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Beyond - Legends Interregnum (Post-The Last Command Action/Drama | Luke/Mara, Wedge | Epic) [Complete]

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Bel505, Sep 12, 2020.

  1. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    [​IMG]
    Title: Interregnum
    Author(s): Bel505 (Admiral Byzantium) and DrMckay
    Timeframe: One year after The Last Command, a few months after Isard's Revenge
    Characters: Mara Jade, Luke Skywalker, Fliry Vorru, Wedge Antilles, Iella Wessiri
    Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama, Romance
    Keywords: Luke/Mara, Rogue Squadron, Black Sun
    Summary: See below
    Notes: This is a novel-length fanfiction which is now fully written! [face_party]

    It represents our attempt to write a Zahn-style continuation of his original trilogy, borrowing from material from the X-wing novels and comics (as well as the broader Legends continuity) to help flesh out plots.

    The wonderful cover art was created by iisabelinski! You can find her other Star Wars art on Tumblr, at https://iisabelinski.tumblr.com.

    Enjoy! :):):)




    Summary

    The tide has turned! With the death of GRAND ADMIRAL THRAWN, COUNCILOR LEIA ORGANA SOLO guides the diplomacy of the battle-tested and confident NEW REPUBLIC as it takes the offensive.

    The EMPIRE, beset by corruption and divided amongst quarrelsome warlords, tries frantically to hold on to its remaining territory, while the FRINGE elements of the galaxy take stock of the new reality. Some have sided with the New Republic, forming the SMUGGLERS’ ALLIANCE, while others plot to gain power by exploiting the tattered vestiges of Imperial might.

    On Coruscant, the capital of the New Republic, LUKE SKYWALKER, the galaxy’s only Jedi Knight, and MARA JADE, a former Imperial agent with a troubled past, reunite while subtle foes plot from the safety of the shadows...




    Thanks
    My sincerest gratitude goes to DrMckay [https://archiveofourown.org/users/DrMckay/pseuds/DrMckay], who has given so much of his time to editing this, and who is responsible for coming up with many of the best lines in this story. He's helped me figure out how to maneuver it through the upcoming twists and turns. Without him, this would be so much more of an erratic mess.

    I also owe thanks to Michael Stackpole, Aaron Allston, Kevin J. Anderson, and especially Timothy Zahn. You four authors are the primary inspiration of this story, and almost all of the characters in it belong to one of you. To me, the Zahn Trilogy is more vital to Star Wars as a franchise than the Prequel Trilogy; Star Wars is as defined by Zahn as it is by Lucas. Thank you all.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2021
  2. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Table of Contents

    Chapter One, Part I
    Chapter One, Part II
    Chapter Two, Part I
    Chapter Two, Part II
    Chapter Three, Part I
    Chapter Three, Part II
    Chapter Three, Part III
    Chapter Four, Part I
    Chapter Four, Part II
    Chapter Five, Part I
    Chapter Five, Part II
    Chapter Six
    Chapter Seven, Part I
    Chapter Seven, Part II
    Chapter Eight, Part I
    Chapter Eight, Part II
    Chapter Eight, Part III
    Chapter Nine, Part I
    Chapter Nine, Part II
    Chapter Nine, Part III
    Chapter Ten, Part I
    Chapter Ten, Part II
    Chapter Eleven, Part I
    Chapter Eleven, Part II
    Chapter Twelve, Part I
    Chapter Twelve, Part II
    Chapter Twelve, Part III
    Chapter Thirteen, Part I
    Chapter Thirteen, Part II
    Chapter Fourteen, Part I
    Chapter Fourteen, Part II (Posted December 10th, 2020)
    Chapter Fifteen, Part I (Posted December 11th, 2020)
    Chapter Fifteen, Part II (Posted December 13th, 2020)
    Chapter Fifteen, Part III (Posted December 14th, 2020)
    Chapter Sixteen, Part I (Posted December 15th, 2020)
    Chapter Sixteen, Part II (Posted December 17th, 2020)
    Chapter Sixteen, Part III (Posted December 18th, 2020)
    Chapter Seventeen, Part I (Posted December 21, 2020)
    Chapter Seventeen, Part II (Posted December 24, 2020)
    Chapter Eighteen, Part I (Posted December 28, 2020)
    Chapter Eighteen, Part II (Posted December 31, 2020)
    Chapter Eighteen, Part III (Posted January 1st, 2021)
    Chapter Nineteen, Part I (Posted January 4th, 2021)
    Chapter Nineteen, Part II (Posted January 6th, 2021)
    Chapter Nineteen, Part III (Posted January 8th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty, Part I (Posted January 11th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty, Part II (Posted January 13th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty, Part III (Posted January 15th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-One, Part I (Posted January 18th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-One, Part II (Posted January 22, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Two, Part I (Posted January 25th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Two, Part II (Posted January 28th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Three, Part I (Posted January 30th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Three, Part II (Posted February 3rd, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Three, Part III (Posted February 5th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Four, Part I (Posted February 8th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Four, Part II (Posted February 11th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Five, Part I (Posted February 15th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Five, Part II (Posted February 19th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Six, Part I (Posted February 21st, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Six, Part II (Posted February 23rd, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Six, Part III (Posted February 25th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Six, Part IV (Posted February 27th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Seven (Posted March 4th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Eight, Part I (Posted March 7th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Eight, Part II (Posted March 10th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Eight, Part III (Posted March 12th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Nine, Part I (Posted March 15, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Nine, Part II (Posted March 17th, 2021)
    Chapter Twenty-Nine, Part III (Posted March 19th, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty, Part I (Posted March 22nd, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty, Part II (Posted March 23rd, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty, Part III (Posted March 25th, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty-One, Part I (Posted March 28th, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty-One, Part II (Posted March 30th, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty-One, Part III (Posted April 1st, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty-Two, Part I (Posted April 3rd, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty-Two, Part II (Posted April 4th, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty-Two, Part III (Posted on April 6th, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty-Two, Part IV (Posted on April 8th, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty-Three, Part I (Posted on April 10th, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty-Three, Part II (Posted on April 12th, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty-Three, Part III (Posted on April 13th, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty-Four, Part I (Posted on April 15th, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty-Four, Part II (Posted on April 17th, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty-Four, Part III (Posted on April 19th, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty-Five (Posted on April 20th, 2021)
    Chapter Thirty-Six (Posted on April 21st, 2021)

     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2021
    Joshua Taylor, ZV-83 and Mira_Jade like this.
  3. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Dramatis Personae

    Citizens on Coruscant
    Councilor Leia Organa Solo (human female from Alderaan)
    Chewbacca (Wookiee male from Kashyyyk)
    Winter Retrac (human female from Alderaan)
    Luke Skywalker (human male from Tatooine)
    Han Solo (human male from Corellia)

    New Republic Armed Forces
    General Garm Bel Iblis (human male from Corellia)
    General Crix Madine (human male from Corellia)
    Captain Atril Tabanne (human female from Coruscant)

    Rogue Squadron
    General Wedge Antilles, Rogue Leader (human male from Corellia)
    Colonel Tycho Celchu, Rogue Two (human male from Alderaan)
    Major Derek “Hobbie” Klivian, Rogue Four (human male from Ralltiir)
    Major Wes Janson, Rogue Five (human male from Taanab)
    Captain Gavin Darklighter, Rogue Six (human male from Tatooine)
    Lieutenant Myn Donos, Rogue Seven (human male from Corellia)
    Major Nrin Vakil, Rogue Eight (Quarren male from Mon Calamari)
    Captain Corran Horn, Rogue Nine (human male from Corellia)
    Captain Ooryl Qrygg, Rogue Ten (Gand male from Gand)
    Lieutenant Inyri Forge, Rogue Twelve (human female from Kessel)

    New Republic Intelligence
    General Airen Cracken (human male from Contruum)
    Iella Wessiri (human female from Corellia)

    Smugglers’ Alliance
    Master Trader Talon Karrde (human male)
    Mara Jade (human female from Coruscant)

    Imperial Forces
    Moff Vilim Disra (human male from Corellia)
    Moff Leonia Tavira (human female from Eiattu)
    Admiral Teren Rogriss (human male from Anaxes)
    Captain Gilad Pellaeon (human male from Coruscant)

    Prisoners on Kessel
    Moff Fliry Vorru (human male from Corellia)
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2020
    Mira_Jade likes this.
  4. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter One


    The Star Destroyer Invidious looked every bit like the weapon of the Empire it had been engineered to be. Sixteen hundred meters of gleaming white hull armor narrowed to a point in space, a declaration to all who would challenge the Empire that their challenge would soon come to an end.

    Of course, looks could be deceiving. Invidious was Imperial built, with a crew that wore Imperial uniforms. Many of them had been trained by the Empire. But no person familiar with the Imperial Starfleet at its height would mistake Invidious for an Imperial warship after a quick glimpse inside. Their uniforms were not strictly Imperial regulation, the crew's gait lacked the standard Imperial clip, and they were not the universally human personnel that would be found in Imperial service. The ship's fighters were not standard TIEs, but had been heavily modified for added survivability and pilot comfort.

    Nor was the ship's captain, Leonia Tavira, a typical Imperial. A striking woman with black hair and violet eyes, she was possessed of a winsome demeanor and an impressively innocent and attractive smile. Or, alternatively, she was possessed of a ruthless ambition that had seen the death of many would-be rivals. She dressed to match both personas, with a casual red bandanna holding back her longish hair and twin blaster pistols on her hips. She paired this with a trim Imperial Moff's uniform, a rank she technically held but was now long defunct. Neither her home planet Eiattu, nor the rest of the Ado sector, was any longer interested in catering to their Moff's orders.

    But the uniform was still useful.

    She appeared to be what she was: An Imperial who had turned pirate and who, like so many others, found herself quite enjoying the change.

    The man standing behind her watched the bridge with cold detachment, an alert bodyguard who regretted his assignment but was dedicated to it nonetheless. Dressed like a warrior from the old spacetales, an antique bronzium carapace armored his muscular build, transitioning into greaves and heavy boots that rang distinctively against the Star Destroyer's floor plating with every step. The armor alone didn't make the man frightening. It was the implacable mystery he seemed to exude wherever he walked. But after years of service, they knew Admiral Tavira had his unwavering loyalty, and for the gang of thugs, killers and Imperial deserters that, and the lightsaber hanging from his belt, were enough.

    None of Tavira's bridge crew had ever seen his face, hidden as it was behind the lifelike, roaring visage of a d'oemir bear: purest white but for the brown eyes, uncannily intelligent, and utterly ruthless.

    They were also nearly extinct.

    He knew Tavira liked the mask. There was much she had learned from her time in the Empire, but first and foremost she had learned the value of intimidation. When she had acquired Invidious from one of the loosely-independent warlords who had grown like fungal colonies after the Emperor's death, it had not been for the vessel's raw power, though that was certainly useful. Nor had it been because the ship was the finest possible pirate vessel. Nothing was further than the truth given the innumerable design flaws and constant maintenance demands characteristic of Star Destroyers, both serious hindrances for a pirate.

    No, it was because even the boldest Rebel pilots became filled with dread at the sight of a Star Destroyer.

    And the planet below them was not filled with the boldest Rebel pilots.

    They stood together in silence as the crew in the port and starboard crew-pits rustled with anticipation, the Invidious now nearing bombardment range of the desolate planet below.

    "Admiral, the Administrator is calling again," said the man at the Communications station, using Tavira's preferred title despite the woman never seeing an Admiralty board in her spotty career. "He's beginning to sound desperate."

    Tavira leaned toward the masked figure. "Isn't this thrilling, my Tevas-kaar?" she asked quietly, the warmth of her hand on his shoulder utterly wasted on his armor. He remained still as a shiver of excitement went down her spine. "I suppose you can feel the anticipation and dread even better than I can," she said after a moment, sounding jealous.

    The Tevas-kaar, who had once had a name, maintained his posture unflinchingly. If she was disappointed at his lack of response, she didn't show it.

    "Admiral, Flight Control reports that all fighters are ready for launch," said the last man on the elevated command deck.

    "Thank you, Commander," Tavira replied briskly, turning her attention away from him. "Communications, tell the fighters to launch and assume standard escort formation. Then go wideband to the Kessel Defense Force. Tell them that if they attempt to engage, they will be destroyed. And tell them I am not interested in prisoners, but I will accept defectors."

    "Yes, Admiral."

    The pirate admiral watched as the shattered, lopsided rock of Kessel and it's far more typical moon loomed closer through the port bridge windows. "Not just yet," Tavira mused softly to herself, too quiet for anyone but the Tevas-kaar to overhear. "Helm, put us in a geosynchronous orbit above the old Imperial base on the Garrison Moon. Guns, train all weapons on the facility but do not," her voice dropped to a low growl, "do not fire until I tell you to."

    Invidious completed its maneuver with far less speed than it could have, allowing the minutes to stretch out and the impending threat of the vessel to linger. The communications from the Administrator grew desperate. The Tevas-kaar watched as Tavira stepped back into the middle of the bridge platform, examining one of the displays with a keen tactical eye.

    "Has Doole offered his surrender?" Tavira asked, her hands folded behind her.

    "No, Admiral. Should I demand it?"

    "I'll have our turbolasers do the demanding," Tavira replied breezily. "Guns, pick a target fifty meters outside the perimeter of the base and slag it for me. Make it spectacular."

    An Imperial-II class Star Destroyer carried fifteen heavy turbolaser batteries and ten individual heavy turbolaser cannons in its port broadside. Not all of Invidious' turbolasers were as reliable as they ought to be, given the ship's lack of opportunity for real maintenance, but there were more than enough. Each of the weapons trained on the prison, pinging it with targeting scanners. Then thirty-eight bursts of coherent green light lanced from their barrels, drilling deep into the stone as excess energy bled into shattering explosions. A second burst of fire slammed in after them, widening the crack as the stone glowshot in the aftermath of scattered explosions.

    "Beautiful!" Tavira said approvingly. She offered her man at Communications a cocky smile. "Comms?"

    The man held his hand over his ear, listening intently. "Administrator Doole offers his unconditional surrender, Admiral," he announced triumphantly. His own lips slipped into a grin that would be quite unacceptable in a proper Imperial environment. "At least, from all the desperate begging, I believe that is what he has offered."

    "Very good," Tavira said, her thin smile growing broader. "Tell him to await my envoy. And tell him," her teeth gleamed with wolfish hunger, "that if he does anything I do not like I will shatter the moon and rain large pieces of it down on his head."

    "With pleasure, Admiral," the young man said, his own smile matching hers.

    Tavira turned back to her armored bodyguard. "Well, my Tevas-kaar? Are you ready to embark on the next stage of your," her violet eyes glowed with amusement and temptation, "loyal service?"

    "I live and serve, Admiral," he replied, his already resonant voice echoing behind the d'oemir bear mask.

    "Very good." There was no mistaking the satisfaction in her voice. "You may begin."





     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2020
  5. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Chapter One, Part II

    The depths of Kessel were kept in perpetual darkness. This was purposeful, as the only reason the world—if the barely-habitable rock that was Kessel could be called a world, it was really more of a gigantic asteroid with an almost-but-not-quite-atmosphere—was settled at all was its native Spice spiders. The creatures wiled away their existence underground in complete darkness, spinning their lucrative webs of pure glitterstim, and consuming the Spice miners sent in to collect it.

    Fliry Vorru had spent far too many years in that bitter darkness. It had not been all bad: the camaraderie with other prisoners, especially other Corellians, had offered some recompense on those long, treacherous days. He and his fellow inmates had even found the spice hunts preferable to other far less dangerous duties simply because of the change of pace.

    The other recompense on those long days of miserable boredom had been the knowledge—the surety—that he would eventually return to civilization and resume his rise. He never doubted it, despite the hurdles that seemed to be constantly placed in his way.

    Vorru had been serving a life sentence, a "gift" of the Emperor earned with the sale of far too many of Vorru's secrets. Before that, Vorru had been the Moff of the Corellia sector, a post he had held since Palpatine had been just a Senator. The two men had understood each other's ambitions, but Palpatine would brook no rivals and had, inevitably, come to see Vorru's charisma, competence, and ties to the galaxy's fringes as a threat. Vorru took pride in that, even if it had led to his imprisonment. Being deemed a threat by the Emperor himself was no small feat.

    Vorru's memory of Palpatine's cackling self-congratulation as he stripped the Moff's rank bars from Vorru's chest, handed him off dismissively into the hands of a pair of red armored Royal Guardsman, and then turned his back, was bitter and vivid to this day. Force or no Force, Vorru had always known Palpatine's ego and overconfidence would doom the man in the end, and it was with that knowledge that he rode himself hard, determined never to grow as complacent as his old rival. But even after Palpatine's fall it had taken some years for Vorru to make his first escape from Kessel.

    His unwilling return to Kessel after that first escape was another memory that plagued him. The Lambda-class shuttle descending through Kessel's constantly escaping air, wings arching to landing configuration as they swept down to the landing pad with the smooth settling that told of extensive experience at the pilot's yoke. Antilles had been flying of course, with Iella Wessiri seated across from him in the passenger compartment, hand riding her blaster and eyes on the base of his throat the whole way. The two had made his return to Kessel a personal project of theirs after the Rogues had taken Thyferra, settling him in the now-familiar darkened corridors, away from the prying eyes of New Republic sludgenews and extensive blackmail opportunities. Much as he despised his time here, the memory of their determined opposition brought a smile to his face. At least I was beaten by proper Corellians, who showed me the respect my reputation deserved.

    "You know I will get out of here again," he had told them. "I know too many people and own too many debts. Kessel could not hold me before, and it cannot hold me now."

    Wessiri's keenly intelligent brown eyes were her most defining feature, he remembered. She was a true Corellian; a dedicated investigator, she was meticulous and detail oriented. If she had been in CorSec while he had been Corellia's Moff; she would have been a prized asset. The thought of setting her dogged determination on his adversaries… but in his absence Corellia had deteriorated, ending up in turn puppet of the Empire, a plaything of the Diktat, or both. Wessiri, not particularly fond of either, had joined the Rebellion and that—and his rather shortsighted decision to hitch his future to the even-more-unstable-than-he-had-realized Ysanne Isard—had made them enemies.

    Isard had been the head of Imperial Intelligence, the Empress of the Empire in all but name after Palpatine's death. She had seemed like a sure enough bet, until one saw her up close. All her intelligence, ruthlessness, and cunning couldn't save her from her own mental instabilities.

    And the first thing he had done on release was to contact her with an offer of service. It pained him only a little to admit that his own mistakes had put him back here.

