that had been on Deshorn's face for the entire confrontation, he thought dimly.

    "Lieutenant Deleste!"

    Welko grabbed his comlink. "Admiral Pellaeon, this is Colonel Welko. By order of the Council of Moffs, and with the authority of the Imperial Security Bureau, you are hereby placed under arrest. An ISB team will be arriving any moment if it has not already. You will turn yourself and your ship over to them."

    There was a long pause. "On what charge?" Pellaeon's voice was a dark, dangerous calm.

    "Incompetence, cowardice, and treason," Welko sneered into the comlink.

    There was another long silence. Welko glowered at Deleste as if he were Pellaeon himself. Deleste stared back, blank-faced.

    "And the rest of the fleet?"

    "The Empire has no use for incompetence or cowardice!"

    Deleste's voice seemed to come from outside himself; it was only after he heard it he even realized he'd spoken. "And did ISB decide that Grand Moff Kaine was an incompetent? Sir?" he asked, his voice almost preternaturally calm.

    "Grand Moff Kaine died a hero to the Empire." Welko's voice had gone dangerous and soft, and Deleste saw his hand move to the blaster at his hip—the same blaster which had fired the killing shot into Admiral Deshorn's chest.

    "Grand Moff Kaine died because you killed him," Deleste said matter-of-factly. "And I didn't open up our comms with Chimaera. I opened our comms with the fleet. Sir."

    Welko stared at him then down at the green light on Deleste's operations panel. "I told you to secure the ship's comms!" he snarled at the stormtrooper next to him.

    "I did, sir! We have three men at the communications station!"

    "Starfighter Command has its own comm net," Deleste explained dully, feeling his broken nose. He grimaced as he felt the blood soak into his uniform.

    "We're getting communications requests from the fleet," said one of the stormtroopers at the comms station. "Sir?"

    Welko had a trampled expression on his face. "All ships! By order of the Council of Moffs, the Imperial Security Bureau is overseeing the reorganization of the Imperial Starfleet. Admirals Deshorn and Pellaeon are under arrest for treason against the Empire!"

    * * *​

    "All ships, this is Admiral Pellaeon," Pellaeon retorted, Tschel and his bridge crew staring at him with wide eyes. "The Imperial Security Bureau's orders are illegal and illegitimate. I am attempting to contact the Council of Moffs for clarification and instructions—"

    Chimaera rocked and its entire crew turned to stare as one. A Katana dreadnaught in neighboring orbit had fired on them!

    "Shields!" Pellaeon barked, and then the dreadnaught fired again.

    "Return fire, sir?"

    "Hold fire!" Pellaeon called. "Hold fire, we have to avoid—"

    "—This is Captain Axum, commanding Gonfalon! There has been an attempted seizure of my ship by the Imperial Security—"

    "—ISB agents on the bridge!—"

    "—any failure to obey ISB instructions will be considered proof of treason!"

    And then the shooting began in earnest.

    * * *​

    Deleste stared through Reaper's bridge windows. Some ships had already confirmed loyalty to ISB and were moving to engage Chimaera; other ships were loyal to the Starfleet and the Old Man and were moving to intercept. At first ion cannons had been the primary weapons fired, but he could see more and more green flashes of lethal blasts.

    There was a rustle of metal against fabric, and he turned to stare down the barrel of Welko's sidearm. "You did this!" spat Welko.

    "I did?" he laughed, incredulous. "Look in the mirror. Sir."

    The last thing Cienis Deleste saw was Colonel Welko's eyes flaring with anger before the ISB man pulled the trigger.

    * * *​

    Utter catastrophe unfolded before Gilad Pellaeon. The Carida system had come completely apart. Two of the Oversector's Enforcer-class cruisers were turned to vapor and debris under the intensity of Reaper's turbolaser fire—what fire wasn't being pumped into Chimaera. His Star Destroyer trembled, his crew fighting with their controls. They weren't thinking about what this meant, they didn't have time for that. They were too busy thinking about surviving.

    Lieutenant Tschel frantically relayed orders that Pellaeon barely heard, despite the fact that he was the one giving them.

    It was a nightmare. It was a nightmare.

    The fleet had divided up, with roughly a third of the ships and stations siding with Pellaeon and his loyalists. On the far side of Reaper, Kaine's Enforcers had rallied to him in overwhelming numbers, and led by a couple of battered Victory-class ships they were fighting their way through a gauntlet of Impstars that had sided with Colonel Welko and ISB. Nearer to Chimaera, the Star Destroyer Gonfalon was exchanging sheets of turbolaser fire with the hostile Judicator and Tyrannic. Pellaeon wanted to weep at the sight, because Judicator was one of Thrawn's personal ships. One of the squadron that had been together for the whole campaign. One of the ships that had fought alongside Pellaeon at Bilbringi and Ukio and even Chazwa.

    Now she was firing on him.

    Reaper's sluggishness at the beginning of the engagement was fading fast. The massive ship, twin to Executor, lashed out in an anguished rage, her turbolasers shredding armor plating as they drilled deep into Chimaera. Chimaera shook under Pellaeon's feet.

    "Hold fast!" Pellaeon snarled, his own fury swamping his sorrow as his ship bucked in agony. The traitors! He grabbed the comm station from Tschel, muscling the Lieutenant out of the way. "This is Admiral Pellaeon!" he grated, fury and determination in his voice. He would not turn the Empire over to ISB, nor to the Inquisitorius. He would not. The words came from him without thought, instinct guiding him. He could feel the shade of Thrawn standing at his left shoulder and the presence of Rogriss at his right, and he didn't bother to push back his anguish. They all felt it, especially the ones who were loyal. All the men and the Empire he so loved—they all felt the same pain he did. "I will, in duty bound, honestly and faithfully defend the citizens of the Empire!" Pellaeon's voice was a hammer striking an anvil, each syllable a beat echoed by the splatter of turbolaser fire against Chimaera's hull. "And the Emperor, his heirs and successors, in person and dignity against all enemies, from within and without—" he snarled those words, ISB's own addition to the oath, the hypocrites! "—until I am dead or rendered unfit to serve!"

    Not every ship had made up its mind, he saw. There were still at least a half-dozen Star Destroyers, and many smaller ships that had yet to open fire. One of the Golan stations seemed to be firing indiscriminately at everyone, and each of the platforms was engaged now, and space was awash with the light of Imperial turbolasers, giving Carida's orbit a sickly, green glare that would set the sky of the world below fully alight.

    "This is Captain Nidal of Exigent!" an infuriated voice resounded over the comms. Exigent, among those which had not yet joined the fray, surged forward, her heavy guns blazing away into Reaper's engines. The image of Captain Nidal appeared on Pellaeon's flatscreen; his right arm clutched his left and smears of blood marred his forehead and neck. "You corrupt ISB traitors are going to have to send better stooges if you want my ship! Until I am dead or rendered unfit to serve!"

    Slowly, over a matter of minutes that felt like an eternity, virtually every ship in Carida's space was engulfed in battle. Dreadnaughts descended on Star Destroyers, ion cannons and turbolasers venting their fury—and from what Pellaeon could see with his own eyes, he had no idea whose side any of them were on. These were Imperials killing Imperials, the Starfleet engulfed in a fit of paroxysm and fratricide, and it was all ISB's fault. Those power hungry, sadistic, arrogant bastards!

    As confusing as the battle was for the capital ships, the Empire's TIE formations were even more chaotic. Squadrons divided amongst themselves, with some siding with ISB while others sided with Pellaeon's loyalists. It was as if Pellaeon was watching a swarm of self-immolating fire gnats as TIEs opened up on one another.

    "Status change!" There was something about Tschel's voice that broke through the haze of battle and Pellaeon turned towards him. The lieutenant was staring at his plot, his cheeks pale with sudden, incredulous horror. "Sir. Oh no, sir," Tschel breathed.

    Pellaeon moved to see the plot himself.

    He had been in combat since he was a teenager. He'd joined the Old Republic's military and fought the Separatists at a dozen catastrophic battles, barely escaping with his life after having his ship shot out from him on no fewer than three different occasions. Then he had served through the entire Galactic Civil War, had been at Endor and oversaw the catastrophe that had followed the destruction of the Executor. He'd stood at Thrawn's side at Bilbringi and had been responsible for saving the fleet after Thrawn's assassination, with his dead mentor's unlit eyes staring at him the entire time.

    He had never once lost his composure in battle.

    It was a near thing this time.

    On the combat plot was a new ship. Nineteen kilometers long and in flawless alignment above the squabbling Imperial formations, an Executor-class Super Star Destroyer came out of hyperspace like an avenging Vratixan blood eagle, roaring towards the battling Imperials with deadly intent. Frigates, Star Destroyers and Star Cruisers trailed like fledglings in her wake. And like a blood eagle's feathers, Lusankya's twin Starbird seals gleamed with scarlet promise.

    * * *​

    Fifth Fleet snapped out of hyperspace with their engines blazing at flank speed. Lusankya's spearhead led the way as starfighters poured into space, zipping from every hangar, tiny engines illuminating ahead and to every side as they filled the volume of space between the bigger ships.

    Wedge watched the combat plot with a face of stone. He and Sena shared a quick, wordless nod. He turned back, folding his hands behind him as he looked out into the sea of fratricidal green turbolaser fire and the ships trapped in Carida's gravity well. His bridge crew waited, staring at him, as he stared out at a never-better opportunity to deliver a hammerblow to the enemy.

    He waited, expecting the sorrow that panged him before battles to come. It did not. "Comms, break HoloNet silence on my authorization and inform Home Fleet that the battle is joined. Signal Mirage Formation and tell them to make for our position at their best speed. My compliments to Commodore Tabanne for their recon work." He turned and nodded at Captain Kre'fey, who had bared his own fangs. "Captain, target every gun and tube on Reaper and open fire when we're in range."

    "At once, sir," Kre'fey acknowledged.

    "Comms," Wedge said, feeling nothing but a cold satisfaction, "give me fleetwide."

    He didn't even have to glance over for an acknowledging nod from Needa. A three-ping countdown blipped through his headset.

    He watched the distance fall, then took a breath, steadying himself. "General Antilles to the fleet. Maintain formation, watch your intervals, and move to engage." Wedge didn't need to be a Force user to feel the outraged intent of the hundreds of thousands of people under his command. "You have your orders. Destroy them all."
     
    Chyntuck and Gabri_Jade like this.
  6. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Chapter 32

    Admiral Gilad Pellaeon stared through Chimaera's bridge windows, unable to believe what he was seeing.

    Lusankya had the range on Reaper and was displaying the full majesty of her firepower. Four thousand light and heavy turbolaser batteries illuminated Carida like a second sun, and every one of those batteries was focused on Reaper. Space glowed green as Reaper slowly lumbered around to return fire, but Reaper was slow and clumsy and her return fire was pitiful compared to the barrage that Lusankya was delivering.

    A decade of personnel shortages through the Imperial fleet meant that Reaper was operating with closer to its minimum crew than a full crew compliment—and that was before ISB had murdered most of her bridge crew.

    Pellaeon couldn't afford to think about Lieutenant Deleste right now, but it was hard not to. Cienis Deleste had been the future of the Imperial fleet, its Grand Admiral-in-waiting. He was dead because the Imperial Security Bureau had more cruelty than sense.

    Pellaeon forced Deleste out of his mind. There were still loyal Imperial officers, loyal to the Empire, to the stability it offered, to the peace it had brought after the Separatists had torn the galaxy apart, and it was his job to save their lives.

    It was also his job to protect the Carida system from the New Republic, and he was at a loss at how to do both. On the combat plot, the New Republic's fleet was a mass of red, the largest number of enemy vessels that Pellaeon had seen in one place since Endor—maybe even larger than Endor. Ships that Dreyf had tagged as loyal were in green, and ships which were fighting for ISB were in blue.

    The blue was growing and green was shrinking. Red was nearly as big as both of them put together.

    "Loyal ships!" he ordered, examining the combat plot. "Star Destroyers shift to staggered box formation, with Chimaera in the alpha location! All TIEs shift to anti-torpedo, anti-fighter duty, screen the formation from enemy proton torpedoes! Smaller ships move to screening locations, with the Enforcers in point positions!" He turned to Tschel. "Get me Reaper, we have to stop fighting each other if we have a chance to defeat the Republic!"

    The communications system cut in before Tschel could make the link. "All ships, this is Colonel Welko," said the voice of the man who killed Cee Deleste. "All commanding officers who have fired on loyal Imperial vessels are hereby placed under arrest. I call upon their crews to arrest their captains and rally to fight the invading Rebels. Any hesitation to do so will be considered treason and is punishable by death."

    Pellaeon straightened his back, tugging his uniform down to straighten it. He calmly took the com from Tschel, who was watching him with a wary, uncertain expression, and then walked into the center of Chimaera's bridge. "This is Admiral Pellaeon," he announced, both to his crew and to the fleet. "My ships and crew remain loyal to the Empire. We will defend Carida with our lives. Throwing our leadership into further chaos will only serve to diminish our combat ability—"

    There was the sound of footsteps. On the far end of the bridge he saw a pair of stormtroopers, led by a man in a poorly-tailored black outfit… with a lightsaber at his belt.

    "Admiral Pellaeon . . . be . . . under arrest!" Welko insisted, but the communications link grew staticky and choppy as the comm jamming and chaos of combat grew increasingly intense. Beyond the stormtroopers marching towards him, Pellaeon could see Lusankya and Reaper firing furiously on one another, and it was instant death for anything that strayed between them. A sudden mass of proton torpedoes sent a glare of blue through the window and Reaper's bow erupted with flame as they impacted, a swarm of B-wing and E-wing engines tiny against Reaper's enormous spaceframe.

    "Attention on deck!" shouted Phelik Mytov. He had climbed out of the crew pit and drawn his sidearm, and Pellaeon stared in dismay as the young man pointed his blaster at him. "I am placing you under arrest on behalf of the Imperial Security Bureau."

    Just a few weeks before, Pellaeon had the honor of overseeing the graduation of three fine young officers. He and Ardus Kaine toasted them, naming them the future of the Empire.

    Hack Nalle was dead, killed by the New Republic.

    Cee Deleste was dead, killed by the Imperial Security Bureau.

    And Phelik Mytov was pointing a blaster at him.

    In all the commotion he had forgotten about Disra's request to send ISB agents to Chimaera.

    "Return to your post, Lieutenant," Pellaeon ordered using all the sangfroid he could muster while Lusankya mauled the Imperial flagship behind him.

    "I can't do that sir," Mytov responded, his sidearm steady. "I really am sorry, sir. If it's any consolation, I don't think you're a traitor. Just too old and broken to be of any further use to the New Order."

    "I'm sorry too." Pellaeon said heavily. "I believed I had better judgment in choosing promising subordinates."

    The pair of stormtroopers had reached them. They each put a hand on Pellaeon's arms, pulling his hands behind his back—

    An unexpected voice joined them. "Well done, Lieutenant," said Commander Dreyf. He approached casually, wearing a vulpine grin, accompanied by two stormtroopers of his own. "Very well done indeed."

    Pellaeon gave the Commander a betrayed look. "This is insanity!" he insisted. "We can't afford to scramble our chain of command in the middle of a battle!"

    "You were the one who forced this on us!" Mytov argued.

    Chimaera rocked. An enemy Katana dreadnaught was still firing on them, ion cannons skittering over their shields; far more threateningly, the Star Cruiser Orthavan was closing the range, red turbolaser and blue ion cannon fire raking the vulnerable Chimaera. Exigent and Gonfalon were moving to intercept, but they were slow, too slow, and a tangle of TIEs and X-wings left smears of debris and explosions.

    "Nothing is more important than loyalty," Dreyf said calmly.

    Pellaeon ignored them. He had more important things to worry about than this foolishness. "Gonfalon, Exigent shift position to maximize firing angles! Helm, bring us down to give us a firing arc on Orthavan's belly! All fighters prioritize enemy B-wings. Enforcers—"

    One of the stormtroopers hit him.

    His head snapped back. With an effort, he brought it back straight. "Enforcers, adopt close escort position with the Star Destroyers," he finished, glaring at the stormtrooper as if daring him to strike again.

    "Admiral!" someone called, his voice confused. As the officer spoke, he became increasingly concerned… and then frantic. "I have lost control of the helm!"

    "—All gunnery systems have just been overridden! Control has been diverted to another station!"

    "We're moving!"

    Pellaeon—and everyone surrounding him, including the stormtroopers still holding his arms—turned in confusion towards the starboard crew pit.

    The Inquisitor who had accompanied the stormtroopers was standing there. He was ridiculously young, barely more than a boy, but his face was shadowed with menace. Two of Pellaeon's bridge crew were at his feet, unmoving.

    "Inquisitor?" Mytov asked in confusion. "What are you doing?"

    The helmsman's frantic panic was only getting worse. "Admiral, we're descending into Carida's lower orbit!"

    "What?" Pellaeon stared out into space. Sure enough, the ship was swinging around and down—away from Orthavan and the ongoing battle, though space still flashed red and green through every window. Carida loomed below them—the peninsula that housed the Academy clearly visible now as the ship angled towards the ground—

    "Carida's shields aren't up yet, Admiral! The generators are still spooling up!"

    Finally Pellaeon lost his iron composure. "Oh shavit," he gasped like a stunned cadet as he recognized the ship's alignment. The Inquisitor had activated one of the ship's automated surface bombardment patterns! "What are you doing!?" he echoed Mytov's question, because all of a sudden the ongoing Imperial Civil War and Rebel incursion and even his own arrest and impending execution were the least of his concerns.

    "Justice," the Inquisitor said with a dangerous smile, his lank hair and rumpled uniform underlaid by a hint of Corellian swagger.

    There was a rustle of movement next to Pellaeon, but he wasn't looking in that direction and so was caught by surprise. He started to turn, wondering what fresh hell was arriving aboard his ship, when Commander Dreyf stepped behind Mytov—who was still staring in confusion at the Inquisitor who had commandeered Pellaeon's ship—and shot the young man in the back of the head. The two ISB stormtroopers holding his arms went slack as each suffered a similar fate at the hands of Dreyf's escort.

    Dreyf stepped protectively in front of Pellaeon, his pistol swiveling towards the Inquisitor. "Secure the bridge and watch for more ISB operatives," he ordered. He dropped his voice and offered a hurried whisper. "Sorry sir, I didn't find out about—"

    "Not now!" Pellaeon snapped, focusing his attention on the Inquisitor so he wasn't tempted to look down at Mytov. He stepped out from behind Dreyf and barked an order. "Stop what you are doing at once or I'll order you shot!"

    Chimaera continued to settle lower in Carida's orbit. There was a telltale distortion of atmosphere beyond the bridge windows.

    "Admiral, our gunners report their weapons are no longer responding to manual override!"

    "You can't stop me," the young man said. In his hand, the smooth saber sprouted an almost mythological energy blade, its color a deep, crackling blue. "It was so easy, you know. To turn the fools to my end. So much hate and fear… can you feel it?" He swept his arm out over the Chimaera's bridge windows, beyond which Imperials and Rebels were still locked in chaotic battle, smiling indulgently. "All the men and women dying out there right now because of a little encouragement in the right places? The power in their deaths?"

    Dreyf had heard enough. His sidearm snarled; his target casually deflected the blaster bolt down into Chimaera's deck plating and then tore Dreyf's blaster out of his hand with the Force. Pistols and rifles clattered across durasteel as Chimaera rocked.

    Dimly, Pellaeon could hear Tschel frantically communicating with the other loyal Star Destroyers, but Pellaeon only had enough attention for one thing and that was saving the Academy. Chimaera's orbital bombardment wouldn't be all that accurate under the automated control of the ship's main computer, but it wouldn't have to be to devastate the Academy. The future of the Starfleet, all the men and women who would someday fill the ranks and restore the Empire to its old fighting trim… they were all down there.

    "What do you want?" Pellaeon asked. He had to know that first, before he could hope to find a way out of this—

    Something changed. The young man's unnatural calm broke and his expression became tortured, filled with fear and rage. The hand on the lightsaber clenched to white and his breathing became ragged with grief. "I want the Empire to stop killing my family!"

    One of Pellaeon's officers—one with more bravery and desperation than sense—lunged towards the Inquisitor. With a cry halfway between a shout and a sob the young man sliced him in half, and then Chimaera's main guns opened fire.

    * * *​

    "What's going on?"

    Second-year Cadet Duvorian Carias glanced up from one of the Academy campus' central communications stations at the crowd that had gathered around it. Almost all external communications were banned within the campus—unnecessary distractions—except at those comm stations, which permitted HoloNet connections for personal and professional correspondence. He'd just finished messages to family, and had just finished excitedly pumping Geiton, just a year older, for information about his cadet cruise.

    The confusion on the campus was complete. Everyone knew something was happening—in the sky above, they could all see that the Imperial fleet had opened fire. But no one could agree what they were firing on. The comm network was completely unresponsive, stifled by a growing web of static and jamming, and as best Duvorian could tell, the ships were firing on each other.

    "Look!" a cadet he didn't know said, gesturing up at Chimaera above. The cadet's naturally flatter drawl broke through the Academy's Coruscanti standard with its clipped cadence. Duvorian suppressed a snicker. He had always carefully maintained his own accent, even after his family had fled Coruscant when the Rebellion had come to occupy Imperial Center—but others were pointing up now too.

    Chimaera seemed to grow larger in the sky above, and Duvorian realized that it was descending. There were occasional flashes of green splashing against Chimaera's shields, but the big Imperial II didn't seem to notice.

    "What's the Old Man doing?" he asked.

    The cadet standing behind him shrugged. "What are any of them doing?"

    "There must be Rebels up there," Duvorian concluded. "Can you see any X-wings among the snubfighters?"

    The cadet's eyes narrowed, and he brought up a macro-monoc he wasn't supposed to have, one from Field Training. "All I see in low orbit are TIEs… Wait! There's a Star Cruiser!"

    A flicker of relief and nods went around the group of cadets. At least that much made sense now! "Let me see," Duvorian asked, his tone verging on an order.

    The cadet with the macro-monoc and the Rim drawl ignored him and kept peering through the lenses. "Hey… are Chimaera's turbolaser batteries moving?"

    "They have to be, there are Rebels up there—"

    "No, no, I mean… does anyone have a bigger pair of macrobinoculars?"

    The first turbolaser blast was completely unexpected. One of the buildings—probably a kilometer away, towards the far side of campus—suddenly exploded. The crowd all turned as one, staring in surprise, stunned into immobility, and then the second turbolaser blast hit. And the third. And the fourth.

    And then they were all running for cover but the well-tended campus grounds provided no protection as green rain thundered down, boiling flesh and stone and transparisteel and ornamental fountains alike with its pitiless contact. Duvorian, his classmates, and everything around them were scattered instantly into their component atoms by a direct hit.

    * * *​

    "General Antilles!" Sena's voice was confused and astonished. "Wedge come look at this!"

    Wedge tore his focus away from the ongoing battle. Reaper and Lusankya were locked in vicious combat, and Lusankya was winning. Rebel Dream, Rising Tide, and Emancipator had stayed in formation, finding firing solutions on the enemy Super Star Destroyer, and the Imperials had never recovered from the fact that the battle had begun with them shooting at each other. Even now a fair number of the Imperial ships had yet to fully involve themselves in the battle, and some were retreating without even trying to engage.

    There was a glare of blue followed by an eruption of orange as Wedge's massed B-wings wrecked another Star Destroyer that had chosen to stay.

    He nodded at Kre'fey, then went to Sena's side. "What is it?" he asked.

    "Wedge, Chimaera just opened fire on Carida." Sena sounded stunned. "The planetary shields haven't come up yet. The Academy took a direct hit."

    "What?!" Wedge asked, peering over her shoulder at her console. "I don't care what happened among the Imperials that started all this, Chimaera is Pellaeon's ship and he wouldn't—"

    But he had.

    "Urgent comm signal, Vermillion priority!" called Needa.

    Wedge nodded and grappled with his com, triggering it without even checking who was on the other end. "Antilles."

    "Wedge . . . Corran," came the familiar voice of Rogue Squadron's resident semi-Jedi detective, between fuzzes of combat jamming. But the Rogue was in the middle of battle, and ought to have no time to spare and chat with Wedge. Why was he calling?

    "Corran? What is it?"

    " . . . don't know . . . " Corran admitted. Wedge tracked his eyes over the combat plot, finding the green dot that was marked as Rogue Nine. Both Rogues Nine and Ten were edging closer to Lusankya, and as they did the signal grew stronger. "There's . . . happening on Chimaera."

    "I can see that, Corran," Wedge said dryly.

    "No, I mean . . . even from here . . . the Dark Side aboard," Corran admitted, sounding uncertain and a little embarrassed. "I don't know what . . . something is aboard Chimaera, and . . . need a Jedi."

    Wedge stared at Chimaera. As he watched, turbolaser fire poured down into the planet. "Luke isn't here, Corran."

    "I know, Wedge," Corran reassured him. "I know. And I don't . . . anything we can do, but . . . needed to know."

    And the responsibility to figure out what to do about it was now laid on Wedge's shoulders. Along with everything else. "Commander Needa, message to Captain Irraerl—Orthavan is ordered to hit Chimaera's ventral with everything she has."

    "Affirmative General. Orders relayed!"

    "Get back into the fight, Nine," Wedge ordered. "We'll deal with it. Captain Kre'fey!"

    His Bothan flag officer turned towards him. "Sir?"

    "Intensify strikes on Reaper's stern quarter just aft of her bridge. I want a barrage that drains her shields in that quadrant. The faster we knock Reaper out of the fight, the faster we can deal with the rest of their formation." And whatever else there is here to fight.

    "At once, sir."

    Lusankya's guns paused, cooling briefly as they retargeted. Then they howled again, barrels once more glowing white-hot as their crews fought them just under their top tolerances.

    * * *​

    Kyp Durron allowed himself to forget where he was. There were Imperials all lined up facing him, watching him with horrified expressions. A handful of them tried to stop him, but Exar Kun's lightsaber killed or maimed the ones who did, moving in his hand almost without thought, as Exar Kun offered guidance and poise that Kyp did not have.

    Kyp had been seven when the Empire had come to Deyer. His homeworld was hazy in his memory, but he could remember water that seemed to stretch from horizon to horizon, smattered with plots of swampy land that housed its small population. That last horrible day on Deyer was written into Kyp's memory with permanence unmatched by any other. The white triangular shapes of the arriving Star Destroyers as they appeared in the sky above. Not one, or two, but ten, hovering above them like artificial moons. The consternation and panic of the people, of his parents, all flinging their children into airspeeders or hoverfoils and fleeing the city.

    Then the rain had started. A little at first, slowly, then building until it was heavier and heavier, a thick rain of glowing green turbolaser blasts that rendered the city to ash. Airspeeders and hoverfoils were penetrated with fire, roasting families. Buildings shattered and vaporized.

    Kyp had always wondered what it had been like to be on one of those Star Destroyers as they destroyed Deyer. Now he knew.

    It was so… impersonal.

    Chimaera's main computer was programmed with no fewer than ten different automated planetary bombardment sequences of varying purpose and intensity. Now he watched, having seized control of that computer with the override codes he'd stolen from Mara, as the computer executed the pre-programmed instructions.

    Green turbolaser fire poured down into the planet. Kyp could not see the Imperial Academy but he knew it was there. Knew that buildings were imploding just as they had on Deyer. But he also knew that it wasn't families and innocents down there dying, but Imperials. The future Imperial war machine was down there, and it was getting a taste of what it was like to be on the other side.

    He could feel Exar Kun trying to get his attention, but Kyp didn't care. He thought of Mobvekhar and Garm, of his parents and his brother, of Leia and Deyer.

    More than anything he just felt tired.

    Exar Kun wasn't the only one trying to get his attention. The ship's computer beeped at him.

    BOMBARDMENT TERMINATED.

    He frowned, staring at the computer. He reached for the controls, tried to instruct the computer to resume the bombardment—the Empire had to be stopped, this would stop the Empire!—but it rejected his stolen access codes!

    "Kyp."

    He turned and stared at the Imperials. They were all staring at the woman who had spoken with expressions ranging from baffled to grateful, a woman he knew. She was dressed in the black armor of an Imperial agent.

    "Mara Jade?" Pellaeon asked in astonishment. "What are you doing here?"

    Mara's attention was securely locked on Kyp, and he stared back at her with mounting anger. Her reply to Pellaeon was casual; her attention on Kyp was anything but. "Saving your ass."

    I told you she was an Imperial, Exar Kun whispered to him.

    Pellaeon pointed at Kyp. "One of yours, I take it? I presume you're pleased with his handiwork?" There was an edge in his voice, of anger mixed with despair, that Kyp found familiar.

    "The Inquisitors unleashed something they couldn't control," Mara said sourly, "and this was the result." She watched Kyp even as Chimaera shuddered, the Star Destroyer rising back into higher orbit as her relieved helmsman regained control of her engines.

    "I should have you arrested!"

    Her gaze swung down to the blasters scattered around the bridge, and the former assassin raised an insouciant eyebrow. "Would you rather deal with him yourself?"

    Pellaeon glowered, but his ship shuddered and all of them remembered that there was still a battle going on outside. Orthavan, Gonfalon, Exigent, and at least four squadrons of starfighters were sparring on one side of the ship; Lusankya and Reaper were tearing at each other on the opposite side, each showing off an impressive ability to absorb punishment. He lifted his hand, gesturing at the stormtroopers to stand by.

    Kyp trembled, and when he spoke it was with a distinct quiver. "You betrayed us! You're on their side! Exar Kun was right!" He fumbled with the controls with one hand, trying to re-engage Chimaera's bombardment, but Mara knew her own override codes better than he did and had locked him out. "You can't stop me! I have to stop them! I have to! Before they kill someone else I love!" he pleaded.

    "This won't protect anyone," Mara assured him. "Kyp, the Empire arrested your parents because they objected after Alderaan. They tried to kill Leia because she wanted to make peace and end the war."

    "They don't want peace!" Kyp cried furiously. "Garm said so!"

    "All of them?" Mara gestured out over Chimaera's bridge crew. "I know about your brother, Kyp. He was conscripted, with hundreds of thousands others just like him. I would bet that many, maybe even most of the men on this bridge are just like him… and most of the people down at the Academy were too."

    "It doesn't matter!" Kyp screamed at her. "It's the only way!"

    "What if he was down there?" Mara countered. "He didn't have any choice. His service was compelled by the threat of violence—to your parents, and to you. Do people like him deserve to die?"

    "People like you, you mean?! You served the Empire!" Kyp howled at her, the stormy lightsaber in his hand seeming to glow brighter with his anger. He could feel it crackling with electricity and heat, that heat seeping back into him, feeding his rage in return.

    Mara's voice grew quiet, but even still he could hear every word. "Yes, I did. Not just the Empire. I served the Emperor himself." She took a step forward. "He killed my parents when I was maybe four years old. He had to have. He killed my parents and he raised me to love him, and believe him, and believe in him, and I did. I believed his every lie and served his every whim with faithful devotion even after his death—" her voice started to grow in volume, but she never lost her temper, staying almost painfully calm "—and every day I ask myself how I could have been so blind." She took an unsteady breath and then grew calm and centered once more. She turned her head and gazed at Pellaeon. "Maybe some of them are asking themselves that question right now."

    Kyp stared at her. He could hear Exar Kun whispering in the back of his mind, but the ghost's voice was oddly dull as Kyp's attention was locked on Mara.

    He opened his mouth to speak, trying to find words to say, and found his lips moving without him. His hands gripped his lightsaber securely, but he hadn't told them to do that. He shifted into a more aggressive lightsaber stance, one he'd seen Kam and Luke practice, but one that he'd never learned.

    Don't worry, my young Jedi, Exar Kun whispered to him. Let me help you.

    Kyp's face felt like it was paralyzed even as it was moving. His eyes wouldn't look where he told them to look, his feet were permacrete. His lungs refused to inflate as he told them to breathe, and he struggled against the sudden bindings encasing his limbs—

    "You are a most powerful weapon, Mara Jade," Exar Kun said with Kyp's voice. Kyp fought back, he fought hard, sobbing as he struggled to take back control of his body, but despair and confusion were his enemy and the Force had fled. He could feel his grip on its power redirected, Exar Kun taking his abilities and commanding them to his own ends, and Kyp didn't know what was right anymore, didn't know, he didn't know—

    "You mistake me, Exar Kun." Mara's voice had changed, raw and rough, and she ignited her lightsaber. It sprang into existence with a menacing snap-hiss. "I am not a weapon." Her green eyes glittered with purpose that was almost reassuring. "Not anymore."

    * * *​

    Mara could feel Kyp struggling against the grip that Exar Kun had on him, but the Sith ghost had grown too strong. The boy's eyes flickered yellow with hate that wasn't his as the Sith ghost took all the pain that hummed around them—pain in the battle that still raged around Carida, down on the planet's surface where the devastation caused by Chimaera's brief bombardment had created an almost endless well of pain, and in Chimaera's own bridge—and drew it to himself, binding them all with spiderwebs of Dark energy.

    The sudden change in voice from Kyp to Exar Kun—which even the Imperials did not miss—had made more than a few of them step back. Dreyf was still covering Pellaeon protectively, though the Admiral didn't look like he wanted any protection.

    "Oh, Mara," the old-young Sith crowed in sibilant tones. "So alone. Everyone who loves you dies. Did it hurt to leave your lover where I broke him? He'll never return to you now, not from where I sent him."

    Mara reached out to the Force. She too drew it to herself, merging with it, feeling its energy and majesty like she never had before. And in that moment, she felt something else, too.

    The thread she shared with Luke. It was not what it should be, but it was unbroken.

    She inhaled, feeling all the potentials in the moment converge into one. She exhaled, and with her breath she let go of her despair and her hate and her resentment, and allowed herself to hope as Luke had taught her she could hope. "I'm never alone. The Force is with me. I'm right where I'm supposed to be, and so is he."

    Exar Kun leaped up to the bridge walk, and Mara turned to face him. "Get down in the crew pit," she instructed Pellaeon without looking at him. "It's not safe for you up here."

    His objection died unspoken, and the Admiral nodded once. "Everyone down!"

    "You know I've never lost a lightsaber duel," Exar Kun gloated softly, walking towards her with a measured tread that looked strange on Kyp Durron's lanky body.

    "I'm willing to bet you've lost some steps," Mara shot back. "How long have you been dead?"

    * * *​

    Looking up through one of Chimaera's bridge windows, Pellaeon could see Reaper and Lusankya locked in a vicious battle, and Reaper was losing. Lusankya's turbolaser fire was both heavier and more accurate, and Pellaeon knew why. The New Republic had no trouble finding personnel to crew its vessels, so Lusankya was fully manned. Every turbolaser battery—all four thousand of them—was fully manned. Reaper, by contrast, had seen its crew steadily reduced for years, with personnel reallocated, and had a crew size closer to the ship's minimum than its recommended requirements.

    And that had been before ISB had decapitated Reaper's senior leadership.

    Worse were the glares of blue from the massed proton torpedo launches. Reaper's prow and forward quarter featured ragged rents torn by torpedo and turbolaser strikes, and her engines sputtered as they suffered more hits at close range—made all the worse as the Star Destroyer Emancipator settled in behind the Super Star Destroyer and fired away at her engines, doing more damage even as Tyrannic moved to intervene.

    Even in the middle of a desperate fight for survival, defending the single most important system left in the Empire, Reaper still spared some turbolaser fire for Chimaera.

    But as chaotically destructive as the fight outside Chimaera was, it had nothing on the fight occurring on her bridge.

    Mara Jade was a whirl of energy, her sky-blue blade flashing like a sunny day as she parried the enraged strikes from her opponent. The Inquisitor—or Exar Kun, or Kyp, or a mix of both—came after her with a simmering fury, slamming his stormy blade at her saber again and again and again. They fought across the long walkway over the bridge crew pits, their lightsabers humming and hissing, jolting with snaps of ozone scent as they clashed. Pellaeon had never seen anything like it—oh, like everyone he'd heard the stories of the Jedi and their mastery of combat, their impossible speed and intuition—but the Empire had long sworn that all those stories had been but mythology, propaganda of a corrupt order that had insinuated itself into the heart of the Republic.

    He'd seen and felt the extent of C'baoth's powers, but he'd never seen the insane Jedi Master fight.

    Now he knew for sure he'd been lied to and at least some of those tales of Jedi combat had been true after all.

    His crew's focus was torn in two, as was his own. They were fighting with their controls to keep Chimaera from sinking further into Carida's orbit and watching the battle beyond the windows as ships blazed through Carida's sky. But even with everything else going on, inevitably they were all being drawn back to the spectacle of a lightsaber battle in the middle of their own bridge like magnets to a lodestone.

    It made sense. Pellaeon was pretty sure that if Jade lost, that whoever it was she was really fighting would kill them all before Antilles or Reaper did.

    * * *​

    Mara spun, interposing her blade against Exar Kun's. Kyp Durron's mouth hissed as their weapons snarled against one another, impacts echoing through the smoke-filled quiet of Chimaera's bridge as the ship's crew watched on.

    Mara flowed backwards upon perfect footwork, blade raised as she broke contact, and he pursued. She could feel Exar Kun's presence hovering around them, an aura of Darkness and menace, and the amulet that hung around Kyp's neck glowed a bloody red.

    She could feel the ghost's power. Even dead, even removed from Yavin, Exar Kun was potent. Behind Kyp's eyes she could see the dead Sith Lord who had impersonated Karrde in her dreams, who had corrupted Kyp, and who may have killed Luke. But all of that faded to the back as Mara sank into the Force. She could feel it all around her, brightness and light, guiding her hand. Even in the Imperial crew that watched, on the Imperial planet below, in the soldiers that were fighting and dying on both sides of the massive battle going on beyond Chimaera's bulkheads, she could feel the Force.

    And she saw the boy. Lost, alone, and trapped in a mental Spice mine of Exar Kun's making—and his own.

    Her adversary came at her again, harder than before. He was improving, and quickly. She saw the hand of Exar Kun as the younger man feinted, shifting from left to right as he tried to sneak a blow through her guard. But Mara had the Force, in her mind and in her hand, and she parried his thrust, then dropped into a roll and came up in the middle of Chimaera's bridge. The crew pits were on either side, a constant menace and threat of fall, and Mara dodged another strike filled with fury and rage.

    Exar Kun's mental attack was more subtle, but no less devastating. His mind snuck against hers, finding the entrance that Palpatine had made his own, whispering in her mind in Talon Karrde's voice. You are a failure, Karrde whispered. Nothing but a killer. You'll never be a Jedi. He only loves you out of pity.

    Exar Kun swung his lightsaber at Mara's face with controlled rage. Mara slipped to the side, dodging again.

    You are broken. Palpatine ruined you. Nothing you do will ever make up for your past. You will never see Luke again.

    "Is that the best you've got?" Mara laughed with genuine humor, but her voice took on enough mocking edge to etch transparisteel. "You're just a ghost whispering from beyond the grave. The Dark Lords of the Sith I knew would be ashamed!"

    She launched forward, flowing through an adaptation of a Kuati dance routine and slashing at the Sith with four quick blows in rapid succession. The strain of deflecting the attack was obvious, his eyes flashing with consternation… and Mara could see how his hands moved, and knew it wasn't Kyp who was in control of them, because Kyp did not have that kind of skill.

    But neither did they move with the easy grace that a master ought to have…

    He stepped back, out of her reach, and she let him. "A corruptor of wounded children, Exar Kun. That's all you are. You're no great conqueror. Darth Vader would have found you amusingly quaint, and the Emperor would see you as the very definition of failure!" she taunted.

    Then she turned her attention to Kyp, looking past the Sith inhabiting him to the boy suppressed within. "And you!" she laughed mockingly, watching as Kyp's eyes narrowed with anger. She attacked, lashing out with words rather than with blows. "Luke was wrong about you. You're no great talent or Jedi in waiting. You're just a boy, an angry, stupid little boy ready to throw away the family who took him in without so much as a by-your-leave because he's hurt and sad and scared—"

    Kyp's anger got the better of him, and the better of Exar Kun. He came at her with an outraged two-handed slash.

    She waited until the last possible moment, the hum of his lightsaber whirring and crackling as it swung towards hers… then double-tapped the stud of her lightsaber.

    Her blade vanished.

    She could see it all in her mind. From Tionne's telling, Exar Kun had been an expert with a lightsaber the likes of which the galaxy had rarely seen. His power in the Force had reached the highest heights of mastery. She was at best a novice in both by comparison.

    But she wasn't just fighting Exar Kun. She was also fighting Kyp Durron.

    Had Exar Kun been in his own body, he would have reacted faster to Mara's impromptu feint. Kyp's mighty swing would have transformed into a probing thrust, and the blade would have carved through her hand and arm. But Kyp did not have Exar Kun's instincts, nor the impeccable control over his muscles, and he couldn't check his swing. His blade whirled through the emptiness where Mara's lightsaber had been.

    Exar Kun would have recovered. Exar Kun would have responded by taking the momentum from the swing and turning it into a weapon. The Sith Lord would have pirouetted, done a full spin and slashed at Mara again. But Kyp did not have Exar Kun's grace, nor his experience, and instead of giving himself over to it he tried to recover against his momentum.

    Kyp had just started to twist back when Mara hit him, landing a blow just off his solar plexus, then she flowed into a second strike that snapped his head back. She half-spun, pressing her shoulder into his chest as she gripped his wrist and pulled. He flipped over her shoulder and hit the deck hard. She pursued, keeping her grip on his sword arm, and twisted. Kyp's elbow cracked with a loud, sickening pop.

    Exar Kun's lightsaber clattered out of his suddenly limp hand, rolling to a stop near the starboard crew pit.

    "Don't touch that!" Mara snarled in the direction of the fallen lightsaber—the Imperials shied away from the weapon—but her attention was on the white-faced, agonized Kyp. "Fight him!" she ordered, lashing out with a mental blow of her own.

    Fight before there's nothing left of Han and Leia's son!

    The yellow eyes widened in terror, seeming to see parsecs away in but a moment, and their color faded to Kyp's natural brown.

    She could see the struggle in those eyes… and she could see the way the amulet glowed in response. Exar Kun's presence was an oily slick coating Kyp, fighting back, refusing to relent. He lashed out at her telepathically, his tendrils seeking gaps in her mental shields—

    Mara dropped to one knee and re-ignited her lightsaber, lashing out with the blade at Kyp's throat. She let the Force and the years of practice Palpatine had forced upon her guide her hand, and with the precision of a dancer's motions her lightsaber scarred the boy's breastbone but went no deeper.

    The glowing red amulet fell from around Kyp's neck.

    Even before it was on the ground Mara was stabbing through it with a two-handed downward extension and she kept slashing until there were deep gashes Chimaera's bridge walkway and there was nothing left of the amulet but atoms and memory.

    Kyp screamed in agony, throwing the entire bridge into silence, then collapsed and was still.

    She could feel Exar Kun still clawing at her through the Force, slammed her shields up in his face, and then his presence receded until she couldn't feel him at all.
     
    Chyntuck and Gabri_Jade like this.
  7. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Chapter 34

    Chimaera
    shuddered under fire from Orthavan and Reaper in almost equal measure. Reaper was more distant, spitting fire at Lusankya and her other foes, but she spared enough attention to make sure Pellaeon couldn't forget she was there.

    As if he would. Even the conclusion to the duel on his bridge wasn't enough to make him forget that.

    He regained his command voice. "Lieutenant Tschel, inform the commanders in our formation that Chimaera is back under our control, and that the joint ISB/Inquisitorius attempt to seize control of our ship—which resulted in the bombardment of the Academy—has been foiled," he ordered. "And if you get a moment, find out if anyone survived down there."

    He had to get this back under control, Pellaeon thought dimly as he stared at the combat plot. The Empire couldn't fight itself and the New Republic at the same time! Maybe if he got Welko back on the line, or finally got through to the Council of Moffs, he could make them see reason. He could explain to them why the Empire couldn't go down this route. He'd even offer to resign, hand himself over. There were competent leaders, the Empire didn't need him, the Starfleet could still recover, the battle could still be won—

    He glanced at Dreyf. "Any word yet from the Council of Moffs?"

    Dreyf shook his head minutely. His attention wasn't on the fleet battle around them—his attention was on the glowering form of Mara Jade, who stood protectively next to the unconscious body of the boy she had fought. "No sir," he said without taking his eyes off the pair. "With all the combat jamming, even if they had wanted to reply to us I doubt any message could have gotten through."

    "We have to settle this now! Get me that ISB man on Reaper, if we explain—"

    "Admiral." Dreyf's voice was oddly gentle, and now his gaze did briefly pull away from the two interlopers to focus only on Pellaeon. "There's no going back from this, sir."

    "He's right, you know," Mara said, her tone almost chiding. She checked on the boy's unconscious form, said something to him quietly, then strolled up with an insouciant swagger, seemingly unaware she was surrounded by enemies.

    Then again, after what he'd just seen her do, maybe she had reason to be that confident.

    "ISB has never trusted the Starfleet," Mara continued, "not even when Tarkin and Vader had it under their thumb. That was why ISB supported the Death Star program: one Death Star is easier to control than a thousand Star Destroyers."

    "How did you even get aboard?" asked Dreyf, incredulous.

    "The ISB team that met me at the hangar was under the impression that I'm an ISB Colonel," Mara answered. "I shattered their illusions in the turbolift on the way up." She frowned. "Although, given that my ISB ident was given to me by the Emperor himself, by ISB's own rules the rank may actually be legitimate." She gazed out at the battle, watching Orthavan, Exigent, and Gonfalon exchange vigorous fire. "Funny, that."

    Pellaeon followed her gaze. Two more New Republic warships were closing now; a Katana dreadnaught and an escort frigate. Proton torpedoes exploded against Exigent's armor.

    "What are you fighting for?" Mara asked him bluntly. "What are they—" she gestured out over the expanse of Chimaera's bridge "—fighting for?"

    Pellaeon had neither the time nor attention to spare for her questions. There was a battle raging, loyal Imperials dying, and he had obligations to the Empire.

    For some reason he answered her anyway.

    "You're not old enough to remember," he said. "Not old enough to remember the Clone Wars, the chaos they wrought. The Empire brought peace and stability, and only the Empire can maintain it—"

    Mara stared at him incredulously. She lifted her arm and pointed at Chimaera's bridge window, out at a three-way battle where Imperials had apparently decided that the right way to defeat the New Republic was to kill other Imperials first. "Who do you think would be better at keeping order right now?" she demanded. "The Empire?!"

    Pellaeon flinched as if struck. He wanted to object, to point out that the Republic's diversity doomed it to instability. That it couldn't possibly persist, that it would inevitably ruin itself, that the firm hand of Empire was necessary and needed and utterly indispensable for the good of all sentient life—

    To his horror, he realized no longer believed it.

    He looked out over his crew, and he saw in their eyes that they didn't either.