    "You may," she had conceded, releasing his arm with the exquisitely painful twist of a forensic investigator who had perp-walked the wealthy and corrupt, as he stepped down the ramp of the Lambda and into the hands of the waiting Kessel guards for processing. To his surprise, she hadn't said anything more without prompting.

    "And then?"

    She had arched an eyebrow at him as the guards took his arms. "I suggest that you run, very far away and live somewhere in peaceful obscurity. I don't like reopening old cases." And then she had turned away and strode up the ramp of the Lambda. The ramp had risen behind her, closing as a gesture of finality. As he had watched, pulled away by the guards, an X-wing painted in CorSec green-on-black took up an escort position as the shuttle headed for space. Horn, no doubt. Another proper Corellian, he thought with rue that almost turned into pride.

    His mistakes were legion, yes… but his fall was also a testament to the quality of his adversaries. What Corellia under his rule, with these magnificently capable people at his command, could have been…

    Wessiri had given him good advice—for a man without ambition. He intended to ignore every bit of it.

    Though he was not yet decrepit, Vorru was a hair too slow now to go traipsing around in utter darkness, braving Spice spiders with a pick or shovel. To avoid it he had negotiated with Moruth Doole, Kessel's administrator, and exchanged some small credit accounts for a less strenuous confinement, doling out a new one each year of roughly equivalent wealth. The library he had been given access to was barely deserving of the name, to be sure, but it did have a number of things to recommend it besides its reading list. Most importantly, access to the Kessel computer mainframe.

    There was a heavy knock on the door. Vorru looked up and over, then peered upwards, as if he could see through the ceiling and to Kessel's orbit above. Being disturbed in the library was uncommon and it usually meant that Doole wanted something. Today, however, there was a good chance it meant something else… "Come," he called.

    The door slid open and a tall, gangly blonde figure stepped through, holding a double-barreled blaster pistol. Like everything else Arb Skynxnex owned, the blaster spoke volumes about the man; an illegal custom model, one that sacrificed accuracy, rate-of-fire, and reliability for raw power. It was not a trade-off Vorru would have made. "Vorru," the man said in a gravelly voice. He wore an Imperial's uniform, but without any insignia; when the prisoners had seized control of the Kessel spice facilities from the Empire, they had kept some of the paraphernalia in an attempt to maintain an official façade. Vorru would have recognized him just from his voice, but he would cut a distinctive figure even mute, with his long arms and spindly neck.

    Of all the inhabitants of Kessel, Skynxnex was the most distasteful—or at least in the top-five, Vorru thought. There were uses for psychopathic sadists, but only a few and then only transiently. If it had been up to Vorru, Skynxnex would have been dead years ago.

    "Can I help you?" Vorru asked calmly, adopting his best Imperial Court intonations and an air of quiet, regal confidence. It was like settling into a well-tailored suit, he thought, with the momentary concern that it might not fit after so long in the closet, followed by the relief that it still fit perfectly.

    Skynxnex wasn't impressed. "There's an Impstar Deuce in orbit, and its envoy wants to speak with you." He scowled at him, looming forward to take full advantage of the height difference between them. Skynxnex was built like an enormous, skeletal scarecrow; Vorru was short and lean, in part thanks to Kessel's scanty prisoner rations.

    He nodded, unimpressed by Skynxnex's attempt at intimidation. "Then we should not keep them waiting. Star Destroyers are nothing to be trifled with," he replied. Doole doesn't have the Rogues and he's an easy target, stationary on the ground. Kessel's defense forces can't hope to compete with even a poorly maintained Impstar Deuce.

    Skynxnex watched Vorru, his eyes dark and suspicious. For a moment, Vorru thought the taller man might shoot him just for the pleasure of it. Vorru hoped not—that would be an unsatisfactory end to such a promising beginning. Their gazes met and this time his lingered before the tall man glanced away.

    Skynxnex wasn't the only one of them who had a killer's gaze.

    The scarecrow jerked his head towards the door, then turned and stalked out of the library, ducking his head on exit. Vorru followed, spirits raised. He took a breath, reminding himself not to seem too ebullient; there were any number of ways the next few minutes could go horribly wrong. Still, he couldn't keep a momentary smirk from his face.





    The Imperial Correctional Facility—or simply the Spice Mines of Kessel to most of the galaxy—was an enormous, sprawling facility originally built by the Old Republic and perfected as a great prison of the Empire. In its heyday hundreds of thousands—some said perhaps even millions—of prisoners, mostly political dissidents, had been sent to the Spice Mines of Kessel to live out terms ranging from a few months to the rest of their natural lives (usually closer to the latter, especially given the many dangers of Spice mining).

    Vorru and Skynxnex walked the rough-hewn metal corridor from the library to the lift. The decades-old equipment creaked in protest, but like so much of the Old Republic's technology it had been built to last and obeyed despite its complaints. In moments the lift was rocketing through the long tube over the grey surface of Kessel towards the prison's central hub. Through the scorched transparisteel window of the lift they got an excellent view of the facility, a tan-and-grey plasteel edifice that seemed to stretch endlessly in every direction, hardly more appealing than Kessel's harsh surface itself.

    The central structure loomed above everything around it, looking vaguely reminiscent of the Imperial Palace on Coruscant. Four flat faces rose up out of the ground, sloped backwards at about forty-five-degree angles before coming together in a large flat top that could serve as a shuttle landing pad. Unlike the rest of the facility it gleamed, glassed and mirrored, housing the facility's administrative offices and prison personnel.

    As the elevator raced towards the center of the prison, Skynxnex watched Vorru like a hawk, his expression flickering with suspicion. Vorru also occasionally caught him glancing upwards towards the sky and trying not to look nervous, which made sense. From here, with the transparent windows of the lift that carried them offering a clear view of the sky, they could both see the gleaming white dagger shape of the Star Destroyer now in orbit above the prison.

    Skynxnex pointed his double-barreled blaster through the transparisteel at the white arrowhead shape of the Star Destroyer above. "Friends of yours?"

    Vorru made a show of looking up and frowning. "I don't have any friends with Star Destroyers. Not anymore."

    "If they're not friends of yours," the scarecrow grunted, "then they're enemies, and you've finally outlived your usefulness," he said. "I wonder what they'll give us for you," the man mused darkly, looking at Vorru with an expression of thinly veiled contempt. The expression was a lie; Vorru had enough experience with sadists to recognize murderous impulses disguised as contempt. If it were up to Skynxnex, Vorru would already be dead or dying in the most painful way Skynxnex could imagine, and for no reason other than witnessing that pain would mildly amuse him.

    The lift came to a stop and the doors opened. Skynxnex gestured at the door with his blaster. "After you." Reluctantly, Vorru led the way, feeling those barrels pointed at his back with every step. The corridors had been better maintained than those in the computer records facility he had inhabited these last months, but the days of regular maintenance were long gone. Far from housing a well-run Imperial administration, this corridor was still testament to the harsh fighting that had taken place when the inmates rose up. Scorch marks from stray blaster bolts pocked the walls. The offices on either side had been ransacked for anything of use before being therapeutically melted, likely the work of an E-web repeating blaster.

    They passed a broad anteroom to what had been the Imperial prefect's office. It faced huge windows displaying Kessel's desolate flats and the atmosphere factories beyond, which pumped a barely-adequate supply of air into Kessel's barely-adequate gravity. Above the air, Vorru should see the telltale shimmer of the planetary shields, which prevented the entire prison population from getting fried by the intense gamma radiation produced by the nearby Maw, a cosmically unique collection of dozens of black holes that made this region of space one of the most treacherous in the galaxy. Kessel was, in short, one of the least hospitable places in the entire galaxy for human and alien life. It certainly was no Coronet City, a sleek metropolis with verdant greenery around it. The fleeting thought which sent a pang of homesickness through Vorru. How long had it been since he'd last been on Corellia? Fifteen years? Twenty? However long it had been, it had been much too long.

    But now he didn't have time for Old Home Week at Coronet. He was on. The Imperial prefect's desk had been originally sized for a human, but someone had shortened the legs—haphazardly, Vorru noted—to be sized for a much shorter, squatter creature. In this case, the venal and perpetually planning Moruth Doole.

    Doole was a Rybet; bright green, with tan spots on his skull that seemed to glow in the dim light from the glowpanels and large windows behind him. His reptilian, naturally amphibious skin was disgustingly cracked, which probably explained his proximity to a ramshackle humidifier just behind his chair which hummed and crackled seemingly at random, coughing out a watery mist. Vorru could already feel the sharp creases of his prison uniform collapsing.

    Unlike Skynxnex, Doole wore nothing even remotely Imperial—not that there were any Imperial-style uniforms for Rybets anyway—instead donning a long, lizardskin waistcoat. It was an attempt to add a rakish appeal to his diminutive frame. The attempt was spoiled by his eyes, Vorru thought. They were overlarge with vertical slits and not the least bit intimidating; one was a milky, sightless white, while the other was enhanced by a mechanic's loupe, forever hiding him from meeting the eyes of others. That was a real detriment for one who dreamed himself a leader.

    But Vorru's attention wasn't on Doole for more than a moment. He knew the Rybet and dismissed him almost instantly. He was powerful only because despite his venality, he could manage the mines like no other, and even condescended to give the prisoners enough rations and equipment for a fighting chance in the mines. Really, a better alternative had not yet presented itself; the moment a more capable thinker, a more charismatic leader, came along Doole would be pushed aside or rendered an underling. While Doole fiddled with his mechanical eye to get a good look at Vorru, Vorru watched the room's final occupant.

    The man was tall, almost two meters in height, and loomed over even Skynxnex's lanky frame. His height was augmented by the armored boots he wore; his entire armored form gleamed bronze as the sunlight from Doole's massive windows cascaded over him, reflecting and giving him an almost otherworldly glow. His head was covered by a coiled helm, also bronze, and his face by a vivid white mask of some kind of alien bear. The visage was intricately and masterfully painted—or perhaps carved, it was hard to tell exactly how the effect was produced from a distance—to give it the impression of fur, dark eyes, and a snarl with just a hint of teeth around the mouth. The impression it left on the viewer was potent, to say the least; Skynxnex's gaze hadn't left the armored man since they had entered the office, his blaster pointing half in his direction.

    "Fliry Vorru," Doole said finally, hopping down off his chair and moving around the shortened desk in his direction.

    Vorru ignored him; walked right past him, leaving the Rybet standing behind him in stunned disbelief. Doole's head swiveled after him in an expression of growing rage, stammering, but he wasn't important. Not if the armored man was what Vorru thought him to be, was what Tavira told him he was. And if he wasn't, well, then Vorru was about to die anyway. He might as well do so with panache.

    "You are the Tevas-kaar," he asked, stopping in front of the taller, armored man. Vorru, who was quite short, was forced to look up, and up some more to meet the man's shadowed gaze. The eyes were dark and utterly unemotive, though whether that was because of their natural color or because of the effect of the mask he couldn't tell.

    "Yes," the man replied, his voice resonantly rumbling from behind the mask, with no discernible accent. "You are Moff Fliry Vorru of Corellia?"

    Vorru smiled. It had been a long time since someone had referred to him as such. It was a good omen that Tavira would be pliable, or at least polite if she had instructed the Tevas-kaar to greet him with his old title. "I am," he agreed readily, letting his voice hover confidently in the air, still ignoring Doole's now quite annoyed babble behind him. He was Moff Fliry Vorru of Corellia, could feel the old prestige draped around his shoulders, could feel himself settling back into the fondly remembered routines of one of the most powerful men of the Empire. The former Moff offered the Tevas-kaar—and he really had to learn the man's name, thinking of him by title would grow annoying and quickly—a thin smile. "You have your orders?" he asked the armored man.

    The masked figure's face was motionless, but Vorru saw the man's large hands flex. "Yes."

    Vorru smiled thinly. "Then by all means," he said, enjoying Doole's perturbation and continuing to ignore it, "carry them out."

    This was the moment of truth, the moment where Vorru himself would discover if Tavira's boasting had been genuine or overstated. His life hung in the balance of the next few moments—

    The Tevas-kaar lifted his hand. Vorru heard Skynxnex gasp in surprise and anger, as his double-barreled blaster soared through the air over Vorru's shoulder to landin the armored man's hand. He pointed it at the ceiling and pulled the trigger. The two barrels fired as one, the twinned bolts fusing into a larger, overloaded blast that slammed into the ceiling, sending a shower of insulation down from above, dust intermingling with mist from Doole's humidifier and the newly-introduced scent of ozone. The Tevas-kaar lowered the blaster and examined it with a faint distaste, then ejected the gas cartridge before tossing it aside.

    Skynxnex recovered quickly. Doole's enforcer hauled a shock stick from his belt and started to charge, but it availed him nothing. Before he took more than a step, he stumbled, both hands moving to hold his swanlike throat, gagging. His right hand pointed towards Skynxnex, forefinger and thumb curled into a steadily tightening circle. Skynxnex gurgled, clinging to his throat, his eyes bulging in disbelief as he tried to speak but was unable to. Vorru turned to look at Doole and his grey eyes were hard. "Kessel is mine now, Doole," Vorru's voice was chipped flint, grating over the sound of Skynxnex's gagging. "You may continue to manage it if you cooperate. If you do not…" he pointed at Skynxnex, who fell to his knees, flailing.

    Doole stared at Skynxnex, at the Tevas-kaar, and most of all at the gasping Skynxnex. "I… I understand," he said, his expression horrified.

    Vorru offered him a calm, victorious smile. "Release him," he said, remembering how Grand Moff Tarkin had managed Vader. How often had he wished for a Vader of his own…?

    Skynxnex suddenly took a gasping breath, falling forward onto his hands and knees, panting for breath, color returning to his face. Wisely, he didn't look up.

    "The Invidious will remain here until my agents arrive to ensure that Kessel remains under my control," Vorru continued conversationally, turning so that he stood in front of and beside the Tevas-kaar. "You've treated me with the dignity you could Doole. As such, do not think my generosity wanting. You will continue to sell Spice, but only to smugglers of my choosing. You will continue to receive a cut, but a reduced cut. You will continue to oversee prisoners, but you will release the prisoners I want released and hold the people I want held. Serve me well, and in time, you will be richly rewarded beyond any dream of avarice. But fail me, and your end will be slow and painful. Do we understand one another?"

    The Rybet stared at him with terrified eyes, his gaze pulling towards the taller Tevas-kaar yet constantly drawn back to Vorru's hard gaze.

    "Don't make me ask twice," Vorru said, with a touch of impatience.

    "I… yes. Of course," Doole replied, bowing his head subserviently. Vorru had seen that expression on him before, years ago, when he'd been a petty administrator in the Spice Mines, before his very bloody coup. It was gratifying to see it once again, but Vorru would be sure not to forget what had come of the last man Doole had bowed to. The massive public executions of the Imperial guards and administrators who had once occupied these offices, everyone even suspected of being a trustie, were hard to forget.

    (It had taken some quick talking to spare Vorru himself one of those executions, but being a personal enemy of the Emperor had been an effective defense.)

    "Excellent," Vorru replied with a smile that could almost be mistaken for friendly. "May our partnership be long and fruitful."





    The Sentinel-class landing shuttle that carried Vorru and his escort hummed softly as it made its way towards the looming Invidious. Vorru leaned forward to peer upwards out the window at the Star Destroyer, wishing he was in the pilot's seat but glad for the opportunity to view the big ship. He could see an EVA crew working on one of the starboard shield generators as the shuttle moved under the Star Destroyer and towards its huge docking bay.

    "Trouble with the starboard shields?" he asked the pilot quizzically.

    The pilot grunted softly as he moved the ship's wings into landing position. "The generators have been fussy ever since we got into a scrape with some Diamala out near Sullust," he replied absently.

    Definitely not a regular Imperial pilot, Vorru thought, his lips shifting into a frown. The regular navy would never talk so freely to newcomers, especially about sensitive information. He nodded, watching as the pilot skillfully maneuvered the shuttle up into the docking bay. Still, he mused to himself, it's not unexpected that Invidious has maintenance issues. Star Destroyers were designed for them.

    The shuttle settled between marked lines in Invidious' docking bay, which was filled with other ships—squadrons of what seemed to be modified TIE designs with three triangular wings arranged symmetrically around their cockpits. The pilot in him—the one who had been grounded in Kessel for two years since Cracken had finished "debriefing" him and the Rogues had dropped him on that miserable rock—craved the opportunity to take one out for a spin and see what it could do, but the Moff knew that opportunity would not be soon in coming, if ever.

    He patted the pilot on the shoulder approvingly. "Smooth landing," then turned on his heels and walked down the still-descending flight ramp. He had never met Leonia Tavira before now, but he recognized her instantly from the combination of her Moff's uniform, her short stature, and her brilliant, piercing violet eyes. The flamboyant red bandanna was merely an accent. Do not underestimate her just because of her youth, he reminded himself. Or her beauty. This is a woman who at sixteen was taken against her will to be the concubine of a Moff, and by twenty she was the Moff. If Dlarit taught you nothing, keep it professional. Always.

    "Moff Vorru of Corellia," the young woman greeted him cheerfully, her arms folded behind her back as she adopted a formal posture.

    "Moff Tavira of Ado," he replied with her own defunct Moff title, wishing that he'd had the opportunity to put on a Moff uniform before greeting her. His Kessel prison clothes felt decidedly inadequate for this meeting. "Thank you for the ride. And for the assistance securing the revenues of Kessel."

    Her smile was positively predatory. "You're most welcome. I have some of my assets arriving to garrison the world as we speak, so that it stays secured after we depart," she replied, her tones airily dismissive, as if bringing a Star Destroyer to Kessel and providing a Force-adept bodyguard were the least of her concerns. The Force-adept bodyguard in question stepped down the shuttle's ramp behind him and moved to stand near Tavira, taking a watchful pose just behind her and to her right, his bronze armor gleaming in the artificial light of the docking bay. "I have a room prepared for you, and a wardrobe," Tavira said, her airy tone continuing to treat her courtesy as almost an afterthought. "Then perhaps you would consent to join me to discuss the next phase of your plan."

    Vorru felt his lips move into a confident, almost cocky smile. Yes, he was older now. Yes, he was without almost all of the resources he had once had. Yes, the moment the New Republic discovered he had escaped Kessel they would no doubt come after him. And none of that mattered a whit. Tavira wasn't the only one who had started with nothing, after all; he'd no more been born into Moffdom than she had. He'd done it before, he could do it again. "Yes of course," he said, careful not to offer any intonation or words that suggested he accepted her as his superior. He'd made that mistake with Isard; not again. "I reached out to you considering your discerning eye and keen tactical mind. Rest assured both traits will see use before the week is out."