    "It was all a lie." Mara's voice was pitiless. "The Empire was never what Palpatine wanted you to think it was. It wasn't about peace, it wasn't about stability, it was about his own self-aggrandizement. It was about his ego and power. And it's still about the ego and power of men just like him."

    "What would you have me do?" he asked, sudden anger seizing him. "Turn traitor? Turn my command over to the New Republic? Betray my oath and all the people I've spent decades training and serving?"

    "I don't care what you swore! Oaths sworn in service to lies don't matter. Actions matter!" Mara snarled. "If you're not sure who your enemy is, you shouldn't be killing people!"

    "If I retreat," Pellaeon argued, "the Empire will lose Carida!"

    "The Empire lost Carida the moment ISB seized Reaper," Mara retorted caustically. "What would Thrawn do?" she challenged.

    The bridge was silent, and Pellaeon could feel the expectant eyes of his crew, watching him. Waiting. They would follow him, he knew—they had followed him this far—and they were loyal.

    He had already lost Nalle and Deleste. He had lost Mytov too, but that had been a battle he'd never had a chance to win.

    There were other loyal men and women out there. He had to save their lives. As many as he could. That was all he had left.

    Gilad Pellaeon summoned his calm, and the regal mantle of an Imperial flag officer settled back over him as his poise fully returned. "Lieutenant Tschel, open comms with the fleet."

    "Yes, sir."

    "Loyal Imperial vessels, this is Admiral Pellaeon. All ships scatter and proceed independently into hyperspace. Repeat, scatter and evacuate at the best possible speed. Make sure the Enforcers get out first, they're our most fragile units. Divert power from weapons to engines and shields—you don't want to get stranded here. Once you've gotten away, make random hyperspace jumps to ensure you're not tracked. I am deputizing Captains Axum and Nidal as Senior Captains; Captains, protect the Enforcers and then get your ships someplace safe. Chimaera will buy time."

    After murmured acknowledgements, Chimaera, Gonfalon, and Exigent formed a line, slowly retreating towards the edge of Carida's gravity well, covering the smaller ships as they fled. The New Republic was still shooting at them—Orthavan and her escorts were still closing—but the vast majority of the New Republic ships were concentrating on Reaper.

    He felt Mara Jade watching him. His orders were given and the die was cast, so he turned towards her.

    She looked right in her Imperial combat armor, somehow. He knew she'd aligned herself with the New Republic and with the Jedi. He knew that she had betrayed the Empire, and yet he found when he looked at her that the uniform still suited her. He wondered if, when he looked in the mirror after this battle was done, he would be able to say the same about himself. "The boy killed some of my crew," he said. "And likely killed thousands on Carida. He should stand trial for what he's done."

    "The Empire killed his parents," Mara replied levelly, and Pellaeon did not miss the protective way she stood in front of Kyp's unconscious form. "And his world, and put him on Kessel when he was seven years old." She kicked a metal cylinder towards him, and he looked down as the lightsaber the boy had wielded during the duel skittered to a stop just in front of him. "And the one really responsible is no longer here."

    Pellaeon didn't pretend to understand the Force or what he'd seen. He had no idea who "Exar Kun" was. But he also knew that if he pushed, the lightsaber that Mara Jade still had in her hand might go from the weapon that had saved his ship to the weapon that doomed it. "Commander Dreyf," he said, glancing towards his intelligence officer. "Formal order: from now on, all Imperial ships are to have ysalamiri permanently assigned to the bridge." No matter how bad they smell.

    Dreyf's expression was remarkably amused under the circumstances. "I'll make a note of it, sir."

    "So where does that leave us?" Jade asked.

    Pellaeon gestured to either side, where his remaining stormtroopers had regained their blasters. They weren't pointing them at Mara—yet—but they weren't at rest, either. From the way Mara stood, she was just as aware of them as he was. "We have you outnumbered." Pellaeon said. "But I'm not insensible about the service you've just provided—"

    "Status change!" called the man who had replaced Mytov. "Hyperspace reversion! Admiral, we have about a dozen new Republic contacts that just emerged from hyperspace! There's an Interdictor at the center of their formation, and a dozen plus of the New Republic's new escort carriers."

    Pellaeon regarded the combat plot. Their axis of approach suggested the formation's main intent was to cut off obvious avenues for Imperial retreat.

    Evidently, Antilles did not want the Empire to leave.

    Jade was thinking the same thing. "It would seem the New Republic does not want to let you leave." He turned towards her, an aggressive question surging from him, but she preempted it. "No, they're not with me. I'm sure Antilles has no idea that I'm here. If you're hoping they'll let you go because I'm aboard, you'll die disappointed."

    "Admiral," Dreyf said. He'd approached while Pellaeon had focused on Mara, and in his hand was a datapad. "You should see this, sir."

    Pellaeon examined it quickly, then again more slowly, feeling the weight of time pressing down upon him as more New Republic forces closed. Then he turned to regard Mara once more. "Trader Jade, If I may, I have a proposal."

    * * *​

    More New Republic ships continued to arrive, as the entirety of the scattered Fifth Fleet—as well as everything else that was in range—straggled into the system one by one, then formed up with nearby fellows and raced in to get in weapons range as quickly as possible.

    Commodore Tabanne's Mirage Formation, which had been picketing Carida outside of the system's hyper limit to keep an eye on Reaper and the rest of the Imperial fleet before Wedge's assault, had jumped in engaged a group of Katana dreadnaughts and the Lancer-class frigate they were escorting and gave a hard-light demonstration of the advantages of youth. The redoubtable old Katanas, while capable for their age, were nonetheless slow and sluggish. The new Mareschals were fast and agile, and the long-ranged turbolasers set into their forward arcs packed as much punch as the Katana's turbolaser blisters.

    Plus, the Mareschals carried fighters. As each larger ship guns put paid to the Lancers, E-wings and B-wings darted in and volleyed proton torpedoes, blasting through shields and armor while their motherships used pinpoint gunnery, evidence of new systems—and exhaustive training by Atril herself—to target key weak points in the hull and render turbolasers to slag.

    But as Wedge watched his battle plot, those were only some of the explosions, and not all of them were of enemies.

    Reaper had focused on Rebel Dream and was venting ISB's anger on her. One of the Rebellion's Endor captures, Rebel Dream had served in every campaign since, once served as Leia's flagship, and survived Zsinj and Thrawn. She would not survive Carida. Her external hull glowed and warped with the heat of the punishment, armor burned away or blown to bits after her shields had failed. Her arrowhead shape flaked apart, and Wedge saw escape pods and shuttles launching from the doomed Star Destroyer.

    There was a ripple of blue and Wedge turned to look. Racing in from the other side were Wedge's snubfighter squadrons. On the combat plot, the gleaming dots of Rogue Squadron led hundreds of other starfighters, and all together they unleashed another volley of proton torpedoes. TIEs fought to stop them—harassing the fighters or trying to shoot down the torpedoes in flight—but of the entire Imperial formation, the TIE squadrons had been the most confused. Most of the Empire's squadrons were swarming to protect Chimaera, Exigent, and Gonfalon and not even attempting to protect Reaper and her escorts, and those that had stayed seemed erratic and poorly commanded.

    Two hundred proton torpedoes smashed into Reaper's flank. Enormous engines sputtered, lights flickered and then died entirely. Turbolaser batteries that had fired incessantly at the dying hulk of Rebel Dream only seconds before vanished in eruptions as proton torpedoes converted mass into energy, sending fragments of durasteel scattering into space.

    He had not spoken in several minutes. There was, after all, little he needed to do. Kre'fey was commanding Lusankya with exemplary skill, and Tycho had long ago been given his instructions about how to best use their fighters. The myriad of other capital ships in the formation all had their own assignments and knew what they were about.

    As Garm had taught him, Wedge's most important job now was to give his people confidence as he watched the combat plot for unforeseen problems. And so, he thought of Booster Terrik, of the man's backbone and forceful presence. He thought of Admiral Ackbar, and his intelligence and thoughtful calm in battle.

    Wedge stood in the middle of Lusankya's long walk and watched ships die.

    This will be remembered as the Battle of Carida, he thought to himself. It will be recorded as a great victory when it's all done, barring some miraculous turn of events, because the Imperial fleet is still fragmented. And I did this. Even as he watched, the trickle of Imperial ships fleeing the system started to turn into a flood. Even Chimaera—whose inexplicable assault on Carida had ended almost as suddenly as it had begun and remained a mystery—was now turning to leave.

    He had not started this operation hoping to take Carida. That had been an impossible dream. But Atril had spotted the sudden outbreak of hostilities between the two yet-undefined Imperial formations, and Wedge had recognized an opportunity not to be missed.

    "It looks like some of the Imperials are departing. The faction that is aligned against Reaper, it would seem." Sena' voice was calm as she offered her observations. Wedge just nodded, watching as two-thirds of the Imperials swarmed in towards Reaper, firing at the mass of New Republic capital ships assailing their flagship as they tried to rescue the Super Star Destroyer. His bridge rocked gently as Lusankya absorbed some of their assault, and Wedge heard Kre'fey giving orders to respond. "Should we let them go?"

    "This isn't like Ukio or Linuri," Wedge responded. "We're not here for Carida. We're here for the Imperial fleet. I don't really care if we take the planet or not as long as we destroy as many ships as we can." His lips firmed. "My original orders stand. Rainbow is to set her gravwells as broadly as possible and we destroy everything. Pass that along to our commanders."

    "Understood."

    Commander Needa was at his side. "Comm for you from Chimaera, sir. I'm afraid it's very choppy, there's rather a lot of jamming."

    Wedge keyed his repeater board. "Put him through, Commander. Admiral Pellaeon, this is General Antilles. Are you receiving?"

    The communications link flickered with static, and Pellaeon's holographic form fuzzed and failed to resolve. " . . . aeon . . . able to . . . ing so that we . . . "

    "Can we clean this up at all, Commander?" Wedge asked Needa.

    "Order Orthavan and Commodore Tabanne to lift some of their jamming?" suggested Needa with a shrug. "The new systems on the Mareschals are pretty powerful for ships their size."

    Wedge watched the combat plot. Pellaeon's formation was still retreating towards the hyper limit—slowly, but retreating—with the smaller ships surging towards it, seemingly racing for the limit to escape before Corusca Rainbow and Commodore Tabanne could close the distance.

    "He might have something to offer," Sena suggested.

    "Unless he's offering an unconditional surrender, I'm not interested," Wedge replied, dampening the flash of anger that surged through him.

    "How do you know?" asked Sena softly.

    He turned to look at her. Sena's violet eyes had a familiar sorrow in them, the same sadness and rage that she'd carried ever since the news of Garm's death had come in. She wanted to destroy the Empire as much as he did—maybe even more, she had more years invested in the fight than he did after all—and yet he could see the calm poise that had made her so able as Garm's right hand for all those years.

    With a grimace he relented. "Tell Orthavan to lift their jamming," he ordered. "If you can get the message through."

    Needa nodded, his hand going to his ear as he relayed the command.

    A life-size projection of the older man swept out from the holo-emitter in front of Wedge.

    Pellaeon's holographic form stabilized, the blue shadows resolving into the image of an Imperial officer—though the Admiral's face was bruised, with an incipient black eye, and his uniform was ragged and torn in places. "General Antilles, I presume?" he asked.

    "This is Antilles," Wedge confirmed bluntly. "What do you want?"

    In the window beyond Lusankya, hovering above and in front of the Super Star Destroyer's long nose, Rebel Dream finally died. The old Star Destroyer detonated from the inside out, small internal explosions turning into a massive, splintering explosion that sent shards of formerly white armor and durasteel in every direction.

    It took Reaper a few slow moments to re-orient, but with its target destroyed Lusankya's foe slowly aimed its remaining guns at Wedge's flagship.

    "Quickly, Admiral," Wedge added curtly, cutting off Pellaeon's first syllable. "I have a Super Star Destroyer to kill."

    "I wish to negotiate a withdrawal for the ships under my command."

    "You want to leave?" Wedge asked sharply. "We're just getting acquainted. Convince me it's worth my while to let you go."

    "At Ukio—"

    "At Ukio, General Bel Iblis—" Wedge said, enunciating each syllable of Garm's name with the precision of a missile strike "—believed that allowing Admiral Rogriss to withdraw was the only way to secure the planet with its fields intact. But Admiral, I don't care what condition Carida is in when this battle is over. I'm not here to win a battle and I'm not here to liberate a planet. I'm here to win the war—and winning the war means destroying your fleet. Your entire fleet. Your request for withdrawal is denied. I will however accept your immediate and unconditional surrender."

    "This is hardly in keeping with the laws of war, General."

    Wedge glared at him. "Rogriss did his best to obey the laws of war as he saw them, and your Moffs made sure he disappeared. This isn't just war anymore. This is politics, and my negotiation mandates," his hand swept over Lusankya's bridge, "are very broad."

    "My men are dying, General!" thundered Pellaeon, composure finally broken. "My men are dying, and you want to negotiate."

    "My people have been dying under your boot for decades," Wedge returned coldly. "This seems as good a place as any to make sure you can't kill any more." He pointed his finger aggressively at Pellaeon's holographic form. "We tried to negotiate peace, and because we did, Garm is dead!"

    "I regret your losses, General," Pellaeon's voice broke, "but you are not the only one who has been betrayed."

    "You should have thought about that before you—"

    "Wedge, this is Mara," a new and completely unexpected voice chimed in. Wedge stared in stunned disbelief as the familiar—and Imperial-armor clad—form of Mara Jade resolved next to Pellaeon.

    She couldn't have! Sure, Mara had been an Imperial, but… Luke loved her dammit, she wouldn't!

    His mouth was dry with fear for his friend. "Mara, what are you doing—"

    "That's a long story, and it's one we don't have time to tell right now. Jedi business."

    Relief flooded over Wedge. That Dark Side presence that Corran had felt on Chimaera… "Are you safe?"

    Mara glanced sideways at Pellaeon. "The original threat has been eliminated. I'm not exactly a hostage, at least for now. Wedge, Pellaeon has proof that ISB was behind the assassination of Councilor Bel Iblis and Grand Moff Kaine. They're willing to hand it over to me and let me carry it back to Coruscant if you permit them to withdraw."

    "My intelligence officer foresaw something like this after what happened on Coruscant," Pellaeon folded his hands behind his back. "At the moment we have a shared foe. If you allow us to depart, I cannot promise that we will not once again meet in battle, but I can promise you that we have other battles to fight first. I will not turn the Empire over to traitors."

    "Wedge, we still have plenty of other ships to fight," Sena murmured to him. As if to reinforce that point, Lusankya shuddered. Wedge glanced over the ship's bridge. Captain Kre'fey was barking orders as the two Super Star Destroyers exchanged broadsides, and though Reaper was outmatched, it was still a lot of warship.

    And there were at least a half-dozen Imperial-class Star Destroyers still intact and on Reaper's side.

    "I have your word you'll let Mara go?" Wedge asked sharply.

    "Is my word worth so much?"

    "Is it, Mara?"

    Mara watched Pellaeon, hawkish, then nodded. "After what he's seen today? Yes."

    Wedge watched Pellaeon fidget under her gaze. "Blasted Jedi," the Imperial muttered.

    That was good enough for Wedge. "Commander Needa, order a cease-fire on the warships in sector nine and redesignate them as non-hostile—but don't hesitate to return fire if fired upon. Orthavan, break off and move to engage Reaper and her escorts." He stared at the haggard image of the older man across from him, and did not bother to tender to him more than the basic courtesies. "Another time, Admiral." He instead tossed a salute to Mara. "May the Force be with you, Mara."

    There was something in her eyes—a confidence and certainty that he hadn't seen there when they'd parted on Coruscant. "I know it is," she assured him.

    * * *​

    The Imperials who stayed were stubborn and stupid. They fought with a desperate, sometimes suicidal fervor—more than one TIE fighter attempted to ram Lusankya's bridge, but none of them completed the attempt.

    Commodore Tabanne's formation dogged their heels, and her swift new ships settled in behind each one, blasting away at their engines to kill their ability to leave. Then she moved on and left them for Fifth Fleet's cruisers, Star Destroyers, or by Lusankya herself.

    Measure by measure, the new pride of the Rendli shipyards were taking their revenge, under the audacious command of one of Fifth Fleet's blazing new stars.

    * * *​

    Tycho watched Reaper burn. Lusankya's volleys were now coming a touch more ragged, a touch slower, but still enough to start melting through armor plate and bulkheads and crew corridors. It was a magnificent moment.

    It was a terrible one.

    It was time to end their misery.

    His HUD beeped yellow as he tracked it over Reaper, and then he had the solid hum and red box of a good torpedo lock. He waited until he heard the echoes of confirmation from his squadron leaders, and then pulled the trigger.

    Hundreds of proton torpedoes erupted from the massed snubs under his command. Before them, about ten kilometers away, Lusankya's turbolasers and ion cannons skittered over what remained of Reaper's shields and her hull, illuminated by running lights—rapidly going dark—or sections of hull erupting in small explosions. On either side, other New Republic ships closed the distance, adding more incoming fire. Orthavan's barrage followed Lusankya's, turning small explosions into big ones and ripping larger holes in Reaper's hull. Emancipator and Freedom were now free after dealing with a pair of enemy Star Destroyers that were now naught but scattered debris across Carida's orbit; the two Republic ships were damaged but determined, and Sair Yonka's Impstar and her crew already knew what it meant to go toe to toe with a Super Star Destroyer and win.

    There were still a half-dozen enemy Star Destroyers clustered together in a bastion formation, protecting one another, but unable to help Reaper. Reaper fought alone, as if crewed by novices, relying on size and strength alone.

    Size and strength were not enough and, in the end, training told.

    The torpedo volley hit home and Tycho launched a second. Then a third. Reaper's shields collapsed, all the incoming turbolaser fire instantly chewing through armor. The big ship's bridge vanished, an enormous crater blooming in its place.

    More torpedoes followed.

    There was no spectacular explosion. No final moment of victory for the holos. Reaper simply went from a warship to a hulk, occasional guns firing at its foes—but only occasional, and never for long. Engines sputtered and died, running lights went dark and then flickered as surviving engineers managed to get emergency power back in one section or another. Reaper's momentum carried her out towards open space, spitting out shuttles and escape pods as she went.

    Maybe the ship was salvageable, but Tycho doubted it. The New Republic ships would keep firing until it melted into a comet of slag.

    With its death, the remaining Imperials conceded the fight. Unlike Reaper, those ships were ably led, and their commander had clearly foreseen exactly this series of events. Using Reaper's bulk as a temporary shield, the remaining Star Destroyers surged to life. Reaper was no longer any kind of weapon, but even dead she could absorb a lot of punishment.

    Led by Judicator, the last of the Imperial fleet vanished into hyperspace, leaving behind the broken husks of dozens of warships.

    As Tycho watched, Lusankya and her escorts reformed and moved calmly until they orbited Carida. As they took the same position that Reaper had held, above the planet's most populated continent, Tycho knew that the Imperials on the ground could look up and see clearly the massive, kilometer-wide Starbird symbols on the Super Star Destroyer's hull.

    * * *​

    Kyp woke slowly, with a pounding headache.

    The light was too bright and there was an annoying hum that was much too loud, but it grew quieter as he regained consciousness.

    He sat up, gasping as he did, flailing both physically and mentally. Was he free, could he move? Panic gripped his throat as he tried to breathe—

    "Relax," the familiar voice of Mara Jade told him. "Here, drink this."

    Kyp took the offered canteen with his free hand—his other arm was in a sling and ached mightily—and drank from it thirstily before he focused on her. Mara was still wearing the same Imperial agent's outfit she had been wearing earlier—the last few days felt like a dizzy haze, none of those memories felt real—but she clearly was. Slowly, those memories went from fantasy to horrifying reality.

    "Relax," Mara repeated, and this time her tone was more demanding. "Exar Kun is gone from here."

    "W-where did he go?" Kyp asked in confusion.

    Mara shrugged. "Don't know. Back to Yavin I would guess. The Jedi in the Holocron were insistent he had to be defeated there. I think his spirit was traveling in that amulet you were wearing."

    He took in their surroundings. He was pretty sure they were in the back of a shuttle—he'd never been in a shuttle of this type before, but they were all more or less the same. To his surprise, he heard a familiar electronic whistle and Artoo-Detoo trundled through the narrow door that led to the cockpit.

    "Artoo?"

    The droid rolled up to him, extended his welder, and shocked Kyp's foot.

    "Ouch!" Kyp recoiled backwards, giving the droid an aggrieved look.

    "It wasn't all his fault, Artoo," Mara chided. Her green eyes regarded him with a precise, measuring gaze that made him feel small. "It was some his fault, though," she added pointedly, the words making him fold in on himself, uncertainty and shame taking their place as he remembered all that had happened.

    His betrayal of Luke on Yavin.

    His murder of Brakiss.

    His bombardment of Carida.

    "But you're hardly the only one to make mistakes," Mara said. "Just look at Kam and me. Who you were yesterday isn't as important as who you choose to be today, and who you want to be tomorrow."

    "You sound like Luke."

    Mara's expression went through a mix of emotions. "Doesn't mean I'm wrong."

    "Trader Jade?" a clipped, coreworld accent called from the back of the shuttle. There was an open door there that looked out onto the white deck of a Star Destroyer's hangar. "We're about to come out of hyperspace."

    "Stay here," she told Kyp.

    "Wait, they're letting us go?" he asked, confused. "But—"

    "You're not the only one who realized he made a mistake today," Mara said. "Look after him, Artoo. I'll be right back."

    * * *​

    Admiral Pellaeon and Commander Dreyf watched as Mara trotted down the landing ramp of Pellaeon's Lambda-class shuttle Syrena like she owned it.

    After what had happened, he supposed she did. It was the only vessel of any sufficient size docked in the small bridge tower hangar.

    "Did you fire that lightsaber into the sun like I told you to?" she asked.

    "Nobody touched it but the probe droids," Pellaeon confirmed. "Was that really necessary?"

    Mara shrugged. "I have no idea. Did you want to take the chance?"

    "Sir, we may still have pursuers," Dreyf reminded them. "We shouldn't take too much time to chat." He stepped forward, handing Mara a datapad. Pellaeon watched as she reviewed it quickly. "It's all there," Dreyf assured her.

    "Forgive me for wanting to make sure of that myself," Mara said dryly.

    She hit a button on the datapad, and on its tiny flatscreen a video started to play. "Admiral Pellaeon's failure to win the battles he has been given can only be explained by either incompetence or treason…" the recording ran on with pitiless shortsightedness and precise diction, and Pellaeon felt his expression grow hard with anger. Those bastards.

    Mara tapped again, skipping ahead to the marked section of the recording. "Pellaeon has proven time and again that whatever his reputation among the Starfleet, he cannot win battles when it matters," said the now-familiar voice of Colonel Welko.

    "That's Welko," Dreyf told Mara. "He's the one who seized Reaper."

    "We judged Kaine wanting and disposed of him," said the other recorded voice.

    "And that is Carias," Dreyf added, sounding satisfied.

    Mara paused the recording. "How did you get this?"

    "I bugged Welko's private comm," Dreyf said. He had a small smug smile that he quickly mastered when he noticed Pellaeon looking at him. "It seemed like a good idea after what happened on Coruscant. I had reason to believe that he knew more than he'd been telling."

    "We weren't stupid," Pellaeon put in huffily. "We knew ISB couldn't be trusted."

    Mara turned and arched an eyebrow at him. "I tolerated them too, when I served Palpatine. Because he told me they were for the greater good. But you know what? Palpatine lied."

    Pellaeon stiffened. He wanted to object, but his objection died at the calm certainty in her eyes.

    "I'm going to want the X-wing back," she told him. "Don't let anything happen to it. Its owner is quite fond of it, and I won't be the one responsible for him losing it if I can help it."

    "It's clearly a well-loved fighter," Dreyf commented.

    "Move it to deep storage. That way, if I have to break in and steal it back, I'll know exactly where it is."

    "Very funny," Pellaeon grumbled. "Our hyperdrive is damaged and we probably only have one more short jump in us before we'll have to stop for repairs, so you had better get going before ISB finds us."

    Mara waved the datapad at him, then turned to head up the shuttle's ramp. "One other thing before I go. What should I tell the New Republic about whose side you are on?"

    "The same side I've always been on," Pellaeon said stiffly. "The side of order and justice."

    Mara stopped and turned to look at him. "So was I," she said after a long moment. "But I've seen more order and done more justice serving as a smuggler's assistant than I ever did as the Emperor's Hand."

    Gilad Pellaeon thought about that long after she was gone.
     
    Chyntuck and Gabri_Jade like this.
  8. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Chapter 35

    Leia watched Mon Mothma with relief. The Chief of State had her normal strength and poise back. Mon Mothma had been pale after her emergence from Bacta, and there had been some rumblings and sludgenews gossip that her injuries were more severe than had been reported. Those rumblings faded after she spent two hours facing down reporters, justifying the New Republic's assault on the Argosy District.

    Now she was presiding over something far more enjoyable.

    The Senate chambers were full of dignitaries and observers. The interior, spherical space of the Galactic Senate echoed with soft conversation, but all attention was on the people who sat in the middle of that open space, taking the final vote.

    "Councilor Organa Solo of Alderaan, your vote?" Threepio asked.

    Leia stood. "As representative of the Survivors of Alderaan, and a member of the New Republic's Provisional Council, I vote to accept the proposed Grand Concordat, and formally establish new mechanisms of representative government."

    "Councilor Organa Solo of Alderaan votes yes," Threepio reported. "And you, Councilor Kerrithrarr?"

    The Wookiee growled out his short, pithy answer.

    "Councilor Kerrithrarr of Kashyyyk votes yes," Threepio confirmed. "And you, Councilor Fey'lya?"

    Fey'lya stood slowly, always one to seize the moment, and let the silence linger. He folded his hands together and bowed his head. "When I joined the Rebellion against the Empire, it was with the dream of restoring the principles of the Old Republic with this New Republic. The species of the galaxy were suppressed by the Empire and forced to exist as second-class citizens for the duration of its rule. This new ruling document will ensure that sad state of affairs will never occur again." He spread his hands back apart. "I hereby cast my vote to accept the proposed Grand Concordat."

    "Grandstander," whispered Winter.

    "And he's wrong, too," Leia whispered back. "No document can ensure anything of the sort. It falls to the people to protect the principles of government."

    "I guess he missed your speech at Garm's memorial." Winter muttered darkly.

    "Councilor Fey'lya of Kolthis votes yes," Threepio said, in his same tone of voice. "Councilor Beruss of Corellia-in-exile, your vote?"

    Leia turned to watch Doman Beruss as she stood. She had resigned this position not long ago, to spend more time with her grandchildren, secure in the knowledge that Garm Bel Iblis had returned to don political raiment. Her reluctance to speak was obvious, and everyone knew this would be her last vote before she resigned once again. "Gentlebeings," she said softly. "This draft exists only because of the efforts of a great man. Senator Garm Bel Iblis was the heart of Corellia's galactic presence for the better part of a century. He led us through the Clone Wars and the Galactic Civil War with unmatched ability. He was a reluctant warrior and a passionate scholar. And none should forget that it is thanks to him—his sacrifice, and his wisdom—that we all have come to this point today."

    The people in the room—Senators and observers alike—bowed their heads momentarily.

    Doman Beruss breathed. "This will be my last vote as a member of this body. I resigned once before, and I only agreed to resume my post contingent that I might cast my vote as I know he would have cast it." She gazed out, meeting Leia's eyes briefly, and then nodded. "Councilor Bel Iblis of Corellia votes to accept the proposed Grand Concordat."

    There was a ripple of applause.

    "Councilor—" Threepio hesitated, "—Bel Iblis of Corellia-in-exile votes yes," he finished. "Councilor Ackbar?"

    The Mon Calamari at the dais rose. Councilor Ackbar—for it was just Councilor now, as Gial had resigned his position in the New Republic Defense Forces—rose. His voice was gravelly with emotion. "On behalf of all the sentients of Mon Calamari, and all those who have fought to secure this day, I vote for the proposal."

    "Councilor Ackbar of Mon Calamari votes yes," Threepio faithfully reported. "Chief of State Mon Mothma, I am delighted to announce that the vote is nine to zero. The proposal is adopted, and the Republic has been established."

    Leia couldn't help the sudden burst of tears, and she was not the only one to be overwhelmed by emotion. The chamber swelled with it, joy and celebration swirling around them, and she and Winter wrapped one another in a tight, teary hug.

    * * *​

    "So that's it, huh?" Han asked. "Now we've got a government?" His eyes narrowed. "And is anything actually going to change?"

    Leia laughed, holding Jaina in her arms. The twins both seemed overwhelmed by the emotion of the day—although they'd been kept rather safely distant from the crush of people, behind a determined row of Noghri defenders and a handful of Kerrithrarr's honor guard. "Yes," she said cheerfully, still laughing. "Everything's about to get a whole lot harder."

    "Oh great," Han muttered. "That sounds about right."

    "Congratulations," said Iella Wessiri, grinning as she emerged out of the crowd of security, looking like herself again. "Between this and the victory at Carida, it's starting to look like we're really about to win."

    "Bite your tongue," Winter said, though she too was smiling.

    "Speaking of which…" Iella turned to look at Han. "You know there is a great deal of speculation about who Doman Beruss' successor as Senator from Corellia will be. Would you be surprised that your odds of receiving the position are as high as one in ten?"

    "Mine?" Han asked with a laugh. "You're joking, right?"

    Iella grinned at him. "Afraid not."

    "Well, fine," Han said. "I'll do it."

    Iella, Winter, and Leia all stared at him. "What?" Leia asked, stunned.

    "On one condition," Han added. "I don't actually have to attend any meetings or be present in the Senate chamber ever. For the purposes of every vote, I'll vote however Leia votes." He shrugged. "I trust her judgment more than mine."

    They all laughed. "Somehow I don't think that would be acceptable," Winter said.

    "Aw, that's a shame," said Han dryly. "Oh well. I'll just have to stay home and raise my kids and Leia will get only one vote in the Senate."

    "Are you going to Carida?" Leia asked Iella.

    Iella nodded. "On the next convoy. Some of Home Fleet is being sent out to garrison the system so Fifth Fleet can dispatch ships home for repair. I'll be going along with an NRI team to investigate everything we captured from the system." She grinned. "But really to pick up Wedge and bring him back so he can meet with the new Inner Council." She glanced down at her wristcomm, then smiled. "Come with me, we have someone to meet."

    * * *​

    Mara cut in the repulsors and brought Syrena's wings up into landing position as they descended towards the Senatorial Skyhook. "Artoo, make sure we have our landing berth. Kyp, go extend the landing gear."

    She watched him subtly as he did as she instructed. He was still subdued, but Kyp had always been quiet. He seemed older, less like the boy he'd been, like some of Exar Kun's age and weight had rubbed off in the brief time they'd been together. But she didn't like thinking about any part of Exar Kun living on in the young man, so she opted to attribute the change to experience.

    Hard-earned experience.

    The shuttle rocked gently as she set it down on the pad. She slapped down the aft docking ramp and heard it start to crank.

    Artoo whistled, retracting from the shuttle's computer, and then rolling towards the back.

    "Leia and Han are out there," Kyp said nervously. "What do I tell them?"

    "The truth," Mara suggested.

    The aft ramp hit the ground and there was the sound of whistling. "Artoo-Detoo, it is you!" came Threepio's voice. "What trouble have you gotten into this time? And what did you do with Master Luke's X-wing?"

    She watched as Kyp made his cautious way to the back of the shuttle. Kyp stared down to where Han and Leia were gathered with Winter and Chewbacca, the twins in a stroller squirming excitedly, and then suddenly he was in Han and Leia's embrace. Mara just watched, leaning against Pellaeon's borrowed shuttle, sensing for a moment the weight of the lightsaber hanging at her belt and knowing that this homecoming was different.

    "Hey, sister," Han had disentangled himself from Kyp and was peering up at her from the bottom of the ramp. "Bring it in." He waved at her. "You're family too, you know."

    She rolled her eyes. "And what do you have to offer that I'd actually want, Solo?" she asked sarcastically, stepping down the shuttle's landing ramp.

    "Cute," Han snarked, and enfolded her in a hug.

    She ought to resist, she thought as he squeezed her against him; she refused to hug him back. She did have a knee she could use to get herself free, but she saw Jacen smiling up at her from his spot in the stroller, and above him was his mother, offering her an identical smile, and she sighed and just let Han hug her until he finally let her go.

    "Ugh," she muttered, straightening her outfit just in time for Leia to hug her.

    "Don't worry," Leia whispered in her ear. "I won't tell them you actually like being hugged if you don't." Mara stared at her, stiff in the Senator's embrace until Leia too released her.

    Iella snuck in to greet her too, though she didn't demand a hug. A warm nod of acknowledgement sufficed; Mara sent her a grateful smile.

    "Where's Luke?" Iella asked.

    "Alive, awake, and stuck on Yavin," Mara said. "I'm headed that way as soon as I can get the parts I need to repair my ship loaded onto this junker of a shuttle. I'll probably leave in the morning."

    "I have a better plan," Han volunteered. "We'll find a nice hangar for that Imperial rustbucket, then Chewie and I will help you get the parts and load them onto the Falcon, and we'll all go as soon as they're aboard." He looked at Leia. "Little family getaway?"

    "Han, I really shouldn't leave…" Leia's voice trailed away. She glanced at Winter, who just grinned, then at Mara, then back to Han. "You know what? Let's go. I'll leave Mon Mothma a note."

    "Have fun," Iella said with a smile. "Winter and I have some unpleasant unfinished business to handle."

    * * *​

    Colonel Kaday Carias sat in an unremarkable cell. He knew where it was—of course he knew where it was. ISB knew every inch of the Imperial Palace.

    This cellblock had once been the jurisdiction of Imperial Intelligence. One of Ysanne Isard's favorite little hideaways. But the guards who kept watch weren't stormtroopers.

    He watched them patrol, once every half hour, checking through the window slits in each of the cell doors, the slovenly tread of their Rebel boots clinking over the grated floor of the prison facility. He glowered at them when they peeked through his door, but they never paid him any particular mind.

    The familiar sound of the window slit opening drew his attention. He was pretty sure it hadn't been a half hour since the last check, but it was hard to be sure. Time was a strange thing in prison. The gaze from the far side of the slit didn't belong to the normal patrol, and as he watched the door clicked and swung open as a particle shield pushed him back against the wall.

    Two women walked in. He recognized one of them—she'd stunned him with that accursed blaster after Roeder had gone airborne. The other took him a moment to place, but her shock-white hair—despite her youth—and her obvious pregnancy brought her name to him in a moment of clarity. "Winter," he said.

    "Yes," she agreed. "And this is Agent Wessiri."

    "We have proof that you ordered—or condoned—the assassination of Grand Moff Kaine," Wessiri said. "You're being charged with his death, the death of Senator Garm Bel Iblis, and the attempted assassination of Chief of State Mon Mothma and Senator Leia Organa Solo." She placed a datapad down on the table, which was bolted to the floor in the center of the room, and slid it across to him. The force-shield between them flickered, allowing the object to slide past it—though Iella kept her hand securely on her blaster.

    He took it and didn't look at it.

    "You should also know your coup didn't go off entirely as planned," Wessiri added. "Lusankya destroyed Reaper at Carida. The system is in the hands of the New Republic."

    Carias stiffened. "You're lying."

    "I'm not," Wessiri smiled. It was not a pleasant smile, but one of bitter recrimination. "About a third of the Imperial fleet at Carida refused to go along with the change in leadership. General Antilles waited until the formations were fully engaged with one another, and then dropped in on top of them." There was something in her expression, something that held almost a hint of sympathy… "Due to the actions of the Inquisitorius, the Academy took a direct hit during the mutiny. We're still sorting through the casualties, but twenty or thirty thousand cadets were killed during a brief surface bombardment. Your younger son is among the missing, and he's presumed dead."

    She was lying. She had to be lying. "Go play your psychological games with someone else, Rebel," he scowled.

    The two women glanced at each other. "Your trial will be swift," Winter said with a distinctly Alderaanian accent. "They've already named a prosecutor and assigned your defense team. It will all be held behind closed doors, no press, given the nature of the charges. I am told that there will be some consideration at sentencing if you choose to cooperate."

    "Cooperate!" he laughed. He shook his head slowly, not looking at them, staring at the familiar blank cell walls. "Cooperate," he sighed. He could feel the anger building, these traitors, these cowards, who dared to place themselves in positions of authority.

    Pretenders and apostates! In a sudden fury he flung the datapad at them. It stuck the forcefield, cracked, and fell sparking to the floor. "Cooperate!?" he snarled. "Who do you think I am? I am a patriot!"

    Wessiri had stepped protectively in front of Winter, and they backed out of the room slowly, leaving the ruined datapad on the table behind them.

    * * *​

    "That was fun," muttered Winter.

    "I wasn't really expecting it to go well," Iella admitted. She sighed softly. "Even after all these years, I still sometimes go into rooms with the bad guy and expect… I don't know. An apology? An acknowledgement? An explanation?"

    "He gave you one," Winter replied. "He's a patriot."

    "That doesn't make it better," Iella muttered. "But he's Halla's problem now. Come on, let's go catch up with our boys."

    * * *​

    "Final report on the campaign, sir," Commander Needa announced.

    Wedge stood in Garm's old office. The enormous holo-table in the center of the room displayed a map of the galaxy, painted in bright colors. The contrasting red and blue of the New Republic and the Empire clashed with one another—but along different lines than they had previously.

    Reports were still coming in from the other battles that had been waged as part of Garm's Hammer. Some sectors reported victories; others reported defeats or stalemates. All of them reported a heavy exchange of losses, even or slightly in the New Republic's favor… and as Wedge had told Admirals Ackbar and A'baht before the operation, an even exchange was a victory.

    And with Lusankya in need of repair and refurbishment, A'baht had stepped up to take over the more complex second phase of the campaign.

    He'd been deeply relieved to learn that Lando's operation at Bespin had gone off without a hitch. While the flamboyant gambler was not yet restored to his "Baron Administrator" position, Wedge suspected that it would only be a matter of time.

    The celebrations among the fleet were ongoing. The subdued gatherings aboard Lusankya before the battle of Chazwa paled in comparison to the parties that were in full swing to mark Carida's surrender, much to Wedge's mild chagrin.

    While he'd drifted from celebration to celebration, he never stayed too long for his august presence to dampen the fun and had in fact spent most of his time visiting the wounded. The list of dead was unbearably long, including far, far too many people that Wedge had known dating back to the Rebellion. Endurance, Moonshadow, Rebel Dream… so many ships had been lost, and Lusankya's medical bays were full nearly to capacity.

    He'd tried hard not to check on too many individual people, but he'd been indulgent and checked on a few. Sena's son Dayvid was a doctor aboard Orthavan, and had made it through unharmed. While Sena's spirit was still dampened by the news of Garm's death, being informed of her son's survival had produced a vivid relief which buoyed Wedge to see.

    "Sir, if I may," Needa said cautiously as Wedge took the datapad. "You're not needed on duty right now. Captain Kre'fey can take fleet command if you want to meet—"

    "I've already handed off the shift, Commander."

    Needa's mouth snapped shut. "I'm sorry, sir, I just meant—"

    "Apology accepted," Wedge said with a laugh. "And unnecessary. You've done well."

    The former Imperial brightened, offering Wedge a surprisingly youthful grin through his stubble. "Thank you, sir. And, sir, thank you for talking with me at Chazwa. It helped."

    "Anytime, Commander. Just don't forget that anything we do here, it's all done by people." Wedge wondered which of them he was talking to—Needa or himself. "The higher up you get the harder it is to remember that, to feel each loss." He glanced at the datapad, skimmed the status report, and handed it back to the younger man. "Go get some rack time."

    "And you, sir?"

    Wedge smiled. "Don't worry about me, Commander. I won't be alone for long."

    Needa gave a micron-precise salute and departed to Wedge's causal wave of acknowledgement. Once he was safely gone, Wedge checked the timer on Iella's arrival—she was just landing, and still had a long turbolift ride between the hangar and his quarters, especially with things aboard Lusankya as busy as they were—so Wedge leaned against one of the false-windows and gazed down at Carida spinning slowly below.

    Please. He thought, as he replayed the battle again in his mind, please let me never find these losses 'acceptable.'

    * * *​

    Iella arrived at Carida with a NRI team aboard an intelligence courier, but for the trip back to Coruscant they had a different transport.

    Commodore—and the rank had been made permanent—Atril Tabanne's flagship, Rendili Vigil, was a larger vessel than the modified Corellian Corvette Ession Strike had been, but not by too much. Still, unlike Strike, Vigil came from a line designed from the start as carriers, and so she comfortably fit her single squadron of fighters (E-wings, in Vigil's case) and a single transport shuttle. "General Antilles, arriving," Atril greeted him with an obnoxiously formal salute.

    The hangar was tight and compact—more than was really comfortable for its obviously put-upon maintenance crews—but it also had that new ship gleam to it, and the well-organized buzz of a happy New Republic ship rather than the spit-shined precision of an Imperial vessel. "Atril," Wedge said, fighting a grin at the formality and dismissed her with a weary salute of his own.

    "Welcome aboard, sir. Get comfortable and I'll have us back to Coruscant in no time." She grinned at him, offered Wedge's four companions—Tycho and Winter, hand in hand, Iella, and Sena—a smile and a casual salute, and then she was gone.

    "[This way sir]," a young Rodian marine buzzed, before guiding them through the ship. Like the hangar, the rest of Rendili Vigil was compact but well-organized, with painted floors to make it easy for people to travel from one end of the ship to the other. Lifts and ladders were both present within so people and equipment could move from deck to deck even if the power was out. They arrived at the bow of the ship. "[The forward lounge. The Commodore will be joining you once we're in hyperspace, but she thought you'd appreciate the view from here.]"

    "Thank you, Corporal," Wedge gave him a nod.

    The lounge was more spacious than the rest of the ship, with an armored transparisteel view that looked out into space.

    He could feel Tycho starting to speak, stopping, then starting again. "I know," Wedge said, glancing at him over his shoulder. "I know. One last campaign. Where are you headed?"

    Tycho sighed. "General Salm asked me to join the faculty of the new Starfighter academy."

    "You're back on speaking terms?" Iella asked, surprised.

    "Something like that. I'll be honing the fine edges of already-experienced pilots even finer and developing doctrine with him as soon as the facilities are up and running. It's going to be quartered on Coruscant for now, but…"

    "You'll be able to be there when Mia is born?" Wedge said with a smile.

    "And help Winter raise her," Tycho agreed, taking Winter's hand in his. "I've already talked to Hobbie about taking over the Rogues."

    "Not Janson?"

    "Wedge."

    They shared a laugh. "We hurt the Empire here," Wedge said seriously. "Much more badly than I thought we would, especially so quickly. With the resources they have left, I don't see them taking the offensive again anytime soon."

    "No, they likely won't," said Sena. She glanced up at each of them. "We did hit the Empire hard. But that doesn't mean it's going to stay so toothless forever." She settled into one of the comfortable chairs that looked out over Carida's orbit, and they all watched Lusankya hover peaceably above the formerly-Imperial fortress world, keeping a close watch on it, while the rest of the fleet dismantled every Imperial fortress, shipyard slip, and repair yard. "Or that we can get greedy with what we've already bitten off. There are still millions of people loyal to the Empire on Carida alone," she added. "There's sure to be a guerilla campaign against our occupation, and there's already fighting on the ground at Chazwa. There are billions more Imperial loyalists in the Oversector. And now, after today, the Imperial Security Bureau and Inquisitorius are fully in control of Kaine's territories."

    "But we're not the same either," Winter countered. "The New Republic is not just a pretender anymore. We have a government. The Senate is being fully reconstituted, the bureaucracy is being restored. The system of local sector governance is being expanded." Winter settled into a chair next to Sena, turning to look at her. "And that New Republic needs you."

    Sena frowned with confusion, and then her eyes went wide. "Oh no."

    "Who better to be Corellia's new Senator?" Winter challenged. "You were Garm's political aide before you were his military aide. You were part of all those debates with Bail Organa, Mon Mothma and Garm when the Rebellion was still in its early days. You remember the Old Republic and its problems, and you know all the players."

    Sena closed her eyes, resting her elbows on her knees. "I can't replace Garm," she said, a flutter in her voice.

    "No one can," said Wedge. "Not me, not you. But we can do our best in his absence, and we can honor his memory. I can't think of a finer Senator."

    Sena sighed. "I'll think about it."

    "All hands, prepare for hyperspace," announced Atril over the ship's intercom. "In three, two, one…"

    Rendili Vigil leapt into hyperspace, and the stars visible through the ship's observation windows twirled from bright points into otherworldly spirals of light.
     
    Chyntuck and Gabri_Jade like this.
  9. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Chapter 36

    Iella had her arm hooked through Wedge's as they exited the hovertaxi which had ferried them from the Senatorial Skyhook back to Coruscant's surface. She slid in next to him, her arm warm against his, and he rested his hand over hers and enjoyed the luxury of the simple touch.

    The Corellian Sanctuary—more formally named the Sanctuary for the Corellian Exiles, was near the reclaimed Worker District. It had once been a manufacturing block, but it had been run by aliens and its proximity to the Senate District—and the Imperial Palace—had led the Empire to shutter the warehouses. When the New Republic had reclaimed Coruscant and named the world its capital, one of those manufacturing firms—a Drall operation whose headquarters was in the Corellia system—had given the land for the creation of the sanctuary.

    So many Corellians had died fighting the Empire and with the Diktat still in power in their home system their remains could not be brought home for proper burial. The Sanctuary was the response.

    Most people thought Corellians did everything loudly. Most people would be right, and Wedge had yet to find a group of Corellians larger than two who agreed on everything (and even two was pushing it), but the memorial was something every Corellian exile appreciated, a place of peaceful contemplation.

    They passed a statue of a squad of Rebel soldiers, wearing the combat uniforms that Han's team had worn on Endor's surface—one of the group bore a not inconsiderable resemblance to the man who had become Corellia's most famous exile—and behind the statue was a simple slab of obsidian that bore the name of every Corellian who had fallen between the Declaration of Rebellion and today. The list would continue to grow, Wedge knew, until Corellia was finally free of the Empire.

    Iella grabbed his hand as he just watched. There was a droid, painted in Corellian colors, steadily inscribing new names in the stone. There was space for hundreds, even thousands… maybe more, and Areta Bell's name would be among them. And hers was one of the few he actually knew. Even as he watched, the droid inscribed three names whose deaths Wedge had ordered but which he had never before seen outside of a single datapad entry.

    Iella tugged him away. "I'd tell you it's not your fault, but you wouldn't believe me," she said softly.

    "I didn't start the war," Wedge conceded. "But I could have fought Chazwa better."