     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2020
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  6. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    This is all I'm going to post for the moment. The next few chapters could still use some editing. For references sake, I have nineteen more chapters like these, and I think there are about ten more chapters left to write before this story is done. For those of you who have made it this far, I'm craving feedback! The writing process has slowed somewhat the last few weeks, and I've reached a part of the story I find particularly difficult to write and it's eating at me. Thank you!
     
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  7. Kit'

    Kit' Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Oct 30, 1999
    @Bel505 - I really want to read this but it's a bit overwhelming in it's size. Could I suggest cutting it down to shorter chapters and then posting one up every couple of days? That way time poor people like me can work out where we are up to :)
     
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  8. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    I hadn't thought about that particular problem! I'm not sure how to cut down each chapter, but I can delete some of the later chapters and stretch out the posting process... I just wanted people to get up to where we finally see Luke and Mara, which takes a bit of work!

    Edit: okay, I've reformatted a bit to spread the story out, added a links post so that you can click right to the next part of the story, and removed Chapters Two-Four. I'll post them one every day or couple days. For readers - this is written like a Zahn novel (or as good an imitation as I can do), and the first four chapters are introduction work (characters, beginnings of plot, etc.).
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2020
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  9. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Two


    Painted proudly in New Republic colors, with its now-legitimized Starbird Seal gleaming red on her hull, Ession Strike snapped into realspace in the Hishyim system. The swirling lights visible through the ship's handful of exterior viewports ceased with unusual abruptness. Captain Atril Tabanne leaned slightly forward in her chair at the center of the modified Corellian corvette's small bridge, adjusting to the sudden change in motion with the hard-won reflexes of the Caridan Academy-trained TIE pilot she had once been. A willowy brunette with hair cut just short enough to fit into a pilot's helmet, Atril now wore her New Republic Fleet uniform with pride and slept better most nights.

    The ship's hull seams popped and flexed with protest at the abrupt deceleration. Alarms surged through the bridge, and her small, tight-knit crew responded with the same taut urgency she'd spent months instilling.

    "[Unmapped gravity well forced an early reversion!]" hissed the Togorian officer manning the sensors station. "[We've hit an Interdictor Cruiser!]" Outside, flashes of green turbolaser fire spit towards Ession Strike from the assembled ambush.

    Atril leaned back slightly in her seat, took a moment to consider the tactical plot, and rapped out a series of orders in a clear, clipped soprano. "Helm, engines to maximum. Alter course thirty-five degrees to starboard and pitch us down away from the Interdictor. Guns, give me ranging fire on the Cruiser. Keep an eye out for enemy fighters and target them as soon as they get within range."

    "[Enemy strength confirmed! Logging two Imperial-II class Star Destroyers and one Katana Dreadnought in company with the Interdictor!]" The feline voice was alert, but there was no panic in it yet.

    Atril watched the starfield shift as the corvette maneuvered. On her combat display the Interdictor now tagged as Stellar Web began to draw back, dropping behind the protection of the two rapidly-closing Star Destroyers with its dreadnought escort tucked in close. Meanwhile, the first TIE fighters closed in on Ession Strike and came under laser fire. She watched with satisfaction as one of the TIEs caught a laser blast and vanished from the display.

    The Star Destroyers closed, sliding in front of the Interdictor. Ession Strike cut over hard, using the bulk of the starboard destroyer to obscure the sensors and guns of the portside one, but leaving the Strike vulnerable to its partner. As the turbolaser fire intensified and splashed off Strike's shields, Atril spoke again. "More power to the engines. We need as much speed as you can give me" she demanded. "Guns, maintain focus on the fighters and keep them off us. Reinforce port and ventral shields; take power from starboard and forward shields if you have to." If she could just get past the Destroyers in one piece, she could angle on the planet and force them to turn to chase her…

    "[Multiple tractor beams attempting a lock]," the Togorian announced nervously in his hissing, feline accent as Strike's lasers splashed a second TIE. The others were warier now. Excellent.

    "I have a message from the lead Star Destroyer," her communications officer, a Bothan, announced. "It's from Admiral Rogriss. He's requesting we surrender at once and promises fair treatment as prisoners of war." His fur rippled dismissively. "I say we fight."

    Atril smiled thinly, watching her plot. Ession Strike's speed was increasing steadily and so far the corvette's shields were holding off the distant incoming turbolaser fire, but that would change as soon as one of the tractors got a solid grip, which was only a matter of time. Clearly, Rogriss wanted her intact. The two destroyers were starting to separate now, altering to shift from a horizontal line into a vertical one which would allow the second Star Destroyer's turbolasers to shoot at Ession Strike without hitting her partner first.

    Come on. Turn. Turn towards me. You're going to have to if you want to catch me, so turn!

    Her fist knocked on the arm of her captain's chair, silently urging Rogriss to do as she willed. As she watched, the plot updated again, giving the two Destroyers names for the first time: Chimaera and Agonizer.

    She refused to react as her guts turned to ice, careful to give no indications of her sudden concern to her crew. Chimaera?

    The two Star Destroyers altered their headings, shifting to turn to pursue her and she half stood in her chair, all other thoughts banished. "Helm, shift us fifteen degrees to starboard! Keep us parallel to those Destroyers. All shields aft and port! Guns, keep suppression fire on the fighters." She grinned, her heart pounding in her chest. "Execute!"


    * * *​


    "Finalize tractor locks on the corvette," barked Captain Gilad Pellaeon of the Chimaera. The corvette's crew was good, he thought sourly. The Rebels had responded instantly to the ambush—faster than he would have been able to, in their place—and had used their maneuverability advantage to sideline half his firepower. He would be sure to convey his respects to their captain, once Chimaera had him safely captured.

    "Look at this, Captain," Admiral Teren Rogriss' voice came from beside him. Unlike Grand Admiral Thrawn, Rogriss was a more traditional Imperial officer who eschewed the command chair that Thrawn had favored. Rogriss preferred a roving watch on the bridge, using a datapad linked to the ship's main computer as his primary command interface. Like Pellaeon himself, the grey-haired Rogriss had a service record that stretched back to the earliest days of Palpatine's New Order. Between the two of them they probably had as many years of experience as the rest of Chimaera's bridge crew combined.

    "Look at what, Admiral?" Pellaeon asked as Chimaera's tractors finally caught the corvette. The much smaller ship was now steadily being dragged towards them. He frowned at that. The ship was still presenting its port side to Chimaera and Agonizer, which was odd. Had he been in command of the corvette, he would have gone perpendicular to make best use of the corvette's massive engines and minimize his target profile.

    Rogriss handed him the datapad. "Intelligence just sent the first good report on our prey," the Admiral said. "It's not a typical CR90. They're still sorting it out, but Lieutenant Dreyf thinks it used to be one of Zsinj's pocket carriers. Corvettes built to hold a squadron or so of TIE fighters."

    "Status change!"

    Pellaeon and Rogriss both turned towards the shocked sound just in time for the first proton torpedoes to slam into Chimaera's tractor beam emitters.


    * * *​


    Wedge Antilles didn't wait for a target lock as his X-wing led the charge from Ession Strike's hangar bays. He and Tycho had been the first two pilots out of the modified CR90's starboard hangar, their launch carefully shielded from Chimaera's view. He dipped his fighter's nose slightly and triggered two proton torpedoes, letting both lance blindly into the void between the corvette and Chimaera. Both torpedoes were caught by the tractors lashing the smaller ship and pulled instantly towards the Destroyer.

    "Rogues, hit Chimaera with a torpedo volley, then break by pairs and take the TIEs," he commanded, hearing the order acknowledged. "Rogue Two on me, let's scatter these eyeballs." He and Tycho were momentarily alone as the remainder of the understrength squadron finished its rapid launch procedure. Red laser fire continued to lance from Ession Strike towards the TIEs, which were just now turning towards the new, unexpected fighter threat when he and Tycho hit them.

    Wedge's HUD flickered green as he tracked one of the TIEs caught transfixed between the corvette's main battery and the X-wings and fired, punching a quad-burst of laser fire through TIE's starboard wing and ball cockpit. A small part of Wedge felt a pang of guilt as the fighter exploded, but that didn't prevent him from seeking out another target from those remaining. A quick warning warble from Gate led him to glance at his HUD and juke his X-wing. Incoming green laser fire went wide.

    "Lead, roll port on my mark," Tycho's calm voice said in his ear. "Mark."

    Wedge chopped his throttle and spun his fighter, green blasts flashing through where he'd been rather than where he was. They stopped suddenly as Tycho stitched the two TIEs tracking Wedge with precise, twin-linked laser fire. The two X-wings re-oriented themselves and Wedge took a slight lead while checking his squadron's status. Looking 'up' through his X-wing's canopy he saw Ession Strike and Hobbie's X-wing dancing with a trio of TIE fighters. Wedge kicked his fighter's engines to full, roaring towards the fight with Tycho following faithfully.

    "Two Flight, torps away!" Wes Janson's voice came over the squadron channel, and eight proton torpedoes streaked towards Chimaera.

    "Three Flight, torpedoes away," Corran Horn's voice echoed, though Wedge's fellow Corellian led an understrength flight that produced only six torpedoes. The fourteen missiles were far from enough to kill an Impstar Deuce, but if they hit in a single timed arrival even a Star Destroyer would feel the sting. Janson's torpedoes hit first, and Chimaera's port shields flickered under the sudden energy infusion. Corran's torpedoes hit next; four were stopped by the flickering shields but the final two snuck through, digging deep into Chimaera's hull armor and converting their explosive mass to pure energy and splintered debris.

    It was a start, Wedge thought as Chimaera's tractor beams died. Ession Strike's now unhindered engines flared brighter and the corvette put on more speed, causing the Star Destroyers' turbolasers to splash impotently against its shields as the distance increased. The TIEs harassing the corvette weren't doing any better: Hobbie's aggressive maneuvering and fire had already accounted for two of them and Ession Strike finished off the final TIE with a quick burst of laser fire before he and Tycho could reach it.

    He could imagine Atril's smug expression and allowed himself a grin.

    "Rogues, this is Strike. Chimaera and Agonizer are launching their remaining TIE squadrons. Reading two squadrons of interceptors and another squadron of fighters," said Ession Strike's Bothan communication officer into his ear. "All of them are vectoring in on our position."

    Wedge examined his HUD. The leading TIE squadrons were slowing their approach, and Wedge ran the intercept and numbers in his head.

    They don't want to come in piecemeal. Ten of us versus twelve of them three times is easy. Ten of us versus thirty-six of them all at once is much harder. Apparently they know that as well as we do. He thumbed his comm. "Rogues, they're trying to swarm us. Stay with your wingmates, stand off on CAP for the Strike. Let them approach and let Strike give you cover while we get as many as we can with torps; don't worry about saving any for the Star Destroyers." His orders given, Wedge watched as Chimaera and Agonizer began to surge after Ession Strike and his pilots.


    * * *​


    Pellaeon grunted angrily as the X-wings scored hits on his ship. "Damage report," he demanded.

    "We've lost both starboard tractor beam emitters, Captain," said a nervous voice from the starboard crew pit. "And one of our turbolaser batteries is non-responsive. Shields are fully restored."

    Saving the good news for last, Pellaeon thought as he grunted his acknowledgement. The loss of both starboard tractor beam emitters—both!—was serious. Agonizer wasn't in range to use theirs and Ession Strike was now gaining distance on them, heading deeper into the planet's gravity well. That meant the corvette could—in theory—gravity boost around the planet and head out the other side at a random vector and skip into hyperspace before they could stop her.

    Even if he rolled Chimaera, he was almost out of range to use his portside tractor beam emitters, and the corvette's captain was successfully keeping his ship out of Chimaera's forward firing arc.

    A year ago, Thrawn would tell him to use a Marg Sabl maneuver, or a Sus'Qena Diversion, and the battle would be over with minimal losses. Or he'd coax C'baoth into using his Jedi tricks to enhance the coordination and concentration of his fighter pilots, making novice pilots fly like veterans. But Thrawn was dead and there were no more easy battles.

    As he watched the ten X-wings—now positively ID'd as Rogue Squadron, and wasn't that just a fresh kick in the teeth—were racing back towards the corvette where they could fight in the protective shadow of its lasers. Pellaeon gritted his teeth. Chimaera could carry six squadrons of TIE fighters, but TIEs were not easy to come by these days (especially not after the loss of the Bilbringi shipyards, and the thought was a knife to his heart), nor were pilots (not after the loss of the cloning facility on Wayland, his restless mind added insufferably), and there weren't likely to be any replacements for either any time soon. And Chimaera and Agonizer had started the battle with only two squadrons each.

    Rogriss apparently was thinking much the same. "The Republic sent their best. This is going to be a bitter victory," he murmured, his eyes on the larger combat plot. "If we hold the TIEs back and send Stellar Web forward at full burn, we might be able to hold the corvette here long enough for Chimaera and Agonizer to get the ship back under tractor," he proposed.

    "Maybe," Pellaeon said. "But that will also let the X-wings have a good shot at her, and we can afford to lose TIEs more than we can an Interdictor." He shook his head. "You have to credit the Rebels," he said grudgingly. "They couldn't have fought this any better than they—"

    "Status change!"

    The two men turned, first towards each other, then towards the combat plot, and paled.


    * * *​


    General Garm Bel Iblis smoothed his graying mustache and allowed himself the small, vulpine grin of a hunter as the Interdictor's gravity well yanked the Mon Calamari Star Cruiser Orthavan and her three near-identical sisters out of hyperspace directly on top of the Stellar Web. Experienced and hungry, the crews of the four Liberty-class Star Cruisers, each the size of Ackbar's Home One, positioned their ships into a traditional box formation. Moments later his five Katana dreadnoughts dropped in and moved into escort formation.

    He had the Imperials outgunned almost three-to-one.

    At the battle of Qat Chrystac Thrawn had beaten him, Bel Iblis reflected, with this very maneuver. Using an Interdictor cruiser to pull two Victory-class Star Destroyers out of hyperspace at exactly the right spot at exactly the right time. Orthavan had barely escaped that ambush in one piece. They even had a name for it in the fleet: the Thrawn Pincer.

    Now it was Bel Iblis' turn to be the one with the claws. Captain Tabanne had played her part to perfection – Ession Strike had gotten Rogriss' attention and now the Destroyers were turned away from his entry vector. There was no more vulnerable position for a Star Destroyer to be in than faced directly away from an onrushing enemy, and he had two of them doing exactly that.

    "All ships concentrate fire on Agonizer," Bel Iblis ordered. "Let's see how they're going to try to get out of this."


    * * *​


    "Five Dreadnoughts and four Liberty-class cruisers," Pellaeon remarked more calmly than he felt. "That must be Bel Iblis." They were in deep trouble, Pellaeon knew; now it wasn't a rush to secure a victory, but an undignified scramble to save his ship and their task force.

    Rogriss might not be Thrawn, but the man had command presence to spare and gave no outward sign of surprise or panic as he responded to the ambush. "Order Stellar Web to power down her gravity wells and head for hyperspace. Agonizer to make ninety-degree starboard turn and pitch upwards; roll to maintain maximum possible field of fire. Chimaera to maintain formation with Agonizer. Both ships scatter fire between the Rebel cruisers. Execute." There was no sign of the strain he had to be feeling in his voice, but his expression flickered and his hand gave a slight tremor, betraying his concern as his orders were relayed to their other ships. "He mousetrapped us with our own Interdictor," he murmured to Pellaeon.

    "Yes, he did," Pellaeon agreed, feeling himself the same grudging admiration that he heard in Rogriss' voice. "Helm, match Agonizer's turn and roll and keep us at parade formation distance. Maximum power to ion cannons and shields. Prepare to roll if we lose starboard shields."

    "Admiral, Agonizer reports three separate tractor beam locks," the Communications officer's voice was strained and nervous, but Lieutenant Tschel wasn't quite as young as he'd been before Thrawn had polished his rough edges.

    "Agonizer is losing velocity, Admiral," said Pellaeon. "Should we stay in formation?"

    "Bel Iblis is giving us a choice," Rogriss murmured thoughtfully. "Stay and protect Agonizer and potentially lose both ships, or abandon her to save Chimaera." Neither man mentioned their TIE fighters, which were currently embroiled in a losing melee with Ession Strike and Rogue Squadron. The Rogues had savaged the leading TIE squadrons with proton torpedo strikes at range and were currently confirming their reputation as the New Republic's best while the corvette's apparently crack gunnery crews were scything even more TIEs out of space. Given the distances there was no way to screen or retrieve their remaining TIEs, not if they wanted to escape with Agonizer. They both knew it.

    Rogriss paused a moment to consider, then gave his orders. "Cut velocity and maintain formation with Agonizer. Maximum ion bombardment; I want to scramble those tractor systems long enough to get both ships out of here."

    Pellaeon nodded. "Yes, Admiral." The Empire couldn't afford to lose any ships right now, but they especially could not afford to lose Star Destroyers. They would save Agonizer. They had to. But it would not be easy: even as the ship tried to turn, the four Mon Calamari Star Cruisers poured red turbolaser fire into Agonizer's engines and its aft shields glowed under the bombardment. One of Agonizer's three massive engines took a series of direct hits and flickered ominously, further cutting the ship's speed.

    On the combat display Stellar Web vanished into hyperspace and its escort, the Katana dreadnought Guisarme, turned back to aid the remaining Imperial ships.

    Pellaeon watched the plot, his brow furrowing as he watched the combat unfold. Bel Iblis was still trying to knock out Agonizer's engines and he might well succeed if he kept at it. Guisarme was moving to intervene—although Pellaeon wasn't quite sure what a single dreadnought would do against Bel Iblis' formation. "Admiral," his voice was quietly focused as he watched the dreadnought maneuver. "Look at Guisarme."

    The two men clustered together as they examined the dreadnought's status on the battle display. Guisarme's clone crew was pushing the old ship's engines well past their redlines, and with a sudden rush Pellaeon realized what the ship's crew was trying to do. They knew as well as he did that the Empire couldn't afford to lose a Star Destroyer…

    He couldn't wait for Rogriss to figure it out. Taking a moment to judge Guisarme's trajectory— "Redirect all fire against Innasval," he commanded. "Order Agonizer to do the same."

    Rogriss looked at him with surprise, then echoed the order without hesitation. "Do it!"

    The two Star Destroyers poured fire into the closest of the four Mon Calamari Star Cruisers, the one with the best tractor lock on Agonizer. Innasval's tractor beams lost their lock under the heavy ion bombardment and Agonizer's remaining engines surged to life, as every member of the ship's crew silently willed their vessel to accelerate.