    They drew attention on their visit. It didn't help that Wedge was in full dress uniform, and it wasn't just that he was increasingly famous—as the leader of the Rogues, and now as the man who had taken Carida—but they went remarkably undisturbed. Even sludgenews knew better than to intrude within a memorial—and if they didn't, well, Corellians were often armed and ornery.

    "Thanks to you, we're one step closer to ending it," Iella replied softly. "If not for ISB, it might be over."

    Together, they stepped into the mausoleum. Inside was a dome painted black as the void, glittering with the artificial diamonds made of the remains of so many fallen Corellians. The constellations were starting to take form, and brighter stars now had clusters of diamonds together, each glittering with illumination.

    In the middle of the mausoleum was Garm's bier. His remains had also been compressed into a diamond that sat atop the bier, a narrow column of light cast atop it. The bier below was covered with a tapestry, sewn in the image of Corellia's continents. A place to house him temporarily, until they could bring him home. The bier was strewn with flowers, candies, notes, and small sculptures of Katana dreadnaughts. Tokens of appreciation from thousands of grateful Corellians.

    Wedge could feel the eyes on him as he disentangled himself from Iella. Silently, he removed a piece of carbon-scoured durasteel from his coat pocket. It had been part of Reaper's keel plate, and at his request Lusankya's deck gang had carved into it the shape of a Starbird seal—the same seal which graced the hull of every one of their ships. Of Garm's ships, at Garm's request.

    "Thank you," Wedge spoke quietly, feeling Iella lean into his side. "Thank you for your instruction and your example. Thank you for the Rebellion. Thank you for saving Leia's life. I don't know what the Republic would do without her. Thank you for Leia, Garm."

    Iella murmured a muted goodbye of her own. Wedge set the Starbird atop the bier, and then they slipped back into the quiet crowds.

    On the far side of the mausoleum, the pair stopped by one of the glittering diamonds they both knew by heart. With a slightly trembling hand, Iella reached out and waved her hand near it. The holodisplay, regally designed, produced the man's visage and a subtle epitaph.

    DIRIC WESSIRI. LOVING HUSBAND. SEEKER OF TRUTH AND JUSTICE FOR THE DISREGARDED. ROYAL PAIN UNTIL HE HAD HIS CAF. KILLED BY YSANNE ISARD. HE WAS AVENGED.

    Iella didn't cry. Those tears had been shed long ago, often while Wedge or Corran had held her hand. She leaned into Wedge's side again, resting her head on his shoulder, and closed her eyes.

    After a moment, Iella waved her hand to dismiss the message.

    Thank you for saving Iella's life, he thought. I don't know what I would do without her. Thank you for Iella, Diric.

    By mutual and silent agreement, they parted. Iella took a seat on a nearby bench and sat, staring at the Corellian sky. Wedge moved on to another familiar location and stood before its display.

    This one had no diamond, for the explosion had left his parents no bodies to recover from the wreckage at Gus Treta, but when the Sanctuary had first been proposed Wedge had seen to it that the room reserved for voidborn Corellians had a place for them. Their images were donated from his own small stash of holos from before, and they looked closer to peers than parents each time he visited.

    JAGGED AND ZENA ANTILLES. DEVOTED PARTNERS, BELOVED PARENTS. GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE SERVICE OF OTHERS AT GUS TRETA.

    Wedge took a seat on a nearby bench. "I made a lot of orphans this time, Dad," he said softly. "A lot of bodies floating in space, ours and theirs, because I had an idea and a fire in my belly. I don't know how you or Mom could be proud of me for it. I'm not. I hope you can understand why, because I'm struggling." He stopped, closed his eyes, then opened them again. "And I promise. I'll find Syal. She and Soontir are out there somewhere—they're too tough and smart not to be. I'll find them."

    * * *​

    The hike back to the Great Temple took far longer than the hike out. The three Jedi moved through the healing jungle without haste and with careful steps. Luke was exhausted and just out of a healing trance, so Kam and Slips had taken charge of repairing Mara's ship—though the droid took some convincing before he allowed Kam near the helm to run some diagnostics or by the engines to remove the busted parts. Ultimately Tionne had been the one to convince him—the droid liked Tionne, so after she vouched for Kam's good character, Slips had reluctantly let Kam in the cockpit. They hadn't been able to repair the ship—they simply lacked the parts, and nothing that had been left behind by the Rebellion sufficed as a replacement—so they waited.

    Kam watched the droid putter around the cockpit, exchanging an occasional beep with Tionne. The songstress whistled back at him as she worked on her songs, sounding remarkably like a droid herself when she did. Kam didn't think she could speak binary… but after what they had endured together, he had resolved never to doubt her.

    The fact that they were stranded didn't bother them. Once Exar Kun had been cleansed from his temple, the shadow of the Dark which had hovered over the jungle receded with remarkable swiftness. It seemed like even the animal and tree life itself recognized the difference, and Kam thought he noticed a distinct increase in the sounds of the jungle.

    It seemed… more cheerful.

    Though, Kam thought, maybe that was just his perception of it, and not any real difference.

    Tionne stood suddenly, surprising both him and Slips. The droid beeped in sudden alarm, and Tionne looked down at the rotund form of the piloting droid. "Everything's fine, Slippy," she waved away his concerns. "I just decided I want to recline."

    She flowed past, practically skipping out of the cockpit and into the mess. As Kam watched, Tionne collected an eclectic group of items: a pair of welder's goggles, a transparent glass (which she filled with a neon-iridescent drink which she had apparently procured the ingredients for from one of the Mettle's shelves), and a wrench. She adjusted one of the mess' chairs until it reclined, put on the goggles, then settled into the reclining chair and kicked off her spacer's boots.

    Kam choked back a laugh as she sat and hummed to herself. Slips rolled into the mess slowly, as if spying.

    "Oh, come here, Slips. You can join me, it's not like you're doing anything in the cockpit."

    The droid rolled his way over to settle next to her.

    Something had changed in all of them, Kam knew, but there was something especially different about him and Tionne. They had watched through the Force as a staggering number of souls had been freed from Exar Kun's machinations. Each one had flowed to them, almost through them, centuries of pain and torment relieved as the trio of Jedi had broken the Sith's hold. Relief and gratefulness had been the only emotions that Kam had felt from any of them—relief to have attained freedom, and gratefulness to those who had delivered them.

    It was not absolution, Kam knew. But it had been an act of good. And if he could keep doing good acts, he would live up to the hopes his father had once had for him, and perhaps if he lived long enough and hewed to the Light… that would be enough.

    Tionne, though… Tionne had emerged from that experience with bloody fingers and a sense of weight. She seemed more serious—at least, more serious in some moments—than she had before they had entered the tomb, and from the way she gleamed in the Force, the transformation was of more than her demeanor.

    She positively shone, as if she were a restored votive sculpture to some ancient goddess. A soft glow clung to her, and it resonated with each mended fracture.

    Tionne took a sip of her beverage, patted Slips' dome, then looked over at Kam. "You don't have to huddle in the corner, you know." She waved the wrench at him. "We can recline you a chair."

    "Mara might not take kindly to us rearranging her space," Kam pointed out.

    "Her bark is worse than her bite," Tionne said dismissively. "She loves Luke too much to do anything that might actually hurt me." She frowned. "She might strand me somewhere though."

    Ranik Solusar's lightsaber still hung from her battered utility belt, and her double-viol sat on the ground next to her. He watched that lightsaber for a moment, recalling all the memories he had of the weapon.

    "Do you want it back?"

    His gaze moved from the hilt to her face. "No," he said with a shake of his head. "I don't need two, and you need one."

    "I don't know if I need it exactly," Tionne mused. "But I'm glad to have it."

    "That's a good enough reason for you to keep it," Kam assured her.

    Tionne pulled a second chair next to her and patted the seat. Kam settled into it and poured himself a glass of the neon concoction she was drinking. She watched him pour, curling her legs under her as she laid on her side.

    He took a sip and coughed out a fine mix of what could only be a sweetened, barely distilled engine coolant.

    Tionne laughed and flashed him a grin. "I should have warned you."

    He coughed some more, flailing a bit. "Sithspawn, Tionne, what did you put in it, hyperdrive fuel?"

    "Where do you think it gets its color?" She took a sip, seemingly unaffected by the toxic concoction. "You said this was your father's?" she asked, patting Ranik's lightsaber.

    He nodded.

    "Tell me about him?"

    Kam sank into the chair. He could feel Tionne's eyes on him—not to mention Slips, who was rather quiet, but still right there, watching them both. After a minute to consider how to answer, he nodded. "I'm tall like him. He was a Jedi Knight, but he was exiled from the order after I was born. He was absolutely determined to help out everyone and everything he ran across, even if he couldn't do it as a Jedi."

    He glanced at his companion, who had pushed her goggles up to listen. She smiled at him. He smiled back.

    "He'd have liked you," he said, certain.

    Her smile became a grin. "If he was anything like you, I'd have liked him too." She stood abruptly. "I got these goggles to protect me from the sunlight, but there isn't any in here. Let's go sit outside and enjoy the sunset."

    She patted Slips on the dome, then vanished down the spiral stairs that hugged the inside of Tempered Mettle's nose. Kam followed, wondering if Tionne was capable of sitting still for any kind of extended period—then immediately felt bad about it when he remembered that she'd been locked in that cell on Vjun for almost a month.

    Luke was elsewhere. Kam could feel him higher up in the Great Temple, looking out over the vegetation and greenery of Yavin. Above them, the enormous orange shape of Yavin filled the sky, darkening as the moon spun around it. Tempered Mettle's emergency lights came on, adding some light as darkness fell, but Kam barely noticed as he and Tionne huddled closer together, a tapestry of softly-twinkling stars spreading out above them.

    * * *​

    The Millennium Falcon burst into realspace in the Yavin system, and the experience gave Han a distinct feeling of deja vu. Once before he'd arrived at Yavin, but then it had been a hurried arrival, one that carried with it a sense of impending dread. Dread at pursuit by the Death Star, at the idea of being impressed into service fighting that monstrosity… and at the idea of abandoning Luke and Leia to its mercy.

    There was no dread at this arrival. Han, Chewie, and Leia had spent the trip talking with Kyp. Listening to his story pour from him, the emotions of what had occurred; his anger and his shame. It had been exhausting for all of them, but when the story was told Kyp seemed… well, not unburdened, but less burdened.

    For one extended discussion they had clustered around the table in the Falcon's lounge. Han had forgotten Mara's presence—she had settled down in a comfortable chair in the corner, not saying a word—until she had reminded them that she was there by adding her own observation. "The Dark Side offers everything you think you want," she had quoted Luke, "especially in those moments where you only see with anger."

    She had looked at Leia, and the two of them had shared a moment that Han did not fully understand. He knew what it was like to see with anger, of course—who didn't?—but the Force was a mystery to him.

    He was suddenly glad, so very glad, that Leia had not died. There were innumerable reasons that was true, of course, but… Jacen and Jaina—and Kyp—had the Force, and that was something he would never be able to fully understand or teach. They needed Leia.

    Thank you, Garm.

    "Credit for your thoughts?" his wife asked, resting her head on his shoulder as Han and Chewie brought the Falcon down towards the Great Temple.

    "Aw, it's nothing," he said with a laugh. He spared her a smile. "Just glad you're here, that's all."

    Han Solo was no Jedi, but when his wife brushed a kiss over his head after the landing, he could swear he felt a warm glow all around him.

    * * *​

    Luke looked up as the Falcon sank down from the heavens, the familiar, practically familial sound of the freighter's repulsorlifts growing louder as it grew larger in his vision.

    They were near enough, now, that Luke could have reached out to Mara with their bond to share words as well as sensations, but neither of them did. Her presence grew in his chest, the slim thread that connected them becoming an interlacing weave, and she was there.

    The Falcon settled to the ground in the Great Temple's hangar, its landing gear pressing to the ground as it took a spot next to the wounded Tempered Mettle. The Falcon's landing ramp opened, and suddenly Mara was standing at the top of it. Her walk down the ramp was unhurried, as was his up the ramp toward her, but their embrace was sudden and tight. Her hands dug into his back as she pressed her forehead into his shoulder, and he buried his nose against her hair, and they blocked the ramp for a very long time.

    "I love you," she whispered.

    He drew back, catching a glimpse of Han and Leia's grins at the top of the ramp but refusing to allow them to distract him. He took Mara's hands in his and kissed her gently, feeling her mind warm against his. "I love you, too," he whispered back.

    * * *​

    "You know, I actually like it here, now that Exar Kun is gone," Luke said, keeping his hand tight around Mara's. Han and Chewie were off using Tempered Mettle's galley and the Falcon's supplies to make them all a feast—Chewbacca and Mara had just finished repairing the Mettle's hyperdrive and they had all agreed to have one last meal together planetside before dividing onto the two ships to return to Coruscant—and the rest of them stood or sat on one of the exterior balcony levels of the Temple. Yavin swelled with life and energy, the sounds of animals and sensations of the breeze lending a sense of ease and acceptance.

    "Really?" asked Leia. She looked out over the jungle. They were all sitting on the exterior of the Great Temple, the marvelous Massassi architecture providing them with a view as fine as the jungle itself.

    "Me too," offered Tionne. "It has a peacefulness to it now. A serenity." She strummed gently on her double-viol, even though her fingers had not yet fully healed.

    "It's rained every day since we returned from the Sith temple," Luke said with a laugh. "It's nothing like Tatooine. And there's so much life here… the living Force is strong in this place." He shrugged. "Maybe when we have more apprentices, we'll bring them here for training." He looked up, the orange gas giant shining in the sky, adding to the illumination offered by the planet's star. "And I think the Massassi deserve to be remembered. Exar Kun used them the same as he used everyone else."

    "The way he used me," Kyp said softly.

    "Yes," Luke agreed.

    "Exar Kun was a master manipulator," said a new, but familiar voice. They all turned towards Tionne, because she was the one carrying the Holocron, but the ancient artifact's glow was still dull and the shimmering blue form that had spoken was not being projected by it.

    Vodo-Siosk Baas stood with them, looking out over the landscape.

    "But he too was used," Vodo added. "By Freedon Nadd. The Dark Side thrives on pain and despair. It lurks in the souls of those who rule, in their greed and their selfishness. And it grows in the souls of those who are used, in their pain and their resentment." Those compound, insectoid alien eyes gazed into Luke's. "This galaxy still bleeds," Vodo said. "The Sith left a great wound upon it, one that will take time to heal." The alien Jedi Master nodded sympathetically at Kyp. "Many will face trials like your Apprentice—those who have the Force, and those who do not."

    "I know," Luke replied. "It would help if you could stay, to guide us."

    "I am not sure that it would," Vodo said with a small shake of his head. "You are Jedi." His gaze moved from Luke to the others: Kam, Leia, Tionne, Mara, Kyp, and down at the sleeping forms of Jacen and Jaina, one resting against Leia and the other against Mara. "Or you will be." He turned to look at Luke once more. "All you need is the Force."

    "But there's so much you could tell us," Tionne objected. She lifted the holocron. "Will this recover, to tell us all the stories we've forgotten?"

    "Perhaps," Vodo said. He moved and placed his hand on the Holocron, and the dull blue grew brighter. "Perhaps." He lifted his hand. "Do not forget that there is no one right way to be a Jedi. Our ancient ways have their wisdom, but so do you."

    The silver-haired bard nodded, her eyes wide.

    Vodo looked down at Kyp. "You must care for yourself, if you are to care for the galaxy," Vodo told him. Then to Kam: "They forgive you."

    Kam froze. The big man trembled, his hands clenching as he gripped his thighs, and he nodded a few times before he buckled over, fighting back tears. Tionne slid next to him, grabbing his arm with both her hands as her double-viol fell forgotten at her side. Eventually he looked up and nodded again, his expression torn between agony and relief.

    When Vodo turned to look at Leia, she gazed back with trepidation. He looked down at the sleeping twins, his expression shifting into something that Luke thought was probably his species' equivalent of a smile. "You bear the heaviest responsibilities," Vodo warned her. "All leaders must seek the Light, be they Jedi or not, but in that role the Light is hardest to see."

    Luke watched as Leia considered the Jedi Master's words. "There is seldom an easy or elegant solution to a large, weighty problem," she said in response.

    "In balance, we find the Light," Vodo said, his tone one of agreement. His compound eyes turned to Luke. "In balance, we find the Light," he repeated. "And in the Light, we find balance."

    "We will remember," Luke promised.

    Finally, the apparition regarded Mara. "You are a Jedi," Vodo-Siosk Baas told her, a statement of fact, without question.

    Luke squeezed Mara's hand. "I know," she said, and squeezed back.
     
    Chyntuck and Gabri_Jade like this.
  10. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Chapter 37

    Chimaera
    was a wreck. The damage reports kept coming in and they kept getting worse. The Star Destroyer had sustained enormous damage during the fight at Carida and the entire starboard armament was going to need repair, perhaps even replacement. Turbolasers, tractor beams, shield generators, they were all gone, blasted into oblivion. And that damage had not all been inflicted by warships commandeered by the Rebellion. Much of it had been inflicted by warships still under the command of the Empire.

    Admiral Gilad Pellaeon had a headache, and he was pretty sure that headache would last a lifetime.

    His crew was in no better shape than he was. Dazed and confused should never be characteristics of officers in the Imperial Starfleet, but that was what they all were. Dazed and confused and with nowhere to go. Pellaeon wasn't sure if there was anywhere in the Empire that was not loyal to the self-proclaimed New Order.

    "Perhaps we should try Poln Major," suggested Commander Dreyf, making a series of desultory jabs at a sputtering console. "Moff Ferrouz was first-in-line to replace Grand Moff Kaine. I doubt ISB would be willing to risk him staying around as a potential rival for power."

    "Do we have our hyperdrive back yet?" Pellaeon asked, his voice sounding like it came from far, far away.

    "Who do you think will be better at keeping order right now?" Mara Jade had asked him that question, her arm pointing out Chimaera's bridge window, out at a battle where Imperial ships had their claws and teeth buried deep in other Imperial ships. "The Empire?!"

    How long had it been since he'd joined the Old Republic's armed forces? It had been during the Clone Wars, and that was at least three lifetimes ago. Three lifetimes, but only one war—because wasn't the Rebellion just the Separatists all over again? Treacherous, corrupt, self-interested vermin who just wanted to rule the galaxy? It had all been one war, one war for order and stability, one war for a unified galaxy which could keep the peace and suppress piracy and keep the trade routes open. It had all been one war, one war for civilization, for…

    For what? For ISB to rule? If there were any treacherous, corrupt, self-interested vermin in the galaxy, there they were!

    "Sir?"

    He looked up. "Yes, Commander?"

    "The hyperdrive should be functional again in thirty minutes, sir."

    Dreyf was the only man in the crew who didn't have that dazed and confused look about him, Pellaeon thought. No, the young man was still as poised as ever, and thank goodness for that. He'd lost too many good young officers in the last few days.

    "Very good, Commander," he said, and noted with pride that his voice was perfectly steady. Perfectly worthy of command. Perfectly Imperial. Imperial as the Empire was meant to be, even if no one else was. "Very good, indeed."

    "Admiral!" called Lieutenant Tschel from his station. "There's a communication coming in from—"

    "Status change!" yelled the man at the sensor station.

    With a sinking heart, Pellaeon turned towards it… and he was right. An Imperial II-class Star Destroyer had just dropped out of hyperspace almost on top of them. She was Judicator… and her guns were already hot.

    "Comm for you, Admiral," said Tschel, who had appeared beside him. "It's Captain Brandei."

    Pellaeon took the comlink and clicked it on. "This is Pellaeon."

    "Admiral, I'm here to place you under arrest," Brandei said smoothly, with the same steady confidence that he'd possessed when the two men had been allies, for all those months they'd served together under Thrawn's command. "Don't make me destroy Chimaera. I'm sure there are many men loyal to the Empire aboard your ship. Don't make them pay the price for your treason."

    "My treason!?" Pellaeon snarled into the com. The whole bridge was silent, staring at him. "My treason? I have served the Empire since you were a child, Brandei! Do not dare accuse me of treason! The Empire I serve—"

    "I call you a traitor because that is what you are," Brandei cut him off, cool and contemptuous. "The Emperor will not tolerate—"

    "The Emperor!?" Pellaeon exploded.

    "The Emperor will not tolerate—" Brandei tried again, but his voice vanished under a sudden hurricane of static.

    Pellaeon stared at the comlink, then out the window at the still distant Judicator, in outraged disbelief.

    "We're being jammed, sir," said Tschel. He frowned, staring at the panels in front of him. "All our sensors are out, sir, we're being… I've never seen ECM this strong." He waved at Dreyf, who came to join him examining the displays, but to no avail. "I don't know, sir."

    Pellaeon scowled. "Time until weapons range?"

    "Unsure, sir."

    He would be damned if he'd go down without a fight. Pellaeon folded his arms behind his back, scowling harder. "All crew to battle stations. Prepare for combat. If the sensors are down, use your eyes!" The battle klaxon had already been sounding and these orders were entirely unnecessary, but it felt good to say them anyway.

    "Admiral." The voice belonged to Commander Dreyf. The young man's gaze was still that surprising calm, and once again Pellaeon was grateful for Dreyf's presence.

    "Yes, Commander?"

    Dreyf reached out and placed a small comlink into Pellaeon's hand. "For you, Admiral."

    Pellaeon examined the comlink. He'd never seen a device quite like it—oh, he'd seen many comlinks over the years, but this one wasn't a typical Imperial make. It fit smoothly into his ear, becoming nearly invisible.

    "Stand by, sir," a woman's voice said. "We'll handle this."

    He turned to Dreyf, confused—

    There was a burst of blue light and a bolt of energy shot past Chimaera, then another. They were soaring past either side of the Star Destroyer, coming from sources behind them, and—

    An arrow-shaped vessel swanned past the bridge's starboard windows. Its hull was painted a dark gray, nearly black against the spacescape. About the size of a Victory-class Star Destroyer, its arrowhead shape was sleeker and flatter than any Imperial vessel Pellaeon had ever seen, lacking the typical raised conning tower and prominent deflector domes.

    A second, identical vessel flowed past the bridge's port windows, and then a third appeared directly above his ship. They were all firing; as they closed the fire from their guns doubled, and doubled again, and coherent bursts of blue fire poured into the enemy Imperial II. A fourth vessel completed the protective box around Chimaera. The four ships had excellent gunners, coordinating their fire to tear holes in Judicator's forward shields and through the Star Destroyer's forward hull. Judicator fired back, but with its targeting sensors jammed, its sleek assailants made tough targets and most of the green fire struck the larger Chimaera, whose shields held.

    When it was over, Judicator was not just destroyed. The four mystery ships reduced the Star Destroyer to cinders, then set about making prisoners of whoever had survived.

    Pellaeon's bridge was silent. His crew didn't know if they should celebrate or not. Neither, for that matter, did Pellaeon. He turned to look at Dreyf, but the man's gaze was still the same confident calm. Dreyf didn't say a word, but he did tap on his ear. Giving him a look that hopefully communicated that they needed to talk, and soon, Pellaeon re-activated the mysterious comlink. "Pellaeon."

    "We'll tow you to the staging area, Admiral," the same woman's voice said. She had a faint accent, one he was pretty sure belonged to a native of Anaxes, but otherwise her voice was unfamiliar.

    "Who are you?" he asked.

    "I promise, sir, all will be made clear. We cannot remain here—there are other New Order ships on the way as we speak."

    "Do I have a choice?"

    There was a pause before the woman responded. "We'll take you by force if we have to, but we would rather not. Please don't make us, sir. We're all on the same side, here."

    At least she had asked nicely, he thought dourly. "All hands, make fast for hyperspace tow," he ordered, glaring at Dreyf.

    The four mystery ships closed on Chimaera, then the ship bucked as they captured her in their tractor beams.

    * * *​

    Dreyf refused to say a word. All he said, over and over, was "I am under orders not to tell you, Admiral. I'm sorry." Pellaeon had him confined to quarters.

    He had no idea how long the trip would be, so when they finally came out of hyperspace about thirty hours after they'd entered it, it was a relief. Awakened by the pseudomotion transition, Pellaeon blearily rubbed sleep out of his eyes, then went about his normal morning routine. When he was finished, he rubbed his smoothly shaved chin and straightened his second-best uniform, then emerged onto the bridge… and stared.

    It was a shipyard.

    Not some small repair yard, like Linuri had been. A true fleetyard. Bigger than Bilbringi, the yard had construction slots for dozens of Star Destroyers and hundreds of smaller ships. Even more stunning, many of the slots were full. There was a fleet's worth of ships under construction here! His men stood in the crew pits, gaping as they stared through the bridge windows. There wasn't much they could do—between the jamming and the damage Chimaera had taken, their eyes were still as good or better than the ship's actual sensor array—so they turned, ever so briefly, into gawking observers.

    Their four escorts broke away. "Welcome to the staging area, Admiral," the mystery woman said. "Eyes up and to port."

    He turned in that direction. The four gray arrowhead vessels soared past, still in a neat staggered box formation. As they did, Pellaeon laid eyes on one of the docked ships. An Imperial II, just like Chimaera, the vessel—

    His eyes widened. The vessel was familiar, he knew that ship! He slammed his hand on the intercom. "Get me a pair of macrobinoculars and bring Commander Dreyf to the bridge at once!"

    The macrobinoculars arrived first. He stared through them, adjusting until he had them focused…

    The name Agonizer was proudly emblazoned across the Star Destroyer's hull.

    "Sensors are back!" someone called. "They've lifted some of the jamming."

    Pellaeon barely heard. The only thing he did hear was the whisper of the bridge lift, followed by the whisper of Dreyf's footsteps beside him. Pellaeon turned towards the man, heedless of Dreyf's binder-bound hands, gripping the younger man's tunic with both hands. "Tell. Me. Everything!"

    "Oh no, sir," Dreyf said, shaking his head and finally cracking the ghost of a smile. "I am still under orders not to tell you, Admiral. I'm sorry."

    "Whose orders?!"

    Dreyf hesitated, meeting Pellaeon's eyes levelly. Pellaeon could see Dreyf considering the request, working his way through every implication of answering it. "Grand Admiral Thrawn, sir. My assignment to Chimaera was one of his final contingencies."

    "Thrawn?!" Pellaeon staggered as if struck, his head swirling with confusion. If Thrawn had contingencies… of course Thrawn had contingencies… Why didn't Thrawn tell me? But that was a question for later. "Release him," he said to the bridge guard, his voice hoarse. "Who is in command here?"

    The vessels around the shipyard answered Pellaeon just as Dreyf did, and a quartet of streamlined, curvy four-winged TIE models he'd never seen before roared past the bridge, waggling their wings in unison, offering a cheeky salute.

    A horizontal stripe in bold crimson was proudly emblazoned on each of their solar wing arrays.

    "The Grand Admiral's final order placed Baron Soontir Fel in overall command, sir," Dreyf replied, rolling his wrists casually to restore blood flow as the stormtrooper guard beside him finished unbinding him. "He looks forward to making your acquaintance."



    Fin.
     
  11. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    So, since we've begun posting Interregnum III on Ao3 and fanfiction.net, I'm going to start the long process of catching up on Interregnum over here on TFN. We need to start with the missing moments from Interregnum II!



    Missing Moment 1: Carias

    After Chapter 37, Kaday Carias grapples with reality…


    Kaday Carias knew that the Empire would have conducted his trial very differently. If the Empire had captured a Rebel who had assassinated a Moff, that Rebel would have been dragged through the streets, paraded for the holos, and lambasted in the press. His entire history would have been presented in a litany by well-spoken, well-groomed spokespeople—all of whom had been carefully vetted by COMPNOR and ISB, of course—until even those skeptical of the Empire believed there had to be some truth to the charges.

    Whether there was or not.

    But the New Republic had not paraded him through the streets. The courtroom had been compact, hidden away somewhere deep in the Imperial Palace. There had been no observers, bar one—a graying, dark-haired woman with purple eyes who had stared at him with malice the entire time, someone Carias assumed had possessed some personal tie to Garm Bel Iblis.

    The Prosecutor—Halla Ettyk, who had played up her Alderaanian accent with every icy enunciation, a quiet way of letting him know that this was about vengeance, not justice—laid out the evidence of his involvement in Ardus' assassination with thorough precision. His defense team had objected anywhere they could, but it was a formality and they all knew it. The fatal evidence—the holorecording of his final conversation with the other members of the upper Imperial hierarchy, which he assumed that Roeder had secretly recorded for blackmail—was damning, but even without that evidence the Rebellion had enough of a circumstantial case to "prove" his guilt. Not that they cared about proof, of course—proof was for the masses, to make their tiny minds and tiny lives all cozy and comfortable.

    He was sure that ultimately all of this would be carefully edited and given to the masses for exactly that purpose, so he did his best to ruin it for them. He confessed to everything—things he had done, and many he hadn't. He ramped up the absurdity and theatricality, luxuriating in Ettyk's expression when he offered a forthright defense of the destruction of Alderaan.

    If one is going to go out, he thought grimly, recollecting his constant retelling of grim horror after grim horror, one may as well go out in style.

    He had tried, in vain, to demand a public execution. Anything to earn himself spectacle, to make himself a martyr, a figure to rally the Empire against the Rebellion's overreach. But Prosecutor Ettyk had objected, again and again, and each of his attempts were foreclosed by the illegitimate judge who presided over the case, and the illegitimate law that governed the courtroom, imposed by an illegitimate government.

    And yet, Ettyk's contempt still somehow made him feel small and powerless, a feeling he was most unaccustomed to.

    When the 'trial' was done, when the theater was finally closed and the lights put out, the guards had taken him away. When they'd moved him to this small cell to await execution, hidden away deep in the depths of some New Republic prison complex, they had used an old military transport and had made sure to circle the Imperial Palace a few times. He'd looked through one of the small windows, out at Coruscant around and below, and been able to watch for long, brutal moments as the massive construction droids worked to dismantle the palace that Palpatine had built. Soon the Senate dome would no longer stand in the shadow of the palace towers, and the evidence of Imperial rule would be erased.

    How, he wondered, not wanting to spiral into despair but finding it hard to fight its gravitational pull, did it all come to this?

    There was a knock on his cell door, two heavy thuds, and then the seal relaxed. Light flooded in from beyond and he shaded his eyes as a shadow stepped through the portal to the world beyond his cell. When the door shut once more, he saw a man with graying red hair and intelligent green eyes.

    "Colonel Carias," General Airen Cracken, the head of New Republic Intelligence, greeted him with the calm professionalism of a respected colleague.

    In a very strange way, Carias supposed, Cracken was.

    Carias grinned mirthlessly, hoping for a final blast of intimidation to shock the old bastard. "And now does the true interrogation start?"

    Cracken's returning smile was equally without humor. He held the silence longer than Carias expected and found himself struggling not to quail under the man's gimlet gaze. The general folded his hands behind his back. "You can interpret my questions however you like. I don't have many of them, and I don't expect this to take long." Cracken checked his wristchrono. "We don't have very long, after all. Your execution is not likely to be delayed."

    "I've played this game," Carias retorted. "You're about to die, tell me what you know, save your life, do the right thing. I've been on your side of this room, Cracken." He scowled. "I have no reason to give you what you want, unless you're willing to give me what I want."

    "And what is that?" Cracken asked mildly.

    Carias sat up, glowering. "A warrior's death. If you're going to kill me, at least do it properly. Death by firing squad."

    The request seemed to amuse the rebel General; he didn't bother to directly address it. "The difference is this isn't a game, and I don't want anything of real value from you," Cracken said. He tilted his head slightly to the side, regarding Carias with a cool consideration. The rebel was an unassuming older man, worn down some by time and work, and thoroughly typical in appearance–one who would blend into almost any crowd with ease, but his eyes had all the keen intelligence and focus of the best ISB analysts. "I do have a question."

    "I think every question imaginable has been asked and answered."

    "Not this one," Cracken countered. "When you turned on the Grand Moff–on your friend Ardus–do you think you were in your right mind?"

    That brought Carias' thoughts up short. What kind of a question was that? "In my right mind?" he echoed, unable to keep the bafflement out of his tone.

    Cracken merely nodded. "We have reason to believe that there was an external influence that may have been influencing events. A presence that inhabited the body of the Inquisitor who was in your company—Brakiss, we believe his name was—may have been attempting to foment distrust, anger, and other negative emotions."

    In his mind's eye, Carias saw Brakiss' return to the ship on Yavin 4 without Inquisitor Drayneen. The young man's transformation, his uncertainty turned to confidence, the sense of power that Brakiss had carried on the ship. Carias frowned as the memories flooded back to him, as if revealed when a dark fog was dispelled.

    "You see," Cracken continued cooly, utterly emotionless… but Carias felt the man's eyes on him, steady and constant, "we know your personal history. You and Kaine were friends for decades. You were both early to COMPNOR, you both transferred to ISB. He introduced you to your wife, I believe, and however little actual time and attention you devoted to Stellaria or your children, you consistently tried to return the favor—though you never succeeded. When Kaine formed the Pentastar Alignment, you went with him. When Kaine returned to the Imperial fold at the behest of Grand Admiral Thrawn, you went with him again. Which makes me wonder if your decision to have him killed was really your decision." Cracken leaned in, his voice softening slightly. "I'm told by our resident Jedi that the Dark Side preys on fear and hatred most of all. With an understandable fear of changing circumstances, and a long-term hatred of us, can you say your mind was really your own, Colonel?"

    Of course his mind had been his own. His mind was always his own. He leaned back against his bunk, sneering. "Don't insult me."

    "I'm not," Cracken said, and his tone sounded genuine—though of course it would, Carias' always did. "I'm reasonably certain that you weren't the only person affected—Counselor Organa Solo has indicated that she may not have been entirely rational when she apprehended you."

    The look in Organa Solo's eyes when she'd doffed the Vader-like mask with the insectile goggles had been intense, almost feral… but then, Carias had always assumed that of the rebel princess. "She looked normal to me."

    The pretense of sympathy faded entirely from Cracken's eyes. "I'm not going to tell her you said that. But have it your way. I wanted to clarify the situation before the opportunity to do so was lost entirely. Sometimes it takes the most courage to admit when one has been as used as you have been." The General turned slightly and knocked twice on the door to Carias' cell.

    The door hissed open. Cracken didn't look back. "Good day, Colonel Carias. Thank you for your time."

    Once again the light flooded in and shadows swirled. Soft shoes moved almost noiselessly over the metal floors, and when the light faded again, Cracken was gone.

    Carias tried to put the encounter out of his mind. The days before his execution flowed together, but his nights were plagued by dreams. Dreams of Brakiss, the cowardly Apprentice, and Brakiss, the intimidating, imposing man who had returned from Yavin 4. Dreams of Ardus, his friend, his colleague. A man Carias had followed without reservation and with full faith for decades. A man Carias had trusted and believed in.

    A man Carias had betrayed.

    When had everything changed, he wondered? Had it been when Kaine formally broke away from the Empire? But no, Carias had followed him even then. Had it been when Kaine returned to the fold? Had it been when Thrawn died and Kaine's faith in the Empire failed?

    Had it been when Brakiss returned from Yavin 4?

    Kaine had died a horrible death, a death that Carias himself had inflicted upon him. A death where Kaine had to have known who had done it, how, and why. A betrayal from within, by one most trusted, a betrayal by a friend so close they were nearly family.

    No, he reasoned. It had been necessary! Kaine had betrayed the Empire, had given up on the New Order. He had taken everything Carias believed in and discarded it as waste! He had taken every accomplishment that they had made together and discarded them. If Kaine had succeeded, all their dreams, their hopes, their accomplishments, they would all have been for nothing! He'd had no choice but to step in!

    Hadn't he?

    Hadn't he?

    The last days before his execution Carias' resignation turned to wrath. Doubt was poison, anger was certain, was real, was tangible. Anger was something he could use. Anger at the rebels, anger at Brakiss, anger at Kaine. They all deserved it. They'd been failures or traitors or both, and Carias' rage was righteous and pure, and burned away—

    That heart of darkness, of doubt, gnawed away in his heart, and he cursed Airen Cracken most of all.

    And when the rebels finally hauled him out of his cell and marched him to the gallows, he thought of Ardus. Of what they'd had. Of how they ruined one other. Of where it was ending.

    Again he told himself he couldn't see it playing out any other way.

    Organa Solo was there, speaking to the small audience. Next to her was the purple-eyed woman, her gaze assessing him unflinchingly as the rebel princess spoke. "We labor in the light, to bring law too-long deferred, to shine a beacon of justice hungry for redress. Expect us."

    How, he wondered, fury and resentment snarling in his heart, did it all come to this?
     
    Chyntuck likes this.
  12. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Missing Moment 2: Kyp

    After Chapter 37, Kyp Durron starts to find himself once again...


    Kyp's return to the Solo family residence didn't feel like a homecoming—partially because until they had adopted him, he had not known what a home was. But this time the warm sense of safety and contentment that had been typical of being near Han, Leia and the twins felt would not come, and Kyp felt dull and hollow. Looking down at Coruscant below, lights twinkling across the buildings, vehicles and low-flying spaceships, he felt the same astonishment at the scale and reality of the world. But it did not come accompanied with the same untempered enthusiasm that he had so often felt in the past.

    Too much had happened for that. Too many people had died. He had killed too many people. Some people he hated, yes. Mostly people he had never met. People who may have even deserved to die. People who were even legitimate targets of war.

    But it almost didn't matter. With Exar Kun in his head, stoking his rage, Kyp had been ready to do far worse. He would have done anything, anything at all, to destroy the Empire. Part of that had been a desire to protect those he loved, those who had taken him in and made him part of their home. But another part, a part just as big, had been a simple desire for revenge.

    No matter which one had been a bigger part, Kyp knew he had no business being a Jedi. Jedi needed to be at peace with themselves, be at peace with the universe, and he knew that he was neither.

    You must care for yourself, if you are to care for the galaxy. Those had been Vodo Siosk-Baas' words, in the brief time the apparition had appeared to them on Yavin 4. Kyp had never thought about life in those terms. Wasn't caring for the galaxy caring for others? His desire to protect his family, to protect everyone, from the ravages of the Empire's will?

    Maybe that wasn't enough.

    "How's the elbow?"

    He looked up as the slim woman with red-gold-hair settled onto the other side of the couch. Mara Jade might have appeared relaxed to those who did not know her, but Kyp felt her cool green eyes watching him with the same knowing, almost judgemental expression that she had given him for their entire ride from Carida to Coruscant—other than the moments she had announced Luke's survival.

    He moved, resting his hand on the aforementioned elbow with a slight grimace. "It's getting better," he said, his voice soft, unable to look at her any longer. "The doctors think I'll regain my full range of motion, but it will take more time to heal."

    "Mhm," Mara hummed. Her tone was unapologetic, but her sense in the Force carried just a hint of remorse, one she quickly suppressed.

    "I don't think I should be a Jedi," Kyp suddenly said, surprising himself. Yes, he'd been thinking that for days, but he hadn't spoken it aloud, hadn't even thought of speaking it aloud, except maybe to Han and Leia. But it just spilled out of him in front of her, and he couldn't take it back.

    "Jedi is a what and a who at the same time. Who do you want to be?" she asked.

    He looked up in surprise. Mara had been reluctant to accept being a Jedi herself, but had finally stopped resisting. He had expected she would object, tell him that he should be a Jedi. That she didn't caused a pang in his heart. He wasn't good enough, was he? He'd failed the test of Exar Kun, a test that she and Kam and Tionne and Luke had all passed. But he, full of talent and potential, had succumbed to the Sith's will, become a weapon, a destroyer—the opposite of everything a Jedi should be.

    When he didn't answer, she answered for him. "Luke and I haven't talked about this much, yet, but… being strong in the Force is not a choice. It's something we are. But being a Jedi is a choice. You should not feel compelled to be a Jedi because Luke or Kam want you to be, or because you are gifted."

    "Would I be selfish if I didn't?" he asked softly.

    "No," she said confidently. "No, others would be the selfish ones—for forcing you to become something you didn't want to be, and weren't comfortable being, for their own reasons"

    "I don't know if I do or not," Kyp said heavily, watching Coruscant spin. "There's a whole universe out there and I've seen so little of it. All I've ever known is Kessel's mines and…" he gestured around the apartment, "a life among the galaxy's elite." He looked down. "I know I'm not ready to be a Jedi," he admitted. "I don't know if I ever will be. But I think that if I try to be a Jedi now, I'll fail again."

    "Hmm," Mara hummed once more. He glanced at her, but she wasn't watching him—her expression was on the stars above Coruscant's horizon, thoughtful and distant. "After Palpatine's death I spent five years on my own. I hated every minute of those years, but I needed them too. They taught me about the way the galaxy actually is… and it was not the galaxy that Palpatine or the Empire wanted me to see."

    He wasn't sure what to say about that, so he just nodded. After a minute, she turned to look at him, though she didn't say anything more, waiting to see what, if anything, he would say. "Do you think I need that time and freedom for myself?" he asked warily, finally surrendering.

    "I think all of us touched by the Empire do," she said, resting a soft hand on his shoulder, ever so briefly.

    * * *​

    Kyp's conversation with Luke was shorter, but no less impactful.

    The younger man just sat, downcast in an absurdly comfortable armchair, a mug of hot chocolate untouched beside him as his Jedi teacher spoke to him from an identical seat across from him, like an equal—as he always had, and as Kun had not.

    "Legally, no one is pressing charges. Least of all me. Not guilty by reason of temporary dark side possession is depressingly common in my line of work."

    A phantom pain shot through Kyp's breastbone, just beneath the scar Mara had carved there. "What about Carida?" Kyp asked, voice tight with emotion, "I wanted—needed—" he took a breath, recovering. "I felt so, so powerless, and I finally had power, and I pressed a button and…"

    He trailed off, and waited for something, anything, to break the uncomfortable silence.

    "Legally," Luke said, "the Caridan Academy was a military installation and a legitimate military target under current rules of engagement. But… there were cooks and cleaners and groundskeepers, as well as military teachers and students in service to the Empire. Our death count ends in the tens of thousands, recently revised to around fifty thousand."

    The numbers still didn't feel real to Kyp, but he could reach out and feel the pain of that moment, children ripped from parents, threads of lives raggedly snipped off with wild abandon… and Kun's satisfaction as he supped on the death and destruction like a carrion bird while turbolasers fell like rain. Kyp's exhausted gaze met Luke's and he was absorbed in the older man's bright blue eyes, because Luke knew exactly how he was feeling—or close enough.

    "Take it from someone who pressed a button and killed at least one and a half million people serving aboard an enemy military installation," Luke said with a sigh. "Another legitimate target, one that was about to murder all of my friends, and I still wake up with screaming nightmares anytime I think about it for too long—even before I found out all that death is what woke Exar Kun. There are some things you are going to carry with you for the rest of your life."

    Kyp paled and swallowed thickly. "I was… I was weak."

    "You were scared, and tired and angry and I put you where you never should have been." Luke said. "The mistake is mine as much as yours."

    "I shouldn't have been so easily led." Kyp muttered.

    "No," Luke said, "you shouldn't have. But Kyp, you may—will—carry this with you for the rest of your life. That doesn't mean it needs to become your whole life. You have extraordinary gifts, but more importantly, you're an extraordinary young man whose family loves him deeply and still thinks the world of him."

    "Even the uncle he knocked into a coma?" Asked Kyp, apprehensively.

    "Especially the uncle he knocked into a coma," Luke said, "Now drink your hot chocolate before it cools off, and I'll order some Ryloth takeout so spicy it'll make Han's eyes bleed while we watch something completely, irredeemably trashy on the Holonet."

    "Luke Skywalker and the Emperor's Assassin?" asked Kyp, feeling a hint of a playful smile, one that had only come to him after he'd escaped Kessel and before Carida.

    Luke's eyes, previously friendly, narrowed to chips of comet-ice. "I'll let you run that by Mara first." Kyp blanched, and Luke—amused—extended a peace-offering. "How about Smuggler of Hearts: the Mostly-Unauthorized Han Solo Story."

    "Sounds… educational, Jedi Skywalker." Kyp said with an arch, mock-malevolent tone.

    "I should hope not," Luke said, keying in the food order on his wristcomm. "We've earned a bit of a break."

    Kyp Durron smiled as he took a satisfying slurp of the rich chocolate, and felt the warmth of understanding and acceptance well up around him.

    * * *​

    Four months later, Kyp was doing his studies in his room in the Solo-Celchu apartment. He'd finished another therapy session with the specialist that the New Republic and Jedi Order had jointly provided him—those sessions were usually exhausting, but on occasion they were invigorating and freeing, and the latter was true in this case. So upon his return to the Skyhook, he'd taken to his studies—in this case, the history of the Old Republic—and was immersing himself fully in a review of the corruption that had allowed Palpatine's rise to power when there was a knock on his door.

    "Hey kid," Han greeted him, his expression unexpectedly serious. "There's someone here who wants to talk to you."

    "Who?" Kyp asked, his heart tightening with anxiety.

    "Talon Karrde," Han said as he ushered Kyp out of his bedroom and into the hall.

    "Talon Karrde? What does Talon Karrde want with me?"

    "Nothing bad," Han hastened to explain, seeing Kyp's nervous expression. "He has a proposal for you."

    "A good proposal or a bad proposal?"

    "A Mara proposal."

    Kyp winced, his elbow aching in sympathy. "Uh-oh."

    That brought the slightest hint of a grin to Han's face, but the sense of seriousness never left his eyes. "She does have that effect on people."

    Karrde was sitting on the couch, a glass of water in his hand. He rose when Kyp approached. "Ahh, Mister Durron. It's good to see you well."

    "Um, thanks," Kyp stammered. "You wanted to talk to me?"

    "I wanted to speak with you, yes," Karrde agreed. He resumed his seat, gesturing at Kyp to do the same. Kyp and Han both sat across from Karrde; Han's expression remained serious, and Kyp knew his own was still nervous. "Don't be afraid," Karrde said reassuringly. "I'm not here because you're in any trouble. Quite the opposite in fact."

    "What do you mean?"

    "I have an opening on my crew," Karrde said, leaning back with typical, confident swagger. "With Mara leaving to work full time as a Jedi, I need a new co-pilot and, ideally, a new Force-sensitive to let me know when danger is afoot. I mentioned this to Mara, and she suggested that I recruit you. You already know how to fly a small bulk freighter, and Wild Karrde isn't really that much more difficult."

    Kyp blinked, astonished. "You want to offer me a job?"

    "Of sorts. I discussed it with Solo here, and we're thinking more of an apprenticeship."

    "Karrde travels the galaxy every year," Han explained. "Especially now, managing the Smugglers' Alliance and keeping the New Republic's trade routes open. He does diplomacy, anti-piracy, typical shipping, information gathering… all skills that I had to learn as a smuggler, and that would be useful to you as a Jedi someday, if you choose to go that route."

    "And more," Karrde agreed. "Although perhaps I shouldn't discuss any of our other less official business enterprises within earshot of one of the New Republic's Inner Council members."