    Then Guisarme cut between the formations, its crew interposing the Dreadnought between Agonizer and Orthavan. The Mon Calamari cruiser's tractor beam—and turbolaser fire—caught Guisarme amidships, but the Dreadnought-class heavy cruisers had been built from the keel up to take punishment. Even as Guisarme's hull shed bits of overheated armor and gouts of atmosphere, the ship's engines and momentum carried it forward in a long arc as if lassoed to Orthavan. Guisarme continued its arc in front of the Rebel formation and for the briefest of moments swung between Agonizer and Ivardal and in that instant Agonizer was free. Orthavan and Ivardal's tractor beams were all latched securely on Guisarme, and Agonizer was free.

    Rogriss' voice was triumphant. "Agonizer, go!" Before the order was even finished, the Star Destroyer flickered with pseudomotion and vanished. Rogriss' voice was thick with relief. "Get us out of here, Captain."

    Pellaeon gave the order and Chimaera leapt to hyperspace, leaving their squadrons of TIEs and Guisarme behind them as the fee for their freedom.


    * * *​


    "Damn," Wedge said mildly. He flicked his communications to full-spectrum. "This is General Wedge Antilles to Imperial pilots. Your motherships have abandoned you to save themselves. You're stranded and in moments you'll be outnumbered." Even as he said the words, he saw A-wing and X-wing squadrons from the rest of the fleet moving to support the Rogues. "If you stand down we'll treat you honorably as prisoners of war."

    "Think they'll go for it, Lead?" Rogue Six asked over the squadron-only frequency, Gavin's voice no longer quite so young as it had been when the then-sixteen year old first signed up with the Rogues.

    Wedge didn't say anything, waiting to find out himself. He didn't have to wait long to get an answer. "This is Colonel Goda. All TIE pilots, stand down your weapons and engines. This battle is over."

    The TIEs stopped maneuvering, killed their forward momentum, and the lights around their cannons went dark just as the damaged Imperial Dreadnought did the same. The arriving New Republic snubfighters gave them a wide berth, sweeping around outside of their weapons range and encircling them.

    Wedge allowed himself a smile as he checked his HUD, toggling through all the members of his squadron. Another victory without losing any of his pilots, and there was nothing better than that.


    * * *​


    General Bel Iblis was not as happy, his clenched fist resting angrily on the arm of his command chair. "We had them, we had them and they got away."

    Orthavan's Mon Calamari commanding officer, Captain Irraerl, looked at him with one of her large eyes. "We took the system," she pointed out, her voice gravelly in the comparatively dry air of the ship's bridge. "We can now effectively blockade Ukio and force its surrender."

    "Yes," Bel Iblis agreed. "Eventually. But as long as Rogriss and Pellaeon are free with their Star Destroyers they're a threat that can't be underestimated. And it will take months, perhaps even years, to force the Imperial garrison on Ukio to surrender through a blockade." He scowled. "And we had them. We had nearly a third of their Star Destroyer strength in the most tactically disadvantageous position possible." His eyes settled on the Guisarme. The dreadnought had managed to thoroughly wreck his plans with some gutsy flying and willing self-sacrifice. They would have made good Rebels. "Has Guisarme surrendered?"

    Irraerl nodded her large head, a gesture which always made a Mon Calamari look like they were bobbing in water. "As soon as Chimaera entered hyperspace."

    "Good," Bel Iblis growled. This should have been a decisive victory, but Guisarme's quick action had foiled it. He took a deep breath and put the failure behind him. One battle at a time, that was the mantra. A setback was not a defeat. A year ago, with Thrawn commanding the Imperial Starfleet, it had been Bel Iblis settling for successful withdrawal after successful withdrawal. Now fortunes were reversed, and he suspected that Thrawn had been just as frustrated at this kind of setback then as he was now. The thought gave him some recompense. Some. "Bring us into orbit of Hishyim and contact the Imperial planetary garrison," he ordered. "Tell them we demand their immediate surrender. And tell Major Page to prepare his ground forces for an assault in case they decide to fight."





     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2020
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  10. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Chapter Two, Part II

    Thrawn's personal chambers had been sealed since the Grand Admiral's death; entering them now made Pellaeon feel like he was entering a mausoleum. Inside he saw that the lights were still kept dim, the way Thrawn had preferred, while carefully engineered microbrights cast gentle pools of light on the holographic (and handful of non-holographic) sculptures and paintings that were spread evenly through the space, illuminating them without causing wear or damage.

    He recognized many of the pieces. Thrawn had retained this arrangement while he planned his campaigns against the Rebellion. Admiral Ackbar's own sculptures appeared in the double display ring on the right; with Senator Bel Iblis' paintings and sculptures flanking them on the left. Whenever Thrawn had sought insight into the minds of his most dangerous adversaries, he would contemplate these pieces for hours on end, seeking even the smallest hints into the psychology of the men (or aliens) who had produced or chosen them.

    Thrawn had always found those insights, too.

    Pellaeon wondered if things would have ended differently if Thrawn had placed any Noghri art in here. Assuming the beasts made art. He rather doubted it.

    He found Teren Rogriss staring at one of the paintings on the left. Framed with a dull unobtrusive bronze, the painting was of a lone man on a hill. The figure was painted in a ghostly white, with a flowing robe that made him appear almost ethereal, fabric whipping in the imagined breeze. The ground under his feet was rocky and troublesome and the man appeared pained by the experience of his hike. It was the sky behind the man that was the painting's most defining feature: dark and starry, but as if behind a haze of dim fog that gave the image a dreamlike quality.

    As Pellaeon stepped to stand next to Rogriss, he re-assessed his original judgment of the painting. No, the most defining feature wasn't the sky, but the man's eyes. His gaze was on the ground before him, focused and weary—the eyes of a man on a long journey that had no sure end.

    "It's called 'Peregrine'," Rogriss said, and there was pain in his voice. "Bel Iblis named his flagship after it."

    Pellaeon and Rogriss studied the painting a bit longer.

    "I don't see anything here that would help me outthink Garm Bel Iblis," Rogriss said finally.

    "Nor do I," Pellaeon agreed heavily.

    The two men stood in silence both staring at the painting. Pellaeon swallowed hard as he realized that Rogriss understood just as well as he did just what the Empire—what the galaxy—had lost with Thrawn's death.

    They had been beaten today, and beaten badly. Somehow Bel Iblis had learned of their intended trap and stooped on the ambushers. Pellaeon and Rogriss would have to spend days scouring their fleet for intelligence leaks, but Pellaeon was not optimistic one would be found. The disastrous defeat had cost them minor damage to Chimaera and Agonizer, the four squadrons of TIEs that were all Stellar Web, Chimaera, and Agonizer had possessed, and the dreadnought Guisarme with its irreplaceable clone crew. Under Thrawn, such a day would have the feeling of a momentary setback. Today, they were lucky it had not been worse.

    Falling back, yet again. Since Pellaeon had been forced to retreat from Bilbringi, sacrificing the vital shipyards to save his fleet, the Imperial Starfleet had won no major victories. The sectors and systems Thrawn had taken from the New Republic were being retaken one by one. The Council of Moffs had been restored to effective power, and its infighting and corruption was splintering the fragile coalition of Imperial warlords that Thrawn had forged and held together by his own will.

    It was all coming apart, Pellaeon thought, his gut turning as hollow as it had after Endor. The center cannot hold. Not without an anchor. Not without a symbol of the Empire. Not without faith in our leadership.

    Rogriss sighed and shook his head. "I wasn't good enough today," he said, to himself more than to Pellaeon. Before Endor, admitting such weakness to a subordinate would've been tantamount to career suicide, likely followed followed by actual suicide. It might still be if Pellaeon were interested in taking advantage, but Pellaeon was not interested in those games, and Rogriss did not fear them.

    "No, sir," Pellaeon agreed softly.

    "You were faster than I was every time," Rogriss continued. "You knew something was wrong the moment the corvette reacted so quickly to our ambush. You realized that we needed to use ion cannons and not turbolasers after Bel Iblis' cruisers came in out of hyperspace. And you recognized Guisarme's intent quickly enough for us to do our part to save Agonizer."

    True enough. It was hardly the first time Pellaeon had thought his commanding officers less capable than himself. But he'd never said as much to their faces, or at all. "Yes, sir."

    "We both rose within the Imperial Starfleet," Rogriss mused. "Infinite resources, relatively weak foes. Promotion determined less by battlefield performance and more by boardroom performance." He glanced over at Pellaeon. "You lacked the detached, bureaucratic killer instinct needed for that, so your career stalled."

    Pellaeon took a deep breath, the words bringing with them an old sting. "Yes, sir," he admitted.

    "But you are good at other things. Very good." Rogriss nodded at the artwork. "You are an exceptional combat commander. You recognize threats and react to them quickly, without hesitation. Your men follow you because they trust that you'll fight with them to the very end. That's why Thrawn picked you, I think. And it's why I'm lucky to have you as my flag captain."

    Rogriss paused for a moment while Pellaeon stayed at attention.

    "And, it's why I need you to do the things I can't do," Rogriss continued, his voice oddly soft. "Don't let me make any more mistakes, Gilad."

    Pellaeon felt his back straighten. There were many kinds of leaders. Thrawn had been the best of all: a brilliant tactician whose ego and ambition did not get in the way of his duty. Pellaeon would regret what his loss would do to the Empire. He would mourn the death of a man who had not been his friend, exactly, but who had shown friendship in every way that mattered to an old man who had given his life to the Starfleet.

    But Thrawn was dead, and he wasn't coming back. In his absence, Pellaeon could do worse than to follow an honorable man who recognized his own limitations and sought help to address them. He and the Empire could do far worse. "Yes, sir."





     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2020
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  11. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha 2 Truths 1 Lie Host star 8 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    This is fantastic, and the narrative has the Zahn-esque flair!!! The action is riveting. Pellaeon's voice is spot-on. Definitely a plausible aftermath to how the Imperials would fare after the loss of the brilliant strategist, Grand Admiral Thrawn.

    Superb details of the starfighter/Rogue engagement.

    Leonia Tavira sounds quite formidable and will be an adversary to watch.

    Having a Luke/Mara fic right about now is just. what's needed. [face_dancing] [face_love]
     
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  12. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    So, just a quick note: Fliry Vorru, Leonia Tavira, and most of the X-wing pilots are Michael Stackpole characters (Vorru is from the Rogue Squadron books, and Tavira is from the X-wing comics and I, Jedi); Doole and Skynxnex are Kevin J. Anderson characters (originally from Jedi Search). Atril Tabanne is Aaron Allston's, she only appeared in Wraith Squadron and when I re-read those books for research for this project I was so struck by her character that I resolved to make her a secondary character here. Hopefully I do all these characters credit to their original creators! Rogriss is also Allston's.

    Obviously, Pellaeon and Garm Bel Iblis are both Zahn's.
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2020
  13. Kit'

    Kit' Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Oct 30, 1999
    Finally got around to reading it! That's an amazing start and I'm not really au fait with this era but it didn't matter because the characters drew me right in. Loved the characterization, the descriptions and the plot. Great stuff.
     
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  14. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Three


    Talon Karrde crossed his legs casually, watching his crew work as the Wild Karrde poked her way into Coruscanti orbit. The last few months had been productive ones—supremely productive—and he and his crew had much to be proud of.

    The Smuggler's Alliance, a ragtag organization born out of necessity after the Fringe was thrown into conflict with Grand Admiral Thrawn, was holding together better than people had expected.

    It's certainly holding together better than Mara expected, but she's always such a pessimist, he thought as he glanced over at his second-in-command.

    Mara was turned away from him, seated at the co-pilot's station and focused on her console; her red-gold hair had grown out some on their trip through the Rim and was drawn into a functional ponytail. Karrde watched her check their route in for the third time, and one of his eyebrows lifted slightly. While Mara was always precise, with a tendency to double-check, for her to make triply-sure was out of character.

    He permitted himself a small smile.

    He had solved a large piece of the puzzle of Mara Jade—or, she had solved it for him. After their adventure on Wayland she had told him of her past; rather more than she had told even Skywalker, he suspected. She had been the Emperor's Hand, and while her missions had been subtler than that of the Emperor's other tools, there were plenty of Imperials who would remember her, as Thrawn had. She had listed off no less than a half-dozen current Imperial Admirals, Governors, Moffs, and Generals who would remember at least her face; men who had at one point or another had occasion to run across the Emperor's Hand in her official capacity and likely believed her dead.

    But knowing of her past, and now knowing why she had so hated Luke Skywalker, he found the larger mystery of Mara Jade far from solved. She had instead taken on new facets. Skeptical of the New Republic and everything it stood for; she had still accepted a job working for it. She also carried a lightsaber with confidence and practiced diligently with the weapon in the Wild Karrde's empty cargo bays, but she had been subtle in her public demonstrations of her growing Force abilities (or, perhaps, her increasingly restored abilities).

    She had hated Luke Skywalker. Despised him with the same ferocity that she attacked all of her tasks with. Now…

    Karrde watched her posture tighten slightly more. He probably wouldn't have noticed—it was undetectable to any but the most experienced eye—but he had plenty of experience reading body language. It was a necessary skill in his line of work.

    She checked the ship's course for a fourth time.

    He'd watched Luke and Mara interact aboard Chimaera, which was the first time he'd ever seen them collaborate. Even at the time he had known better than to tell her just how well they worked as a team. She had still wanted to kill them then, though some of the fire of her hatred had been extinguished. Then he'd seen Luke after the Katana battle, and watched the Jedi's singleminded determination to rescue her and his obvious relief at her survival. He remembered Luke's promise—on his honor as a Jedi, not as an agent of the New Republic—that Mara would receive the best medical care the New Republic had to offer. He remembered the proven sincerity of that promise.

    He'd seen them stand as equals against Luke's own twisted clone and Joruus C'baoth on Wayland.

    Most of all, Karrde had seen them together on his ship after the battle on Wayland. Luke, sitting beside her unconscious form, falling asleep in his chair before she woke. Mara's realization of his presence and surprise at his company; her waking him with an uncharacteristically gentle touch. Skywalker said something that had prompted Mara to roll her eyes at him, but then she had smiled. Not a polite smile, or a threatening smile (those Karrde had seen on Mara's face many times before Wayland) but something heartfelt, a smile that made her entire expression soften. It had been, Karrde thought, the first time he'd ever seen Mara really smile.

    Karrde wasn't Force-sensitive himself (how useful that would have been), but he could see in the way Mara carried herself since then that something had been lifted from her. A weight she'd carried since long before they'd met was gone. Tension lines in her face had eased, making it easy to believe that she was still in her twenties and not the decade older he had first assumed. Surely, no one as young as she was would possess such cool competence. Not any more than they would carry around the weight of the universe, as Mara had so often seemed to.

    But now Mara was tense again, tenser than she'd been since Skywalker had first come on board the Wild Karrde; since she'd pulled the Jedi's dead X-wing out of interstellar space. Karrde doubted very much she was nervous about meeting with Councilor Organa Solo about the Smuggler's Alliance. He'd seen her stare down men twice her size and chide experienced smugglers with language so pointed it would skin the paint off of bulkheads. She could handle the liaison job that he and Leia had pressed her into; she could be the bridge between the New Republic and the Fringe that would enrich them both. That certainly wasn't what had her back up.

    She checked the ship's course for a fifth time.

    Karrde hid a smile. He wouldn't pry. He would, however, get the Wild Karrde on the ground before Mara destroyed some of his sensor equipment. He turned towards the comm station. "Dankin, do we have a landing window yet?"

    "Platinum Clearance, Boss. We're up next," the Berchestian's familiar drawl came back. His face was turned away from Karrde as he fiddled with his station, emphasizing the lines of alien characters he had tattooed all over his reddish, bald head. "We've got an assigned landing berth now too. Imperial Palace, the same one we put down at the last time we were here."

    "Higher profile than I would like, but convenient," Karrde conceded. "All right. Faughn, bring us in as soon as Coruscant traffic control gives us our entry vector. Nice and smooth, we don't want to make any bad impressions."

    "Hah," Faughn scoffed from the helm console, up front next to Mara. With Aves off commanding the Last Resort, Gillespee's former lieutenant had accepted Karrde's offer of employment. Gillespee had been good-natured about it, but had informed Karrde that this was yet another favor that was owed to him. "I've been able to land bulk freighters since I was a teenager," Faughn's voice was stiff and unamused. "Or have you forgotten my resume?"

    "You never gave me a proper resume," Karrde replied smoothly. "As I recall it, our entire interview was a dinner conversation. I asked if you were interested in Aves' old post on our bridge, Gillespee cursed me for stealing his people, and you asked if you could start right away."

    "Never gave me a proper resume," Faughn mimicked, adding a lilt to his stentorian inflection, her attention still on her board. "I didn't need to give you a resume. Knowing you, you probably already knew my work history going all the way back to when Gillespee first had me piloting shuttles. At thirteen."

    "Now that you mention it, I think Gillespee gave me a holo."

    Faughn glared at him over her shoulder.

    Chin laughed. "I'd love to see that, Capt'," the older man said with clear amusement. "I bet the crew would really get a kick—"

    His words cut out as Faughn cranked the Wild Karrde's throttle, sudden inertia driving them all back into their acceleration couches—all except Mara. She just sat there, annoyingly composed, though it did get her to glance up from her panel.

    Over the ship's comlink with Coruscant traffic control came an unfamiliar voice. "Uh, Wild Karrde, your entry vector is now open. Councilor Organa Solo is waiting for you at the assigned hangar." There was a pause. "Is everything all right up there? We just noticed a—"

    Karrde waved his hand at Dankin. "Everything is fine, Coruscant Control," he replied, his voice firm as he tried very, very hard to keep his amusement out of it. "I suppose you could say my new pilot is breaking in my crew. We'll be on the ground in moments." He arched an eyebrow at Faughn. "Now don't make a liar of me, Faughn," he warned her good-naturedly.

    "Moments it is," his helmswoman replied with a confident grin and the Wild Karrde flew towards the palace in a controlled (if somewhat hasty and no doubt concern-inducing for the poor people manning Coruscant Control) descent. Not that he was ever concerned with Faughn at the helm, she was as by-the-book as any smuggler he'd ever known, with a general aversion to unnecessary risks. She was, in short, the perfect smuggler for the new semi-respectable Smuggler's Alliance.

    She was also new to the Wild Karrde and to his organization, which meant she needed a chance to strut her stuff for the old hands. Faughn wasn't usually a pilot; Gillespee had groomed her to be a communications and electronics specialist, which was exactly what Karrde had lost when he'd given Aves his own command. But every smuggler needed a reputation for being a good pilot, because no smuggler really respected one of their number who couldn't fly. That was why Faughn and not Mara was at the helm today. And because he might be losing Mara one day, and sooner than he'd like to.

    The ship finished its swoop towards the landing pad, then held steady on repulsors meters above the ground before deploying its landing gear and settling smoothly between the marked lines. Karrde smiled. "Well done, Faughn," he said, more for the crew's benefit than for hers. He stood and straightened his outfit. "Come on, Mara, let's go meet the Councilor. The rest of you, finish your assigned duties and then take twenty-four hours liberty. Normal rules apply." He lifted a finger warningly at Dankin. "Comms stay on." There was a rustle of laughter as his crew needled Dankin over a certain unfortunate incident during their trip through the Corporate Sector, but Karrde's mind was already on the task before him. As Mara joined him, he could tell that hers was as well.






    The morning sun cascaded down onto the Imperial Palace, illuminating the landing pad with a bright, almost searing light, but also hiding the identities of the three figures standing under the canopy overhanging the pad accessway tunnel when Karrde and Mara descended the Wild Karrde's ramp.

    Despite not knowing exactly who they were, Karrde could make an educated guess. One certainly was Organa Solo herself. The second figure was less than half her size and had a figure which suggested voluminous robes—probably one of her Noghri guards. The final figure stood about Leia's height, and though Karrde couldn't be certain who it was he guessed it was likely Winter, Leia's personal aide. Karrde stepped down the ramp towards them, Mara following a half-step behind him. She wore her lightsaber openly on her belt, and he wondered (not for the first time) why exactly Skywalker had so blithely given away his father's priceless weapon.

    He and Mara stepped under the overhang and the glare from the sun stopped being an issue. Leia stepped forward, offering her hand—and hesitated, just for a moment, as she noticed the weapon on Mara's belt. The hesitation was fleeting, given Leia's strenuous diplomatic training and skill, but nonetheless clear. "Good morning, Councilor. It is a pleasure to see you again" he greeted her as he accepted her proffered hand, drawing her attention fully back to him. "And Lady Winter, of course, elegant as always."

    Winter inclined her head precisely. "Master Trader Karrde," she replied.

    "Welcome back to Coruscant, Talon," Leia said, apparently fully recovered from whatever surprise the sight of the weapon had inflicted upon her. "You made good time; my last report said you were meeting with representatives of the Corporate Sector on Erysthes. That's a long way from Coruscant."

    "We did, yes," Karrde said, declining to go into additional detail. "And Master Trader, did you say?" he said, tasting the words on his tongue. "An Old Republic title used for representatives of the major trading guilds," he mused, pretending to be surprised to hear the title used. The Smuggler's Alliance was, in many respects, not functionally different from trading guilds that had existed during the days of the Old Republic. This New Republic was long on ideals, but short on both new ideas and supplies. A galactic sized government always had trouble moving its cargo from place to place, and even more trouble protecting it.

    During the days of the Old Republic, the trade guilds had used their economic (and later political) leverage to encourage the Senate to grant them permission to fully arm their freighters. Eventually, the trade guilds had been very nearly private militaries, deploying their economic, political, and military power to become some of the most influential institutions in the galaxy.

    And his Smugglers' Alliance was their heir. For better or worse.

    "It must have taken no small effort to convince Admiral Ackbar to allow its use, given his opinion of Smugglers," he said.

    "Not as much as you might think," Leia replied, her expression neutral. "Gial has never liked needing to convert capital ships into bulk freighters, especially when the Rebellion had to make do with just such conversions in the past. And you have had stalwart advocates with influence in the New Republic Council."

    That was interesting. "Oh?"

    "Han, Luke, and Lando have all spoken in your favor at length," Leia said. "And the Inner Council takes their recommendations very seriously."

    Karrde felt Mara stir slightly at the mention of Skywalker. "I see," he replied noncommittally, wondering if this meant he owed three new favors. He could be sure that Solo and Calrissian would both try to call in their markers, at least. "Then are the preparations for our formal charter and legitimate operations complete?"

    Leia glanced at Winter. "There are still a few things to finalize, such as how exactly the Smuggler's Alliance will operate, what the New Republic will have the right to require, not to mention questions of equitable pay across such a loose organization," Winter said in her precise Alderaanian accent, even more pronounced than Leia's (by design, Karrde suspected).

    "I'm not expecting any serious issues," Leia soothed calmly.

    "I hope not," Karrde replied, letting his voice cool in turn. "Mara and I have managed to bring together most of the major independent shipping concerns into a unified bloc for the first time in centuries. If I have to go back to them and tell them the deal is off, well… unhappiness would be putting it mildly."

    Leia seemed unruffled by his tone. "Our offer of secure, reliable maintenance facilities and the protection of the New Republic fleet against piracy should be quite enticing," she replied with all the smooth patience of an expert negotiator. "Plus, we won't skim off your profits."

    An expert negotiator with a smuggler husband. A smuggler husband who knew exactly the value of all three of those things. Karrde smiled, feeling the smile go a bit broader than was strictly necessary. "As we have discussed in the past, Councilor, there should be sufficient common ground for us to make this work." He accepted her acknowledging smile, knowing that despite the performative contest, in this they were allies. "Finally," Karrde turned to the last member of the greeting trio, "Mobvekhar clan Hakh'khar," he greeted the Noghri, feeling himself tense as he fought not to stumble over the pronunciation of the alien name. He hoped it was Mobvekhar, but there was no way to tell under the robes, and he wasn't sure he could tell two Noghri apart even if he could see them. "As a guest of your Lady, I humbly appeal for your protection."

    Leia's eyebrows rose in surprise, but Mobvekhar's robe hidden form didn't even twitch. "As a guest of the Lady Skywalker, you have the protection of the Noghri," the Noghri said.

    "Thank you," Karrde said. He'd asked Mara how best to deal with the Noghri on the trip in from the Corporate Sector. He relaxed a bit as her suggestion seemed to work; the aliens made him even more nervous now that he knew how dangerous they really were. "Now that all the formal preliminaries have been conducted on this wonderfully-appointed landing pad, shall we head to your office to smooth out the details?"

    "Yes, Master Trader Karrde," Leia replied respectfully, though he caught the edges of a smile on her lips. "We shall."





     
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  15. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    That's great! One of the things I've been concerned about is accessibility. I use a lot of characters who aren't mine, and I try not to rely too much on people being familiar with them or events that occurred in the past that not every reader will be familiar with. But I still reference them or use them for context; hopefully that doesn't throw readers unfamiliar, but just sort of gives an impression of depth.
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2020
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  16. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006





    Chapter Three, Part II

    Three hours into the meeting Mara had gone into maintenance mode until a minor disaster struck. Winter and Karrde had done most of the negotiating at the beginning, the aide acting like a set of impenetrable deflector shields between Karrde and Leia as they finalized details on how exactly members of the Smuggler's Alliance would go about making maintenance requests, what kinds of requests would be allowed, and which were forbidden. But shortly after lunch Han had called, sounding overwhelmed, and there had been a crash, the sound of something breaking, twin reedy cries, and a Wookiee yelp of alarm on the other end of the comlink. Leia and Winter had taken one look at one another, Leia gave a rueful smile, and without a word Winter had swept out the door, long robes flowing behind her. Somehow she managed to make even a hurried rush look elegant.

    The negotiations continued in Winter's absence, with Leia ably taking up the slack. So far the meeting had gone well; Mara was quite impressed by the generosity of the New Republic's offer and she knew Karrde was also, even if neither of them allowed it to show. Given Leia Organa Solo's Jedi training and heritage, trying to hide such feelings from her was likely futile… but then, people had said the same thing about Darth Vader, and Mara had managed to hide things from him on more than one occasion.

    After quickly agreeing that certain cargoes (slaves in particular) were strictly verboten and that no immunity for those crimes would be extended to members of the Smugglers' Alliance, Leia and Karrde had moved on to discussing shipping assignments. Ultimately, the Smuggler's Alliance had two benefits for the New Republic: access to a large number of independent shippers who would take Republican cargoes to their destinations, and access to information from the Fringe that didn't make its way so easily to the center. But the New Republic wanted to be able to guarantee delivery of certain vital cargoes, and that would mean forcing smugglers to take jobs now and then. Just putting that in the contract would make most of them ornery.

    She was sipping her cup of spiced caf and contemplating the problem when they both looked at her. "What do you think, Mara," Karrde's voice was polished smoothness, as usual.

    "You can't force smugglers to take a cargo," she replied after she finished her sip. "They're contrary by nature. If you tell them they have to do something, they'll say no just to prove you wrong."

    Leia smiled at that.

    "Mara's right," Karrde told Leia. "But maybe there's another way." He went on, explaining how the old Smuggler cartels, under Jabba the Hutt and others, had assigned runs to this or that smuggler, with sliding scales for pay depending on the value of the shipment, the cost to the smuggler, and how far out of the way each route was. Emulating Jabba wasn't something that Karrde would normally suggest—Jabba's business ethics had been execrable—but when it came to managing the Fringe Jabba had definitely been talented.

    Mara wasn't really listening. She and Karrde had worked out all the details of the plan on the trip from the Corporate Sector back to Coruscant. She was quite sure that even if the original proposal didn't work Karrde and Leia would find one that did. It wasn't that complicated as things went. Really, the only hitch in the entire plan (from Mara's perspective) was Mara's role as Liaison. That would ultimately make the relationship between the Smuggler's Alliance and the New Republic her responsibility. Her responsibility.

    Her responsibility.

    Why was she doing this, she wondered? Because Karrde had asked her to was one reason. She had spent the better part of five years in the worst parts of the Outer Rim, constantly moving, getting in and out of trouble over and over. Sometimes Isard's agents—who had never given up on catching her, she thought sourly—would catch her scent somehow, usually because she'd let herself get drawn into some local drama or other. She always had, one way or the other; even when she'd found a place that felt safe, found people she'd begun to think she might be able to call friends, something had always happened that sent her on to the next place. Often it had been a surge of Force power, complete with nightmares and the Emperor's voice. Only once before Karrde had she allowed herself to become truly comfortable and that memory was a painful one; she bit her lip and forced the image of Gorb and Jorshmin's dead bodies back out of her mind. Karrde had taken her in, provided her sanctuary, given her life purpose again after five years of aimless wandering. She owed him more than he would ever know.

    Karrde and Leia were still talking. On reflection, Mara realized one reason she had accepted the Liaison position was simply because Leia had asked her, and if Mara had said no, Leia probably would've badgered her until she said yes anyway.

    Leia Organa Solo, she thought. Biological daughter of Darth Vader. While Mara had intellectually processed the fact that Organa Solo was Darth Vader's daughter, it had not really fully sunk in for her until that moment.

    Mara found herself searching for hints of Vader in Leia's diminutive countenance. She thought of the times she and Vader had sparred and jockeyed for space and Palpatine's attention. Vader had been inexorable, pushing onward until he won—or he decided he no longer cared. Maybe that was a hint of his legacy, she thought as Leia launched into another spirited round of debate. The maddening sense of inevitability that surrounded Leia, her ineffable confidence that she would eventually get her way, no matter the obstacles between her and her objective... Vader had possessed that same sense of surety.

    Vader had possessed that same sense of surety except when it came to a certain Rebel pilot who had driven him to distraction.

    Her mind moved from Leia to her twin. Did Skywalker possess it too? No, she decided, with Skywalker it was different. He didn't know he would get his way no matter the obstacles, he hoped he would, hoped with such optimistic ardor that she couldn't help but hope with him.

    That she couldn't help but hope with him?

    Luke had asked her if she would do this too; become the Liaison for the Smuggler's Alliance. Leia had been sure that Mara would take the position. Luke had merely hoped.

    It struck her again how utterly ridiculous all this was. Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa Solo. The talismans of the Rebel Alliance. More than Mon Mothma or Gial Ackbar or Garm Bel Iblis they had symbolized the Rebellion; had been the emotional anchors of the entire enterprise. And the two of them were probably the only two people in the whole New Republic who really, unambiguously trusted her. Who had demonstrably trusted her not just with their own lives, but with the lives of Leia's children. She still wasn't sure what to make of that. How did she reconcile her childhood, here in the Imperial Palace, trained by faceless Royal Guardsman, emotionless tutors, and the Emperor himself, and her subsequent life as the Emperor's Hand, with the unhesitating acceptance offered by these two people?

    Stars above, she had literally told Leia that she was going to kill her brother, and Leia had barely blinked. Barely even hesitated! Had helped break Mara out of prison and sent her off on a dangerous mission—armed!—with that same brother! Leia had not only never believed her, Leia had known she wouldn't.

    Skywalker hadn't ever really believed she would kill him either. He'd been a party to that breakout. He'd made sure she was armed and unrestricted. He'd trained her in the Force, to help her regain the abilities that she had lost—regain them in a way that she would keep them as her own, not gifts of the long-dead Emperor or Skywalker's own Jedi powers. But he hadn't done any of it because he knew she wouldn't kill him… no, he'd done it all because he'd hoped.

    By the time they had reached Wayland, she'd been hoping too.

    She buried that thought deep. The last thing she needed was for Skywalker to decide that she had gone soft.

    There was a knock on the door to Leia's office. "Come in," Leia called, apparently expecting whoever it was. Mara half turned and watched as General Airen Cracken came into the room. The head of New Republic Intelligence himself, she thought. He was a bit older than she remembered from his Imperial file, and his once-bright red hair had gone completely grey. His face bore deep worry-lines, as she would have expected of a man who had spent his career matching the likes of Ysanne Isard in battles of wits and skulduggery.

    "Councilor Organa Solo," Cracken greeted her with a nod.

    "General," she replied with a royal smile of her own. "I'm glad you could make it after all."

    "It took some doing," Cracken responded wryly, "but I couldn't very well leave you to handle Karrde here on your own. He can be slippery." His attention moved to Karrde and Mara. "Karrde. It's been a while since Thyferra. Good to see you again."

    "General, it is always a pleasure, of course," Karrde said. "I don't believe you know my associate. This is Mara Jade, my second-in-command and the proposed Primary Liaison between the Smuggler's Alliance and the New Republic."

    Cracken's sea-green eyes regarded Mara for a long moment. "Miss Jade. We've not been personally acquainted, but I've watched your career with great interest." He smiled, the expression friendly—but Mara recognized the keen awareness of an intelligence professional in the presence of a potential asset behind the smile.

    Mara stiffened, then forced the reflex down. Cracken didn't seem actively hostile, which was about all she could ask for from the head of New Republic Intelligence, given her history. "General Cracken," she replied evenly. She held his gaze, not challenging exactly but not retreating either.

    After a moment, Cracken gave her a curt nod and abandoned the pretense. She respected that—Isard would have dragged it out. "I don't suppose you'd be more forthcoming about your Imperial operational history with me than you were with Colonel Bremen last year?" he asked.

    Mara could see Leia's frown out of her peripheral vision—apparently this was a line of inquiry that Cracken had been supposed to avoid—but she couldn't blame the General for asking. It was also a question she and Karrde had spent some time preparing for on the way to Coruscant. "As a member of the Smugglers' Alliance," she began, her tone stiltedly formal, "if it should become operational, one of my obligations will be to deliver to the New Republic information useful to NRI." Her clear green eyes were calm as she gave the rehearsed answer. "That would include any information acquired through Fringe sources, regardless of how it was acquired."

    Cracken's eyebrows rose. Leia's did likewise. "I see," Cracken replied, sounding thoughtful. "So, the answer is yes… if the Smuggler's Alliance is formally employed." His own eyes narrowed. "Do you have information that would be useful to the New Republic?" he asked. She understood the intent behind the question: she might be using the lure of her knowledge of the Emperor to encourage the New Republic to hire the Smuggler's Alliance, despite not having anything truly useful. Again, she couldn't blame Cracken for asking.

    "I cannot be certain what is or is not useful to the New Republic," she answered stiffly. "But I already gave you Wayland."

    "I believe that Mara has earned the right to a little trust, General," Karrde put in.

    "I would agree," Leia put in from the side, her voice calm but carrying just the slightest ring of commanding reproach.

    "Trust is a valuable commodity," replied Cracken evenly. He watched Karrde and Mara, then turned his gaze fully to Karrde. "We know each other, Karrde. We've worked together before. I do trust your word, as much as I trust the word of any member of the Fringe." He looked at Mara. "And I trust the judgment of Councilor Organa Solo and Jedi Skywalker, both of whom have vouched for you, Miss Jade."

    Mara's lips pressed together, her eyes flicking briefly to Leia. "I appreciate that," she replied a bit stiffly. She couldn't help but notice that Cracken trusted Karrde, Leia, and Skywalker—but not her, despite his friendliness with Organa Solo. That actually raised Mara's opinion of him and of NRI in general. She could think of numerous occasions when Imperial Intelligence or the Imperial Security Bureau had gotten into trouble for trusting people solely on the basis of who vouched for them.

    "As do I," Karrde said, much more convivially. "If I may, General, I have a suggestion."

    "Go ahead."

    "The Smuggler's Alliance will need its own liaison with NRI, someone to serve as a go-between between our organization and yours… someone who will know how valuable a piece of information is, and have the independence to work with my people to follow leads."

    Cracken's eyes narrowed slightly. "That would make sense. Who do you have in mind?"

    Karrde held his hands out wide. "Your Agent Wessiri. My people already know her and respect her. Thanks to her collaborations with Booster and Mirax Terrik she has an excellent reputation on the Fringe, and the handful of smugglers who worked in Corellia during her time with CorSec say she was both honest and capable. Intimidatingly so." He nodded at Mara. "She and Mara would work well together, I think."

    "You are asking a lot," Cracken said. "Miss Wessiri is one of my best field agents."

    "And she will continue to be," Karrde replied.

    So Agent Wessiri is notable to both Karrde and Cracken, Mara thought. Unlike much of Karrde's crew, she had never met Wessiri. Karrde had in the past mentioned that she would be a good intelligence partner for the Smugglers' Alliance, but beyond a few offhand mentions of her being a thorn in Ysanne Isard's side, Mara had no mental picture of her. She envisioned an odd mix of Cracken and Isard, middle-aged, hard-bitten and wearing a blaster-resistant nerfhide jacket. Mara wondered if she had kept her old CorSec badge.

    Cracken examined Karrde for a moment, as if searching for a sign of some nefarious plot. He apparently didn't find one. "I'll consider it."

    Leia looked between the three of them, her gaze lingering on Cracken and Karrde. "Will this arrangement work then?" she asked. "I believe Master Trader Karrde and I have already worked out most of the particulars for the Smuggler's Alliance's obligations as a transport organization and the New Republic's for maintenance and escort. If you two agree that we have here the foundations for the intelligence side as well, then I will begin drawing up the final contract."

    "You will ask Agent Wessiri if she will take the position?" Karrde pressed Cracken, apparently intent on securing all the commitments he could with the momentum he had.