    "I heard that!" called Leia from her office.

    They shared a chuckle—even Kyp—but the levity faded as Karrde leaned forward. "It won't be easy, I can promise you that much. My people work hard. But I can also promise you this: I will be honest with you, teach you, and show you the galaxy. You can continue your schooling of course, I would encourage that—knowledge is more valuable than any other resource, and I certainly have contacts with all the appropriate academic credentials—but I will show you the galaxy as it is, not as it appears in data chips and lessons."

    "This was Mara's idea?" Kyp asked cautiously.

    "Mara believes that you would benefit from it," Karrde confirmed.

    "What do you think?" Kyp asked Han.

    Han firmed his lips together. "I don't like the idea of you leaving home," he said after a moment. "But at the same time… look, kid, there's no one in the galaxy that can teach you about the galaxy better than Talon Karrde. This is an opportunity that any aspiring smuggler your age would kill for, and any aspiring intelligence agent should kill for."

    "And an aspiring Jedi?"

    "Neither of us is qualified to answer that ourselves," Karrde cautioned. "But I have spoken to Mara and to Luke, and they agree that this would be good for you."

    "When would we leave?"

    "We're scheduled to depart in two days for a run to Rishi," Karrde said. "Are you in?"

    Kyp thought about it, but he already knew what his answer would be. "Yeah," he said, feeling a previously unobserved weight lift from his shoulders. "Yeah, I am."
     
    Chyntuck likes this.
  13. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    So. It took me just under a year, but I'm finally here to leave a review on this amazing, amazing story. Actually, "story" doesn't begin to describe it, because this is a novel in the truest sense of the word, and after binge-reading it for the second time over the past few days I am simply awed by the way you managed to interweave so many plot threads and shift from one POV to another from chapter to chapter in order to bring it all together at the end.

    One thing that makes this fic very special for me is that the more mystical aspects of the Force aren't really my wheelhouse and I wasn't a big fan of the Emo-Teenage-Kyp storyline in the JAT, but I find that you handled this infinitely better than the books here, both in terms of character development and in terms of plot. There were just too many disconnected bits in the JAT with the Sun Crusher and all, and the transition from Gantoris to Kyp felt a bit repetitive to me, but you solved that masterfully by introducing the Inquisitorius and the Imperial political intrigue, which gave the plot a lot more structure and a better economy.

    Speaking of Imperial political intrigue, that's got to be one of my favourite aspects of this story. You have such a rich cast of characters, and each one of the leaders is a faction in its own right: on one side Kaine (and his "replacement" in the plot, Deshorn) who wants to save what can be saved of the Empire, on another, the ISB with Carias (and his "replacement" Wulko) who are fanatics, on yet another Pellaeon, who doesn't like either and has a growing number of grievances against the Empire but will go with Kaine if he must, and then the Inquisitors, who mostly align with the ISB even though they're probably doing their own thing, and Brakiss who is a loose cannon. Two minor Legends characters I really enjoyed are Tschel and Daala – in TTT Tschel is described as a rookie who lacks proper Imperial professionalism, but you've shown his growth into a proper Imperial officer here; Daala was a cringeworthy character in canon IMO and I loved how you built her into a competent woman here and gave her a moment of glory. I suspected early on that the three cadets wouldn'tmake it out of this story alive, but I didn't expect the twist with Mytov at the end (although I probably should have, in Greek we have a saying about "not trusting the silent river" and he fit the bill perfectly.) Another character that piqued my curiosity is of course Dreyf, and I'm hoping to find out more about him in Interregnum III.

    To mention two favourite moments on the Imperial front, I absolutey loved the scene where everything goes to the dogs and they start shooting at each other, and of course the whole scene with Mara on the Chimaera's bridge. You did such an amazing job at showing the extent of Mara's power as the Emperor's Hand, both in this novel and the previous one. In Interregnum I, she hadn't told the New Republic everything about her past, hidey-holes and weapon stashes fom her time serving the Empire; in this story, you show us how she had such wide access to everything that she can still use one or another of her old covers and fool the Imperials, even ISB – and she displayed that trademark Mara composure in her conversation with Pellaeon in a great combination of Hand!Mara and New!Mara.

    Since I'm on Mara I'll just add that you handled her bond with Luke really well throughout the story, both to advance the plot and allow for character development until she comes to the realisation that yes, she is a Jedi. "May the Force be with you – I know it is" is waaaay up there among my favourite lines in this story.

    In parallel, I also loved the political and institutional aspects of the growth of the New Republic throughout this story. In a sense, the vote on the Concordat at the end almost comes as an afterthought, in the sense that we've already seen that the Republic has already grown into a proper, functioning state. It has a proper military Force (and there was something very satisfying in seeing the fleet fight the Empire on equal terms, there was no real underdog, just two armies going at it) and it also has a proper intelligence arm. I was really happy that you gave Iella such an important role in this story, and a role independent from Wedge's. She's truly the one running the action show on Coruscant, and I squeed particularly loudly when I saw her being such a badass during the invasion of Eyrie Tower – not to mention her message and comm exchanges with Vorru, where she took badassery to a whole other level.

    Yet another aspect I loved in this story was your action writing. It's a real tour de force to keep a series of space battles going on for so many chapters at a time without it becoming tedious, and yet you did not only that, but you managed to keep in positively gripping and Garm's Hammer is just such a perfect name for this campaign!) My favourite action bit through has to be the simultaneous scenes of Kaine's death and its aftermath while Han and family are being attacked on their day out. In a way I'm very upset that you killed off Bel Iblis because he's one of my favourite characters, but his death was so artistically done with the Spacer's Lament (shivers shivers shivers!) and in parallel I got to read about Kyp's first Fantastical Force Feat that would lead him down the path to the Dark side.

    There's still a lot I could comment on (Han in a domestic role, pregnant Winter multitasking, the dark visions that affect our Force-sensitives, especially Luke) but I'm going to skip past all that and talk about what is, for me, the absolute highlight of this story: Tionne, and especially her introduction in chapter 13. I had no idea what to expect as the endgame of the infiltration of Vjun, and until that point it read as an extremely well-written Jedi vs Sith/Inquisitors scene, but when I saw what you did with Tionne I just settled in for the ride. I saw in one of your replies that @SnubJockey described her as a "hippy chick with a shotgun on the passenger seat of her beat-up Volkswagen" and I can think of no better description. She was a joy to read throughout, I really enjoyed all aspects of her role on the Jedi team, and I loved how she slowly got Kam to come out of his shell. The moment when he gives her his father's lightsaber, mirroring the equivalent scene between Mara and Luke at the end of TLC, was really a neat touch.

    Lastly, that final chapter with the Chimaera finding herself in the shipyards of the Empire of the Hand. You ended Interregnum in a similar way, hinting at another hidden power that recruits from the ranks of the Empire, and I'm very eager to see where you'll be going with that. I don't know if you intend to post Interregnum III on the boards; if not, I guess I'll have to go over to AO3 and read it over there!
     
  14. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Chosen One star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Yes read this entire story and loved it with the characters. What more to add after @Chyntuck s excellent review. A great SW novel^:)^^:)^^:)^
     
  15. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    The politics of the Empire at this point is something I find fascinating. The Empire was established legally, and with popular support, but the longer it exists the more people have the opportunity to realize what exactly it is. Some people never do, some do but don't see a way out, and an alarming number do and don't care... or even like it. The gradations are interesting and small divisions can become violent contradictions, especially under moments of stress. The New Republic smashing the Empire into dust is a lot of stress.

    So, Daala is one of the more inconsistent characters in Legends. I relied on her characterization in Darksaber rather than anything from JAT for her (it's oddly different -- she's more competent, less erratic, and even her backstory regarding Tarkin is subtly different). I relied exclusively on Darksaber and ignored everything else, then we and Snubjockey made other small tweaks. She's not dead: Daala will make a return in Interregnum 3 (and in a larger role).

    What gave it away!?! It was Pellaeon thinking they were the future, wasn't it... The very first scene was wrote was actually Hack's death scene, and we wrote that before he even had a name.

    I'm so sorry about Garm, I am. We will kill off characters, but I promise that whenever we do, it will matter. No killing characters purely for shock value.

    So, if there's interest in reading it here, I'll start working on transporting it over. I'll finish moving the missing missing moments (there are 3 more for Interregnum 2 that can be added here). It just wasn't clear if anyone was reading it on TFN, and reformatting it for the forum is a lot of work, so I kinda slacked.
     
  16. SnubJockey

    SnubJockey Jedi Master star 1

    Registered:
    Jan 23, 2009
    @Chyntuck: What Bel said! What an astounding review, It's always great to get feedback on stories years later and find out they still resonated with people enough to leave such cogent and well-thought-out commentary.

    A big point of discussion between Bel and I are people and systems and how people create, and then interact with, systems. In this case we're showing the wheels really coming off the feuding Imperial sub-departments as various people make their moves, while the NR has to really make official what has been ad-hoc and see what they have to build or compromise on.

    Above all we wanted the story to feel authentic and we wanted the world it inhabits to feel large and layered.

    "On-screen" this is shown by Wedge and others being mentored by Ackbar and Garm, and then going on to mentor others in turn (Traest, Atril, and Virarr Needa) who would not have been allowed to thrive in the Imperial Starfleet. (Needa himself is subject to Sippenhaft in the Imperial Servicce,) while Pellaeon has to simultaneously command his ship, mentor cadets, and command fleets because he refuses to delegate, has less time to train and mentor people, and simply has fewer personnel.

    The other big point of discussions is helping characters feel like real people. (We try to show a 'family meal/dinner' into each story to give the characters a chance to just be people with each other. As a bonus, it also gets to showcase Han the delighted house-husband (Like Leia's gonna cook,) and depict him as someone ecstatic to have the family he's always wanted (and put effort into building) for so long.

    Mara is a main character, but she's not the main character, and it was important to show how people orbit around each other (Mara and Iella's growing friendship, Iella doing her own thing RE intelligence work, Kyp actually BEING ADOPTED BY THE SOLOS, Mara's comfort with the force, Kaine's resolution to try and wiggle out of the jenga tower he was sitting on top of, Wedge's determination to push an end to the war, and so on and so on.

    (and how much Leia scares everyone around her, but is still... a person)

    It warms my heart to hear each story be called novel-quality. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to write my own stuff professionally so the fact that you think our efforts hit that bar is an incredibly good and reifying feeling.

    (Also Tionne is based on a few people I've actually met, musicians really do be like that.)

    Big shout out to our artist iisabelinski, who brought our stories to life even more.

    If you start Int III on AO3, don't miss our prequel short story: Cadets.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2023
  17. scienfictionfan

    scienfictionfan Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Jan 1, 2020
    I would argue the Empire wasn't formed legally since it is the result of a thousand yearlong conspiracy to bring down the Republic and Palpatine was secretly leading a rebellion against the Republic while also leading the Republic but I understand your point that in universe many believed the formation of the Empire was legitimate only to be disillusioned over time. It is interesting how people responded to the realization the Empire was evil it always reminds me of a quote from the Essential Guide to warfare where Jan Dodonna talks about his former friend Terrinald Screed and how while Dodonna's response to the realization the Empire was evil was rebellion Terrinald's response was to "conclude everything was built on lies. And in a galaxy like that, a man may as well become a liar himself."

    When it makes the character a more interesting character then the frankly boring character from the Jedi Academy Trilogy tweeking the character's backstory is all to the good. Now if only the official writers had done so rather than make her a honestly boring thug with delusions of grandeur.

    Well yes, it's hard for a character to be the future of the Imperial navy when the Empire does not have a future.

    This is a great story and I definitely would love to see the next one on this forum.
     
  18. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    @Bel505 There definitely is interest in reading Interregnum III, from me at least, but as you've probably noticed I'm not very good at being a regular reviewer. If you get around to posting it here, I'll read it here; if not, no worries, I'll head over to AO3.

    @SnubJockey I'm glad my review made you happy! This is truly an excellent story and you and Bel deserve every word of praise I wrote, and then some more.


    Since I'm here, I'll write a few words about the Missing Moments vignettes that I failed to comment on. I really enjoyed how you used these snippets to show the fallout of Exar Kun's "awakening". The Carias viggie was fascinating, because you really got into the mind of a dedicated Imperial who sees some of the differences between Republic and Imperial justice, but still doesn't quite get it. The idea of Cracken coming around for a last-minute question and planting the seed of doubt in Carias's mind was a stroke of genius. Of course, coming from Cracken it was a legitimate question, but it also led to Carias going to his death with doubts churning in his mind – and that's no less than he deserves.

    I also very much enjoyed the conclusion to gave to Kyp's story arc. He doesn't only get The Talk from Mara and Luke; the actually give him the tools to explore who and what he wants to be, and an apprenticeship with Karrde's crew sounds like a good learning experience for him while giving him the opportunity to examine other options than being a Jedi. (I also imagine that it gives you the opportunity to keep him out of the way for a future story and then bring him back in when you need him!)

    Again, this story and the series as a whole has been an excellent read for me, and I can't wait to see what you two come up with next!
     
    SnubJockey and Bel505 like this.
  19. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Thank you!

    With Mara leaving Karrde, it seemed a natural fit to put Kyp there in her stead. And yes, it also conveniently gives him a reason to be absent in the next novel, because ... well, honestly, Interregnum 3 already has too many characters.

    I'll post the next missing moment for Interregnum 2! And I counted wrong, there are only 4, not 5, so there's one left after this one.
     
    Chyntuck likes this.
  20. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Missing Moment III: Pellaeon

    After Chapter 37, Gilad Pellaeon meets the people who saved his ship...


    As eager maintainers swarmed over the battle-scarred Chimaera at its dock, an Imperial captain came aboard, accompanied by a squad of stormtroopers—carbines thankfully holstered. Gilad Pellaeon recognized the willowy brunette immediately; her height and fine features were a delicate echo of her slight-figured father's. "Captain Asori Rogriss," she said, standing at attention and offering him a perfect salute. "Welcome to Nirauan, Admiral."

    "Captain Rogriss," Pellaeon replied, his voice gravelly with use as he returned it. The events of the past days had put him on edge and as yet he had been unable to recover his equilibrium. The Empire had spun entirely out of control, and its centrifugal spin had flung Pellaeon off into the unknown regions. Seeing Asori Rogriss, prim and pristine in a perfectly tailored Imperial captain's uniform reminded him both of the Empire as it had once been—paternal order imposed upon chaos, discipline upon disorder—and that he was truly in a galaxy he no longer understood.

    He glanced sideways at Nzem Dreyf, his intelligence officer. Dreyf had spent many of the last few months "searching" for Asori Rogriss, her father, and his flagship, after the Star Destroyer Agonizer had been apparently lost with all hands. But Agonizer was flanking Chimaera in the dock now—with Teren Rogriss reportedly aboard her, hale and healthy—and the younger Captain Rogriss had just rescued his command with a flotilla of her own, obliterating the Star Destroyer Judicator in the process.

    "I understand this is quite a shock," she said, her expression sympathetic. "I've been ordered to tell you that Baron Fel will meet you personally to explain everything." She gestured at the Lambda-class shuttle she and her stormtroopers had landed in. "If you'll come with us, Admiral, we'll take you to him directly."

    Pellaeon had no idea what the chain of command was, anymore. But if Thrawn had truly put Fel in command out here—wherever "here" was—then he at least owed it to Thrawn's shade to hear what Fel had to say.

    Besides, he had nowhere else to go.

    "Thank you, Captain," he said, as graciously as he could manage. "I hope you realize I have rather a lot of questions for you all to answer."

    * * *​

    Asori's Imperial bearing was not the only comfort. For years, Pellaeon had watched the stormtooper corps lose its edge. Their training had grown slipshod and sloppy as the demands of combat pushed them into service with more and more haste, and other than Thrawn's clones they had long since lost the perfect precision that characterized the true Imperial stromtrooper of old. But the men flanking him and Captain Rogriss had that rote-drilled precision, and it provided Pellaeon with confidence that the Empire, the true Empire, preserved meticulously through the secret efforts of the greatest military mind the Empire had ever known, still lived somewhere in the galaxy.

    Those stormtroopers, at least, were perfectly Imperial, as the Empire should be.

    The shuttle trip down took a gentle arc around the landing zone—an Imperial garrison base built to the standard template atop a much older, perhaps even ancient, fortress structure. Four huge towers arched into the sky, and a fifth half their size—long ago broken by some orbital bombardment—filled in a semicircle, replete with modern gun batteries. As the shuttle promanaded past the towers, Pellaeon noted an enormous hangar at the center of the base. When he landed and the party made their way inside, their bootheels clicking with a precise and unified cadence, he was gratified to see that the corridors of the facility were also perfectly Imperial.

    Rogriss stopped in front of a secured door, swiping her ID over its reader. The light flicked green and the lock opened. She stepped back and gestured at Pellaeon. "After you, sir."

    He nodded and led the way inside, the four stormtroopers and Captain Rogriss following deferentially behind with parade-ground precision. Once inside he felt his eyes widen, the pace of his footsteps slowing almost to a stop, because he'd been in this place before.

    It was an art gallery, darkly lit, each piece illuminated dimly. He recognized some of the pieces from the holos on Chimaera—the painting Peregrine, which had been Bel Iblis' favorite, was installed prominently close to the door. He still wasn't sure what to make of the hazy figure and the storm in the painting, or the painting itself.

    On the far side of the room stood a stocky figure with his back to the Admiral. Tall, but not so tall that he would have trouble in a TIE cockpit, and equipped with a blocky muscularity that bespoke time training at it, the man wore an Imperial General's uniform and starfighter insignia. Pellaeon had never met Baron Soontir Fel, but he had of course heard the name before and knew the stories.

    He knew all the stories—including the one where Fel had defected to the Rebellion.

    How had the man come to be here?

    How had the man come to be Thrawn's choice as his heir?

    Why had Thrawn not picked Pellaeon?

    Because that had been the constant, quiet question in the back of Pellaeon's mind. The nagging, insistent thought that would not leave him alone. Why did Thrawn not tell me? Pellaeon had been Thrawn's right hand, his trusted advisor, his confidante and executive. Pellaeon had served with Thrawn through the whole campaign against the New Republic. He had been there when Thrawn died.

    So why?

    The question, and the emotion wrapped up in the question, was not befitting an Imperial officer, one who followed and did not question orders, and so he tried hard to repress it and channel his anxiety into something productive—though there was nothing productive to do.

    "Admiral Pellaeon," came Fel's voice, deep and sonorous. As the Baron turned, Pellaeon took in the man's features, observing a black widow's peak and decidedly non-regulation goatee sprinkled with an artful dusting of gray. He paid very close attention to the man's brown eyes. They assessed him with the flat, affectless gaze that bespoke cool confidence—something Pellaeon expected from a man whose career had largely been spent flying shieldless balls strapped to weapons and an engine. There was little welcome in that voice, and no smile. It was the voice of a superior addressing a subordinate—and a subordinate not fully trusted at that. It brought an unexpected memory. Antilles had eyes like that, as he decided what it was worth it to kill me.

    Pellaeon tried not to bristle, and glanced to the side. The stormtroopers and Captain Rogriss were still there, standing back in the shadows, just out of sight, so he ignored them and turned his attention to Fel. "Sir. Are you to be addressed as Baron or General?"

    "Baron will be fine," Fel replied. He folded his arms behind his back. "Welcome to the headquarters of the Unknown Regions Expeditionary Force."

    "I've never heard of it," Pellaeon said.

    "You wouldn't have," Fel replied with a small, humorless smile. "Emperor Palpatine and Grand Admiral Thrawn worked very hard to keep it off the books. If you go looking you'll find a number of references to other entities—the 'Seventh Shipbuilder Detachment', or the Second Outer Rim Reserve Squadron', or most grandiosely the 'Empire of the Hand.' All existed only on paper so that Thrawn could gradually collect ships, men, and materiel in the Unknown Regions."

    Pellaeon nodded uncertainly. Judging from the shipyard he had seen, Thrawn had accumulated a great deal of resources. "Why?" he asked, that uncertainty obvious in his voice.

    "We'll get to that," Fel said. "For now, what you need to know is that we had no intention of becoming involved in the politics of the Empire, but the New Order's coup disrupted our long-term plans. We decided to try to collect assets that would be lost without our intervention." He nodded at Pellaeon. "Like yourself, your ship, and your people."

    "Assets?" asked Pellaon in an arch tone. "Is that all we are to you?"

    Fel's expression grew hard. "The Empire is corrupt and feeble. It is the plaything of the arrogant and the idiotic, ruled by sociopaths and sadists. But for all that its leadership is irredeemable, a great many of the men and women who serve the Empire's military and political establishment are just that—men and women, seeking to live their lives as best they can. They are trapped by indoctrination and prejudice, and we would just as soon not see them killed for a crime as small as that." That stone expression slackened slightly. "We killed a great many of them when we destroyed Judicator to rescue Chimaera, and it will take quite some time to sort through Chimaera's crew to separate the people who can be recruited from those who are… liabilities."

    Pellaeon felt his back stiffen, a hint of outrage curdling his gut. "Are you saying you believe my men might be liabilities?"

    Fel's brown eyes were cold. "Yes, Admiral, I am. And I am saying that you might be a liability."

    The hint of outrage bloomed and Pellaeon's voice grew hot. "I am a loyal officer—"

    "Yes, Admiral, that is precisely the problem," Fel cut him off. "You are a loyal officer. And if the Imperial Security Bureau had not turned on you, you would still be a loyal officer. Loyal to an Empire which has long since lost any claim to your loyalty—if ever it had one." Pellaeon opened his mouth to provide a hot retort, but Fel cut him off once again. "Here, we represent an Empire. Not Palpatine's Empire, but an Empire that Grand Admiral Thrawn provided the foundations for, conceived on his idea of an ideal state." Fel's expression softened, and Pellaeon thought he saw a hint of sympathy. "And he, Admiral, wasn't sure if you would want to be a part of it."

    All of Pellaeon's questions and doubts swirled together in his stomach. "He what?" His voice was harsh, and he could hear the hint of despair in it.

    Fel turned and looked into the shadows. "Troopers, step forward and remove your helmets please."

    Confused, Pellaeon turned towards the previously all-but-forgotten stormtroopers. Asori Rogriss stood at the end of the row, resolutely staring at the wall, but all around her the troopers marched forward, into the light from one of the illuminated displays. The first trooper reached up and removed his helmet—

    Revealing an utterly inhuman face.

    Pellaeon did not recognize his species, but the trooper did not belong to one that bore a close resemblance to humanity. Pellaeon could feel his guts churn with discomfort, taste the reflux of surprise and disgust—

    The other three troopers removed theirs in succession. One was human. Two were not.

    He felt himself crumple inside as he understood, truly understood, what Fel was trying to say. Because a part of him, a deep-seated part of him, the same part of him that had thought these stormtroopers were perfectly Imperial, now screamed that they were anything but.

    Thrawn had been right not to trust him, he realized, and that realization was a pointed stab to his very heart.

    "The question now," came Fel's voice, mercilessly flat, "is whether you've grown enough that you want to join us?"

    Gilad Pellaeon closed his eyes, considered his long career, added it against his shaky convictions, and he made his choice.
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2023
    Chyntuck likes this.
  21. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    W00t, another missing moment! And I squeed out loud for this one – Nirauan is a setting with so much potential, and it was criminally underused in the old EU. You did such a good job at highlighting the differences between this Empire and the old Empire through Pellaeon's musings and his conversation with Fel. At first he sees these mystery Imperials as perfect, "true" Imperials, only to realise that the old Empire he serves wouldn't let them within spitting distance of any echelon of its institutions, and this is how he gets the answer to his question why Thrawn had chosen Fel instead of him. I expect that he's joining the UREF after this anyway (if nothing else, because he has nowhere else to go), but I also expect that it's going to be quite a learning curve for him, and that opens the possibility for all sorts of misunderstandings big and small in the sequel. Bring on the last missing moment, and then Interregnum III!
     