    "I will."

    "And if she says yes, you will give her the position?"

    Cracken hesitated for a moment, then nodded again. "Yes, I will," he repeated. Karrde glanced at Mara, but she sensed no deception from the General and gave Karrde the barest of nods.

    "And if she says no, then you and I will work together to find another suitable candidate?" Karrde pressed.

    "I'm sure we can find someone in NRI you will approve of in that eventuality."

    Karrde turned to Leia. "If you would put that on the record, Councilor, then I am satisfied with the preliminary arrangement." He looked at Mara. "Do you have anything to add, Mara?"

    "No."

    "Excellent," Leia said with obvious satisfaction, making a few notations on her datapad, then hitting a few buttons on her computer. She placed the datapad down on her wooden desk. "I will run the agreement by Mon Mothma and the Inner Council at the meeting tomorrow, but I'm not expecting any difficulties there either." She offered Karrde a thin smile. "Fey'lya does not much care for you, Talon, but I don't believe he wants to make an overt enemy of you either." She offered him a small, almost teasing smile. "Yet."

    "How Borsk Fey'lya feels about me is his business, not mine, Councilor," Karrde replied coolly. "Mara, shall we return to the Wild Karrde?"

    "Actually, I was hoping Mara would stay for a bit," Leia put in quickly. "It's not business related," she assured them both, "I'd like her help with a personal matter."

    Mara wasn't sure if that made her more or less concerned. More, she decided. Definitely more.

    "Mara?" Karrde asked.

    She hesitated only for a moment. "I can stay."

    "All right," Karrde said. "Then, General, perhaps you'd be willing to accompany me for a meal. We could discuss the details of the arrangement between the Smuggler's Alliance and NRI."

    Cracken sighed. "Very well. I know a place that's secure."

    Karrde offered Leia the slightest bow of his head. "Councilor, it's been a pleasure as always."

    Leia smiled back. "Master Trader Karrde," she acknowledged smoothly. The tone was polite and friendly—and also a clear dismissal. Karrde and Cracken glanced at each other, then Karrde turned to exit, his gaze meeting Mara's as he did. As his second-in-command, especially over the last few months, they'd worked hard on their non-verbal communication, and she could read him perfectly. Good luck, his expression said.





     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2020
    cthugha likes this.
  17. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Three, Part III


    The Imperial Palace was replete with small hideaways, and the one that Cracken brought Karrde to was smaller than most. Tucked away at the end of one of the Palace's long, isolated office hallways, Karrde got the distinct sensation that he was being watched. Glancing around at the isolated tables and seemingly distracted diners, he suspected that he had been lured into the heart of New Republic Intelligence. He wouldn't be surprised if everyone there, from the servers on up, was in Cracken's employ.

    The General settled them into a booth and drew a screen across the opening. Cracken then placed a small device in the middle of the table and activated it, then leaned back in his chair, watching Karrde suspiciously. "I assume this isn't about the Smugglers' Alliance," he said calmly.

    "Not directly," Karrde admitted. "I wanted to volunteer my services."

    One of Cracken's greying eyebrows lifted. He crossed one leg over the other casually, his gaze steady on Karrde. "Volunteer?"

    "Free of charge," Karrde promised.

    "And what, do tell, is so important to Talon Karrde that he's willing to volunteer his services free of charge to the head of New Republic Intelligence?"

    "I want to do what I can to help the New Republic liberate Ukio from the Empire," Karrde replied, his tone calm.

    That surprised Cracken, whose expression narrowed suspiciously. "Why?"

    Karrde smiled. In this particular case, he knew, honesty was the best policy. Besides, once Cracken heard what he had to offer, the General would have no choice but to play. "I owe it to a friend."

    Cracken waved his hand. "Go on."

    "Samuel Tomas Gillespee," Karrde continued. "An… old friend of mine. He has been instrumental in helping me bring together the Smugglers' Alliance, and keep it together. Those who do not trust me, trust him." Karrde glanced around, checking to see if anyone was being obvious about observing them; no one was. "Gillespee owns land on Ukio. His retirement estate, in fact. He lost it when the Empire occupied the planet during the Thrawn campaign. I can think of no better way of repaying him for all he has done than seeing it restored to him."

    "And what do you think you can do to help?" Cracken asked slowly.

    Karrde didn't answer. The waiter brought their meals and both men went quiet as the excellent-looking platters were placed in front of them. Karrde took a bite and was surprised at how good it tasted—surprised, and slightly suspicious. "I suppose every meal here comes with a free listening device?" he asked.

    Cracken's face offered the ghost of a smile. "On the contrary, Karrde. This is the only place in the Palace you can be assured it does not."

    "Ah," Karrde nodded. That made sense, then. This wasn't just a normal hideaway, it was NRI's cafeteria. The food was good enough that the intelligence agents wouldn't be tempted to eat off campus, and no doubt every single employee, not to mention the entire supply chain, was kept both well-paid and off-book. That Cracken would take him here was curious—it suggested that he was more trusted than Cracken had let on. Or that Cracken wanted him to think he was.

    It didn't really matter, but these games could be quite fun.

    "In that case," Karrde continued, forking another bite of the meal before leaning back casually in the chair, which was quite comfortable, "I believe that Mara and I have a lead on an item that the New Republic will very much wish to acquire."

    "A lead? From where?" Cracken's tone was challenging, but there was that telltale tightening of his back and sharpening of his gaze which betrayed his sudden interest.

    "A disgruntled employee of Rendili StarDrive, as it happens," Karrde said, taking a sip of his drink. He placed the glass down with a soft clink, then lifted his eyes to Cracken. He knew the General didn't trust him, not really, and Karrde didn't blame him. But Karrde had chosen to throw in with the New Republic, and that meant there was no longer any room for half-measures. The marriage between the Smugglers' Alliance and the New Republic was the future of the Fringe, he was certain of it.

    After all, if it was not the future of the Fringe, then Karrde himself had no future to speak of.

    For all the importance of the shipping relationship he'd spent the morning negotiating with Leia and Winter, it was the intelligence side that he truly cared about. And that meant he had to win over one General Airen Cracken. It was important that Karrde present him with an appropriate dowry, to cement their working relationship.

    "And what item did this disgruntled employee offer you?" Cracken asked, allowing Karrde to continue. Karrde appreciated that—spooks, more than most, knew the vital importance of proper presentation.

    He lowered his voice and leaned in close. He waited for the General to lean towards him in return. "The key to Ukio, General Cracken," he promised, smiling smugly.

    His explanation was short, but it did not need to be long. By the end of the first sentence, Cracken's normally staid composure had broken—only for a moment, but that was moment enough. By the end of the second, Cracken was leaning back in his own chair, an expression of amused astonishment on his face.

    By the end of the third, Karrde lifted his glass back up off the table and offered it for a toast. "All I ask is for Gillespee to get his land back."

    Cracken laughed. "And you'll never let us forget it, will you."

    Karrde smiled. "Of course not. I am a businessman, General. I always pay my debts, but I also always make sure I'm paid what I'm owed."




     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2020
  18. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha 2 Truths 1 Lie Host star 8 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Excellent introspections and characterizations of Mara, Karrde and Cracken =D= ... their motives and interactions.
     
  19. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Four

    As the Coruscant sun moved in the sky over Imperial City, the windows of Leia's office automatically tinted to adjust for the glare. The room was cast in shadow for a moment; Mara's eyes took a moment to adjust to the change in lighting. Throughout the discussion Mara had been taking in the room, trying to get a sense of Organa Solo's public face. Most of the furniture – the desk, the pair of bookshelves, the side tables, all of the chairs – were made of a wood with a distinctive dark coloring, probably Kriin oak from Alderaan. With Karrde's energy now absent and business concluded, the office instantly grew more somber.

    Leia stood and turned away, pouring two fresh cups of caf despite the hour. "Do you want anything added to yours, Mara?"

    "No, thank you," Mara replied. "I usually just drink it as is; it's stronger that way."

    Leia offered her a smile. "No preference for taste?"

    It was an idle question, a probing of her preferences, her mundane likes and dislikes, but it felt oddly personal. She could count on one hand the number of times people had asked her that kind of question while she was in Imperial Palace. It felt almost invasive, although it was doubtful Leia intended it as such. "I like the spiced blend you serve," Mara replied honestly. "It doesn't need anything else."

    Leia settled back into her chair and placed Mara's caf down on a coaster. "How are you, Mara?" Leia asked, and if the question about her preferences hadn't been probing, this definitely was. Mara felt her instincts kick in, felt the urge to make idle, meaningless small talk while she evaded whatever ill intent her conversation partner had in asking such questions… but only for a moment. She sipped her caf, took a breath, let it out slowly. No, Leia wasn't interrogating her. Leia's small talk wasn't meant to be invasive, it had no insidious purpose. Mara wasn't on assignment. It was just small talk. Regular people made small talk all the time. She tried to force herself to relax.

    But there was something about the way Leia looked at her that made Mara feel transparent.

    Mara sat back, hoping that physically relaxing against the seat would help her mentally relax, and considered her answer carefully. After she'd left Coruscant she and Karrde had spent weeks on the Wild Karrde, recruiting for the Smuggler's Alliance and establishing new contacts and trade routes. Then Karrde and Aves had left on their own business, and she had commanded the Wild Karrde herself for the first time. She'd fallen into the authority offered her without hesitation; the routes they'd run had been simple and profitable.

    The solitude—the crew had largely left her be—had been a blessing. Without the Emperor's voice in her head, with the Force answering to her call once more, she had taken the opportunity to practice her abilities, even including some of Skywalker's meditation techniques. Her skill with the lightsaber had returned with only a minimum of rust, which she had quickly stripped away.

    Most importantly Mara's mind was her own, perhaps for the first time in her entire life—at least, for the first time since Palpatine had taken her from her parents. Who was the Emperor's Hand without the Emperor? She could remember after the Emperor's death wondering the same thing, but she realized now that his death had not truly meant his absence. Even discounting his voice, he'd continued to define her through the damage he had inflicted, and the consuming void his absence had left in her life.

    The image of Luuke Skywalker's dead face after she slashed him across the chest was still vivid in her mind. With the clone's death had come true freedom, and the Emperor's Hand was finally, mercifully dead.

    Karrde understood, even if he never said as much out loud; it may even have been why he'd left her alone on the Wild Karrde while he and Aves traveled on the Last Resort.

    She had been quiet for much too long, Leia was still watching her with an expression that was much too knowing for Mara's liking, and perhaps the sudden pressure to say something made her answer more honestly than she normally would have. "I'm not really sure how I've been," she replied, cradling the mug, wary of revealing how vulnerable she felt but finding herself doing it anyway. "Less sure about things than when we met, I suppose."

    "You look… happier," Leia said softly, as her brown eyes watched Mara much too knowingly for Mara's comfort.

    Mara offered Leia a tight smile. "I'm not really used to thinking about my happiness," she admitted.

    "It's important not to forget it," Leia said soothingly. "I can get so lost in my responsibilities and in the needs of the New Republic that I forget what makes me happy." She shook her head. "I even almost let the New Republic marry me off to Prince Isolder of Hapes because I put everything but myself first." She took a sip of her own caf. "Sometimes I forget I'm not just Councilor Organa Solo of the New Republic. I'm also Han's wife and Jacen and Jaina's mother. Luke's sister. But it's hard to take the professional face off when it feels like the galaxy rests on my shoulders… or when it's the only thing keeping me together."

    Mara hid her discomfiture by sipping her caf. That sounded alarmingly familiar. She sat, nodded in a way she hoped conveyed sympathy or understanding without revealing too much of her own feelings, and waited for Leia to continue. But Leia just sighed, looking out the window. The Senate building could be seen beneath them through the tinted transparisteel, its large mushroom dome structure gleaming with the afternoon sun. The silence lingered longer until Mara finally surrendered and broke it. "Is there anything I can do to help, Councilor?"

    Leia sent her a wry smile. "You can call me Leia when we're alone, Mara." The words made Mara blink twice. They hadn't had that many private conversations; this was really only the third she could think of. That wasn't usually enough to privilege someone with name instead of title… "You saved my life, and my husband's life, and the lives of my twins, and the life of my brother," Leia spoke into her musings. "Chewbacca would say that makes us family."

    "I'm not a Wookiee." Mara's voice sounded a bit distant to her ears.

    "You're not, but I've spent enough time with Chewbacca to have grown my climbing claws," Leia joked. Mara chuckled, surprised at the riposte. "I just wanted to see how you were doing and to ask you a favor," Leia said, her expression darkening a bit.

    "A favor?" Mara asked cautiously. "What kind of favor?"

    Leia put down her mug and folded her hands on her desk, her expression darkening further. "I was hoping you'd go talk to Luke," she said. "Something is bothering him and he won't talk to me or Han about it. And his other friends—Lando, Wedge, the rest of the Rogues—are all offworld." She idly stroked her left hand with her right thumb. "He doesn't have all that many close friends." Leia said absently.

    Mara wasn't sure what surprised her more: the implication that Leia thought Mara Jade was a close friend of Luke Skywalker, the request itself, or Leia's unhappy tone. She took a moment, letting her brain process what Leia was asking. She could say no… but she really couldn't. One couldn't just tell Leia Organa Solo no, especially not after Leia Organa Solo had just claimed you as almost family. And it wasn't like she was avoiding Skywalker. They had even fallen into something of a routine, continuing her Force training before she'd left Coruscant with Karrde. Mara felt the stirrings of obligation tug at her and sighed inwardly.

    She wondered vaguely if this was what made Leia such an effective diplomat. Mara wasn't even sure whether Leia was manipulating her on purpose. "Where is he?"

    Leia looked up, as if drawn from her own distant musings. "He's spent a lot of time in the Emperor's Jedi Museum of late."

    Mara frowned and quickly racked her brain. "I was practically raised in the Palace, I've never heard of a Jedi Museum." She'd been through all the exhibits of the Imperial Museum and there hadn't been more than one dedicated to the Jedi of the Old Republic, and even that had been little more than an explanation of their treachery. Palpatine had done all he could to destroy their memory.

    "Next door," Leia explained with a small frown of her own. "It was a concealed wing of the Imperial Museum. We stumbled across it after we captured Coruscant. You weren't familiar with it?"

    "No," Mara said. That was odd, but Palpatine had kept plenty of secrets, even (perhaps especially) from his Hand.

    "Well, Luke spent some time there after it was first discovered, and he's been spending more time there the last week or so." Leia frowned. "He's been distant and distracted, and it's not like him. And he won't talk about it, at least not with me." Her frown deepened, and Mara could sense that Leia's worry—and frustration—both ran deep. "I was hoping…" she gestured at Mara, "that maybe you would be able to help."

    "Why me?" Mara asked, and instantly regretted the question. Her regret must have been obvious, too, at the slight amusement that tugged at Leia's frown.

    "As I said, Luke doesn't have many friends. He'll be happy to see you…" Leia's voice trailed off and the smile vanished back into the frown. Mara could see the hint of pain in her brown eyes. "He might talk to you about some of the things he doesn't like talking with me about."

    There it was again—Leia's casual assumption that Skywalker was her friend. She wasn't his confidante! She should correct the misapprehension, she knew, but if she did Leia might try to argue with her, convince her that Skywalker was her friend, and stars only knew where that debate would end. "Fine," Mara replied instead, a bit more gruffly than she'd really intended.

    Leia just smiled. "Thank you, Mara. If you need anything, just let me know. Oh, and tell Talon that you and he are invited to dinner with us at least once before you both go back off-world."

    Dinner? Mara felt disturbingly off-kilter. It was time to end the conversation before Leia surprised her again. She took a slow breath as she stood up, covering her momentary lack of composure with the motion. "Of course," she said instead of asking any more questions. Questions were dangerous. "Good afternoon, Counci—" she caught the word in her throat at Leia's imperious look. Feeling dazed, she corrected. "—Leia."

    "Better," Leia said approvingly, "It's always good to see you, Mara."

    Despite the waning light, she felt warmer, and this time she knew exactly why.




     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2020
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  20. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha 2 Truths 1 Lie Host star 8 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Marvelously insightful as to Mara's musings on how different her life is, having to remind herself Leia wasn't being maliciously invasive, (just making "small talk"). I liked also Leia's request; it is definitely something she would worry about because Luke's absorption in Jedi history/artifacts is definitely in character. [face_thinking]
     
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  21. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Chapter Four, Part II

    The Imperial Museum had reopened in stages for the last three years. Thanks to the passcard Leia had given her, Mara had been permitted entry to one of the yet-unopened wings of the Museum. She found herself in a darkened, empty space once she was past the handful of security guards at the entrance. Where once there would be lines waiting for tickets or admission, there was now just an empty marble floor. Where once there would have been gatherings of Coruscanti or wealthy offworlder schoolchildren, come to celebrate the Empire and learn of its history, there was the gleam of evening sunlight off abandoned benches and a deep, lonely silence.

    During the height of the Empire the museum had been one of the main tourist attractions on Coruscant, with exhibits that dated back to the Clone Wars, detailing the history of Senator Palpatine and the other heroes of the Old Republic who had reforged that decrepit institution into the New Order. It had been a mainstay of Imperial political philosophy that all governments inevitably declined, and that the Old Republic, millennias old, had long since passed into its dotage and beyond. Such decay could only be fought with the vigor of great men, those same scholars said, chosen and blessed by fate—and as such Senator Palpatine was all that held the Empire together and prevented its slide back into decrepitude and chaos. Anything that predated Palpatine's rule had been forgotten or marginalized as unimportant. Today, New Republic academics were restoring the museum, revising each exhibit with sourced, true information, and obtaining provenance for and repatriating looted art and artifacts from all across the Galaxy.

    Mara could remember her first trip to the Imperial Museum; to the majesty and the myth. It had been soon after she had been brought to the Imperial palace, she thought, though it was impossible to be sure; all her memory was suspect, given Palpatine's likely interference. Over the years it had been a place she frequented, on and off—a reminder of purpose and of pride. She was the Emperor's Hand, chosen by Palpatine himself. She fought the internal corruption and decay that would destroy all government, all order, if given the chance. Vader dealt with the Rebellion because he had all the subtlety of a bantha stampede; she was the scalpel, the precise instrument, the remover of cancers of all kinds.

    She hadn't returned to the Imperial museum since she fled Coruscant with Ysanne Isard's goons close on her heels, and she hadn't thought to visit after the Thrawn campaign, so this was the first time she'd stepped foot inside the museum in six years; the first time she'd stepped foot inside the museum since she'd fulfilled the Emperor's last command.

    More importantly, it was the first time she'd stepped foot inside the museum since she'd realized Palpatine had been a fraud. Just stepping inside this place again, remembering how it had made her so proud, was enough to make her skin crawl and put a bitter, coppery taste in her mouth.