    Bel505 likes this.
  22. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Missing Moment IV: Lando

    During Chapter 22, General Calrissian prepares to kick off Operation Garm's Hammer…


    The Mon Calamari Star Cruiser Mon Remonda was a battle-tested behemoth. The very first MC80B, Mon Remonda had been purpose-built for war, unlike her predecessors and contemporaries which had been refitted liners and exploration ships. Her shining hallways were worn smooth by the tread of countless boots in her years of service. Larger by volume than a Star Destroyer, with heavier shields, General Lando Calrissian's new flagship had fought a Super Star Destroyer and survived.

    Of course, Lando hadn't been in command of her at the time. Han had. He'd written her name across the stars with turbolaser fire and swagger, but now with the Nebulas and Lusankya coming to the fore, Mon Remonda had been handed to him to take back his gas station.

    Well. Lando was a good businessman, and the main things good businessmen understood were logistics and opportunity.

    The ship was prepared for battle; she and her escorts were lingering just outside of Cloud City's sensor radius, out of sight of the Imperial forces. Intelligence gave them an excellent understanding of the Empire's forces on Cloud City—the Sky Fortress, the garrison, the Carrack-class cruisers, and the single antiquated Victory-class Star Destroyer which had recently been rotated in. Mon Remonda could handle them alone; Lando didn't need the dozen Mareschal-class Escort Carriers and the fighters they carried.

    But none of that was the real problem.

    Sitting at the console in the back of Mon Remonda's clean, well-lit bridge, surrounded by Mon Calamarian crewers and the ship's Captain were four people upon whose shoulders weighed victory or defeat. The first, Major Judder Page, was the commander of the special operations forces for Wedge Antilles' entire Fifth Fleet. The unassuming man stood with his arms crossed, looking more like an insurance adjuster than a seasoned commando, and pointedly not looking at the two armored figures beside him.

    Those armored figures were reminders of Lando's own checkered past. His wheeling and dealing. His private contribution to this effort, with financing from well-meaning philanthropists. The first was Drea Renthal, a pirate and an old flame of Lando's. A big woman with strong features, Drea wore her mid-fifties well, and Lando felt a slight pang for his misspent youth.

    A seasoned mercenary with a small fleet of light capital ships and snubfighters, she specialized in nonviolent hijackings and high-value kidnappings. Her skills, and those of her fanatically loyal armada, would come in handy today. The Pirate Queen (his words, not hers) was clad from boots to neck in garishly-painted combat armor accented by a swirling shasjeer scarf worth more than a customized racing swoop. The ensemble was capped by a stylish beret that covered spiked, metallic hair. She didn't wear a blaster to the meeting. It wasn't out of courtesy, it was just that she didn't feel like she needed it just now.

    Drea could beat a stormtrooper with another stormtrooper, and she was sharp enough to stay in the pirating game without ever resorting to slavery or bloodbaths.

    Her services were expensive, but not so expensive that Lando couldn't afford them. He didn't get a discount as a former lover, but she did take his offer of meeting quickly and he was able to get her on board by offering her a share of the profits once Cloud City was exporting freely again. Pirate fleets needed fuel; the Empire needed raiding,

    The second, by contrast, was well outside Lando's affordability, and only the contributions made by those well-meaning philanthropists guaranteed his presence. Like any Mandalorian Warrior worth his helmet, Fenn Shysa was, as usual, covered head to toe in his traditional Mandalorian armor. He and Lando had worked together at the Battle of Mindor, and both men continued to get royalty checks for their "starring roles" in the subsequent holodrama. The fact that Lando had insisted on generous terms for Shysa, which led to constant income for his clan, meant that the other man had happily taken his call.

    As important as Page, Renthal, and Shysa would be to the victory on Cloud City, none of them were as important as the Verpine, Moegid. Moegid sat in the middle of the group at a bridge station, a heavy visor set over his insectile face and plugged into a steadily blinking, beeping console. Unlike the rest of Mon Remonda's bridge, this station seemed jury-rigged and chaotic. Lando knew that was only the case because he did not have a Verpine mind—Moegid was nothing if not thorough—but clearly the Mon Calamari officers and crew were skeptical that these efforts would amount to anything.

    Joke's on them, though Lando. Unlike any of them, I've seen Moegid and Lobot work, and I know better.

    He hoped.

    "Verpine biocomm signals have been established," said Drea, who had seen this trick done before and inserted herself into the process as Moegid's unnecessary aide.

    "All right," Lando drawled, doing his best 'casually confident' voice. "Are you in contact with Lobot, Moegid?"

    The Verpine was silent for a long moment. His long fingers stroked over the console in front of him, the heavy, complicated looking headset on his insectile head shifting as he moved. "Lobot is there."

    "Is the Miner's Union ready to make its move?"

    Inserting Lobot into Cloud City had been easy enough, but inserting entire battalions of troops had been impossible. Instead, Lando and Lobot had coordinated with the local Tibanna gas miners so that they would lead the assault from inside. The miners would be fighting not just for their freedom, or even just their lives, but for the survival of Cloud City itself. The Empire had long since given the order that Cloud City be destroyed rather than fall into the hands of the New Republic once more, and the miners would have to be responsible for preventing that long enough for Page, Drea, and Shysa's forces to win the battle.

    "They await your instruction," Moegid said. He and Lobot were communicating via Verpine biocomm signals, which in theory the Empire could detect but Lando thought that very unlikely.

    Lando turned to Mon Remonda's Captain. "Send the signal to our Mareschals. It's time for Lusankya to make an appearance."

    * * *​

    The better part of a day later, Cloud City had fallen. Not literally, thankfully. The city was still hovering in the skies of Bespin, but it was in New Republic hands. The battle had been easier than Lando had feared—the Imperial forces had been smaller, and less committed, than New Republic Intelligence believed. Casualties were high, especially among the Miner's Union who had been the first line of assault until Shysa's Mandalorians and Page's commandos could relieve them, but despite that the mood in the city was jubilant.

    He gave no thought to the smoking Sky Fortress currently making its final trip to the center of the gas giant, and less for the legion of Imperial troops caught and crushed in its compacting wreckage. He spared his concern for the many wounded among the New Republic coalition; Shysa's Mandalorians in particular had been the first to breach the Empire's command tower. The frontal assault had been brutal—albeit for the Imperials more than for the Mandalorians—and had, Lando was certain, saved many lives among the miners.

    The hallways were scorched and damaged, from where the miners and the Imperials had first clashed. He was preceded by a squad of New Republic marines in their battle armor, and followed by a squad of Drea Renthal's pirate mercs.

    Beaming his most brilliant smile, he walked through the halls of Bespin as if most of a decade had not passed, as if he hadn't sold one of his dearest friends to save thousands of others, and as though he still had a head without any gray hairs. A bold crimson cape edged with ermine fluttered behind him, its golden scrollwork catching the hallway lighting and extending a warm glow.

    He felt magnificent. More than that, he looked like he felt magnificent.

    At the end of the hall, the pair of sliding doors slid open. Bedraggled, exhausted-looking men carried a scrappy assortment of weapons, but Lando thought he saw recognition and welcome in some of their eyes. They stepped to the sides, and from their midst stepped a very familiar-looking man, with a bald head and a U-shaped cybernetic implant that swept around the back of his skull.

    Lobot's expression was as stony calm as Lando would have expected. "It is agreeable to see you again, General Calrissian." Lobot said, bowing and falling into step behind and to the side of Lando, an expression of faint pride on his usually stony features. "I see you retain your fashion sense and the gravitas to wear it well. Not to mention some added wrinkles."

    "Not to mention," Lando muttered darkly, clasping arms with the cyborg in a move that was as near as the other man came to a hug. "And I resigned my Generalship—again—before I landed. It is agreeable to see you again as well, Citizen Lobot."

    "Union Representative Lobot. I again speak for the Bespin Miner's Unions."

    Lando smiled. "Then you're the one I need to talk to. I'm here to stand for the position of Baron-Administrator." He looked at the collected miners, standing clustered around Lobot. He thought he recognized some of them from the old days, maybe even remembered some names. "Who do I need to gamble against to get the title back?"

    "No one," Lobot announced. "The Unions had a meeting and decided that none of the Administrators installed by the Empire were legitimate. By voice vote and with universal acclamation, their memberships agreed that the title be restored to you." Lobot stepped to the side. "Shall we visit the city center, Baron-Administrator Calrissian?"

    Lando chose to visit the wounded first. The miners, the pirates, the Mandos, and the marines with the worst injuries were shipped back to the facilities on Mon Remonda, so the central landing pads—reserved for the largest Tibanna gas freighters most of the time—had become triage centers. The wounded came, were tended to, and those who needed more care were placed on a medical transport. Gratefully, they suffered few additional fatalities.

    Hours later, Lando and Lobot stood in the center of the city. His old Administrator's Office was behind him, the center of a cluster of mining and administration offices that were the nerve center of Cloud City. None of his possessions remained, of course, but that didn't matter. The office could be remade and bric-a-brac reacquired. The view was what mattered, and the view was the same.

    It would take him years to bring this place back to what it had once been. But he would bring it back, and make it even better for the rare breed of people who lived and worked there, wrestling a living from the vibrant orange clouds.

    Beside him, Lobot nodded his approval. "Welcome back Baron-Administrator."

    "Thank you Lobot," Lando said, sinking back into one of the office's battered, Imperial-style chairs. "It is good to be home."


    * * *​

    Three Months Later

    Wild Karrde
    hummed through hyperspace with its normal efficiency, under the even, enigmatic gaze of its master, Talon Karrde. He looked across the members of his crew: from Chin, the wily old and supremely clever native of Myrkr, to the calm and competent Corellian Faughn, to Dankin—no longer quite so young as he used to be—piloting the vessel from his place at the helm.

    Next to Dankin, in Mara's old chair, was Kyp Durron.

    It had been some time since he'd pulled Kyp out of the comfort and safety of the Solos' apartment on Coruscant. Kyp had only been back only once since then, shortly after the birth of Mia Celchu. Karrde had run the young man ragged, dragging him across the galaxy and teaching him how the Smugglers' Alliance was run. It had become a more complicated business since Fliry Vorru and the Drall slicer Eliezer had introduced themselves to the game; Karrde and Mara had spent months developing and fine-tuning a system that allowed the business to run without shipboard holocomms.

    Kyp had been guilty and wounded when Karrde first brought him aboard. Uncertain, somewhat confused, and very uncomfortable, Chin had been the first to take him under his oversized arm. Then, gradually, Kyp had warmed up to Faughn, and then finally Dankin. In the end, Kyp and Dankin had become close friends—though that process had taken several bitter arguments. The darkness that had lingered around the boy had faded some. It reminded Karrde of Mara, though Kyp's transformation was not as profound as Mara's had been. The young man smiled more than she ever had.

    "Coming out of hyperspace now," Kyp reported, and Wild Karrde lurched slightly as the spinning lights abruptly straightened. In front of them, the massive swirl of orange and white that was the gas giant Bespin appeared, growing steadily.

    "Contact Cloud City control. Let Baron-Administrator Calrissian know that we have arrived," Karrde instructed.

    Faughn's hand was already on her ear.

    "Imperials!" Kyp rose half out of his seat, staring through the Wild Karrde's forward viewpoint. "There's an Imperial-class Star Destroyer in orbit!"

    Was there? Yes, indeed, there it was. Karrde felt a tug of anxiety, but at the same time… "Calmly, Kyp," he cautioned the young man. "What do you see?"

    There was more to that question, of course. With Kyp, there was much more. Karrde wasn't sure exactly why or how he had been identified as a good early tutor for Force-sensitives, but Mara seemed convinced that he was, and he trusted her judgment more than his own about such things.

    Kyp's voice became slightly perplexed. "It's above the skyhook," he said. His voice became even more perplexed. "I'm not feeling any danger…"

    "Indeed?" Karrde smiled, steepling his hands together. "Faughn, if I'm not mistaken, the Errant Venture has beaten us here. Hail Booster and congratulate him." Then he took his datapad in his hand and sent Cloud City's computers a query, checking their landing registry to see if any Maka-Eekai freighters had arrived…

    * * *​

    Her father had taken the news that she was pregnant surprisingly well, Mirax thought. If she wasn't mistaken, Booster was thrilled at the prospect of becoming a doting grandfather. He still wasn't thrilled at her choice for a husband—Corran Horn was, after all, still the son of the man who had sent Booster to Kessel—but despite his consistent griping and efforts to get one over on Corran, and her husband's unbending willingness to snipe back, she was pretty sure his tolerance was no longer totally feigned. That was progress.

    Errant Venture, the only (legal) privately-owned Imperial II-class Star Destroyer in the galaxy, had taken up a synchronous orbit over Cloud City a few hours before. Only months before there had been an Imperial Sky Fortress in this same orbital position, but Mon Remonda had wrecked it and gravity had crushed it, so there was plenty of space. Errant Venture's many, many passengers—large numbers of them had been refugees from Bespin when Darth Vader had conquered Cloud City almost a decade before—disembarked eagerly, taking in the majestic sights of the City in the clouds once the shuttles disgorged them on the massive, open docking platforms below.

    Booster Terrik watched it all, looming above his bridge with his arms folded across his chest, a pillar of (somewhat annoyed) calm. Errant Venture was surprisingly tidy, given its crew was barely half as large as the ship's minimum requirements said it needed, and it was constantly suffering minor equipment failures, but you wouldn't know it by looking at Booster.

    She strode around the long walk of the bridge with a cool, deliberate pace. This wasn't her job, but Errant Venture's constant crew shortages meant that the ship could always use another pair of eyes, and she tended to the needful and oversaw the complex functionalities of the once-warship as it completed the delicate and dangerous loading operation.

    "Is Karrde here yet?" Booster grumped.

    She looked over, then checked her station. "I'm not sure how we would know, given the state of our long-range sensor array."

    "It's working perfectly."

    Mirax prodded the console skeptically. "Have you considered formally joining the Smugglers' Alliance yet? I'm pretty sure that Karrde would be happy to help you make sure we didn't suffer these kinds of systems failures."

    "You might be willing to join that do-gooder and his do-gooder friends, daughter of mine, but I never said I was."

    She rolled her eyes. "You already paid him to help you refurbish the guns," she pointed out dryly. "And you're going to pay him to help fix your sensors. You might as well just join up."

    "Communication from CCC," the ship's comm officer called, cutting off her father's indignant reply. "Wild Karrde has arrived in-system and is on approach to Cloud City."

    "Time to go," Mirax said cheerfully. "Let's find out what Karrde has planned."


    * * *​

    The first thing that Mirax saw when entering the conference room was Mara Jade.

    The Jedi was wearing her typical ensemble—well-worn combat boots, comfortable, loose fitting trousers, and a matching shirt half-hidden by her deceptively-capable jacket. A lightsaber and blaster hung at her belt, and Mirax was quite sure that Mara had at least one other blaster in a sleeve, not to mention a number of vibroblades.

    For months, Mara and Mirax had been working together, with Mara teaching Mirax everything she needed to know to take over as the Liaison between the Smugglers' Alliance and the New Republic. Mara's decision to become a Jedi full time had not surprised Talon Karrde—Mirax didn't think anything surprised him—and he had immediately proposed her as Mara's replacement. Mara had agreed and the two of them had been working together ever since. Mara had been stand-offish at first, but after Iella Wessiri took them both out for drinks on Coruscant, they had progressed from work acquaintances to friends. It helped, too, that Mara had foiled an attempt to kidnap her by Force-strong agents of Leonia Tavira.

    Corran and the Jedi Knight Kam Solusar, who had once served Tavira, had gone off to hunt her down in response. All of that had been the impetus for Booster's renovation of Errant Venture's weapons, and Mirax had no doubt that at some point in the near future Leonia Tavira would feel the full weight of his fury. Assuming, of course, that his ship's scanners let him find her in the first place.

    "Have you heard anything from Corran?" Mirax asked Mara as she approached in a rush.

    Mara's hand caught Mirax's arm, bracing her as she came close. "No, not yet," Mara said. "But Luke isn't concerned. You can trust Kam, Mirax, he'll make sure Corran is fine."

    Behind her, the door whispered open and Talon Karrde, Booster Terrik, and Kyp Durron walked in. Leaving her, Mara approached them. "Talon."

    "Mara."

    They clasped hands briefly, then Mara looked at Kyp. "How are you?"

    Kyp fidgeted a bit under Mara's gaze. Mirax sympathized; Mara could be intense. "I'm good."

    Mara nodded slowly, as if that meant something much more significant than the spare syllables suggested. "Good," she said. She looked back at Karrde. "Is everything prepared?"

    "Of course."

    To Mirax's surprise, Mara turned her attention back to her. "Lando called me here on other business, and you were already going to be here on Errant Venture's fuel run, so Karrde decided to come too," she explained.

    "We wanted to have a formal ceremony, something small," Karrde added.

    "Ceremony for what?" Mirax asked, furrowing her brow.

    "For you formally replacing me as Liaison for the Smugglers' Alliance after my resignation," Mara said, a touch of Fringe mischief underlying her newly laid-on Jedi calm.

    "Oh," Mirax said. "Did we really need a ceremony for that?"

    Karrde chuckled, but it was Booster who grinned. Her father—despite his protestations about not joining any do-gooders earlier—looked quite happy. "Of course we did!"

    "Oh, you were in on this too?" Mirax complained. "And I didn't even get a warning? You know how I hate your surprise parties. Ever since the disaster when I was nine—"

    Her father practically glowed. "Your mother would be very proud of you, you know."

    Mirax's mouth snapped shut in surprise, a sudden swell of emotion washing over her. Her father wasn't often sentimental, and he rarely invoked her mother unprovoked. His expression was so pure, so full of pride and love, that she found herself vanishing into his bear-like arms without protest.

    When she emerged once more, she turned to Karrde, wiping her eyes. "I'm not usually this emotional, you know," she said, realizing how much her words and tone echoed her father's only after they were said.

    "Neither is your father, and only one of you has the excuse of being pregnant," Karrde pointed out, smiling as Booster glowered down at him. "Congratulations, Trader Terrik."


    * * *​

    "What did you want to see me about?" Mara asked Lando, several hours later. The two of them stood in his office. It was furnished elaborately, with imported art and furniture.

    Beyond the windows, freighters were constantly coming and going. Cloud City's Tibanna exports were at an all-time high, feeding the demand of the New Republic's war machine. Most of those freighters belonged to the Smugglers' Alliance, too—that had been the price Karrde extracted in exchange for bankrolling Fenn Shysa's Mandalorians during the reconquest of Bespin.

    "Do I need a reason to invite a lovely lady to spend some time in the luxurious City in the Clouds?" Lando said with a smile. "I can arrange some spa time for you, if you like. We just had a new one open. I was able to convince the owner of the Sanads to relocate, and what they can do with a—"

    Mara arched a single eyebrow, and for a brief moment, transformed her face into ISB Colonel Catriona Lavalle, icily formal with a simmering venom lurking just below the surface. Lando's smile did not vanish, but he did stop talking for a nearly imperceptible moment before he got back on track. "For what it's worth, I didn't specify you, just that I thought a Jedi should come out here." He grinned, irrepressible. "Of course, if I had to choose one…"

    "You got one. What do you need?"

    Lando guided her to one of the terminals. "I want you to look at something. This is a report of gas prospector efficiency over the last few months. What do you see?"

    Somewhat annoyed, Mara reviewed the file. She traced her finger over it, going line by line, and stopped. "Five hundred percent above the average?" she asked, frowning. "What's going on here?"

    His grin told her that she had identified exactly what he wanted her to. "That is a good question. After I took over, I brought all the independent prospectors in to make the overall operation more efficient. Since then, that one outfit consistently sources gas finds far above average."

    "Tibannopolis," Mara read.

    "It's an abandoned platform not far from here," Lando explained. "That's where the operation is located."

    "Maybe that location is a better one."

    "Nothing about it stands out."

    "Maybe the people over there are really good at their job."

    "Person," Lando corrected. "One person."

    Mara blinked. "One person is bringing in that much Tibanna gas in a month?" She looked at the numbers again. "That can't possibly be right."

    "But it is right. I've checked, and checked again." Lando's expression grew serious. "And that's the reason I wanted to talk to you. You and Luke are actively recruiting Force-sensitives now, yes?"

    She leaned back in her chair and nodded slowly. "What's their name?"

    "His name," Lando said slowly, "is Streen."
     
    Chyntuck likes this.
  23. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Teaser

    Deep in Imperial-held space there was a star system named K-3-947. Like most systems on the edge of both the galaxy and the Unknown Regions, it had not been well-mapped under the Old Republic—there had been little reason to do so, since almost no commerce occurred so far from the Galactic Core and it had no habitable planets. The star had continued its steady turning, ignored, until an expedition sent by Grand Moff Kaine to catalog his territories stumbled across it several years before. Stellar cartographers from the Oversector mapped the star, its eleven planets, eighty-seven moons, and two asteroid belts and promptly forgot about it.


    In part, they had forgotten about it because the Imperial Inquisitorius erased the records.

    In their quest to regain galactic preeminence, the Inquisitors and their allies—weakened, reduced, and desperate—searched the galaxy for weapons that could turn the tide of battle and leave the New Order victorious. One such agent was Roganda Ismaren, the Emperor's Hand, a cryptic keeper of Palpatine's secrets. At K-3-947 she planted a seed. She gave that seed a dream to aspire to, and dedicated herself to seeing it grow… and to wielding its power as her own.



    Interregnum III - Imperial Justice
    Coming Soon​
     
    Chyntuck and scienfictionfan like this.
  24. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Back again, for a review on Lando's missing moment and the teaser for Interregnum III!

    It was lovely getting to see Lando wearing one of his trademark capes (and crimson with ermine? my my, he's very much the baron part of baron-administrator), but also the minor Legends characters such as Major Page, Drea Renthal (and her gaudy outfits!), Fenn Shysa and Moegid. I also liked that Lobot and the Miners' Union got to make a heroic appearance, it's nice to see the "insurrection from within" aspect in a story that focuses so much on the New Republic conquering worlds subjugated by the Empire.

    I also loved the Booster & Mirax scenes. Booster as a doting father and grandfather-to-be is something I never get tired of. The mention of Tavira going after Mirax off-screen was a neat touch – a missing moment within a missing moment, so to speak.

    And Streen gets namedropped?!?!? Does that mean we'll get to see him in action in Interregnum III? (no spoilers, no spoilers, I'll just wait patiently until you start posting it)

    And that teaser – oh my, that teaser. I'm very excited to see what you'll do with Roganda Ismaren, and since she's Force-sensitive as well, I expect that she'll be joining forces with the Inquisitors (those that are still alive at any rate). Also, it appears that you'll be picking up the New Order storyline, and I'm very eager to see how you'll handle the split of the Empire in two factions (or even three, if we count the Empire of the Hand). This promises to be epic!

    I should tell you that I'm going back to work next week after a sabbatical, so I may not be available to review what you post on a weekly basis, but can be sure that I'll be reading!
     
    SnubJockey and Bel505 like this.
  25. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Streen did indeed get name-dropped ;)

    Thanks so much for reading and reviewing, we really appreciate it!
     
    Chyntuck likes this.