    She had disdained the Empire after Palpatine's death because to her eyes it had become a tool for naked, unprincipled ambition. Loyalty had meant nothing to Pestage or Isard or Thrawn, or to any of the other warlords. The Empire under them would be just as corrupt as the Old Republic before Palpatine, and perhaps even more so. None of them were the "Great Man" Palpatine had been. But the Empire always had been just a tool for naked, unprincipled ambition. Everything Palpatine, everything her tutors, everything her fellow citizens had ever told her had been lies. Everything in this museum had presented the Empire as the galaxy's salvation, as an institution of perfect justice for all—how each and every citizen would always receive precisely what they deserved—it had always been a lie. Always. All for Palpatine's own benefit.

    How could she have been so, so blind? She thought back to her memories of the Emperor, of her joy at his praise, at the comfort of his presence when he touched her mind, and now all of it left her bitter cold.

    I was a child. I should have been left to be a child.

    The museum had been constructed years before Palpatine repurposed it into the story of his grand rise to power; well-maintained marble floors and towering columns lining each wide hallway, with long, curved transparisteel ceilings. Light poured in from above, glare reduced to an acceptable level. Everything in the to-be-revised sections was covered with a faint layer of dust, except where construction teams were steadily removing old exhibits for eventual replacement with new ones. It would be another few years before the museum fully reopened as the Grand Museum of the Republic, but in the interim it had no guests in this wing, leaving it with an appropriately empty and abandoned feel.

    No one else should be subject to Palpatine's lies. Not ever again. The old fraud.

    During her time commanding the Wild Karrde, alone with only Dankin and Chin and Karrde's damned vornskrs for company, she had spent some time wondering why Palpatine hadn't turned her into an agent of the Dark, as he had Vader. Why leave her illusions intact? Why let her believe that justice meant something more than whatever Palpatine desired, Palpatine received? Being back in this museum she thought maybe she understood. Palpatine had never wanted the galaxy as a whole to see him for what he was; his strength was supported by pillars of illusion, of the lies that had filled this museum. Mara herself had been just another propaganda tool: she had been the Emperor's Hand and when she arrived, the illusion of justice inevitably followed, leaving all those in her wake convinced by the strength of her example that whatever misdeeds were committed by other Imperials, whatever men like Tarkin did, the Emperor was good and fair and just.

    They would believe it because she believed it. Because she came on his behalf, acting in his name, and she did her best to live up to virtues that… meant less than nothing to Palpatine. Virtues he had actively and thoroughly despised.

    This was not the first time she'd let thoughts like these tie her in knots. By the time she had found the long, seemingly abandoned hallway that would bring her to the Jedi wing of the museum she had begun the process of unwinding the tension she'd let build in her gut. By the end of the long corridor she was even-keeled enough to remember that these bouts of self-recrimination were helping no one, least of all herself. She was Mara Jade, not the Emperor's Hand. Letting the… ambiguities… of her past pull her down would not help her heal. She shouldn't dwell on it. She could hear the advice spoken in Luke's damnably calm, quietly passionate voice.

    If only doing it was as easy as saying it.

    There was a noticeable change in décor as Mara exited the corridor into the unmarked Jedi Museum, using the passkey Leia had given her to gain entrance. The large doors opened without complaint, but they released stale-smelling, musty air. Darkness and spider webs replaced muted sunlight. The heavy doors closed behind her once again, leaving her alone in the unfamiliar space.

    The room was long and rectangular, with footsteps etched in the thick layers of dust on the floor and dangling web-strands hanging from the ceiling so thick she had to sweep them aside with her arm. She contemplated using her lightsaber to slice her a path, but if Skywalker was here then clearly he hadn't done that already. She refused to allow herself less composure than the Tatooine farmboy. Her lightsaber remained on her belt.

    Her skin abruptly went cold and she almost stopped dead. The Dark Side was so thick here it made her nearly choke. The sense of malevolence, of stinging chastisement, of dark, unrestrained gloating sang with Palpatine's voice. She shivered at the unrepentant hate.

    This wasn't a museum, she thought with quiet, dreading awe as she stepped into the space. It was a mausoleum. She was surrounded by relics; statues and occasional holo-images, surprisingly well maintained given how long it had obviously been since this place had received regular maintenance. Statues of fallen Jedi, paired with relics of their passing. The statues had been defaced or decapitated, and in her mind's eye she could see Palpatine's rage-filled face as he personally destroyed each of them in his ritual of gloating.

    She stepped near one of the statues. It was a woman's body, though the statue—like many of the others—did not have a face. "An'ya Kuro," a voice from the base of the statue said. "Jedi Master, she served with distinction during and after the Clone Wars." A hologram appeared, but Mara didn't recognize the woman's face even from the holo. There were other pieces of memorabilia around her, including a lightsaber. Trophies, Mara thought disgustedly.

    She looked around, stepping away from the exhibit and realized there were dozens more. She continued on, passing statue after statue… hundreds of them. Perhaps many hundreds. This had been the Old Republic's Jedi Museum, she realized, but Palpatine had closed it and turned it instead into the list of his victories. Every defaced or otherwise disfigured Jedi was a Jedi that Palpatine had seen dead, one way or another.

    There were so many. Mara stepped close to a few exhibits, giving them closer looks. Ranik Solusar was also missing his face, and Mara wondered if there was some specific meaning in that. There was a collection of his possessions at the statue's feet—a lightsaber, a datapad, and a ring, among others. Another statue, deeper in, still had most of a face; it looked like it had been shot repeatedly with a blaster. "Siri Tachi, Jedi Master," the voice said. "Apprentice to Adi Gallia and Master of Ferus Olin, she was frequently a companion to Obi-Wan Kenobi." The mention of Kenobi's name made Mara step in for a closer look, but Tachi had been killed years before the advent of the Empire. Strangely, none of her possessions—including her lightsaber—were present, and Mara wondered idly if that had something to do with the way she had been killed.

    A dull guilt tugged at her. Mara hadn't ever been a Jedi hunter; had never encountered a Jedi before Luke. But she had been a party to their deaths; had been complicit—deceived, but complicit—and thus responsible. Ultimate blame of course belonged to the Emperor, but if she'd seen through his deftly-sewn veil of lies…

    Mara suddenly understood, looking at Solusar and Tachi's statues, why these rooms reeked with the Emperor's wrath. Yes, his presence was still overpoweringly present, if far duller and more diffused than it was where he had died at Endor. But the light in these exhibits wasn't extinguished, merely buried as if covered in layer after layer of tarpaulins, each dipped in the awful, clinging residue of the Emperor's presence. He could only kill them, Mara thought, and she smiled at the stubbornly determined expression Tachi wore for her holo, remembering something Skywalker had said.

    "There is no death, there is the Force."

    Even with all his forbidden studies, his malevolence, Palpatine had failed to understand his enemy. He couldn't defeat them.

    Was that what Skywalker was doing here? Expelling the Emperor's lingering malevolence one day at a time? Replacing it with his own, much more welcoming presence? Probably.

    She turned away from the statues towards the passageway into the next room. She could feel Skywalker's presence now, a breath of fresh air, light pushing back darkness. The Emperor's presence felt faded in comparison to the bright spirit of the living Jedi. She'd been nervous about seeing him again, she admitted, but in that moment she couldn't for the life of her remember why exactly that had been.

    She followed the thread that connected them, feeling his presence in her mind. The doors between them parted to admit her, the cobwebs sundered by his own earlier passage. As she neared his presence, she sensed a firm foundation of sun-warmed stone; she gripped the thread that connected them and she used it to draw nearer as, unnoticed, the last vestiges of Palpatine's fog burned away.

    When she finally reached him, what she found wasn't exactly what she'd expected. Her lips blossomed into a surprised smile and she laughed. "Dignified as always, Skywalker."



    * * *​



    Luke Skywalker, Force Ghost-anointed "First of the New Jedi," felt anything but peaceful and serene. It had been a long six weeks since Wedge and Rogue Squadron had left Coruscant to join Garm Bel Iblis' campaign to retake Ukio and sunder the Imperial hold that Grand Admiral Thrawn had re-established over the galactic southeast. He wasn't sure how Ben would feel about a Jedi having drinking buddies, but he missed them all the same.

    Luke's arrival on Coruscant after the planet's conquest a few years before had been one of utter wonderment. During his childhood, Uncle Owen had always dismissed Coruscant as irrelevant and opulent to the point of wastefulness, an ecumenopolis that consumed food, water and resources and spat out poor governance, ineffectual and corrupt at best, malicious at worst; Aunt Beru had rarely discussed it at all, other than to say that when she was young, it had been the bright center of the galaxy, where millions of people came together as one. Luke had quickly learned that both Owen and Beru had been correct. And he wondered what his father had made of the planet.

    The decision to move the New Republic's capital to Coruscant had been for symbolism more than anything else, but Luke knew that Leia had never been completely certain the move had been a wise one. Geography was power, and Coruscant's ancient political establishment was steadily working to re-establish itself within the old halls of the New Republic.

    Except one part of that ancient political establishment: the Jedi Order. The Jedi had always been both part of and separate from galactic politics; present, influential, but kept at a deliberate distance. The older political leaders who remembered the galaxy before Palpatine wiped out the Jedi had told Luke a lot about how things had used to be, before the Empire, but a lot about the actual power dynamics and responsibilities between the Jedi and the galactic government remained frustratingly vague.

    Growing up as a moisture farmer, dreaming of being a pilot, Luke had never imagined that it would become his responsibility to help recreate and lead what was arguably the single most influential institution in galactic history. And here at the heart of government? That influence was power. Seductive, succulent, dangerous power, power which had destroyed many a Jedi of the Old Republic, tempted by everything from avarice to lust to the deceptive lure of easy solutions.

    Even after he had been given the task of recreating the Jedi Order, and had accepted it, he hadn't really realized what it would mean. But the responsibility had fallen to him and—especially now that the leaders of the New Republic had begun to seriously consider re-organizing the galactic government from its current, provisional state to a (hopefully) more permanent one—uncertainty about what was best increasingly paralyzed him.

    The problem—or, one problem—was that the New Republic's leadership all more or less assumed that the Jedi would be a part of the new political establishment, and would logically be organized along with and as a constituent component of the New Republic. Leia especially just took for granted that the Jedi order would be formally re-established along with the New Republic, aiming towards a full restoration of the way things had been before.

    But Luke wasn't sure that was the right thing. Was this the right time to create a Jedi order? Was he prepared to teach the new Jedi to join that order? Was being part of the New Republic, either formally or informally, right for people who should serve all life, not just the citizens of the Republic? And was he, Luke Skywalker, a moisture farmer from Tatooine, with limited formal education and no political training other than what minimal tutoring Leia had provided after the victory at Endor, ready to become a major political figure? It was bad enough being the New Republic's only Jedi as it was.

    Leia had enough on her mind, and Luke didn't want to add to her myriad of worries and responsibilities. On top of that, he was slightly fearful that he and she would disagree about the right answer; that her commitment to the New Republic would lead her to a perspective about the Jedi with which he would be compelled to refute. He wasn't ready to fight with Leia about it. Not now, and not ever really.

    He was avoiding her, she had to know he was, and it had to hurt. He didn't need to spend as much time in Palpatine's Jedi museum as he was... though the Force pulled him back here when he opened himself to it, like there was something he needed to find. And it was a convenient excuse to avoid her. Avoid everyone official, really.

    He'd spent weeks cleaning away cobwebs, restoring exhibits, checking and repairing lightsabers, reading entries, looking for guidance, wondering if perhaps once Palpatine's presence was banished if the spirits of the Jedi memorialized in the museum might appear to him and offer him the guidance he sought. So far they hadn't but he felt like his meditations were productive, and the Force kept teasing him with some hint of useful knowledge that he couldn't quite reach. It was like he'd forgotten a word and it was just on the tip of his tongue but he couldn't… quite… remember it…

    Luke flexed, his arm muscles straining. His wrists ached and he reached out to the Force to relax the tension building in them from the weight pressing down. His legs flexed a little as he carefully balanced the handstand, bringing his ankles closer together. When Yoda had first taught him handstand meditation, back on Dagobah, he had thought the Jedi Master had been playing a practical joke on him, and there were still times Luke suspected that perhaps Yoda had been. But the practice was excellent for focusing the mind.

    "Concentrate. Feel the Force flow," he heard Yoda's voice in his memories. "Good. Calm. Through the Force, things you will see."

    His eyes wavered shut, the meditation growing deeper as the world around him; the smells of the musty Jedi Museum, the lingering presence of Palpatine, his own sense of unease all faded away as the Force sustained him. He exhaled, stale breath leaving his lungs to be replaced by fresh; the Force strengthening his muscles and calming his mind. There… a voice, dark and confident, and another younger and less certain. He couldn't hear either of their words, the image hazy, but there was the snap-hiss of a lightsaber and the steady buzzing of the ignited blade, a blue glow cast around. Was this the future, he thought? The future of the Jedi order? Or perhaps it was the past, the training of the Jedi that had once occurred on this planet? Why would the Force need to show him this, why now?

    He sank deeper into the trance, his arms straining and dripping with sweat as he sustained the handstand, his breathing slowing further still. He concentrated on the image, looking for anything useful; the lightsaber hummed and buzzed as it was swung, voices too hazy to be understood continued with the intonation of teacher and student. I don't understand, he thought, but in the words he heard a plaintive tone that Yoda would have chastised him for. He let the frustration go and could feel an echo of Yoda's satisfaction.

    Something was different now. There was another presence, brighter and more vivid. The image of master and student faded under the bright glare of its light; warmth and humor and carefully banked affection washing over him. The Force was never so forthright with its approval, he thought happily, in fact…

    A woman laughed, a bright, amused laugh that was totally unexpected and instantly recognizable. The vision banished, Luke's eyes shot open. There, a few meters away from him, peering upside down at him with bright, dazzling green eyes and good humor that sent an unexpected jolt through him, was Mara Jade.

    "Dignified as always, Skywalker," she teased him, though the words bore no malice.

    Her presence, her smile really, pulled him fully out of the trance. He opened his mouth to respond, but with his focus split between her and the Force the strain of the handstand, and the inexorability of gravity, was suddenly too much. With a sound that started with the first few letters of her name and ended with a surprised yelp, Luke fell backwards and hit the floor.

    "Aww, Mara," he groaned as the pain from the impact shot through him. Her presence in the Force was not so encompassing now that he had exited the trance, but he could feel a myriad of emotions radiating from her; a mix of fading nervousness and humor and cautious affection that lingered in his mind.

    She laughed, smiling. He groaned again as he sat up, reaching out to the Force to soothe his complaining arm muscles. How long had he been holding that handstand, anyway? He shook his head, rubbing his arms.

    "Interesting place you found here, Skywalker," Mara said from above him. Her smile still hadn't left her face and Luke took a moment to just watch her smile. He could still remember the first time he saw her really smile at him, and the second. He wasn't sure what it was that made her smile so intoxicatingly attractive. Maybe it was because he'd only known her scowl for so long.

    Luke forced himself to look away, fearing he would make her uncomfortable, and gestured at the exhibits around them. "The Emperor destroyed everything he could," he replied. "What he didn't destroy or corrupt, he brought here. There's so much here, but his presence still infects this place." He sighed heavily, staring at the ceiling; the mahogany-colored wood was still covered with spider webs.

    "I know, I can feel it," Mara replied softly, sitting next to him. Together they sat in companionable silence for a moment; Luke recovering, Mara making her peace with her memories.

    Luke reached out, his hand brushing her leg gently. She looked down at him, her eyebrow arching. "Welcome back to Coruscant," he said with a smile. "How was your trip around the galaxy?"

    She threw him a patient look. "The trip was productive," she replied. "We learned a few useful things that the New Republic ought to find valuable, and so far the Fringe is holding together better than I would've expected it to. The dream of the Smuggler's Alliance isn't dead, though I think the only thing really holding it together right now is Karrde's reputation."

    Luke's gaze was unwavering. "And you?"

    She rolled her eyes at him.

    With a groan Luke sat up and shifted towards her, his knee resting accidentally against hers. She looked down at where they touched, as if considering an alien experience. Luke tensed, prepared for her to object or needle, but she didn't do either. He nudged her with his knee, and her attention was drawn back to his face. "You came looking for me? I'm touched."

    Mara nudged him back aggressively, her knee knocking against his in a way that was just a little bit painful. He winced. "Your sister sent me," she retorted, her leg settling back so that there was a bare minimum of space between them. "She's worried about you."

    "Leia sent you?" Luke said in wonderment. He thought about all the ways he could point out how undeniably odd it was for her to be doing Leia a favor, but he felt her tensing and preparing a pointed retort and decided not to poke the krayt dragon. He sighed instead and rubbed his temple, retreating back into his earlier concerns about the Jedi and the Republic.

    "Skywalker?"

    Her voice brought him back out of the passing miasma. "Do you remember that conversation we had on Wayland?" he asked, turning his head to look at her again. "When we talked about how to teach young Jedi? You told me that ultimately the only way to teach Jedi to be just and honorable and conscientious was through example."

    Mara nodded. "Are you still worried about that?" When he didn't respond immediately her knee nudged his gently, and he looked up to see her expression. She looked back, attentive.

    He nodded. "Yes, of course, but…" his voice trailed off and the frustrations that had driven him to meditation bubbled up once again. He saw her gaze narrow, felt her lean towards him. He hadn't felt like he could talk to Leia about this, not with her responsibilities in the government, and if he couldn't talk to Leia, then he couldn't talk to Han. Wedge was off planet, Lando was away putting Nkllon back together, but Mara was here. Listening. "Mara, what does it mean to be a Jedi?"

    She frowned at him, puzzled. "That's an odd question to be asking me, especially here."

    "Not really," Luke replied. "Being out in the galaxy, so many people have ideas about what it means to be a Jedi. For some people we're the embodiments of good and justice; others remember us as evil or corrupt or disinterested. For some we're military heroes; for others, we're villains who leave legacies and death and destruction. For some, we're wise sages and problem solvers and dispensers of justice; for others, we're lazy and entitled fools who think we know better than we actually do."

    She stared at him and an expression of understanding fell over her eyes. "So, what is a Jedi, actually?" she asked him.

    "We listen to the Force and let it guide us," he murmured. "Beyond that," he shrugged. "I've never felt like I was any of those things. Just a man from Tatooine with useful abilities." He sighs softly. "I don't know if I can be what Leia wants me to be," he admitted.

    "I'm not sure I'm the right person to ask," Mara said, looking through him more than at him. "I was all of those things on your list too, when I was the Emperor's Hand." She was silent for a long moment; he pushed his sudden, fragile hopes for them aside, reminding himself yet again that the last thing Mara needed was him further complicating her life. "I guess my life is a lesson. I think I always knew Palpatine was evil," she admitted. "Deep down, I knew something was wrong. I should have known something was wrong. But I didn't listen to the Force, or even to my own best judgment. I listened to him." She looked down. "I should have known better," she admitted softly.

    Luke's hand slid over hers, his fingers wrapping around hers and squeezing. It was an impetuous gesture, and he was relieved when she didn't quickly pull away. "You couldn't have," he reassured her.

    "I could have," she retorted hotly. "I'm not a fool, Skywalker. I saw the Empire, I saw the Emperor, I saw the people he surrounded himself with. But I let him tell me they were necessary evils, let him tell me it was for the greater good. I let him lie to me. I was willfully blind." Her fingers were hard around his now, a hint of pain twinging his hand from where hers squeezed it. With a grimace she relaxed her grip. "I trusted him more than I trusted myself," she murmured. "I trusted his word over my own experience." She squeezed his hand and then released it, leaving his skin cold without hers against it. "Your Jedi should never do that. Not ever. Not for anyone."

    He nodded.

    "Is this what has been bothering you for weeks?" she asked.

    He shrugged. "It's a big problem. If the Jedi Order isn't part of the New Republic, does that mean we're autonomous? That brings all kinds of its own issues."

    "Funding, for one," Mara pointed out.

    He stilled at her words… but no, she couldn't know. He nodded choppily. "Unless we can find some external funds," he agreed more calmly than he felt. "Enough to make us independent."

    She eyed him suspiciously, but if she suspected he was holding something back she decided not to call him on it. "Yeah, well, good luck with that. One Jedi, or even a handful, won't need that much in the way of credits, but a whole Order will. And I doubt you'll want to be demanding pay for your services."

    "We're not mercenaries," he said firmly. "I'll need to think about this some more. Maybe ask some other people who have a vested stake." He nudged her knee with his and smiled at her. "In the meantime, I assume you're back on Coruscant for the time being?"

    Mara wrinkled her nose and nodded. "Yes, at least for the next few months I'll need to be here in my role as liaison, getting the Smuggler's Alliance and its formal links to the New Republic's shipping and intelligence services up and running." She winced. "This is going to be like herding pittins," she muttered.

    "You can do it Mara. I know you can." He smiled at her.

    She sent him a sideways look. "I can but that doesn't mean I'm going to enjoy it," she retorted.

    Luke laughed. "Well, I hear the trick with pittins is having a couple of small boxes that they fight to try and sit in." He paused, watching her. "You know," he said, serious again, "if you have any free time while you're here, I'd enjoy a training partner." He heard the hope in his voice and tried to tamp down on it. He didn't just ask Mara about the Jedi because she was Force-strong, or even because he thought of her as a friend, but because he hoped that someday she would join him as a Jedi. He saw in her the future of the order, a companion who understood the Force and understood its abuse.

    He saw in her an equal.

    Someday. If she wanted. When she was ready.

    Her gaze told him that she thought he was thoroughly insane, probably for a dozen different reasons. He just smiled at her, watching the hint of turmoil, feeling her internal conflict, hoping. "If I have time," she conceded, then rolled her eyes again as she undoubtedly felt his burst of relief and joy at her tepid agreement.

    "I was about to get something to eat; it's getting late and I haven't had anything since lunch," Luke said. "Care to join me?" He stood, then offered her his hand.

    She looked up at him, then placed her hand in his. "Sure," she said. "I know a few good places around here." She offered him a wry smile, using his support to pull herself to her feet. "Or I did, anyway."

    Luke chuckled. "Lead on, I'm sure we'll figure something out."




     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2020
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  22. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha 2 Truths 1 Lie Host star 8 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Exquisite, as Luke puzzles over so many intricate details of his role and that of the entire Jedi Order. [face_thinking] The conversation between he and Mara was full of candor and warm teasing. I love how eager he is. [face_shhh] ;)
     
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  23. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Five

    As the Wing Commander of General Bel Iblis' fighter group, Wedge normally rated a suite aboard the flagship. Space was always a luxury aboard a warship, but the General's tabs he had finally allowed Admiral Ackbar to pin to his chest came with some recompense (even with the added flimsiwork). His quarters on Orthavan boasted a full-sized refresher with a real shower, a living room with space for several guests to fit comfortably around a table, and a real, full-sized bed in a separate chamber. After so many years stuffed into bunkrooms with other pilots, his quarters on Orthavan sometimes felt spacious and quiet to the point of absurdity. When it got too quiet on nightwatch Wedge almost missed being able to hear Hobbie snoring. Almost.

    Unfortunately, Wedge's quarters on the Ession Strike were more cramped than what he had aboard Orthavan. Originally Warlord Zsinj's Night Caller, while the Strike had received a new coat of paint and furnishings and thankfully felt much homier than the last time Wedge had served aboard her, the corvette was still much smaller than a Star Cruiser. Captain Tabanne had offered Wedge the ship's captain's quarters when Rogue Squadron had been moved from Orthavan to Ession Strike for the Hishyim operation, but Wedge wasn't about to put Atril out of her stateroom and refuge for the sake of temporary comfort. So he crammed back into pilots' quarters with a rack best described as a cot and a desk that folded into the wall. The refreshers, of course, were communal at the end of the hall. It felt like home, but his back was starting to complain and he swore the quarters had shrunk since he was last aboard with the Wraiths.

    It would only be a few more days, he thought to himself, reviewing the datapad that Tycho had sent over for his evaluation with a sigh. Then the Rogues would transfer back to Orthavan and he and General Bel Iblis and the fleet's other strategists would get together with their intelligence operatives and decide how best to move on Ukio. With the Imperial frontier base on Hishyim in Republic hands, Bel Iblis now had the perfect staging point for an attack on the agri-world. And he'd have more restful sleep.

    Wedge reviewed the briefing documents a second time and frowned. Rogriss had picked up six of Thrawn's best Star Destroyers, adding his own Agonizer to the mix. That gave Ukio a strong defensive presence that would cost Fleet heavily if they went in directly. Those ships and their crews, especially Thrawn's former flagship Chimaera, had proved their mettle time and again. And they were probably the least difficult problem the New Republic had to face; Thrawn had managed to capture Ukio with its planetary defenses intact, including its extremely formidable planetary shield. It wasn't enough to just recapture Ukio, Wedge knew, they needed to take the world with a minimum of collateral damage.

    Will the Imperials burn the world to keep its farms out of New Republic hands? Can we knock them off balance and guarantee a peaceful withdrawal, come at them sideways somehow?

    Wedge rubbed his lip. Thorny strategic problems grated, but he'd had enough years of command to know when to muddle through and when to come back to a problem later with a fresh mind. He put the briefing notes down and paged his desk holo-display over through happy landings and parties to something more recent. It was a moment captured candidly by Mirax, of him dancing with Iella after they'd taken down Isard for the last time. The image coruscated as they whirled, painting her golden hair and deep brown eyes in shades of blue, a satisfied smile on her face contrasting with the barely-restrained idiot's grin on his, phasing into fuzz as the sequence repeated itself ad infinitum.

    Iella had been incommunicado for two weeks. When they started seeing each other a few months ago, they both knew contact would be spotty at times. After all, he was the squadron commander of the New Republic's premiere starfighter squadron, and she one of Airen Cracken's proteges. Still, the uncertainty gnawed at him as he ruefully observed that his concern for her was no less than he'd inflicted on his own friends over the years. Certainly, whatever it was Iella was up to, it wasn't as dangerous as flying against a Death Star!

    His comm chimed, and Wedge flicked it on, welcoming the distraction. "Antilles."

    "General," said the voice of the Ession Strike's Bothan communications officer. "There's a HoloNet message for you, but we're unable to trace it back to its source." The Bothan's voice was dark with suspicion. "It's NRI sealed and encrypted for your retinal scan only, sir."

    Wedge stood. "I'll be right there." He made the trip to the ship's secure communications station in record time, sealing the door behind him. Then he offered the computer his retina and waited.

    A more complex holocomm would have permitted the caller to appear as a full hologram, but Ession Strike's holocomm was rudimentary and projected a two-dimensional face on a screen. Wedge's heart sank as the image resolved and he schooled his expression into something more professional. The face who appeared was indeed from Intelligence, but it wasn't the face Wedge had been hoping for.

    "General Antilles," said General Airen Cracken, head of New Republic Intelligence, Iella's boss, and somewhat mercurial ally over the years. "I understand you're aboard Ession Strike."

    Wedge's fear subsided a bit when Cracken's expression registered. For a heartbeat Wedge had thought that Cracken was calling to tell him that Iella had been captured or lost or was missing, but the General was not wearing the iron-faced sympathy that such a call demanded. But if Cracken wasn't calling about Iella, then he was calling about something else. Wedge's heart sank all over again.

    "We're patrolling Hishyim." Wedge's voice was flat. "What is it you want, General?"

    Cracken took a breath. "An NRI facility in Albrion sector has just gone dark. We received what might have been the beginning of a distress call, but the message was cut off almost instantly. All subsequent attempts to communicate with the facility have failed. I want you to go check it out."

    Wedge stiffened. "General, I'm attached to General Bel Iblis's task force as part of the—"

    "Yes, I know that. But this is of vital importance. The facility serves as a prison for dangerous people, people with skills that are useful to NRI but who cannot be allowed to operate freely. You are close enough to get there in a matter of hours; anyone else I might send would take days." Cracken offered a weak nod. "I will contact General Bel Iblis and make him aware of your redeployment. I've sent the necessary information for the hyperspace calculations to Ession Strike, as well as the procedures required for keeping the planet's location strictly confidential."

    Wedge crossed his arms, his expression hardening. "You want me to take my people into a potential combat situation without knowing anything about that situation? Allied strength, enemy strength, system geography, planetary geography? I know better than most how dangerous it is to accept a mission without proper reconnaissance. We just kicked the crap out of two Star Destroyers because we knew things they didn't think we knew."

    Cracken watched him, the image of his face blurring with static from the poor holocomm connection. "All right," he relented. "I'll forward you everything I have, but you tell your people that this information is classified and that classification is to be respected, understood? Tell Horn twice."

    "We still won't know what attacked the facility," Wedge pointed out. "We might end up coming out of hyperspace in the teeth of an Imperial task force."

    "I'm not expecting you to take any unnecessary risks. Get in, find out what's going on, do what you can, and get out. Clear?" Cracken took a breath. "We need this facility. I know I'm asking a lot, but you always deliver. If you do this for me, Wedge, I'll owe you one."

    Wedge's eyebrows rose, a bit of the gunrunner he used to be coming to the fore. "You'll owe me one?"

    "That's right," Cracken confirmed. "One favor."

    Wedge didn't like it. He didn't like it at all. But he knew Cracken. "Tell me one thing," he said. "If Pash were still flying with the Rogues, would you still be sending us?"

    Cracken's green eyes flashed with anger. "You know better than to ask me that, Wedge," he growled.

    Airen Cracken had never been shy about sending his son Pash into danger. Wedge and Pash had been partners during the New Republic operations to capture Coruscant. They'd flown together against a Super Star Destroyer. Wedge had once sent Pash into a raging thunderstorm flying an antique Z-95. It wasn't a fair question to ask the General, but it was the only way Wedge had to be sure that Airen wasn't sending him and his pilots and the crew of Ession Strike into a death trap. The righteous indignation in Cracken's eyes bore no sign of a guilty conscience. That was good.

    "One favor," Wedge confirmed. "To be reclaimed at a time and place of my choosing. We're en route as of now." He cut the holocomm connection before Cracken could add any new requests, took a last fond look at Iella's image, and turned to recover his flight suit before preparing to kick tired, shocky pilots and crew into gear.


    * * *​


    The hyperspace voyage was brief, and Wedge made sure his pilots got some stims from medical before they all strapped back into their snubfighters. Ession Strike's caf wasn't the best in the fleet, but it wasn't anywhere near as bad as what they'd had to work with on Hoth. "I don't like this," Atril's voice said in Wedge's ear over the command-level comm channel. "I pulled all the ready munitions we have from our torpedo lockers to re-equip your fighters, but the close quarters is making it difficult to rearm on short notice. Did General Cracken say anything else?"

    Wedge checked his X-wing's systems. Shields, weapons, engines all in the green, but Wedge only had four proton torpedoes. It would have to do. "Gate, do another full system check on us, then pull systems reports from the squadron's other astromechs. Highlight any issues that might hinder combat performance." His astromech whistled an acknowledgement, then Wedge keyed in his own com. "The General and I had only a short conversation. You've looked at the intel he sent us, what kind of force would be required to take out the base defenses?"

    There was silence on the other end of the comm as Atril considered the question. Gate whistled, a sound that Wedge knew from experience meant task complete, and the summary of information on the other Rogues appeared on Wedge's HUD. He flicked through it. "Rogue Four, report the specifics of your weapons malfunction," he ordered over the squadron frequency.

    "If something can go wrong, something does go wrong," Hobbie's voice came back typically dour. "My number three laser cannon is operating at fifty percent after our last engagement. I think it's an issue with the flashback suppressor, but my astromech thinks it's a problem with the tibanna gas injector." There was a confirming warble from Hobbie's astromech. "If I'm right it would be worse."

    "If it's the flashback suppressor, the cannon might blow up when you try to fire it," Wedge pointed out.

    "I know. I'm having the techs disable it. I'll run with three cannons instead of four." Hobbie sighed. "It's certainly not the first time I've had to make do with a less-than-optimal loadout." The was a muttering about proton torpedoes, and then Hobbie cut the com.

    "I wish we knew more about where we were headed," Corran's voice came over the squadron comm, echoing Atril's earlier question. "I don't like flying blind into NRI messes."

    "I don't like flying blind into anything," added Rogue Twelve, her voice equally aggrieved.

    Atril's voice cut into the conversation over her private link to Wedge. "So, the prison defense schematic that Cracken sent suggests it is both formidably defended and vulnerable." Her voice was calm and distant, focused on the information in front of her. "It relies heavily on droids to man both the starfighter defenses—it looks like they've got old Clone Wars vintage droid fighters deployed here, which can be unreliable—and the planetary guns. They probably could all be disabled with a bombardment, but that depends on how powerful the prison's shields are, and this isn't detailed enough to give me a firm spec on those. But a bombardment only makes sense if you're there to kill the prisoners; it would be hard to knock out the generator without also flattening the rest of the facility."

    "So, any attack would benefit from precision rather than brute force?" Wedge asked. In the background, the Rogues were still chattering about their opinions on the mission; he tuned them out for the moment.

    "That's how I would do it," Atril responded. "We could probably do it with Strike and the Rogues, but you really want a ground element to knock out the shield generators from the inside. I think you can get a shuttle in under the shield umbrella with some deft flying."

    "Makes sense," Wedge replied. "Well, let's come out of hyperspace far enough out to take a look, then we can move in slowly once we know what we're dealing with."

    "Confirmed," Atril replied confidently. "Five minutes until I bring us out of hyperspace. Are you going to launch as soon as we arrive?"

    "No. We're better off hidden in the corvette until we know what we're doing. Best to keep at least one surprise in reserve." He flicked his comm back to the squadron channel. "Quiet," he ordered, and the debate subsided. "We'll be arriving in five minutes. We're coming out of hyperspace far enough out that we should see any threats before they hit us, then we can move in to deal with whatever it is we find. If we're badly outgunned we'll hop back out and tell Cracken we're sorry but Rogue Squadron is no longer in the business of suicide missions."

    There was an echo of acknowledgements from his pilots. Wedge watched the timer count down slowly, feeling the familiar tension that always arrived before a battle. He just wished he knew what they were about to face.

    "Thirty seconds to realspace," Ession Strike's communications officer said over the squadron comm.

    "Here we go," Rogue Five's voice murmured, then abruptly brightened. "Hey Boss, think it'll be a platoon of rampaging pirate Ewoks?"

    Wedge laughed, shaking his head. "Gate, remind me to give Wes kitchen duty when we get back to Orthavan." But he could feel the tension lift, and not for the first time was glad that years of war had burnished away Janson's sense of humor to something only mildly insufferable most of the time.


    * * *​


    Ession Strike came out of hyperspace well outside of the planetary gravity well, and on schedule—which meant at the very least no Interdictor cruiser lying in wait. That first concern relieved, Captain Tabanne turned towards the display as it started to update. The planet didn't have a name in the data provided by Cracken, but it was a mountainous rock, dry and cold and generally unpleasant. Three rocky moons circled it, and the ruined debris of a fourth moon scattered around them all, kicking up more rocks as it impacted the moons.

    "[What a mess]," her sensor officer muttered.

    "Yeah," Atril murmured. Any second now the ship's sensors would update the display again…

    Her heart fell. There it was. She keyed in the comm and started to speak, but paused as the display updated yet again… maybe it wasn't quite as bad as it had first seemed. "General Antilles, we've got scanners on the base. One Imperial-II and what looks like two or three squadrons of TIEs. CIC isn't sure but best guess is a mix of Interceptors and Defenders. They're engaged with the automated base defenses."

    Wedge's voice came back tense. "How are the defenses doing?"

    "They're losing, but the Imperials aren't completely unscathed." She tapped, zooming. "The Star Destroyer is named Invidious."

    "Never heard of it," Wedge replied. "It's not part of Rogriss' fleet, and as far as I know there are no other Imperial capital ships in Albrion sector. A warlord maybe?"

    "Could be. The Destroyer is showing signs of battle damage," Atril said. "In fact, its starboard shields look a little wobbly." One of the red dots signifying a TIE vanished from the display. "And the droid fighters just got another kill." She watched the display, considering the options. "What do we do, General?"


    * * *​


    Wedge was trying to answer that question himself. He was the General, and this was his operation. That made their next move his call. Damn Cracken anyway, who was so important that NRI had needed a secret prison on this rock just to hold them?

    "Boss, Four," Hobbie's voice was as excited as Wedge could remember hearing it. "I have an idea."




     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2020
  24. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    And now the plot really begins... I'm going to parcel these updates out, so probably at most once a week. I'm currently finishing writing Chapter 11, then I need to write just about all of Chapter 16, but after that everything is written through Chapter 23. So I'm about two-thirds done. I'm trying to write one chapter a week (I had been doing two-three), but real life is intruding and I'm unwilling to post anything before I'm happy with it, so I beg patience of all the readers.
     
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha likes this.
  25. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha 2 Truths 1 Lie Host star 8 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Superb with Wedge's POV and musings on Iella ;) and going on pivotal missions with a feeling of landing in a trap. :eek: