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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 Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006



    Chapter Five, Part II
    Fliry Vorru, formerly Moff of Corellia, found being on the bridge of a Star Destroyer again to be a disorienting experience. Wearing the uniform of an Imperial Moff—equal in rank to the uniform worn by 'Admiral' Tavira—was familiar, but odd, like he'd stepped into the past. But he could afford to show no weakness—not to Tavira, and not to her crew. These men and women (and aliens) were not the loyal servants of the Empire of old; they were wolves, their teeth hidden behind Imperial uniforms worn just short of regulation crispness. They would, he knew, happily devour him and suck the marrow from his bones if they thought it the right time… and they would just as happily let him fatten up, regain some of the wealth and power he had lost, and then devour him, like a Suloni variform cattle farmer.

    It was important to have teeth of his own, complete with fangs to flash at anyone who got too eager for the meal.

    "We've lost five more TIEs, Admiral," said one of the officers standing on the Invidious' command walkway. "Blade, Saber, and Pike Squadrons report the enemy droid fighters are competent combatants, and they outnumber our TIEs." He scowled at his display. "All the metallic content in orbit is making sensors extremely unreliable."

    Tavira's hands were folded behind her back as she watched the display. The number of starfighters engaged with Invidious' squadrons of uglies. Tavira insisted on calling them TIE Advanced, Vorru had learned, but they were not from the Sienar line of snubfighters. Essentially an attempt to cobble together a more powerful snubfighter in the mode of the TIE Defender out of TIE Interceptor parts, the "clutch" starfighter was an impressive craft, if somewhat finicky. "The pilots can consider this exercise an opportunity for advancement," Tavira said, watching the engagement out of her forward bridge window. "Those who survive will receive promotions. Those who do not will be replaced. Captain Nive has plenty of candidates for promotion to our starfighter squadrons garrisoning Kessel."

    From below, the prison's planetary guns were still firing. The first time they had spat blue fire from the surface up at Invidious Vorru had winced with concern, but the guns did not possess anywhere near the firepower of the best modern Kuati ground cannons. The only real danger was the persistent flutter in the ship's starboard shields, which was why the ship's port side was angled towards the planet. Down in the starboard crew pit, Vorru could see officers clustered around a station monitoring the faulty shield generator, trying to maintain its power at close to full efficiency.

    "Is there any sign of Republic reinforcements?" he asked Tavira. She was one of the few Imperial officers he had ever surpassed in height; her petite frame was compact even compared to his own small stature. The man standing beside her, the white-masked Tevas-kaar who had so ably cowed Doole and Skynxnex on Kessel, was quite another matter, beating both of them in the height department by at least half a meter.

    "Is there any sign of Republic reinforcements?" she echoed, looking at her sensor officer.

    The man shook his head. "Not yet, Admiral. I believe we managed to prevent any distress signals from escaping with our jamming."

    Tavira offered Vorru an alarmingly charming smile, one that under other circumstances would have absolutely demanded a smile from him in return. He reminded himself that this woman was chief among the wolves and resisted the impulse. "See, Moff Vorru, as I said, my crew is most competent. We have nullified their call for help, we are about to finish off their starfighter defenses, and once that is done we will land our ground forces and seize the prison."

    The three clutch squadrons were indeed about finished with the four squadrons of antique droid starfighters. Droid starfighters had certain advantages, namely not requiring training before they could be put into the field and the small cost of a droid versus a sentient brain, but those same advantages also made them inherently inferior to piloted starfighters. The age of the droid starfighters Cracken had acquired to protect his black site prison—probably the only thing he could acquire without risking the site's secrecy—just compounded their weakness. The thirty-odd clutch starfighters had sustained numerous casualties, but they had inflicted substantially more damage than they had sustained.

    "Time to send down the shuttle," Tavira said breezily. She walked to the back of the bridge and opened a wall closet, removing a blaster-resistant vest and sliding it on over her uniform. "Inform the landing force that I will be accompanying them personally," she announced. "Commander Navarian, you have the bridge. Do keep it intact for me."

    The youngish man at the Communications station stiffened in surprise. "Y-yes ma'am!"

    Vorru leaned towards her as she pulled the blaster vest into place, her pair of heavy blaster pistols hanging conveniently at her sides. "Do you think it's wise to go yourself?" he asked her, quiet enough not to be overheard. He knew better than to be overheard questioning her on her own bridge.

    She offered him a wolfish grin. "You and I both know that to earn the loyalty of the men under your command, you must be willing to share the risks they take," she replied. "That goes double for men like these," she inclined her head towards the semi-piratical men and women crewing her bridge, and the clutch snubfighters and their pilots beyond the bridge window. "Don't worry," she said, her voice faux-reassuring. "I'm sure they'll take pity on you, even without me and the Tevas-kaar here to protect you."

    Vorru's expression hardened. "I am not as defenseless as you think," he cautioned her. "I did not rise to the heights I did without being able to get my hands dirty."

    "That's cute, old man," she replied dismissively. "Tevas-kaar, with me." With that she turned her back on him, leaving him gritting his teeth in annoyance at her disrespect—and at the fact that she was likely correct. The last few years on Kessel had carved away at the last reserves of his strength and patience, and his advancing age meant he might never hone his edge to what it once was.

    Well. People had told him that before. He'd just have to prove them wrong, yet again. Vorru strode into the center of the bridge, his back ramrod straight, and stood next to the newly-named acting-captain Navarian.

    "When the Admiral is prepared, drop our ground forces at the edge of the prison's perimeter shields," the man was ordering. "Prepare an ion bombardment of the shields to scramble their targeting sensors while the drop ship makes its approach. Tell the clutch pilots that the moment the facility's shields are down, they are to provide any necessary air support to the Admiral."

    There was a hum of commotion in the starboard crew pit as the ship's starboard shields once again fluttered, then stabilized. Navarian scowled, then shook his head. "When this is over, we'll need maintenance on the starboard shield generators, but for now it shouldn't matter. The base's fighters have been neutralized and we can protect our starboard shields from incoming fire."

    "Perhaps," Vorru agreed. "But it is my experience that all vulnerabilities should be addressed as quickly as possible. You never know what threats may lurk in unexpected places."

    Navarian scowled at him, then turned his back and stood in the center of the bridge, looking resplendent and actually being useless. Vorru watched his back, then climbed down the ladder into the starboard crew pit. "I know a little something about Star Destroyers," he said to the surprised crewers, who parted for the Moff's uniform unexpectedly in their midst. "Let's see if I can help."


    * * *​


    The Sentinel-class landing craft loaded with Tavira's elite Invidious ground forces, wielding an eclectic mix of preferred weapons and armor. Despite their ragtag appearance the Tevas-kaar knew the men and women in this squad were more dangerous than their haphazard appearance would suggest. In the Imperial Army, the expectation would have been uniform equipment and training, but Invidious no longer carried the Imperial Army. Only a handful of them carried the standard stormtrooper E-11 blaster, and those they did carry featured extensive customization.

    The Tevas-kaar didn't carry a blaster at all. "Blasters have their place," his master had told him once. "But if you depend on a blaster, you will see every fight from the perspective of a man armed with a blaster. At a far remove. The consequence of violence is never a thing you should separate yourself from, lest you forget the impact of a violent act."

    His lips, covered by the d'oemir bear mask he wore, tightened at the memory. Thinking of his master only ever brought him pain, and he tried to put the memory out of his mind before the other, heavier recollections coursed through him, uncontrolled. He could see them coming; the pain of the heavy footsteps, the heavy breathing, the flash of red, the fear and pain and the horrifying hum of the lightsaber that would end his tutelage. He took a shuddering breath, acutely aware of Tavira beside him, her violet eyes focused on the prison steadily growing beneath them as the shuttle descended.

    Blue-white laser fire pounded upwards, slamming uselessly into the Invidious' shields. The Star Destroyer fired back, its own darker blue ion blasts skittering over the prison's shields like a spiderweb, scattering the prison's sensors and allowing the shuttle to descend through the rain of fire without sustaining more than an occasional glancing blast. The prison was built into the craggy side of a mountain, with landing pads that stretched out into a ravine, and held aloft by buttresses and repulsorlifts. There were a half-dozen of them, each large enough to host a lander the size of their Sentinel, but none were occupied now. Support equipment for the droid fighters that Invidious' three squadrons of clutch snubfighters had destroyed revealed what the primary purpose of the platforms had been prior to their arrival.

    The air was thick with the acrid stench of heavy turbolaser fire, contrasting with the chill from the elevation. The ravines below the landing pads were hundreds of meters deep, and the prison itself had been built into the side of a mountain. The shuttle circled, descending down into one of those ravines.

    "This is going to be tricky!" yelled the shuttle's pilot to Tavira over the pounding thunder of the weapons and the ship's roaring engines.

    Tavira pulled out both of her heavy blaster pistols and offered the pilot a broad grin, her white teeth shining. "Do it right the first time, then!" she yelled back. The shuttle dropped into the ravine, under the hemispheric dome of the prison's deflector shields, then tilted its nose up and strained upwards. The inertia drove all of them back, and the Tevas-kaar gripped both the side of the landing craft and Tavira's waist to keep them from sliding with the rest of the ground forces towards the rear of the shuttle. The pilot stared at his controls and the rockface as it flowed past, the shuttle shooting through the gap between the rockface and the shields. Tavira pumped her fist triumphantly as the shuttle popped above one of the landing pads. "Go!" she screamed as the shuttle leveled out, its landing ramp dipping, and three dozen troops charged down the ramp, blasters firing.

    Light blaster fire flashed towards the shuttle, deflecting off its heavy shields. Battle droids of the same vintage as the droid starfighters ambled out, blaster rifles held in mechanical hands, firing at the pirates storming the base. One of Tavira's people quickly assembled a tripod for a pre-charged E-Web heavy repeating blaster borrowed from the shuttle's stores and started pounding away, sending huge bolts of green laser fire into the crowd of droids.

    Tavira herself walked down the ramp with negligent disregard for her own safety. With a single blaster pistol in each hand she started firing as she approached, trusting the Tevas-kaar to protect her from incoming fire. He used the Force to catch a blaster bolt that had been destined for her chest and dissipated it in his hand, then pulled her down next to the E-Web nest. The heavy repeater continued to roar, the weapon glowing dangerously red as its fire tore through battle droids.

    The Tevas-kaar tried to keep Tavira from rising again but she was not so easily deterred. Waving him away with a quick jerk of her head, the pirate warlord stood up and commenced firing, muzzles of her heavy blaster pistols flipping up in each hand and dropping down to their targets as she discharged them in an alternating sequence. One of her shots took a battle droid in the middle of its awkwardly-shaped head, sending the droid smoking to the surface of the landing pad. Tavira took her time, lining up shot after shot, cool as if she was refining her technique on the practice range. Her accuracy was exemplary; her combat style would be suicidal if not for the Tevas-kaar's finely-honed danger sense.

    The acrid stench of burning ozone would linger in his mask for days, he thought sourly, again remembering his master's disdain for blasters.

    There was a tingling at the back of his neck, his danger sense kicking in, anticipation and demand swirling. His lightsaber flowed into his hand and his thumb double-tapped the weapon's activation stud. The snap-hiss of the blade could be easily heard even over the pounding laser battle, and he swept the blue blade through the air, bouncing a single blaster bolt away from Tavira's head. She didn't duck back, and didn't stop firing as he swept the blade back, deflecting a second bolt away from her shoulder. Both bolts sped away harmlessly, and Tavira laughed with a maniacal lilt as her own blaster fire slammed into droid after droid.

    Tavira finally dropped back down, finding new power packs for her depleted blasters, and offered the Tevas-kaar a ferocious grin as she slapped them into place.

    But the danger sense tickling his neck hadn't subsided, and her grin faded from his awareness as he stretched out into the Force. Frowning, he let the Force guide his eyes and turned, peering through the mask up at the dagger-shape of the Invidious above them. He flinched as the Star Destroyer's ion fire smeared above them, the hemispheric planetary shields covered in a bright blue web of deflected light, radiating painfully and mildly scorching his vision.

    Tavira's comlink buzzed, and she flicked it on. "What is it!" she yelled over the ongoing firefight, her soprano voice cutting through the din. She waved at the man at the E-Web and its pounding fire subsided, the weapon's red glow from the burgeoning overheat subsiding for a moment.

    The ship's response was static-filled, the signal only reaching them by reflecting off the canyon under the shielding dome. "-miral . . . vette approa . . . ron of X-wi . . . ordered the TIEs . . . gage . . ."

    Tavira twisted around to stare upwards with the Tevas-kaar as the ion cannon fire subsided. They could see the Invidious clearly now—and see the green turbolaser fire that it had begun to send out into space from its vulnerable starboard flank. Using sensory-enhancement techniques his master had taught him, the Tevas-kaar focused his gaze—but it wasn't necessary, as even Tavira could see the flashes of laser fire as the snubfighters surrounding the Invidious engaged one another, punctured by explosions.

    And then the sky was rocked as a bright explosion tore through Invidious' starboard flank, and Tavira cursed ferociously. "Invidious! Blast it, Navarian, what in blazes!" She turned and pointed at the Tevas-kaar. "You! Into the facility, now! Take a team, find our target, and get out!" She dropped back down into a more protected location as he hesitated—he really shouldn't leave her alone and vulnerable like this—but her glare let him know she wasn't in the mood for argument. "You're sworn to me, now do as I order!"

    His lightsaber ignited, he ran towards the prison, deflecting away blaster fire and carving through two battle droids with ease. In the sky above the sounds of battle continued.





     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2020
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  2. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Six


    "This is exciting," Corran Horn said to himself as his X-wing hummed underneath him, roaring towards the out-of-sight, stationary form of the Star Destroyer Invidious. In front of him he could see the quad engines of Myn Donos' X-wing, and behind him the nose and laser cannons of Ooryl's. The ten fighters of Rogue squadron stormed ahead in a straight line, using the craggy, rocky, unnamed planet's largest craggy, rocky, unnamed moon as cover to keep the Star Destroyer from seeing them. The X-wings swerved, following Wedge's lead as he darted behind the moon and some of the other, larger asteroids to make a hopefully unnoticed approach.

    The comms were silent, with none of the usual chatter. Transmissions might be picked up by the Star Destroyer, so once the plans were made, they were carried out without further discussion. His astromech, Whistler, moaned nervously. "I know buddy," Corran soothed him. "I'm not used to flying like this either."

    Myn's X-wing swooped to the left, following Nrin's, and for a moment Corran could see the line of snubfighters, stretched out single-file. For once, Corran thought, the formation flying that they occasionally practiced actually was coming in handy.

    The Ession Strike was a swift vessel, but nowhere near as swift as an X-wing, and its larger profile meant it had to be more careful than the X-wings to avoid being spotted as it made its own approach, so the X-wings had left the corvette well behind them. Corran just hoped Hobbie was right about the planet's metallic-heavy orbital profile covering their approach, because this was going to get very messy very fast if he wasn't.

    The moon was looming large in front of them now and Wedge daringly swept down towards the surface, leading the rest of the squadron to follow him. Whistler warbled nervously as they skimmed over the rock's nearly atmosphereless surface, the faintest whistle of air passing above the cockpit. "Almost there, Whistler," Corran reassured him. There was a large cliff looming before them now, and the line of X-wings swept up to skim above it—

    And there it was, the Star Destroyer Invidious, its vulnerable starboard flank presented to them at a range of less than seven kilometers. There was a click on the comm and Corran shifted power back to his X-wings shields and weapons, letting them start to recharge as he coasted forward towards the Star Destroyer. The neat line formation dissolved as the Rogues each sought a clear view of their target.

    The comm clicked again, twice, and Corran switched his firing control over to proton torpedoes. He didn't bother aiming – his targeting systems were already slaved to Wedge's X-wing, and he watched as his HUD flickered yellow then a steady red and he pulled the trigger. Two proton torpedoes lanced out from his X-wing, and he saw them joined by eighteen others. He waited ten seconds, his HUD still humming the solid tone of a strong lock, then pulled the trigger again. If he'd had more torpedoes he would have happily used them, but the Rogues hadn't been able to fully re-arm after the engagement with Chimaera and Agonizer.

    Still, forty torpedoes ought to be enough to hurt it, especially with that wobble in its starboard shields. Time to ruin your whole day, Corran thought eagerly at the Star Destroyer.



    * * *​



    "Commander Navarian," a man donning Lieutenant's insignia called from the scanning station. "We're being hit with a torpedo lock."

    "A torpedo lock?" Navarian's voice replied, and Vorru looked up as the ship's de-facto Captain strode over to look for himself. "Has the surface been holding some of their weapons back?" He stepped to his left, peering down over the portside crew pit. "Find the prison's torpedo launchers and destroy them at once!" he ordered.

    Vorru, working with a pair of former Imperial crewers who hadn't had the patience for Imperial discipline, turned his attention fully away from the ship's finicky starboard shield generators and upon the discussion above. They hadn't fixed the shields – only time in a yard could do that, they needed at least three system component replacements – but they were more stable than they'd been at least.

    "No sir," the scanning offer said. "It's not coming from the surface. I think it's coming from the largest moon."

    "Did the New Republic put weapons on the moon?" Navarian asked, looking confused. "I suppose there's no reason they couldn't, but it would make maintenance much more difficult…"

    The scanning officer went pale. "Incoming!" he cried. "Twenty… no forty proton torpedoes! There are X-wings out there!"

    Navarian froze, staring at him in disbelief, then turned to peer out the starboard bridge windows. Forty pale blue lights, glowing in the void, streamed towards his Star Destroyer. He opened his mouth to respond, but shock had frozen him to the floor plating. His command was purely perfunctory, a formality, the combat was over, the threat from the base had been eliminated, they had prevented any distress signals from getting out!

    Vorru could see the shock, the horror, the disbelief wash over the man's face as Navarian scrambled to com Tavira, and then the first twenty torpedoes hit. The starboard shields, reinforced and stabilized, were up to the challenge… mostly. They flickered again, enormous holes opening up in the protective coverage, and some of the torpedos snuck through. The ship rocked lightly as bright explosions tore at the ship's outer layer of armor, blasting away turbolaser batteries and tractor beams.

    Far worse, one of the shield generators took a direct hit.

    When the second salvo struck, there was no shield to stop them.



    * * *​


    "Wooohooo!" howled Janson over the comm as the starboard side of Invidious lit up. Small explosions became large ones, armor boiled away, and the ship jolted from the blow. Still, it was a Star Destroyer, and while the blow had been a heavy one, the ship remained in fighting shape.

    "Rogues," came Wedge's voice, "Heads up, we have what's left of the Star Destroyer's fighter complement altering vector to meet us. Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, take the fighters coming up from the prison. Everyone else, we're going to chip some more paint off this Star Destroyer."

    "Nine copies," Corran confirmed, pointing his X-wing down at the planet. There were still blasts of blue energy firing up from the surface at the Star Destroyer, but as he watched they died—and so too did the prison's shields. "Leader, Nine. The Imps have knocked out the facility's weapons and shields. Might be about ready to make their escape."

    "Confirmed, Nine," Wedge's voice came back. "Take the fighters, then do what you can to prevent the prison break. I don't know who Cracken put in here, but I would bet good money that we don't want to have to find out."

    "On it, Rogue Leader." Corran's X-wing entered the planet's atmosphere and he throttled back as friction made itself known. Whistler warbled at him, and his HUD switched to one of the incoming fighters. "What are those?" he asked the astromech, but Whistler just warbled back uncertainly.

    "Has anyone seen fighters like these before?" Myn Donos' voice asked the question for him.

    "Not sure, Seven," Corran replied. "Some new Imperial snubfighter design maybe." But they didn't have time to think about it. The four Rogues were met by seven examples of the odd TIE design, which possessed a characteristic TIE Fighter ball cockpit and engines, but married it to three sets of triangular panels. Like most TIE designs they weren't designed for atmosphere and were clearly having trouble, but Corran's first blasts were unexpectedly absorbed. "Nine to Squadron," he said into his comm. "Enemy snubfighters are equipped with shields." He throttled back and pulled the stick towards him, rising after the enemy who had escaped.

    "Five here, and they also have ion cannons," said Wes, sounding harried. "They're maneuverable too, maybe slightly better than squints."

    Corran's HUD flicked green and he pulled the trigger, sending four red blasts of laser fire converging on his target. One of the four missed entirely; the other three drilled through the cockpit and one of the panels. The ship tumbled, going into an uncontrolled spin. It spiraled away from the battle, heading out towards the planet's second moon. "Well, they still die when you shoot them," he said to Whistler, and the droid twittered triumphantly as Corran started looking for a new target.



    * * *​


    Vorru climbed out of the starboard crew pit, stumbling as he did as another proton torpedo erupted against the ship's hull. There were X-wings out there and their pilots were good, exceptional even. Invidious' three squadrons of clutch starfighters were capable, but their pilots were tired and low on fuel from their engagement with the base's droid fighters, their numbers were diminished, and they'd thought the hard work was already done; the unexpected blow of the X-wings' arrival had to be demoralizing.

    Worst of all, their commander was frozen in stupefied shock. Navarian might be an effective enough comms officer, but he evidently did not have the needed chops to command a ship in combat. He occasionally stammered orders, but they were never helpful.

    Vorru stepped into the center of the bridge. They needed a leader, and he could be that. "Helm, bring us down towards the surface, and pitch the main hangar bay to permit Admiral Tavira the easiest and shortest landing path. Guns, I want you to prepare to cover the Admiral's return." He turned towards Navarian. "Tell the fighters their only assignment is to prevent the X-wings from engaging the Admiral's shuttle," he ordered the commander.

    Navarian stared at him, his eyes wide, then he offered a choppy nod and reached for his communications headset.

    The ship rocked as another torpedo struck Invidious, and Vorru grimaced. But no—the X-wings had to be almost out of torpedoes, if they weren't already; if they'd had many more, Invidious would have been hit with them in the alpha strike. His Star Destroyer was still combat capable. All they had to do was get the shuttle, the Admiral, and their objective back aboard and they could head for the hyper limit, and there would be little the X-wings could do to stop them.

    He just needed to make sure the crew didn't panic. Vorru folded his arms behind his back, straightening his spine, and stood in the center of the bridge platform. His orders were given; it was appearances that mattered now.



    * * *​


    Corran and Ooryl's X-wings screamed over the landing platform occupied by the Invidious' landing craft, strafing it with their laser cannons. Vaporized permacrete (and pirates) scattered everywhere. A repeater E-Web returned fire, but his X-wing's shields were designed to stand up to turbolaser blasts and shrugged it off without issue. "Nine, the remaining TIEs are headed in your direction," Tycho's voice said into his ear. "The squadron is all out of torps and Invidious knows it, so it's basically ignoring us. Lead and Four are strafing Invidious to get them to reconsider that perspective; Strike is inbound with bigger guns. Five, Six, and Twelve are coming to join you. What's the status of the prison?"

    Corran checked his HUD, didn't see any TIEs in his immediate vicinity, and tilted his X-wing over to take a look down. The craggy rock of the mountainside flowed beneath his fighter as he slowly circled the prison that was settled into that mountainside. "There's a Sentinel landing craft down there with shields strong enough to stand up to anything short of sustained cannon fire," Corran reported. "We've taken out a chunk of the landing forces; I'm not sure how many more there are down there, but it's at least a dozen less than it was."

    Tycho was silent for a few long moments; Corran assumed that the veteran pilot was dodging turbolaser fire, or maybe removing the threat of it. Tycho's voice crackled back to life. "Confirmed, Nine. Options?"

    "I'm not sure we have any good ones. Anything more we do up here might kill whatever prisoners the Imps are here to rescue, not to mention whatever others they're not here to rescue. Are our orders to kill in order to prevent escape?"

    "Our orders didn't specify." Tycho's voice was annoyed. "You have Nrin, Ooryl, and Myn with you, that's a formidable ground contingent. Might be time to go commando."

    Corran grimaced. The possibility had occurred to him, but he didn't like it. He was a lot safer in his cockpit than he would be on the ground. On the other hand, his CorSec sensibilities didn't like killing prisoners, either. "We'll need air support to keep the remaining TIEs off of us," he cautioned.

    "You'll have it," Tycho promised. "Gotta go!" Tycho's voice clicked off. Corran glanced upwards, watching as three X-wings—Wedge, Tycho, and Hobbie—flitted nimbly over the Invidious' hull, blasting turbolaser batteries and tractor beams, dodging the steady stream of green fire that lanced out at them.

    Corran pointed the nose of his fighter back at the prison. "One more pass, Whistler, then we'll land on the second pad," he ordered, wishing he'd let Luke Skywalker talk him into more Force training while the Rogues had been on Coruscant.



    * * *​


    The Tevas-kaar carved his way through the antiquated battle droids with ruthless efficiency. In the confined corridors of the prison and with only the smoking wreckage of ruined droids behind him the blaster bolts could only come from the front, which made deflecting them all too easy. His white-blue blade hissed as beads of sweat trickled down his masked face.

    His lightsaber came down with a quick hissing slash, leaving the last of the battle droids in a split heap on the floor. His bronzed armor was darkened from a few near misses, but his long ago learned lightsaber skills had not failed him. "Again," his master instructed him as the training remote buzzed behind the man's white-haired head. The drone spat bolts in bursts of two or three, forcing him to respond quickly and precisely. His body had grown lanky and uncoordinated and he grunted again and again with frustration as he was struck with stinging blasts. "Conserve your movements," his master instructed firmly. "The lightsaber is about grace, not power, and grace is found in your wrists, not your arms." The battle droids were a testament to that lesson, at least.

    The map showed only a handful of prisoners in this place and he'd yet to meet a single human opponent. Was it manned entirely by droids? His long strides carried him at a quick pace through the darkened halls and he reached his destination in a matter of minutes; the facility was not really all that large. His large, armored hand hit the release on the door, but it buzzed red in response. "Access denied," the computer said.

    Well. All right.

    The Tevas-kaar reached out with the Force, making sure that the person he was there to rescue was not on the other side of the door. Then, once he was sure that an errant stroke with the lightsaber would not kill his quarry, he stabbed the blue-white lightsaber blade forward, driving it into the hinges of the door. The heavy metal resisted but had never been made to stand up to a lightsaber, and he grunted as he dragged the lightsaber slowly along the doorframe. The metal went red and liquid as he forced the blade down. You were wrong, master, he thought to himself as he grimaced from the effort, there are times the lightsaber is about power.

    The door sagged, and he quickly plunged the blade through the door's locking mechanism. Then with a Force-enhanced push he sent the heavy door slamming to the ground with a bone-rattling crash.

    "Come in," a gravelly, aged male voice called from inside the darkened room. The Tevas-kaar stepped onto the fallen door, careful not to put his foot on any molten metal; heat radiated off of it in waves. The room was larger than he expected and built like a comfortable studio apartment; false windows brought in a modicum of light meant to appear natural, but the majority of the light in the room came from the myriad of screens. Computers lined every wall, flickering with light and activity; the floor was kept clear and marked with treadmarks from a wheeled desk chair. In a side space was a bed, neatly kempt, and doors that presumably led to a refresher.

    He disengaged his lightsaber, the blade vanishing with the distinctive hiss, and walked further into the room. As he did the computer screens died as one and the room's ceiling lights illuminated.

    "Which of my former associates sent you to free me from Cracken's clutches?" the same male voice considered, clicking his tongue. "Surely most are dead by now, and most of the rest don't have the gall or the ability to stage something like this."

    The Tevas-kaar's eyes scanned the room, guided by the Force. The figure seated in the rolling chair was short, well below average height for a male human, with thick brown fur and whiskers. His eyes were black and beady, with a pair of ears coming up from the top of his head, and his face narrowed to a snout. His hands and feet were both uncovered, ending with dark claws. A Drall, the Tevas-kaar thought with surprise. Not what he'd expected, but the Drall were native to the Corellia system and Vorru had been Moff of Corellia.

    "Moff Fliry Vorru of Corellia," The Tevas-kaar responded, his voice echoing in the mask.

    Those beady black eyes did not seem particularly intimidated by either his mask or his lightsaber, and even the huge bulk of the metal door laying flat on the floor of his spacious cell had not perturbed the alien calm. "Vorru," the Drall murmured, considering. "Very well," he said after a moment and stood to his full one meter height. The movement seemed to pain the alien, and the Tevas-kaar realized that the Drall was very old for one of his species. "For Vorru, I will escape," he agreed with a nod.



    * * *​


    Corran hopped out of his X-wing and ducked behind the permacrete barrier that separated the landing pad from the very deep chasm. Overhead X-wings and the odd Imperial fighters continued to spar; Ooryl's fighter fired a quick quad blast that was almost deafeningly loud to Corran's ears, and shrapnel cascaded over the landing platforms from the remains of his target. Two other X-wings had landed with him; Myn had already assembled his sniper rifle and was firing at the group of enemies on the opposite ground platform, some twenty meters away.

    There was a network of landing platforms, arranged more or less in a circular pattern around the mountain prison. They each flared out with a large circular landing pad, supported by buttresses and backup repulsorlifts, and connected to the others by the flat area closest to the prison. Green and red blaster fire flashed between the grounded X-wing pilots and the Imperials across the gap between them.

    Nrin dropped down beside Corran, carrying a large case. The Quarren opened it, revealing the component parts of a long-barreled heavy blaster rifle. Corran gaped at it. "You had that in your X-wing?"

    "I decided to keep it after Ciutric," Nrin said with a toothy grin, assembling the blaster. "You never know the next time Tycho is going to tell us to storm a fortress, after all." He fitted the pieces together, smacked in one of the power packs, then swung the long barrel of the powerful blaster over the barrier. The weapon roared, sending a hefty bolt of green energy slamming across the chasm, then another. Nrin's tentacles curled up as he pulled the trigger again and again.

    "I guess this proves you right," Corran replied, firing his own blaster pistol. "Remind me to stash a blaster rifle in my X-wing when we get back to Orthavan."

    Something on the other platform exploded spectacularly, and Corran's comlink clicked. "I took out that E-web they had set up," Myn murmured cooly in Corran's ear, clear despite the scream of ion engines and blaster fire above. "There's another group of them hiding in the structure itself, they're going to have to make a run for the shuttle sooner or later."

    There was a roar of engines and the landing craft the Imperials had used to set down lifted slightly off the ground. "They're getting ready," Corran announced.

    "No, you think?" retorted Nrin.

    The shuttle's engines roared again, the blast as they flared enough to drown out even the sounds of the ongoing melee above. Corran glanced up as an X-wing swooped overhead, its laser cannons sending bursts of energy into the shuttle, but the Sentinel's shields proved too strong and sustained the energy without complaint. Corran grimaced, wishing they'd saved a torpedo or two instead of unloading them all into Invidious.

    The X-wing's run came with its own costs. One of the remaining TIEs splashed the fighter with green and blue fire, puncturing its aft shields and disabling two of the snubfighter's four engines. A second X-wing bracketed the TIE with laser fire and forced it to go evasive; the first X-wing limped uneasily towards space.

    Corran breathed a sigh of relief, his sudden panic passing. That was Twelve, he was pretty sure, but while Inyri was out of the fight, at least her X-wing was still mostly flyable.

    "Here they come!" called Nrin, and his heavy blaster snarled, sending three quick shots towards the prison exit. Corran followed them with his eyes, and then—

    The Force screamed at him and Corran's instincts took over. His father had always taught him to trust his instincts, and that trust had saved his life on more than one occasion. He grabbed Nrin and yanked the large Quarren down and away, the longblaster clattering to the ground next to them. Nrin flailed, resisting in his surprise, and Corran found them all wrapped up in a pile of limbs as Nrin's three blaster bolts came back at them. The first two soared over their heads—quite possibly at the right height to take their heads off if Corran hadn't reacted—while the third struck the permacrete barrier and sent agonizing fragments scouring over their skin.

    Corran rolled off of Nrin and pulled his lightsaber off his belt, the metal of the hilt chilled by the cool mountain air, and ignited the silver-white blade with its distinctive snap-hiss. He stood awkwardly as across the wide chasm the now small group of Imperials was running towards the waiting shuttle. One of the group fired at them, and Corran focused to his utmost to to bat away a pistol shot. There were three of them he could see; a woman wearing what looked like an Imperial Moff's uniform (which was odd, to say the least) and holding the blaster which had just shot at him, a Drall running uncertainly alongside her seemingly of his own volition (which was equally odd), and a tall man wearing full-body bronzed armor, including a white-masked helmet that covered his face. In the man's hand was a glowing blue lightsaber.

    Of the three of them, the man with the lightsaber was certainly both the most odd and the most concerning.

    Nrin fumbled with his long blaster as Myn's sniper rifle fired at the group, but the armored man stopped, turned towards them, and batted the fire away as he walked backwards towards the shuttle. The woman and the Drall both jumped onto the shuttle's lifted landing ramp, the Drall struggling with it for a moment. Nrin raised his blaster and fired another shot, but the man deflected it back, forcing Corran to bat it down. He put his hand on Nrin's back and the Quarren hissed in disgust. "They're going to get away!"

    "Not if we can stop them in the sky," Corran replied. The shuttle lifted up off the ground, its landing ramp rising to close after it had picked up the man with the lightsaber, and Corran turned to run towards his X-wing then abruptly stopped and threw himself to the permacrete surface of the landing platform just before the landing shuttle's large underslung laser turret opened fire.

    The heavy bursts from its laser cannon burned into Nrin's defenseless X-wing and the starfighter exploded. Laser cannons and engines shattered, fragments of melted metal erupting in all directions.



    * * *​


    Tavira swung the shuttle's turret to target the second X-wing and pulled the trigger. Heavy quad bursts of laser fire lanced into the landed, stationary craft and it too exploded. The third grounded X-wing was now trapped behind a field of debris and fire so she ignored it; besides, the shuttle's nose swung up towards space and her Invidious, taking it out of her sight. Her attention went entirely to her beloved ship.

    Those bastards! The Star Destroyer she had paid such a high price for was scarred from obvious torpedo impacts, but Navarian was obviously doing a competent enough job commanding the ship; the Star Destroyer was moving into position to expedite her return. After that, she thought viciously, we'll see about getting a little revenge. She reached into her uniform and pulled out a remote. For now, she swung the turret to look behind the shuttle and waited for exactly the right moment…. It's time to make sure we get out of here. And get a down payment. She pressed the button.



    * * *​



    Corran stared at the burning wreckage of the two destroyed X-wings. For a single, horrified moment he thought Whistler had just died, but no. They'd gotten lucky, and the shuttle had chosen not to blow up his X-wing. Stupid! he chastised himself viciously. We should never have let them get back to the shuttle! But then, a corner of his mind reminded him, they hadn't known the Imperials would have a lightsaber wielder with them.

    There was a humming sound from the base, and he and Nrin both turned with a frown to look at it. "What's that?" he asked, his voice hoarse, speaking loudly to be heard over his deafened ears.

    "I don't know," Nrin replied, sounding stunned. The sound grew louder, sending a tremble through the ground beneath them. "It sounds like the base's power generator—"

    The sky above them started to shimmer as the base shields were re-activated, and there was the sudden, deafening roar of the base's automated defenses. Corran gaped as blue-white fire shot into the sky. Gavin Darklighter's X-wing caught the edges of an unexpected capital-grade blast which melted both its starboard S-foils, sending the fighter into a death spiral. Corran watched with a fist around his heart until he saw the fighter's cockpit pop open. Gavin's ejection seat gilded him down into the ravine while his fighter slammed into one of the nearby mountains, sending snow and rocks upwards in a reasonable imitation of a volcanic eruption.

    The remaining airbourne X-wings went evasive as the automated guns started tracking them.

    "Oh, sithspit," Corran breathed. He and Nrin took one look at each other and then they sprinted towards the facility.



    * * *​


    "Admiral Tavira's shuttle is now back on board," Navarian announced.

    "Excellent," Vorru replied, maintaining his commanding demeanor. "Helm, get us to the hyper limit. Take us out the moment we reach it. All fighters return to the hangar or be left behind." His eyes tracked the plot; there were still five X-wings out there combat capable, three of which were still stitching Invidious with laser fire. It wasn't any serious threat to their spaceworthyness, but they'd already lost far too many of the ship's turbolasers and tractor beams. Then there was the Corellian corvette racing down on them. A corvette was normally no threat to a Star Destroyer, but Invidious' battle damage meant they had both fewer teeth and less protection than normal. The corvette probably couldn't kill them—probably—but it could certainly hurt them some more.

    Best to avoid that. They had what they came for.

    The three remaining X-wings swarmed over Invidious' hull, firing indiscriminately. There was a sudden cheer from the portside crew pit, and Vorru peered over just in time to see an X-wing spin past the portside bridge windows, out of control. The pilot had lost an S-foil and the attached engine from a turbolaser blast, and was trying to maneuver out of the combat. As Vorru watched, the pilot managed to recover, barely, before he spun into the planet's dense web of metallic satellites. The fighter's engines flared and it limped off in the direction of the incoming corvette. That seemed to be enough, and the last two X-wings broke off their pursuit, weaving to avoid turbolaser fire as they retreated, allowing the Star Destroyer to recover its remaining fighters and escape.

    A costly victory, Vorru thought as he peered out the starboard bridge windows at the ship's blackened hull. But despite the damage, he knew this was a victory. He had what he had come for, and there was an upside to all the damage. Invidious would now need maintenance and repair even more than it had before. Tavira could not supply that… but Vorru was pretty sure that he could.

    The Star Destroyer reached the hyper limit and transitioned into hyperspace without the Moff even noticing. Yes, he thought, smiling to himself. This will work nicely.




     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha likes this.
  3. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Magnificent Corran focus [face_love]
     
  4. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    I had wanted to restrict the POV characters to just a handful, but ultimately there was no way to make this chapter work without Corran being the main POV character. Of course, the other main POV characters are Vorru and the mysterious Tevas-kaar... the villains are not just fodder in this particular tale!

    Also this chapter didn't have any natural splitting points, so I just posted it in one chunk. We've got one more Rogue-focused chapter and then we're back to Coruscant and Luke and Mara (and Karrde).
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2020
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha likes this.
  5. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Seven


    Wedge Antilles pulled his helmet off and tossed it to the side, then pushed his hands through his hair. Gate whistled from the astromech socket behind him and the X-wing's cockpit released. Wedge pushed it up, climbing out and then down the ladder that the maintenance crew brought in. Ession Strike's hangar was cramped, and as soon as he was down the crew maneuvered the fighter deeper into the hangar to create more space for the remainder of Rogue Squadron's X-wings.

    What of them are left, he thought bitterly. Half my pilots are out of action after today.

    They hadn't lost any pilots and that was no small consolation, but Gavin, Nrin, and Myn had lost their X-wings, and Inyri, Hobbie, and Corran's fighters were going to need some time in the shop before they could be considered combat ready (though Corran's probably would only take a few hours). That left just Wedge, Tycho, Wes, and Ooryl ready to fly on a moment's notice (their now total lack of proton torpedoes notwithstanding). And the Squadron had never gotten fully up to strength even before it had been assigned to Bel Iblis.

    He was down to a mere third of a typical twelve fighter squadron.

    Not good enough.

    His pilots were rattled, he knew. Corran was one of the most level-headed men he knew, and Corran had sounded strained even when announcing the good news that he and the other Rogues on the ground had managed to retake control of Cracken's droid-operated prison and shut its shields and guns back down.

    The thought of Cracken made Wedge scowl. This was the last time he would let the head of NRI send him and his squadron blind into combat. They were the New Republic now, not the Rebellion, and desperation was no longer justification for an overreliance on grit, skill, and luck! That overreliance had gotten more than a few of his pilots killed, including some of the best.

    Wedge took a breath. In the last few years Luke had often told him—on the rare occasion the two of them spent any time together—that serenity came from proper breathing. He exhaled, and then inhaled again slowly, letting his stomach inflate as he did, mindful of Luke's brief lessons.

    It helped, a little.

    His Rogues were arriving now; Tycho was bringing them in one at a time. Inyri's X-wing was blackened from laser fire that had come too close to puncturing her cockpit, and a quick glance told him that she was probably going to need both of her dorsal engines replaced. Corran's green-and-black X-wing came uneasily through the hangar next, the fighter pocked and marked from shrapnel strikes. Whistler, Corran's astromech, offered a relieved whoop as the snubfighter settled to the deck. Gate whistled back as the techs extracted him with a crane.

    The cockpit of Corran's X-wing opened and Corran clambered down the ladder quickly wheeled into place. He hit the ground with a two-footed thump, gave the tech a thumbs-up, and waved to Whistler. "Take care of the X-wing, Whistler, I'll be back to check on it in a little bit." When he saw Wedge watching him, he strode over. "General."

    "Corran," Wedge nodded back. "What news of the prison?"

    As Corran came closer, Wedge could see the toll the battle had taken on him. His face was streaked with grime and blood, and his lightsaber—which Corran usually kept carefully out of sight, very protective of the fact that he had Force talents—hung openly from his belt. He pushed his brown hair back, dried sweat making him look even more miserable. He gave Wedge a serious expression and tossed a casual salute. "Cracken didn't keep many prisoners here, and we're pretty sure there was only one escapee. A Drall; the prison records just have him listed as Eliezer." Corran shook his head. "There's something familiar about that name, Wedge, but I can't quite place it. I think I must've came across it at some point during my time in CorSec, but..." he shrugged helplessly. "Whistler doesn't remember him, so it wasn't one of my cases. I do know who got him out, though, and you'll recognize her. Nrin recognized her immediately from the prison security footage."

    Corran handed him a datacard, and Wedge glanced down at the series of images. He felt his lips contort into an annoyed scowl. "Leonia Tavira," he muttered.

    "Moff Leonia Tavira," Corran corrected. "At least from the uniform she was wearing."

    "She was Moff of the Ado Sector when the Rogues first encountered her on Eiattu. That was about five years ago, not that long after Endor," Wedge mused, wearing an expression that was a cross between a smirk and a frown. "Hobbie and Wes will be thrilled, she captured and threatened to execute them."

    "Nrin told me a bit about that while we waited for Nawara to pick up Gavin. Gavin has a broken arm, by the way, but he'll be fine after a quick bacta dip. Oh, and we recovered Gavin's astromech; Tycho managed to get him out of that ravine he got stuck in." Corran took back his datapad. "We've got a bigger problem than Tavira, though."

    Wedge frowned. "What do you mean? Do you know why Cracken had this Eliezer locked up?"

    Corran shook his head and frowned. "No, I don't, and that's frustrating. Eliezer's prison wasn't what I would've expected; he had computer access and HoloNet access, which Cracken had quite deliberately provided him. You'll have to ask NRI about that." He paused for a second, then shrugged. "I wonder if Iella might remember his name. She always had a better memory than I did for minor details while we were partners in CorSec." He held up his hand. "But, back to the problem." Corran put his hand on his lightsaber. "Wedge, Tavira was accompanied by a Force-wielder, someone skilled with a lightsaber. He deflected Nrin's blaster bolts back at us during the lightfight, and took the door to Eliezer's cell off its hinges. We found it still smoldering on the floor where he left it."

    "A Force-wielder?" Wedge asked slowly.

    "One with a lightsaber," Corran confirmed. "He was wearing some kind of bizarre bronze armor, too, and his face was covered with a mask. We never got a look at him."

    Wedge's blood was steadily getting colder. Leonia Tavira had been a formidable foe in the past, and her principal weakness had been an impetuosity that might have been a product of youth. Five years older, was she also five years wiser? Five years more experienced? She clearly had access to a Star Destroyer, but a Star Destroyer and a Force adept? And now also a prisoner that General Airen Cracken, the New Republic's intelligence savant, had deemed sufficiently dangerous to stash in a fully unmanned prison in a system so unremarkable that their star charts hadn't even given it a name?

    "Not good," Wedge murmured.

    The conversation subsided under the scream of a snubfighter's engines. They both looked behind them and saw Hobbie's X-wing nosing its way cautiously into the hangar. The fighter had seen better days; it was missing one full S-foil and half of another one, and the whine of the craft as it settled to the ground was the sound of two engines straining to do a job that would normally have been done by four. The engines sounded almost relieved as Hobbie let the wounded snubfighter rest.

    Hobbie popped the fighter canopy and gave Wedge a tired wave. "Hey, Boss. Good news, I'm not dead," he called dourly.

    "Glad to hear it," Wedge called back pointedly. "What happened?"

    "Lucky turbolaser blast," Hobbie scowled. "I would've hit their bridge if they hadn't clipped me, too." He shook his head. "I get no luck."

    "You're lucky you're still alive," Wedge pointed out, then clapped Corran on the back and adopted some forced cheer. "Well, I'm sure Zraii will be thrilled at the excellent state you two have brought your fighters back in."

    The two men both grimaced. Zraii, Rogue Squadron's Verpine chief mechanic, was notoriously protective of his X-wings and seemed to like them more than he liked their pilots. "I think I'll go see if Whistler managed to get anything else useful out of the prison computer," Corran said.

    Hobbie just looked mournfully at his crippled snubfighter, hung his head, and sighed.



    * * *


    Unlike most Corellian corvettes, the bridge of Ession Strike was buried in the heart of the ship. Wedge climbed up one of the ladders to reach it. Inside was the corvette's bridge crew, all alert for a potential return of their Star Destroyer friend. Atril was huddled next to a Bothan at the communications station. She looked up as she saw Wedge approaching and folded her arms behind her back. The Bothan, distracted and failing to notice his approach, did so much more hastily once Wedge had joined them. "As you were," Wedge nodded at them the way senior officers had once nodded at him. "Anything new?"

    Atril shook her head. "No. We've finished our survey of the base defenses and there isn't much left here." She frowned. "We might have to stay and picket the system ourselves for a while."

    Wedge scoffed and shook his head. "I trusted Cracken and agreed to do him a favor and come here and check it out for him because no one else was available. I've done that. I've no intention of being stuck on guard duty."

    "Very well, General," Atril replied formally, the formality giving her Coruscanti accent some additional bite. "Orders?"

    "I need a secure communications link to Coruscant," he replied. "And by secure, I mean as well encrypted as we have available. I need to report to General Cracken." He handed the Bothan a datapad. "It doesn't need to be a live communication, though. Take this, transmit it to NRI as soon as we have a HoloNet encrypt prepared."

    Ession Strike's furred communications specialist took the datapad and nodded. "I'll begin working on it right away." He turned to his station.

    Atril stepped closer to Wedge, lowering her voice. "That Star Destroyer, Invidious. My people have found two mentions of her in the ship's intelligence records. The most recent one has her as part of Admiral Teradoc's little fiefdom in the Deep Core. If Teradoc has sent any kind of reinforcement to Rogriss out here, it could radically alter the balance of power; our numerical advantage over Rogriss isn't that great."

    Wedge frowned. That was true, though Leonia Tavira working for Teradoc seemed unlikely. She had always been out for herself, not for the Empire. But that had been years ago now, and Tavira could have changed... "It's definitely something to be concerned about," he agreed. "Put together a report and send it off to General Bel Iblis as soon as it's ready."

    "It's already written," Atril replied, her grey eyes watching him with some concern. "Are you all right?"

    Wedge shook his head, his expression a rather pointed command to drop it. He turned towards the exit back into Strike's main spinal hallway. "Let me know when we hear from Cracken," he ordered, leaving Atril watching him as he left.


    * * *​


    Atril tracked Wedge down a few hours later. Ession Strike's bridge had once been located at the bow of the ship, but at the Battle of Talasea it had taken a direct hit, killing then-Lieutenant Tabanne's immediate predecessor and leaving her in command of the corvette. She still wished she hadn't gotten Ession Strike only because Choday Hrakness had been killed, but battlefield promotions were hardly rare.

    Wedge was sitting in the forward lounge that had replaced the ship's original bridge area. It was compact and not particularly comfortable, but it presented a nice view of the nameless planet they orbited and the numerous metallic rocks and moons that orbited that planet. Wedge was looking over a stack of datapads, each containing a different report: maintenance, tactical, strategic, intelligence. He was reading each one, adding his own notations and shortcuts to get back to important data quickly. Next to him his astromech, Gate, whistled softly as he integrated the most important information into his databanks so Wedge could access it even while piloting his X-wing.

    Atril bit her lip, sure this wasn't a good idea, then sat on the couch next to him. "Going to answer my question now?" she asked.

    He didn't look at her. "I thought I told you to drop it."

    "Well, you haven't talked to Tycho or Wes, Wedge. I know, I checked. So whatever it is that's bothering you you've decided to stew on it rather than actually talk about it." She shrugged. "Besides, in the forward lounge you agree to leave your rank at the door."

    Wedge sighed and put the datapad he was holding—a summary report on what was left of Cracken's secret prison's defenses—down and turned to her. "Congratulations on your engagement, by the way."

    Atril raised a hand at him, showing off the engagement ring she wore on her ring finger. "Thanks." She offered him a small smile. Years before Wedge had been there for her when she had needed to talk. The Battle of Ession had been a decisive victory, and the New Republic had even re-named the captured corvette Night Caller in its honor. But for Atril, the memory of Ession would always be mixed with trauma and regret.

    Being stuck in a dying, endlessly spinning out-of-control TIE fighter after she'd blasted open the bridge of a Star Destroyer to begin battle had left her shaken. And then, to return to her ship and promptly be expected to resume command, when she'd only days before become captain after Choday's death…

    There were times she wished she hadn't let Fleet Command rename Night Caller in honor of that battle. It had been a few years, though, and the dreams weren't as common as they had been.

    When she'd needed help, she turned to Wedge. Now she saw him bundling his fears and hiding them away, even from his most trusted confidantes, and she knew that it was her turn to reach out. "But that's not going to distract me."

    "I'm mad at Cracken," Wedge said stiffly. "And I'm mad at myself for letting him talk me into flying this mission."

    That was true, she had no doubt, but it wasn't what was really bothering him. "All your pilots came back."

    "Barely," Wedge retorted. "And we could easily have lost Gavin and Hobbie if things had gone just a little bit differently." He shook his head. "What was I thinking, taking an understrength squadron of X-wings in against a Star Destroyer all by ourselves, and without even a full load of proton torpedoes?"

    "It was a good plan and it worked," Atril countered him, her voice cooling noticeably. "We did a lot of damage to that Star Destroyer and we came out of the fight with valuable intelligence. And none of us is dead." She crooked a finger at him. "And once you sit down and talk with Tycho he'll tell you exactly the same thing."

    Wedge rubbed his face, looking more tired than she remembered him, even during the doldrums of the Thrawn campaign.

    "As for your understrength squadron," she continued, "there have got to be great X-wing pilots out there you've flown with before who would be happy to fill in your vacancies, at least for a while."

    That prompted him to look up, and his brown eyes were suddenly thoughtful.

    "Personally, I think you need a vacation," she continued, debating whether to bring up Iella. "And—"

    The door to the lounge slid open and Tycho stepped in, still wearing his orange Rogue Squadron flightsuit. In his hand he held a datapad, and his expression was grim. He glanced between them for a moment, then his eyes met Wedge's. "We just got Cracken's response," he said simply. "You're not going to like this."






     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2020
  6. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Very nice as Wedge and Corran and Wedge and Atril speak about the mission just concluded and its implications
     
  7. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Seven, Part II


    When the New Republic liberated Coruscant, it also captured the headquarters of the Imperial Security Bureau. The ISB was still the self-proclaimed chief defender of the Emperor's New Order from perceived internal threats, and proud of being vicious and ruthless about it. For that it had been funded extraordinarily well, lavished with an inordinately large share of the Empire's yearly budget. Much of that money was siphoned into the private accounts of corrupt bureaucrats, Iella Wessiri knew, but some of it went to producing extraordinarily fine covert intelligence vessels.

    Iella attempted to rest in a passenger seat of one of those vessels, which had been captured intact along with ISB headquarters and had been repurposed for NRI use. With its help getting into Ukio had been relatively easy, but getting out had been far more dangerous. After the battle at Hishyim, the Empire had instituted a sector-wide security crackdown to find the insidious mole that had leaked their strategic maneuvers to the enemy, and as she had been that insidious mole Iella had been more than a little concerned that they would be caught.

    Three hyper-jumps out of Ukio, she finally allowed herself to relax. "I think we made it," she groaned, running her hands through her light brown-blonde hair and offering her companion a tired smile.

    "Was a bit dicier than I wanted it to be, but yes," her fellow passenger, Kapp Dendo, agreed with a grin. A red-skinned, horned Devaronian with a long history working in New Republic Intelligence, Kapp was one of NRI's more skilled commando operatives, having been trained at one point by General Crix Madine himself. He and Leia's aide Winter had famously been one of Rebel Alliance's better covert teams during the years right before and after Endor. "This is the last jump before Druckenwell."

    "Good," Iella sighed, brushing her hands over her slacks. Had the Imperials realized they hadn't come to Ukio to pick up a food shipment for transit to the Imperial regional headquarters at Linuri, they would almost certainly have been interdicted by now. Assuming they'd gotten away clean, or even with just a few hour lead, it was unlikely that the Imperials would be able to stop them before they reached Druckenwell. She relaxed a bit; that meant they were (almost certainly) safe. "Once we get to Druckenwell we can unload that shipment of foodstuffs and check in with Cracken for our next assignment."

    "I wonder if we'll get any details about how Hishyim went," Kapp mused thoughtfully.

    Iella wondered the same. Wedge and Corran would almost certainly have been at Hishyim to fight Rogriss' two Star Destroyers. She knew the two men had both flown dozens—hundreds even, in Wedge's case—of combat missions, most of them far more dangerous than that one would have been. That didn't prevent her heart palpitations at the thought of it. You knew what you were getting yourself into when you finally gave in and kissed him, she scolded herself. He's a pilot. An X-wing pilot. He does dangerous things sometimes.

    Wedge had been so patient and loving, even before they'd been a couple. How many functions had they attended together, arm-in-arm? How many times had they found an excuse for a quiet dinner that they both had known was a date, even if neither had ever used the title? He'd waited more than a year after her husband's death before approaching her for a date-they-hadn't-called-a-date.

    She smiled. He'd been so… shy. She clung to that memory, and the memories that had followed, wishing fervently in that moment that she and Wedge had chosen different careers.

    She could feel Kapp very carefully not saying anything. He had learned not to, as she had a tendency to snap at him when he interrupted her out of a moment of reverie. Corran had learned that lesson too. She pushed herself out of the copilot's seat, not looking at Kapp. "I'm going to go shower and try to take a nap," she said. "Wake me when we get to Druckenwell."





    What little sleep Iella got was plagued by dreams of Rogue Squadron debris and houses in the Coronet City suburbs, leaving her not-quite-rested when she returned to the cockpit. "What is it?" she asked, yawning, gathering her mussed blonde hair back into a loose tail after her restless sleep. Outside the spinning stars of Hyperspace were gone, replaced by the slowly spinning ugly grey, brown, and green of the highly polluted industrial world of Druckenwell. It had been a major Imperial weapons supplier once; after Endor, it had been one of the first worlds the New Republic had wrested from the Empire. The New Republic garrison fleet in orbit featured multiple Mon Calamari Star Cruisers. Iella felt relief sag through her; if the Empire had been chasing them, it couldn't catch them now.

    "Cracken is calling," Kapp informed her.

    She stiffened. "Right now?"

    "Right now," Kapp confirmed and ushered her into the copilot's seat. Next to her, the ship's pilot—one of the four Noghri commandos that was under Kapp's command—kept the ship in close contact with the local HoloNet node.

    She tiredly pushed her hair out of her face, and then the green eyes of her superior appeared on the large console monitor. "Agent Wessiri, Colonel Dendo," Airen Cracken said, his expression stiff and unhappy. "Good work on Ukio. Unfortunately, I have a new assignment for you."

    Iella and Kapp glanced at each other, frowning. "Yes, sir?" replied Kapp.

    Cracken's expression was pinched and there were more lines in his face than usual. Whatever had happened since they had been last in contact, it hadn't been good. "There's been a jailbreak at a secret NRI facility in the Albrion Sector. I sent the Rogues to investigate—"

    She sat up, her breath catching in her chest.

    "—and they engaged a Star Destroyer, the Invidious. Our most recent intelligence reports suggest that Warlord Teradoc gave her to Moff Leonia Tavira in exchange for a substantial bribe." Cracken's expression darkened. "The Rogues drove her off, but not before she made off with the facility's prized prisoner—the Drall slicer Eliezer."

    Iella's heart ached with worry, but surely Cracken would have told her if something happened to Wedge, and that name… She forced her mind away from the Rogues and back to the matter at hand, closing her eyes and thinking back to her time with CorSec. Drall were native to the planet Drall, which was in the Corellia system and under CorSec jurisdiction, and the name was definitely familiar. "My old boss in CorSec mentioned him a few times," Iella murmured, visualizing Gil's face and her old CorSec office, putting herself back in the past for a moment.

    "At least I was never the one CorSec sent to try to get Eliezer," she remembered Gil saying. "He never left evidence we could pin on him. I wish we knew how he did what he did." But what was it Eliezer had done…

    Cracken just nodded, interjecting into her thoughts. "He was a CorSec dreamstalker for a long time, decades ago. He was seemingly always able to extract information from even some of their most secure communications." Cracken's expression darkened. "Just having this conversation is probably unwise with him loose, but I doubt he's been able to get any equipment up and running so quickly."

    "How did he end up in a NRI prison?" Kapp asked.

    The expression on Cracken's face was one of a temporarily satisfied predator. "That's a long story and not one worth sharing. Eliezer was … an asset, of sorts. He agreed to extract certain information on people, places, or ships for NRI, and I agreed to keep him comfortable in his confinement. He's provided several vital pieces of information over the years." Cracken's smile thinned. "One of the reasons he was so dangerous was no one knew I'd flipped him, and most thought him dead."

    "If he worked for you, then you must know how he does what he does?" Iella asked, curiosity finally fully overtaking tension.

    "I know the basics. During the last years of the Old Republic Eliezer was a historian and traveling scholar; he studied in Corellia, at the Mrlsst Trade and Science Academy, and at the Arcanum of Ghel Daneth, among others. His specialty was the history and inner workings of the HoloNet."

    The HoloNet permitted all long-distance galactic faster-than-light communication, Iella knew. It was also a relic of the past: first built and implemented by the Old Republic at least four thousand years ago, the actual technology of the HoloNet could be replicated, but was no longer fully understood. It was commonly believed to be effectively unsliceable because of the esoteric functioning of the underlying technology, barring direct infiltration of one of the relay nodes (which could and did happen, but was relatively easy to spot). But if that wasn't true…

    "He can exploit the HoloNet?" she asked carefully.

    Cracken nodded. "How he does it I don't know, he's extraordinarily protective of those secrets. Unsurprisingly, I suppose. All I gave him while he was in custody was limited HoloNet access, he always refused to share anything about how he did what he did, but was otherwise cooperative." Cracken's cheek twitched angrily. "He had a very similar, somewhat less amicable agreement with Imperial Intelligence for a brief time, and before that he was usually employed by criminal elements on Corellia."

    Iella nodded slowly. Yes, that would make sense, and matched what she remembered of the way Gil talked about him. She met Cracken's eyes, acutely aware that the live-communication between NRI headquarters on Coruscant and their ship in orbit of Druckenwell was only possible thanks to the HoloNet. "What do you want us to do?"

    Cracken nodded, businesslike. "I'm sending you everything I have on Eliezer. Every rumor, every case report, every job he did for me in captivity. Needless to say I want you to keep it all very close, as there are things in there that are so classified that I'd erase them from my own mind if I could. I want you to take all of them and find him for me." His expression grew very, very serious. "I don't know what his agenda is, but I do know what he can do. If he's free, and he decides to go back to working for the highest bidder, then no secret we have is safe. Every military maneuver, every battle plan, every classified communication, every political secret… all of it could be had for the right price. Or, alternatively, we forego all use of the HoloNet and cripple ourselves, turning every routine communication into a slog requiring hundreds or thousands of courier vessels and delays for travel time." He shook his head. "Eliezer has been my secret weapon for years, Iella. Now he's someone else's, and we can't let it stand."

    She rubbed her cheek with a sigh. So much for spending time with Wedge after the liberation of Ukio. "Yes, sir." She gave a slow, resigned nod. "We'll get to work."




     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
  8. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Superb introspection which made me chuckle as Iella reflected on dates that weren't called that ;) and shy Wedge [face_love] ... This newest mission she's been sent on sounds incredibly fascinating and indescribably vital because you don't want this informant to suddenly wind up on the opposite side. [face_nail_biting]
     
  9. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Wedge and Iella are the best. In the original draft of the story I was going to have them in the not-yet-dating phase, to match experiences in the Legends novels, but after reading Isard's Revenge they're basically already dating. Jedi Search just screwed that all up. (Granted, Jedi Search was written first, so it's hard to blame KJA for that.)

    Readers! This is the end of what I think of as the "preliminary" part of the story. We've sort of got the prologue chapters and the beginning of the plot all moving along now. Most all of the characters have had some time on the screen. I'm curious where you all think this story is going? Although I'm wary of asking you to speculate for fear of spoilers, so if you want to send me guesses feel free! I won't confirm or deny anything of course.

    Now that we're through the introductions and the Rogues have had the fight with Vorru and Tavira, we're back to Coruscant next chapter.
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2020
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  10. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Eight


    The Palace District had changed a lot in the six years since Palpatine's death. Mara went out of her way, now, to think of him as Palpatine and not The Emperor. There was some small satisfaction every time she thought of her old Master and used his name (always with the awareness that Palpatine had been a lying fraud) and not his title (which still sent a shudder of awareness and obeisance through her that she was going to eliminate).

    Though, the minor disrespect of her use of his name would no doubt frustrate Palpatine far less than her choice of breakfast company. Across from her Skywalker was perusing the Woonseer Cafe's intricate menu with an attentive expression.

    They'd spent a fair amount of time together since her return to Coruscant a week ago. Before she and Karrde had left Coruscant on their Smugglers' Alliance quest, she and Skywalker had found a surprisingly comfortable camaraderie, sharing meals and furthering her Jedi training. Now that she had returned, that old pattern had resumed as if it had never ended. Her primary complaint was Skywalker's poor taste in eateries. As far as she was concerned, most of those places were less sanitary than a trash compactor and less culinarily satisfying than Imperial ration bars. Solo's influence, surely.

    (Though she actually rather liked Imperial ration bars. An acquired taste, probably.)

    Luckily one of the things that hadn't changed about the Palace District was the plethora of local dining options. When she'd been younger, before Palpatine had put her into full operation (like she was a combat droid needing its last system checks and not a child who still needed to grow up) she had used her freedom of movement to explore the city. She'd found a number of places that had become havens. The Imperial Opera, now renamed and under new management, had been one of her favorites. (When she'd finally gotten up the courage to look at ticket availability, she'd actually lamented the loss of her position as Emperor's Hand for the first time in years; without Palpatine's box seats it would take her years to get in to see a performance.)

    With the opera out of the question (at least for now), Mara turned to her other favorite hideaways. The Adarian Building was located not far from the Imperial Palace; a magnificently constructed building of multicolored transparisteel that glittered in the sun, casting rainbow shadows down over the plaza that faced the Senate Dome. During Imperial rule the building had been Doriana Tower, named after one of the Emper—of Senator Palpatine's most trusted aides during the Old Republic years.

    The building's top floor held another of Mara's favorite places. The ceiling pointed upwards in a tall pyramid, made of tinted transparisteel that cast the floor below in slowly shifting colors, ringed by walkways with immaculately-ordered greenery that offered spots of solitude. Inside planters with a rich mix of imported potting soil hosted plants and flowers. They crawled up the interior of the transparisteel pyramid and helped block the sun's glare, and were well-maintained by diligent gardener droids. The tables were spaced far apart from one another, each sized to hold only one or two persons, which was just fine with Mara; before now, she'd always come here alone.

    Besides the artful ambiance, the food here had always been excellent.

    The culinary arts had never been required for the position of Emperor's Hand (ration bars provided all the nutritional and caloric value that the human body required and could be easily carried and stored), but she did enjoy fine food even if she'd never learned to prepare it for herself. Karrde had realized early in their business relationship that she could be lured with the promise of a fine meal and had exploited that more than once; this both annoyed her and she allowed it, since the exploitation was never onerous and the food was always excellent.

    Skywalker put his menu down and gave his order to the table droid. "I can't believe I haven't been here before," he mused, his blonde hair tousled. He offered her one of his bright, naive smiles, looking absurdly youthful.

    She rolled her eyes, but the corner of her mouth curled up in a smile of her own. "During the Empire this place was a refuge for members of the court aristocracy who wanted to get away for a little solitude," she explained quietly, sipping her caf. "That aristocracy is mostly gone now, although—" she glanced around the room and nodded subtly at a few of the other diners "—I still recognize some of the faces here. My guess is this place is still finding its new clientele. It's only been a few years since the New Republic took Coruscant and a lot of the old aristocracy fled."

    Skywalker nodded, looking out the large transparisteel windows. The Senate Dome loomed across the square, its huge, mushroom dome busy with activity as all the Senators—and their staff—arrived with the sun. Beyond that, casting the Dome in shadows, was the looming dark towers of the Imperial Palace. "Leia says they're going to dismantle it," he murmured.

    Mara blinked. "Dismantle what?"

    Skywalker nodded at the window and the imposing structure beyond. "The Imperial Palace. There are enough people uncomfortable with the symbolism of the New Republic taking up residence there that they're planning to knock it down and replace it with something new."

    Mara looked out the window after him. The Imperial Palace was an enormously tall black castle, magnificent and imposing, ringed with towers. Whatever had been at that location before the Empire was long gone now; the palace had been there as long as she'd been alive. She'd been raised in the palace. A small part of her heart still looked out at the building and thought of it as home. But that was the part of her that still wanted to say "The Emperor" instead of Palpatine. "The Smugglers' Alliance has just been assigned an office there," she replied, her voice sounding distant in her ears as she fought down a swell of memories.

    Skywalker nodded. His hand twitched, sliding towards her, then he drew it back. "I know," he replied. "Leia told me. But it's only temporary… she said that you'll have a new office when the replacement is prepared. I'm not sure what they're planning, exactly."

    "Good riddance," Mara said darkly, turning her head away from the Imperial Palace. "The view here will be nicer when it's gone anyway." Her eyes met Skywalker's, and the compassion shining in his blue eyes made her want to… throw her caf at him? Hug him? Toss him through the multicolored transparisteel? But then he smiled at her again and her brief bout of indignation faded. So he was feeling overprotective. It was just Luke. She could handle overprotective.

    The conversation was interrupted by the delivery of their food. "Wow," Skywalker said, his eyes widening as he took in his plate of seared Nerf rashers over jeweled groats. "I hope the food tastes as good as it looks."

    Mara, already delicately conveying the first bites of her dish, an array of crepes made from small eggs from factory-bred Coruscant game fowl with sauteed throneworld fungus inside. She paused to answer, "it should" before she took a bite.

    Despite having ordered this meal dozens of times before, almost a ritual in years past, she was unimpressed with the overly-curated, staid flavors of the standard all-coreworld breakfast for the great and good.

    Skywalker, on the other hand, was paying only surface-level attention to table manners and was focused on devouring his plate with the rapaciousness of a starving rancor. He offered her an apologetic smile, slowing his pace. "It is as good as it looks," he confirmed.

    Farmboy, she thought affectionately.

    He cut off a piece of the nerf and speared it with a fork, watching her. "So, are you free for some training this morning?"

    She quickly did a mental rundown of her schedule. "I have a few hours," she replied, taking another bite of her own meal. She wondered if perhaps the tower had gotten a new cooking staff since the Imperial turnover and the Adarians were not as adept with the menu as its previous management had been. "Meditation again today? You're not going to make me do that handstand, are you?"

    She had expected her teasing to make him smile. It usually did. But instead his expression grew serious. "No," he said, putting his fork down. "Not meditation today. I was thinking I could teach you some of the more advanced lightsaber forms. See if any of them appeal to you?"

    Mara frowned. The Emperor had taught her a great many Force abilities: sensory and memory enhancement, basic trances, levitation and telekinesis, and most importantly danger awareness. She'd carried a lightsaber as the Emperor's Hand—for a moment she allowed herself to mourn the loss of the magenta blade, which she'd sacrificed to escape the one time Isard's operatives actually managed to find her—but lightsaber dueling had never been a serious part of her training. It hadn't been necessary; there weren't enough lightsaber wielders left in the galaxy for her to need to train to oppose them herself. That was what Palplatine had kept Vader for. And Vader had been the only true master of the form who might have taught it to her; she had no doubt that he would have refused had she ever asked.

    "Why?" she asked.

    Skywalker shrugged, his expression taking on that distant gaze that told her he was communing with the Force as much as he was talking to her. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "I just think it's important."

    She wrinkled her nose. "You know, I wish these Force premonitions of yours were a bit more precise. It's hard to plan for the future when all you get is vague intuition."

    Skywalker smiled. "Sometimes they're more precise… but not often," he admitted. "It's not any different than your danger sense, really, it's just more removed from the threats." He nodded at her. "With a little more training, I have no doubt that you'll start getting them too. Maybe you'll be better at interpreting them than I am. I'm still not sure what to make of my last vision, the one of a man training a boy."

    Mara took another bite of her breakfast, thinking about how quickly her own Force powers had grown over the last year. Since she had fulfilled Palpatine's last command (she refused to imagine Luuke's dead face, fighting successfully to prevent the image from resolving in her mind), all the old powers she'd possessed as the Emperor's Hand had returned, with more consistency and fidelity than she'd had at the previous height of her power. The only one that remained absent was the ability to communicate with the Force across galactic distances, but as she'd only ever been able to do that with Palpatine, she was just as happy it hadn't returned.

    So Skywalker was probably right. Pretty soon, she might start having more Force premonitions too. What was it he had said when he'd given her his old lightsaber?

    "Because you're on your way to becoming a Jedi and you'll need it."

    Skywalker was watching her with that damnably knowing expression of his, sympathetic and caring. She huffed softly, glaring at him. "I'm not about to join your damned-fool crusade," she hissed.

    "Maybe not," Skywalker said with a grin. "But if I teach you some more lightsaber forms, you might be able to beat me the next time we spar…"

    "I can beat you now," she retorted.

    His grin grew broader. "Well, let's finish breakfast and I'll give you an opportunity to prove it."

    She pointed her fork at him. "You're on, Jedi."




     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2020
  11. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    I couldn't resist posting the first part of Chapter 8. This is a three part chapter, so it'd take three weeks to post it all if I didn't rush it a bit. So, because there hasn't been any Luke or Mara in the last few chapters, here's the first section of Chapter 8. :)
     
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  12. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    LOVED EVERY WORD! The eatery sounds wonderful in its ambience and the food sounds like it would appeal to me like it did Luke [face_laugh]

    Mara's ruminations on the Emperor, the Imperial Palace, her former role/training is wonderfully in character as is their teasing along with his overprotective caring ;) [face_love]
     
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  13. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    While this story definitely has a broad cast of characters, I think Mara's the main character. There are other very important characters, but I'm pretty sure that if I were to go through everything I've got written so far that I'd find that Mara's most often got the POV.
     
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  14. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Eight, Part II


    The training facility in the Imperial Palace which had been allocated to Skywalker for lightsaber training was hidden away, in a centrally located but otherwise isolated spot that gave it easy access to the rest of the palace, but that people would be unlikely to stumble over.

    It was a location Mara knew well, and the swell of old memories when she entered the room brought her to a halt. Skywalker didn't notice until he'd put several strides between them, turning back with a concerned look. "Mara?"

    She shook her head, then strode into the room confidently after him, refusing to allow her past to burden her—or him—this moment. "It's nothing. I was tutored here. In martial arts, echani and others… and dance. Ballroom and performance." She turned away from him, fighting back a swell of memories, both good and bad, sometimes both at once. She had loved to dance, loved it for its own sake, but for Palpatine it had been merely a tool; an asset for a skilled covert operative. Was it something she, Mara Jade, owned for herself? Or had dancing been something that belonged to the Emperor's Hand? Was it something she even wanted to reclaim?

    She could tell that Skywalker wanted to ask what she was thinking. To her relief, he didn't inquire further. He just watched her for a long moment, then turned away himself and stepped into a large closet which, in the days of the Empire, had housed weapons of every variety. Now it seemed mostly empty, but he emerged holding a pair of wooden swords just under a meter in length, with a slightly wider wooden handle.

    He extended one slowly to her, handle first, and she took her hand off the actual saber at her belt to accept it. "Wooden swords?" It was extremely light, and she spun the handle in her hand comfortably as she adjusted to it. "Solonese airwood?" she guessed. It was heavier than a lightsaber would've been, and balanced slightly differently, but not by that much.

    "That's right," Skywalker replied. "We can get a feel for technique with a live blade, but for sparring it's safer to use one of these. They're surprisingly robust and don't break easily."

    He walked into the center of the room. Mara could remember it being filled with obstacles, to practice movement over changes in height, but now it was a large, open space. She followed him, keeping a moderate distance.

    "I found them on Kamparas," he continued. "It was a quick trip I made a few months ago, looking for Jedi relics; there used to be a training facility there. There wasn't much to be found—the Empire was very thorough when they destroyed the place—but I came across a few relics in the markets." He smiled thinly. "Some of them had been planted by Imperial agents and were decidedly… unhelpful… but some of the local artisans still make these, and some of the local clans do train like the Jedi used to." He tossed the training sword from one hand to the other, then back. "I'm not much of a woodworker, though, so try not to break them."

    "No promises," Mara said curtly as she tested the wooden sword. It wasn't a sword, really; it had no edge, and was really just a long stick for all practical purposes. Despite its light weight it felt solid, and Mara thought it would make a pretty decent baton in its own right.

    She stretched out her senses to attune herself to her weapon, breathing and centering herself as she remembered from Skywalker's first lessons. "Rules?" Skywalker's expression was confident—eager even. Her competitive instincts flared in response.

    The Jedi lifted his training sword into a guard position. "The usual? Start slow and go to light contact?"

    Mara nodded. She widened her stance, gripped the handle with both hands and adopted a standard guard with the shaft pointed straight up, dipping the blade in a small salute. Luke matched her and as one they began, working through parries, swings and thrusts at half-speed.

    Again as one they drew back. Mara offered Skywalker a new salute, he returned it, and then they moved to clash again, this time at full speed.

    Her stick immediately left its guard position as she slid forward, the tip of her blade moving slightly as she probed for weaknesses in his guard. Skywalker offered her none, giving ground and blocking only when necessary; his feet shifted to adjust to her new angle of approach. He glided backwards as she pursued him.

    He fought defensively, as he had on Wayland, moving to void and block her thrusts and slashes before shifting to the occasional lightning-fast retaliatory strike to keep her off-balance. Long years of intermittent dance training helped Mara keep her balance. Adjusting her stance, she lowered her core and lashed out with a low strike that caught him by surprise. The tip of her sword nipped at his calves while the base of her blade protected her head and body.

    As he parried she pounced, staggering her steps towards him and powering the midpoint of her blade straight into the tip of his, knocking his sword out of the way before transitioning into a leg sweep. To her disappointment she didn't make contact; Luke jumped over her leg, stepping backwards to put some more distance between them. She pursued furiously, on him like slobber on a Hutt as she searched for an opening—

    Her aggressiveness almost cost her as Skywalker abruptly shifted from a defensive style to a more offensive one. His sword slashed at her in the middle of a step; the only thing that kept her from catching that blow across the chest was a flicker of Force-awareness. She rolled and came up on the balls of her feet, regaining her center and grinning fiercely as he came after her again. Her sword swatted his out of the way and she caught his chest with a quick snap-kick that, while he managed to step back and avoid most of its power, staggered him slightly.

    When he came in again, he did so more cautiously.

    Now Mara was playing defense with her blade, trying to make it a moving wall, all while striking out with her extremities when opportunities presented themselves. The shift in tactics had the advantage of not allowing Luke an opening, but it tired her quickly and earned her a stinging blow to her left wrist (and a momentary look of horror from her sparring partner). Mara smiled briefly to reassure him before she transferred to a single-handed grip, body set sideways in a more traditional duelling stance. Then, rather than press his advantage, Skywalker dropped back a step and raised his blade in the two-handed guard that screened his upper torso, took a breath, and stepped into measure with her.



    * * *​



    Luke could feel the sweat beading on his brow as Mara surged to meet him again. He'd caught her off guard by switching from the defensive to the offensive, but just as she was more comfortable attacking, he was more comfortable preserving his energy for critical strikes. Fighting Mara was like fighting a whirlwind—she was always in motion, could move with remarkable deception, and was seemingly mechanical in her endurance. Luke stopped trying to watch her eyes and guess her next move, opening himself fully to the Force and feeling the warmth and certainty of what he had to do to defend against her, just as he could feel her presence stretching out too, looking for an opening of her own.

    Mara's eyes gleamed as she thrust the tip of her sword directly at his chest, forcing a small shift and parry, but this attack was a hair slower. She was getting tired, she had to be, but she was no more willing to relinquish this moment of connection than he was. Sparring with droids or whatever commando he could wrangle up was nowhere near as satisfying as sparring with Mara; there was a sheer rightness to it that enticed him to ask each time, and he guessed she felt similarly or she would have said no. Both of them could fight at the limits of their abilities, no holding back. It was liberating.

    She stepped back, covering her retreat with two quick jabs, gaining distance before she drew in a long breath, and then to Luke's surprise she flexed her left hand, tossed her sword from her right hand to her left, and realigned her body to fight with her off hand. Mentally anticipating a combined slash and whirling kick up close and ignoring murmurs in the Force, he stepped back himself to open more distance—

    And Mara charged, eyes flashing, red braid streaming out behind her, wooden sword aimed right at his head. Luke smiled, judged the distance and stepped in to meet it in mid-swing. As Mara closed, she used the base of her blade to flick his point out of the way, levering it away from his body and useless for anything for a split second. That was all Mara needed. A small, colorful pistol flickered into her hand and she shot him in the chest, just over the heart. The small foam dart bounced off him and fell to the floor before they broke apart and he found himself staring down the barrel of her "blaster" as his sword came up again on instinct.

    "Got you," Mara said with a predatory smile, her Force-sense gleaming with satisfaction. She spun the child's toy once to drive her victory home as a smuggler might, then made it disappear into her ensemble like a well-trained assassin.

    Luke laughed breathlessly, wiping sweat from his brow. "I think the blaster is cheating, Mara."

    "On the contrary, I think it teaches an important lesson, Skywalker. Do you think the next dicred-rate C'baoth or Thrawn will play fair?" she asked, lifting an eyebrow. "And if the answer is no, then why should I put myself at a disadvantage?" She prodded him with the tip of her sword. "And why should you?"

    "Let me see if I can explain it," he sighed, moving to fetch two bottles of water from a cooling unit he kept in the training closet and tossing Mara one. She drank from it greedily. "I'm not sure if I fully understand how I feel myself. But, growing up how I did, where I did, I learned what a blaster or slugthrower can do young, and I also learned it was a tool to be respected, not a symbol to wave around to make myself feel big and other people feel small. It puts holes in things, it's designed to, and those things can be targets, food for a week, or a person." He shrugged. "That's what people see. A tool. A soldier's weapon."

    Mara frowned at him.

    "The saber," he said, motioning his head towards it, "that's a tool too. It can open doors, block blasters. And it's a weapon. But it's also a symbol. When people see a lightsaber, they don't see a soldier, they see a Jedi, and there are still a lot of beings around the galaxy for whom that has meaning." He smiled wryly. "An elegant weapon of a more civilized age, Ben said."

    "There is something to that," Mara admitted thoughtfully. Luke looked at her inquisitively, and she sighed. "Before I lost the lightsaber Palaptine gave me, people responded to it in one of two ways. During the Empire, most people saw it and assumed I was like Vader." Both Luke and Mara grimaced. "But after Palpatine's death, I… met others, who saw the blade and reacted with… hopefulness." She looked down. "I got myself into trouble a few times that way," she sighed. "But, symbolic issues or not, Skywalker, a lightsaber has practical limitations that a backup blaster can overcome."

    Luke chuckled. "Ben took me into the worst cantina in the worst city on Tatooine and he had the arm off an Aqualish inside of five minutes. That Aqualish had a blaster and it didn't do him any good. If Ben had really needed a blaster, he could have taken that one. And if I ever find myself needing a weapon, I can always take one off my opponents."

    Mara wrinkled her nose. "Why not just carry your own all the time so you don't have to rely on some poor unfortunate properly maintaining theirs?" She frowned at him. "Besides, your Imperial file said you carried a blaster. A Merr-Sonn 57 if I recall correctly."

    He drank from the water bottle again, moving slightly to begin a cooldown. "I did carry a blaster, until I resigned my military commission," he agreed. "Though I stopped carrying the Merr-Sonn not long after Endor. Han chopped me up a custom BlasTech after we took Druckenwell as a thanks for getting him out of Jabba's. We spent a long time tinkering with it for a longer effective range. I've still got it back in my apartment."

    Mara nodded. "When things heat up with the Empire again you should go back to carrying it," she told him firmly.

    Luke felt a deep sadness and tried not to let any of it show on his face. "I've tried not to kill anyone I didn't have to since I enlisted. The last few years I've been able to talk down more situations than I've had to fight my way out of. I think not having a visible, recognizable distance weapon might have helped with that. It also might have been why few Jedi carried blasters. They were keepers of the peace, not soldiers, and they were symbols of that peace. I am too. Well, the potential for peace anyway."

    Mara shook her head in denial. "No, Skywalker. You're both. You're Farmboy, sage, and pilot. Some people expect you to be practically divine. They expect this shining hero of the Republic, perfect and poised and… perfect." She wrinkled her nose. "You try to be what people expect and it'll get you killed. Or maybe it'll get someone else killed because you'll be in a situation where you need a blaster and don't have it." She shook her head again. "You remember that question you asked me before? What does it mean to be a Jedi?"

    He nodded.

    "Well, here's my answer," she folded her arms across her chest. "Whatever you think it should mean. You're the only Jedi, and you can't be everything to everybody." Her gaze softened. "You can't save the galaxy on your own, Skywalker," she said. "You can't even save the New Republic, not any more than your sister can. In the end, people make their own choices. When I was the Emperor's Hand, it wasn't my job to save the Empire. We all knew only Palpatine could do that, and that was a laughable fiction. It was my job to make a small difference when and where I could. And that was still too much for one woman to do all on her own, a lot of the time." She gave a slight bow, which he returned, stepped in close to hand him the training sword. He took it. "I can't tell you what to do, but I can tell you that I want you doing everything you can to stay alive when you know you're going into dangerous situations."

    He sighed heavily. "Mara—"

    "Don't 'Mara' me, Farmboy," she interrupted. "You're under no obligation to ride mental rails trying to do what you think Yoda or Ben or any of those other Jedi in that museum would've wanted. Don't get so caught up with striving for their approval that you forget that you get to build traditions too. But they have to make sense." She paused. "Most of the time at least. If they do, the rest of us will just follow your lead." She shook her head at him. "And no," she preempted his question, "that still doesn't mean that I'll join the new order."

    Her tone didn't quite match her words, and her refusal didn't dampen his enthusiasm at Mara Jade voluntarily saying that she would follow his lead. That enthusiasm, however, also didn't quite help to lift the full weight of the obligation now draped over his shoulders.

    "Hey," Mara brought his attention back to her, her hand wrapped around Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber. His gift to her. She thumbled the blade to life with its distinctive snap-hiss. "How about showing me some of those power strikes you were doing? I was getting hits in but my wrist wishes I hadn't, and I should fight more conservatively with a live blade." She saluted the humming blade at him.

    Luke, mentally and emotionally drained, hauled himself up. "All right," he replied, shaking off some of the pressure that being the "First of the New Jedi" had heaped on him and focusing instead on the woman standing in front of him, wielding his father's blade. "Let's start with the two forms I used earlier…"





     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2020
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  15. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    I enjoyed reading of Mara's mixed emotions and musings about dancing, which she found intrinsic pleasure in. I also thoroughly enjoyed their talk about new traditions and the burden of responsibilities Luke carries. Interesting points of view about others' perceptions of your role based on the weapon(s) you carry. =D=
     
  16. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Eight, Part III


    Hours later, washed and exhausted, Mara finally arrived at the new offices for the Smugglers' Alliance. Unlike the training facility, it was kept in close proximity to all the major administrative centers in the Imperial Palace; the ambassadors' offices, Palace Security's primary coordination center, and the various dignitaries who comprised the New Republic's unofficial aristocracy were all a short walk (or lift) away. Better than that, the docking bay the Wild Karrde was currently stationed in could be reached with a quick airspeeder ride.

    She didn't know why Skywalker doubted his ability to teach, or his ability to lead. He was an exemplary teacher, guiding her ably through both his verbal guidance and gentle Force promptings, helping her learn quickly and using Force techniques to speed her development of the muscle memory so necessary to precise training. He would model, she would imitate, and though her arms were furious and the rest of her was tired, it had been one of the most productive learning sessions she could remember having.

    She wondered, vaguely, if the location had also helped. The training room in the Imperial Palace that Skywalker had co-opted had always been a location she'd found conducive to learning. She preferred to credit Skywalker, though.

    "Ahh, Mara," Karrde greeted her. He glanced at the chrono, then back at Mara. "Had a productive morning?" he asked.

    "Yes," she replied, moving to the desk that would become hers. "Have we acquired a droid to help with the office work yet?" she asked, sorting through the stack of datapads and flimsi that was waiting for her. She sighed as she saw page after page requiring a formal signature.

    The best part of being Emperor's Hand was definitely the lack of flimsiwork, she thought tiredly.

    Karrde watched her, sliding back in his chair. He'd furnished these rooms himself, Mara knew; the decor and lighting distinctly reminded her of his office aboard the Wild Karrde. His white tunic was dotted with red highlights, its sleeves rolled up as he worked; his usual light blue cloak was folded over the back of his chair. He'd also grown out his beard some, letting it thicken (and grey) in a way that reminded Mara very vaguely of the old Imperial aristocracy. The overall effect added to his usual distinguished appearance, but not so much that anyone would forget his roguishness. Clearly, Karrde intended to dress for the part he wanted to play. "Finding one that I can be assured has no potential exploits is difficult," he reminded her. "I will continue searching."

    Mara thought of her droid, Kaythree. Palpatine hadn't really allowed her friends—not that she'd ever have admitted that she wanted any—but she'd had a protocol droid. The last thing she remembered of Kaythree was his concerned, electronic voice when she'd collapsed under the strain of the Emperor's dying message. She'd woken up in a cell, accused of treason, with Ysanne Isard's goons watching over her. That cell was only a few floors down…

    "Mara?"

    She shook herself. "Sorry," she muttered. "Distracted. What's on today's priority list?"

    Karrde lifted one perfectly manicured eyebrow. "Councilor Organa Solo invited us over for dinner? Remember?"

    Mara froze. Right. Dinner. "Anything I need to do before then?"

    "Nothing serious," Karrde replied. "I've already got Ghent working on a simple program that will allow the New Republic to make shipping requests and the members of the Smugglers' Alliance to receive them, based on the payment scale we agreed to. It should be ready before our formal contract is signed." He stood and walked to the office door and slid it shut, then took out one of his electronic scramblers and put it on the desk. "Other than that," he continued calmly, "the only important thing we should discuss is my most recent meeting with General Cracken."

    She grimaced. Being at NRI's beck and call was her least favorite part of this whole arrangement. "Does NRI have any requests?"

    "Of a sort." Karrde's tone became conspiratorial. "Apparently the HoloNet has been compromised."

    Mara frowned. "Compromised? You mean someone has placed a bug on one of the network nodes?"

    "I am afraid nothing so easily solved," Karrde frowned as he resumed his seat. "There's someone out there with the ability to slice the HoloNet more directly. Cracken tells me that we should assume that all HoloNet transmissions are potentially vulnerable to interception. Without adequate encryption, their contents could be captured. With adequate encryption, the slicer will still be able to get information like point of origin, destination, and potentially other data from the originating and receiving holocomm nodes." He shook his head. "I heard rumors of someone with such talents, many years ago. But it has been a decade at least since then."

    Mara nodded slowly. She'd heard rumors herself, years before, that such things were possible. The HoloNet was widely viewed as effectively sacrosanct, impervious except in the case of a compromised node (and even then, the only risk was to transmissions that went through that precise node). She'd always wondered if Palpatine had intentionally encouraged the growth of that belief to make it easier to track his enemies. She had a more pressing question under these circumstances, though. "Why did Cracken tell us this?"

    "He has a mission for me," Karrde explained. "Two, actually." He slid a datapad towards Mara, who caught it as it fell over the edge of his desk towards her. "First, he has asked if he can borrow Ghent to work up an encrypt that can stand up to the best of Imperial Intelligence's codebreakers. Second, he's asked me to join General Bel Iblis in the Albrion sector, personally."

    Some of this wasn't surprising. "You did tell Cracken about our little gift, then?" She knew he had intended to tell the General about the toy she and Karrde hoped to acquire—trying to keep it a secret from Cracken was a fool's errand anyway.

    "I did," he nodded. He didn't elaborate, and she wasn't really expecting him to. If there was more she needed to know, he'd tell her. Otherwise, it was best to compartmentalize information as much as possible, and Karrde more than most liked to play his cards close to his well-tailored vest.

    "When do you leave?"

    "In a few days," he replied. "There are a few more things I want to get done here, first. I'm still hoping to have a signed contract with the New Republic before I depart. But we do have more important concerns for this evening. I don't intend to miss dinner with the Solos."

    Mara sighed. "What should I wear?"

    "Whatever you think appropriate, of course. Though I would leave the blasters at home. I'm quite sure Solo has more than enough of them for all of us, should the need arise." Karrde smiled. "I very much hope that it will not."





     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2020
  17. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Very concise and to the point discussion about the compromised HoloNet and looking forward to the evening of socializing and good food ;)
     
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  18. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006





    Chapter Nine


    The last time Mara had visited the Solo residence it had not been a casual occasion. She could still remember the sounds of blaster fire and desperation that had echoed through the halls of the Imperial Palace; the contingent of Imperial commandos who had been opposed by the New Republic's Palace Security. Garm Bel Iblis had been there too, proving his mettle as he led Palace Security in a desperate attempt to rescue Leia and her twins. She hadn't even thought about it before she threw herself into that particular fray, she remembered. She had just reacted, risking her life and her freedom to protect Leia Organa Solo and her infant children. The New Republic had, of course, rewarded her by throwing her in prison.

    Karrde walked beside her, wearing his usual fitted white tunic, dark pants, and light blue cape. He knew how to make an impression—and he knew when not to make one. Tonight he was dressed to match the preconceived notions he wanted to continue to cultivate: refined, respectable, but still roguish. He knew as well as she did that the newsies would find out that representatives of the Smugglers' Alliance had dined with Councilor Leia Organa Solo and her family, and it was important that the face of the Smugglers' Alliance be exactly what both the Senate and the smugglers could accept. Alienating either would doom the enterprise.

    Mara, therefore, had dressed similarly. She had considered, briefly, one of her formal or semi-formal gowns, but dismissed them as insufficiently roguish. She had also considered one of her normal, casual tunic/jumpsuit outfits that she usually wore aboard ship, but dismissed them as insufficiently formal. Reluctantly, she had chosen an emerald green tunic with a high collar. The tunic was loose enough to hide her forearm holster (which she had, even more reluctantly, left aboard the Wild Karrde), and paired well with her nondescript slacks. She finished the outfit with her combat boots.

    Her lightsaber dangled from her belt brazenly, challenging any of the Palace Security guards they passed to object. None did. It wasn't quite a replacement for her holdout, but it was better than nothing.

    She wasn't sure how to feel about the fact that it no longer seemed odd to her that the Imperials were gone. The security guards were more casual than their Stormtrooper predecessors had been, but no less attentive. They watched her with a mix of caution and respect that she could live with.

    Karrde pressed the buzzer and they waited. And waited. Mara glanced at Karrde, reaching out with the Force as she checked for trouble—

    The door was flung open with excess force, smacking into the wall with a bang. Han Solo stood in the doorway, a wailing Jaina Solo clutched under his arm and a greasy spatula in his other hand. He had a large red splotch on his tunic, which Mara belatedly realized was the result of a cooking mishap and not a blaster wound. "Karrde!" Han barked, his attention already moving on. "Open the door when the kid gets here!" he ordered the utterly bewildered pair of smugglers, heading back towards the kitchen at a brisk, slightly unsteady trot.

    Karrde and Mara looked at each other. Mara's eyebrows both lifted slowly, while Karrde's expression slowly grew into a grin. "Not what I expected," Karrde said dryly.

    Mara blinked, and she closed the door as they entered the apartment. It looked... different... without all the furniture turned over to block blaster fire.

    "Do you need any help?" Karrde called, leaning to the side and peering towards the kitchen.

    "No!" Han yelled back angrily, the sound of a baby wailing growing from that same direction. "Oh for the love of!" the ex-smuggler and husband to the New Republic's likely future Chief of State exclaimed around a muffled sizzling sound. There was another rustle of movement and Han came back, this time holding Jaina in both arms, the spatula left behind. "Here!" he growled, and thrust Jaina into Mara's arms. "You hold her while I salvage what's left of the Corellian sausages."

    Mara didn't even have time to object before Han was gone again, cursing under his breath. She gaped at the crying face, moving her arms in a way that she hoped was the right way to hold a baby, then glared daggers after Han's retreating back. "I'm not a nursemaid!"

    "You are today, sister!" Han yelled back, vanishing into the kitchen.

    Mara tried to find the right way to arrange her hands but was terrified to move lest she drop the crying baby—the crying baby who seemed to have cried herself out, as her wails started to subside.

    She didn't dare look at Karrde. If he was smirking even one-tenth the amount he probably was she might skewer him with her lightsaber, even if she had to manipulate it with the Force to do it without dropping Jaina. Karrde, probably knowing this, didn't tease her. He did step closer. "Here, Mara," he said, carefully helping her rearrange her arms to cradle the baby properly.

    "How do you know how to hold a baby?" she asked him, sparing him a glance as Jaina stopped crying and settled calmly against her chest. Mara peered down at the now contented Jaina, the baby's brown eyes blinking curiously up at Mara, her tiny hands awkwardly snatching at the buttons on Mara's tunic.

    "Smugglers learn how to do all kinds of things."

    Mara gasped softly as she realized the exploration wasn't just limited to Jaina's limbs. There was a gentle, weak prodding through the Force, unformed and inchoate but definitely there. "Oh," she said, swallowing and holding the baby closer. She'd known the twins were Force strong, known that C'baoth had wanted them for exactly that reason…

    She let Karrde lead her to one of the couches in the living space and sat down as Jaina's explorations got a bit more active.

    "Do you want me to hold her instead," Karrde asked, sounding amused. She would make him pay for this later… and Solo too, for that matter.

    "She's stopped crying," Mara pointed out. "Would moving her be a bad idea?"

    "I suspect she likes you more than she would like me, so… perhaps," Karrde replied, his audible amusement only growing.

    She glared at him, but Jaina tugging on her tunic brought her attention back to the baby.

    "Where's Threepio—" Winter hurried into the room from the hallway that led to the bedrooms, stopping short as she saw Jaina and Mara. "Oh," the Alderaanian said, blinking a few times. "Well, that explains where Jaina got to."

    "Do you need any help, Winter?" Karrde asked with his normal, polished politeness.

    This was not like any dinner party Mara had ever attended before.

    "I believe you're providing the most important help right now," Winter murmured, her expression quirking into a smile. "The Princess should be back soon but she was delayed at the palace, Chewbacca needed to do some vital repairs on the Millenium Falcon—" her tone suggested polite skepticism about how 'vital' the repairs to the Falcon truly were "—and Luke should be here any minute now—"

    There was a door chime. "Karrde, will you get that!" Han yelled from the kitchen.

    Winter was already moving towards the door. She wasn't wearing one of her usual long gowns, but a far more functional plain blue shirt and pair of slacks, though her hair was nonetheless up in an elegant Alderaanian twist.

    There was an electronic greeting and Artoo-Detoo rolled determinedly into the room, followed by Skywalker. "Good evening, Winter," he greeted her.

    "Luke," Winter smiled. "Master Trade Karrde and Miss Jade are already here, keeping an eye on Jaina for me." She closed the door behind him.

    Skywalker's eyes found Mara's, and a slow smile crossed his lips as he watched Jaina tugging weakly at her tunic.

    Mara could feel her cheeks start to burn. She lifted Jaina up and was going to hand the toddler to Karrde, but Jaina's brown eyes blinked accusingly at her. With a sigh she placed Jaina back down. Jaina giggled.

    Skywalker made his way over to them, still smiling. "Not a word, Skywalker," she hissed at him. "Not a single, blasted word."

    "I wouldn't dare," he replied with an insouciant smirk. "If I did, the next time you pull a toy blaster on me it might be loaded with something really dangerous, like hot sauce or custard."




     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2020
  19. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Awww! SWEET! [face_mischief] [face_shhh]
     
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  20. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    [face_laugh]
     
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  21. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Nine, Part II


    Leia was late, as usual; her hurried footsteps past Palace Security at this hour were no longer a surprise to anyone. Mon Mothma continued to rely heavily on her, and Leia was one of the few members of the New Republic Inner Council who was genuinely trusted by all the New Republic's disparate factions. Consequently, her portfolio of responsibilities steadily continued to grow; just as consequently, she was rarely home in time for dinner. As was typical, she arrived well after dinner was ready; the heady smells from the kitchen stirring hunger she'd let go too long unfulfilled. Winter usually was responsible for making sure she ate while she was at the office, but the demands of dinner prep had sent her home early to help Han with cooking and watching the kids, and Leia had not eaten since lunch (much too long ago, now).

    Mara and Karrde were already there and she greeted them quickly. They were sitting with the rest of her family; Han was tending to the kitchen and keeping the food warm and ready, but Winter, Chewbacca, and Luke were all sitting and talking with the two members of the Smugglers' Alliance over an expansive array of appetizers. She wished Lando had been there too, then all the (non-Noghri) members of their Wayland team would have been present. Had she invited Lando she suspected he would've come all the way from Nkllon, too.

    When she had been a child, her father had made a point to host gatherings with his close friends and confidantes, as well as his work acquaintances, on a regular basis. They were vital to maintain the tight sense of camaraderie that allowed a community to flourish and thrive. But Bail Organa had possessed an army of servants and seemingly endless wealth, the splendor of Alderaan at its isolationist, pacifistic height. Leia and Han were far from poor, and Winter was worth an army of servants all on her own, but between Leia's responsibilities in the New Republic government (which often felt like all the responsibilities of the New Republic's government…) and the comparative sparseness of their resources, Leia did not host these events as often as her father had. And Jacen and Jaina complicated things.

    Still, how often are all of you going to be on Coruscant at once? Karrde will be leaving again, and you never know when Luke will be called away to put a fire out somewhere. And Han is Hanas much as he'd rather be home with the kids, you never know when the New Republic will find a new way to demand his service, Leia, she reminded herself. You can't miss these opportunities.

    She went down the hallway to change out of her work clothes and into something more appropriate for a casual gathering, and stopped as she saw the small, domed form of Artoo-Detoo in the hall. The droid's photoreceptor turned to look at her, and she swore the droid was slouching. He whistled at her sadly.

    "What is it, Artoo?" she asked him, frowning.

    He whistled at her, and she fumbled in her pockets for her translation device. "You can't find Threepio?" she frowned, suddenly concerned. Reaching out with the Force, she felt for danger and found none. "That's odd—"

    Wait. Han and Winter preparing for dinner. Two toddlers underfoot. No, Threepio going missing wasn't that odd. She stopped by the hall closet and pulled it open.

    Sure enough, Threepio was on the floor in a crumpled heap, the lights of his eyes dark. She bit her lip to hide a laugh, then reached down and pulled the droid to his feet and reached behind him to switch him back on. The droid's eyes flickered as they lit, and the droid started. "Oh, my word," he stumbled, looking around. "I think something must have happened."

    Artoo whistled cheerfully, rocking back and forth on two of his wheels.

    "Artoo-Detoo? Are you here already? Oh dear, I must have been deactivated." Threepio looked from side to side, stiffening with sudden concern. "Has anyone seen Mistress Jaina?"

    "She's fine, Threepio," Leia soothed the droid. "Why don't you and Artoo catch up while we have dinner? You can recharge in the back."

    "But Mistress Leia, I haven't set the table yet. Master Han still needs to decide which style of dining arrangement he would prefer to use for the event tonight. I suggested the Chandrilan of course, as that's most appropriate for—"

    Artoo blatted at Threepio, turned and started rolling down the hall.

    "It's alright, Threepio. Winter took care of it already."

    "Oh," Threepio wilted. "Well, very well then." He turned and ambled after Artoo, leaving Leia hiding a laugh and wondering what exactly the protocol droid had done to end up unceremoniously shoved into the closet.





     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2020
  22. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006





    Chapter Nine, Part III


    Mara was shocked to find that while Han's plating left something to be desired relative to Woonseer's, the food was flavorful, plentiful, and creative. Han had made both a Corellian and an Alderaanian dish (the latter with Winter's help), and seemed to delight in Karrde and Mara's clear surprise. "What, did you really think I wouldn't be just as great a cook as I am a smuggler?" he'd quite smugly proclaimed, before making a bold attack run on the vicinity of Jacen's mouth with a soft plastoid spoon shaped like an X-Wing. Leia and Luke had both rolled their eyes.

    With the main meal concluded, Mara found a seat out of the way in the Solos' living space and quietly observed the chaos from behind a Corellian Sweetcream with a dusting of chocolate. She had understated when she had thought that this was unlike any dinner party she had ever attended before. It bore no resemblance to the staid, formal affairs of the Imperial Coruscanti nobility that she'd attended as Countess Claria, or even the much less stilted but still quite socially-coded events she and Karrde had attended with the various mercantile groups they'd aggregated under the Smugglers' Alliance umbrella. More than anything it reminded her of her time as a barmaid on Phorliss, with the same constant low-level chaos and casual camaraderie.

    Karrde was enjoying it quite a bit, she could tell. There was a difference between Karrde's polite-but-not-quite-genuine enjoyment and Karrde's actual, genuine enjoyment of a social engagement, and from the crinkle of his cheeks and the small smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth he was definitely experiencing the latter. Jaina and Jacen were undeterrable terrors on two pairs of wobbly legs and Karrde watched them, chatting idly with Solo and Leia and sipping a glass of green wine, likely an early vintage from New Alderaan.

    Mara found herself again wondering just how much of the manipulation was on purpose. Leia had, quite effectively, drawn Karrde (and herself) into her web of associates—and, Mara admitted to herself in the quiet solitude of her own mind, Leia had become their friend. In so doing Leia had cemented the bond between the New Republic and the Smugglers' Alliance, and quite possibly given herself a new tool to use in negotiations.

    But normal people didn't think like that, she berated herself gently. She didn't get any sense of manipulation or machination from Leia, just quiet happiness.

    No, she thought decisively, watching Leia lean into Han's side, the smuggler's arm wrapping securely around her waist. Leia might be Vader's daughter, but she isn't Vader. Not in any way that matters.

    A sense of longing started to gather in her chest and she didn't know where it was coming from, and she knew even less how to handle it. She reached out in the Force, wondering where Skywalker had gotten to, got a sense of him in the other room, felt a hint of… concern? She sat up a bit, but feeling her reach out to him, the Jedi reached back. It was a problem, whatever it was, but it wasn't a problem for right now, his emotions said. Reassurance tinged with affection brushed her mind. It's nothing urgent, Mara, it whispered. Luke's mental voice clung to the first syllable of her name, as his voice always did when he spoke it, quiet and reverent.

    Distracted as she was by the mental touch, Leia settling down on the couch next to her caught her by surprise. Leia offered her a smile, then laughed as Jaina barreled into the couch at knee-level, crawling awkwardly up towards her mother. Leia reached forward and picked her daughter up with both hands before settling Jaina in her lap. The child watched her mother with one of her big, innocent, confident smiles, then looked at Mara and gave her one too.

    "That's Mara," Leia said soothingly.

    "Ma-ma?" Jaina babbled, looking at Leia and then at Mara.

    Mara found herself utterly transfixed by the little girl. I saved her, she realized, a swell of emotion swirling in her. I saved her from C'baoth. I saved her from the Empire. She swallowed hard. I saved her from maybe being me.

    "Mar-ra," Leia spelled out the two syllables slowly, holding Jaina to keep her from toddling off the couch.

    On the other side of the room, Mara heard quiet baby laughter. She looked over and was astonished to see Karrde holding Jacen like it was the most natural thing in the world, smiling and talking amiably with Han and Chewbacca.

    "Ma-ma?" Jaina tried again.

    "Mar-ra," Leia replied patiently, emphasizing the second syllable. "She has trouble with the 'r' sound," Leia murmured to Mara.

    Jaina blinked, first at her mother, then at Mara. Mara gasped softly as Jaina reached out in the Force again; she heard Leia gasp as she too realized what Jaina was doing. Mara and Leia's eyes met as Jaina toddled across the couch and stumbled and fell into Mara's lap. "Ra-ra?" Jaina babbled.

    Leia laughed. "Good enough."

    Jaina climbed towards Mara's more determinedly and collapsed against Mara's chest, giggling. Mara held her with both hands, breath caught in her chest. "Ra-ra," Jaina said again, this time with a hint of her mother's imperiousness.

    "Sure," Mara managed. "But no one else gets to call me that, understood?"

    Leia watched Jaina crawl over Mara fondly. "She likes you."

    "I…" Mara looked over at Leia, sure she probably looked completely befuddled. "I think I like her, too."

    Leia just smiled. "I won't tell anyone if you don't." She watched Jaina and Mara for a while, then looked around with a small frown. "Where's Luke?"

    Mara nodded in the general direction of Leia's office. "Artoo came in and said he'd received a HoloNet message," she replied, grappling gently with Jaina. "He went into your office to listen to it." She glanced in that direction herself, feeling Skywalker's mild tension and concern as his emotions shifted to decisiveness. Whatever the message had been about, Skywalker had just made a decision about what he was going to do about it. But there was no sense of imminence from him. "It doesn't seem to be an immediate problem," she reassured Leia.

    Leia watched her pensively. "Did you get a chance to talk with my brother about what's bothering him?"

    Mara allowed Jaina to draw her attention, offering the toddler a small, reassuring smile. The baby smiled back. But that was just a transient distraction, and not a sufficient justification to avoid answering Leia's question. "We've talked," she demurred, offering Leia a glance.

    "And you don't want to talk about it?" Leia probed gently. She reached out to help Mara keep the crawling Jaina from sliding back onto the floor.

    Mara was reluctant to say anything more. It wasn't her place to insert herself into Skywalker and Leia's relationship, even if Leia was the one who had invited her involvement. And she doubted Skywalker would appreciate her sharing his reservations about the relationship between Jedi and New Republic with anyone, including (or especially) his sister. That was his place, not hers.

    "Not really," she agreed apologetically. "But I think he's about ready to talk about it."

    Leia nodded, picking up Jaina and hugging her. She offered Mara a small smile. "Family," she said ruefully.

    I wouldn't know, Mara thought. It was a thought that had occurred to her on and off over the years, especially recently, but never with the full weight of sorrow that came with it now. She looked around the room, watching the Solo family—Han and Chewie talking with Karrde while they all entertained Jacen; Winter sitting on the opposite couch, watching the chaos—she sent Mara a small smile when she caught her looking; Leia and Jaina. Skywalker, whose Force presence was closer now—she glanced over towards the door to Leia's office and caught him standing in the doorway, watching the chaos much as she was. The gaze lingered.

    Mara could feel Leia watching her and broke the contact.

    Luke walked over and knelt by Winter, speaking quietly. Whatever it was he said made the normally staid woman illuminate with a relieved smile, then squeeze Luke's hand. Mara could read her lips, though she was too far away to hear the words spoken: thank you. Luke patted her shoulder and headed towards Leia, Mara, and Jaina. He settled on the arm of the couch nearest Mara.

    "Is everything all right?" asked Leia, her expression concerned.

    Luke took a breath, then shrugged. "I'm not really sure," he admitted. "I got a comm from Wedge, and I'm going to need to head out to join him for a while, I think."

    Mara's lips tightened. Skywalker was leaving? "Trouble?" she asked.

    "Wedge lost a few X-wings in his last engagement. Oh, he's fine, Tycho's fine," he hastened to add at Leia's suddenly pained expression. "All his pilots are fine, even Wes. I just told Winter that Tycho sends his love. But—" he frowned "—he said they ran into a Force-adept armed with a lightsaber, fighting on the other side."

    Both Leia and Mara straightened at that. Jaina, sensing the sudden tension, looked around fearfully. Leia soothed her gently. Mara could feel Leia trying to split her attention, sending reassurance to Jaina while paying full attention to Luke. "I didn't know the Empire had any other Dark Jedi," Leia said.

    "I'm not sure it does," Luke replied thoughtfully. He turned to Mara. "I suppose we know why I wanted to practice sparring now," he mused.

    "Never assume," Mara cautioned him. Her voice softened despite her best efforts. "When do you leave?"

    "I think I'll pack my X-wing tonight and set off for Albrion Sector in the morning," Luke replied.

    Mara glanced over at Karrde, then back to Skywalker. Karrde's upcoming movements should be kept secret, but having Skywalker along would definitely be helpful on Rendili… "I have a better idea," she said. "Karrde is heading that way himself in a few days. Instead of hibernating in that cockpit of yours, maybe catch a ride with him instead. It'll be more comfortable and you won't lose that much time; I'm sure the Wild Karrde has a faster hyperdrive than your X-wing."

    Skywalker offered her a grin. "Think it'll be a more passenger-friendly journey this time? Or is Karrde going to knock me out and lock me up again?"

    "Don't tempt him," Mara shot back archly. "He still carries Ysalamiri aboard."



    * * *​



    Leia watched Luke and Mara, desperately hiding her smile. Luke departing Coruscant to rejoin the Rogues was hardly good news—she didn't get to spend enough time with her brother (or her husband, or her kids) as it was—but she'd gotten used to the reality of Luke being a Jedi just as he (and Han) had gotten used to the reality of her being the engine of the New Republic.

    She excused herself, leaving Jaina in Luke's arms as he and Mara bantered. She slid into Han's arms and let them wrap around her. "Winter is putting Jacen to bed?" she asked.

    "Mmhmm," Han swayed gently with her in his arms. "You were late from work today."

    She sighed. "Don't start, Han," she chastised him, tucking her head against his chest and hugging him back. "Besides, when I got back I found Threepio stuffed into the hall closet. Again."

    Han snorted. "Goldenrod wanted to know which set of our formal silverware we'd be using, and if we were going to set the table using Alderaanian, Coruscanti, or Chandrilan table etiquette. Then he failed to keep an eye on Jaina and she was underfoot in the kitchen at the most delicate part of the cooking process, and his trying to catch her was only making things worse." He shrugged, kissing the top of her head gently. "So... I switched him off and shoved him into the closet."

    Leia snickered softly, turning her head. Winter had come back from the bedrooms and was attempting to disentangle Jaina from Luke and Mara, while the two Force users talked quietly with Karrde about their upcoming travel plans. The look of contentment on Luke's face while he watched Mara's utterly baffled incompetence as she tried to get Jaina to go with Winter made Leia want to cry. "He looks so happy," she whispered to her husband.

    "Yeah," Han murmured back smugly. "I'm not surprised. He's been smitten with Jade since they met, and that was while she was still threatening to murder him." He swayed with his wife gently. "You should've seen his face at the Katana battle after she got shot down."

    Winter finally managed to collect Jaina into her arms. Jaina was unhappy about this development, and Leia reached out in the Force to her daughter, sending waves of reassurance and love. She was surprised when she felt not just one, but two other similar projections of emotional reassurance, and bit her lip and snuggled closer into Han's chest. "She's still coming to terms with her past, I think."

    "That's not surprising either," Han replied. "I know a dozen ex-Imperials who've been grappling with their Imperial service for years, and none of them was a personal servant for ol' wrinkles himself." He drew back from his wife and looked down. "Do you want me to talk to her about it?" he asked carefully.

    "Maybe," Leia mused. "There are a few people I can ask."

    "But none with my guile," Han said with a cocky grin.

    She laughed. "No, none with your guile."

    Han winked at her, releasing the embrace. "Hey kid!" Han called to the other side of the room, interrupting Luke's discussion with Mara and Karrde. "Come give me a hand with the cleanup will you?"

    Luke opened his mouth to explain that he was busy, but Mara stopped him with a hand. She stood. "You two finish planning. I'll help," she said, moving across the kitchen to help Han collect the dishes. He and Leia watched her curiously and she glared at him as she stacked three plates on her forearm. "What?"

    "You know how to do this properly? I wouldn't have thought the Emperor would bother teaching one of his agents how to do anything as domestic as clearing dishes," Han said, putting skepticism into his voice that Leia recognized as feigned.

    Mara rolled her eyes. "It's been a long time since Palpatine taught me anything," she said witheringly, stacking another plate on her forearm. "I know what I'm doing."

    Leia snickered softly, leaning in to kiss Han. "You old scoundrel," she whispered against his cheek.

    "Don't you know it," he whispered back, drawing her in for a long lingering kiss—distracting her briefly before dropping her onto the softest pillow of the settee. "Nice to know I can still sweep you off your feet," he murmured against her lips, then abruptly withdrew, leaving her sunken deeply into the cushions.

    "Nerf-herder," Leia muttered, clawing herself out of the comfortable upholstery. Once free, she moved to talk with Luke and Karrde while Han guided Mara—dishes now piled high on her arm—into the kitchen.



    * * *​



    Mara could feel Skywalker's presence even after he was out of eyesight; feel Leia's gentle amusement at the sight of Mara Jade doing kitchen chores, and Jaina and Jacen's childlike exhaustion as Winter collected them for bed.

    It took a moment before Han was comfortable with her in what was quite obviously his space, but after he saw her work Han relaxed. He let her wash, taking for himself the task of drying the dishes and putting them back. "You're pretty good at this," he probed as she let old muscle memory take over.

    Mara handed Han a clean dish to dry. "Phorliss," she explained. "After Palpatine died Isard locked me up. I broke out of the Imperial Palace and escaped Coruscant, and to lay low I took a job there as a waitress." She handed him another dish. "What's your excuse?"

    "Hey, Leia and Winter are busy running the galaxy, and would you trust Threepio to do dishes?" he retorted. "Besides, when I was a kid the only good days were spent in a kitchen with a stubborn old Wookiee. How long were you a waitress?"

    Mara thought about it for a moment. "A few weeks.. maybe a month. I would've stayed longer," she added thoughtfully. "It was the most settled I felt until I signed on with Karrde."

    She could feel Han's eyes on her, hear his curiosity. "Why'd you leave?"

    Her hand tightened on the dish she was holding. She forced it to relax. "Gorb—the bar's owner—wasn't paying the local Black Sun grunts the way they wanted. One night they came in and shot up the place."

    Han nodded knowingly, his expression grim. "Sounds like something Black Sun would do. They weren't very civilized after Xizor's death." He took a dish from her, dried it, and slotted it away. "Or before it for that matter. What'd you do?"

    Her green eyes flashed. "I killed them. Then I found their boss, and I killed him too." She scrubbed the last dish with more ferocity than normal. "It was my duty. Restoring just a tiny bit of justice to an increasingly unjust universe." Gorb and Jorshmin's faces flashed in her memory. They'd taken her in, they'd made her feel welcome. She had started to feel safe, and comfortable, and then they were dead, and she was the Emperor's Hand.

    She could feel Skywalker's spiking concern, his offer of emotional reassurance and empathy and affection. Mara couldn't decide if she wanted to wrap it around herself like a shawl or shrug it off like an unhappy d'oemir peak bear.

    "Well," Han said, putting the dish away. "Next time, you don't have to do it alone."

    She looked at him in surprise. "You're not going to chastise me?"

    Han poked himself in the chest. "Who do you think you're talking to? I may not have been the Emperor's Hand, but I was Fleet long enough to get a commission, and then I lived the Fringe life too, sweetheart. I know what it's like to want to shove a blaster down someone's throat, and I know what it's like to do it, too. But I always had someone watching my back and keeping me… if not honest, then at least some kind of ethical." He leaned against the long kitchen counter. "You're not on your own anymore, sister. Like it or not, you're part of the clan now."

    She stared at him in astonishment. "I don't understand you Rebels at all," she muttered.

    Han grinned at her. "Haven't you heard? We're a New Republic now." He grinned more broadly. "And don't tell anyone, but my wife runs the whole show," he whispered conspiratorially. He puffed up his chest proudly. "In my book, that makes her husband pretty damn prestigious, don't you think?"

    "Han?" Leia's voice called from the other room. "Han, we're having trouble getting Jaina and Jacen to go to sleep."

    "Speaking of which," Han said with a grin, "duty calls." He waved at the kitchen. "Don't worry about the rest of the cleanup, I'll do it when I get back." He trotted out of the kitchen, leaving her watching him with a bemused expression.






    It took Mara another few minutes to finish the cleanup, minutes she spent wondering what Palpatine would find more infuriating: the Emperor's Hand having dinner with Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa Solo in the Imperial Palace, or the Emperor's Hand doing the very domestic chores of the post-dinner party cleanup. Either way, his imagined expression was priceless, almost as valuable as having him out of her head.

    How did I end up here, again? Of all the places in the whole universe, how did I end up here?

    There was a whistle and Artoo-Detoo rolled into the kitchen. The astromech stopped suddenly at the sight of her cleaning the stove, his dome swiveling to look down into the living room, then back to her.

    "What," she growled at him. "Have you never seen someone cleaning a kitchen before?"

    The droid warbled nervously, placing all three wheels down on the kitchen floor and backing slowly back into the hallway.

    "Wait," Mara said, and the droid froze. "Come here," she waved at him.

    Artoo made a wary sound, but apparently was either brave enough to obey the order, or not brave enough to try to flee. Mara knelt down and looked the droid in his photoreceptor. "I need you to do me a favor."





     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2020
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  23. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Oh. Just. SQUEE! SQUEE! for the H/l teasing, for the Han and Mara conversation, and he's so right about Luke being smitten BTW [face_mischief] ... and for Luke and Mara working together. Does it get any more scrumptious?! [face_love]
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2020
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  24. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    I love these two chapters, 8 and 9. There's no action, it's all just setup and characters interacting. The Han/Mara exchange is one of my favorites in the whole story. Of course I'm a sucker for Luke and Mara scenes, and Mara and Jaina clearly needed some bonding time. And all the credit in the world to DrMckay, my editor, who came up with Han's "When I was a kid the only good days were in a kitchen with a stubborn old Wookiee" line, which I love.

    This chapter was also kind of written in rebellion to the way Han was written in the sequel movies. Han would adore the stay-at-home-Dad role, IMO. (Especially given his characterization in Courtship of Princess Leia, I think.)
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2020
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  25. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006





    Chapter Ten


    Leonia Tavira had her arms crossed across her chest, her expression hard and cold. It reminded Vorru of Ysanne Isard at her angriest, but Vorru actually found Tavira less scary simply because she wasn't nearly as insane. She was just angry and wanted to unleash that anger on a convenient target. "Was it worth it?" she hissed furiously at him, slamming her palms down on the boardroom table in the Star Destroyer's conference lounge. "Was one Drall worth two squadrons of my fighters and crippling damage to my ship?"

    It was an exaggeration on her part, but only a mild one. Invidious wasn't crippled, but it was also far from battle ready. With its starboard shields now totally gone, and half its starboard armament out of commission, the ship was quite vulnerable. Had the X-wings—which Tavira's sensors people had belatedly identified as Rogue Squadron, only infuriating her even more (and offering him a moment's concern, but surely it was just a coincidence that the Rogues were in-sector)—been armed with a full load of proton torpedoes, they might have been able to cripple Invidious beyond repair.

    Pointing that out to Tavira would be supremely unwise, however. "You know he is," Vorru replied soothingly. "He's the key to the entire plan."

    Tavira slammed her hands on the table again, the glimmering surface vibrating from the impact. Vorru winced—that had to hurt. "He's old and feeble and well past his prime. What if he can't do what we need him to?"

    Vorru's expression and voice hardened. "He can. I've known Eliezer for a long time, nearly twice as long as you have been alive. I know what he can do and what he can't do better than anyone alive or dead—better than Cracken, better than Isard." He lifted a finger warningly, his voice growing soft and menacing. Had anyone else been in the room, he wouldn't have dared—Tavira might feel compelled to have him killed just to maintain her facade of superiority—but alone, he could challenge her the way she deserved. "Do not underestimate him, and do not underestimate me," he growled. "Palpatine feared me once, and you would do well to remember that."

    "Palpatine," Tavira glared back savagely, her purple eyes flashing with fury, "beat you and locked you away on Kessel to rot."

    Vorru smiled, a small, vicious smile that he'd learned in the Spice Mines. "And do you think that makes me less dangerous, Leonia? Or more."

    She glared at him, refusing to back down, but he could see the flicker of respect in her gaze. They stared at each other evenly.

    You have her hooked, he thought. Now she'll accept you as an equal, which means she will have you killed unless she has need of you. Time to remind her of your value. Vorru allowed his smile to become much more genial, his hands sliding back along the table until they settled next to his sides. "But, I acknowledge that your losses have been great, greater than either of us had anticipated. Perhaps you would allow me to offer you proper recompense?"

    Tavira straightened, folding her arms back across her chest. "Go on," she said with a scowl.

    You have her. Vorru brushed some invisible lint off his Moff's uniform. "I have a number of former associates within the Empire. Some are in positions of considerable authority, even. One in particular has access to everything we will need to restore Invidious to prime condition. A full, proper Imperial fleet yard, well-stocked with supplies and men."

    "And why," Tavira asked coldly, but he could see the flicker of interest in her eyes, "would they agree to refit Invidious? This is not an Imperial vessel any longer."

    "Ah, but it is," Vorru replied. "If it were to be restored to the Starfleet roster and put under the command of an active Imperial authority. It would hardly be the first time a Warlord has returned to the fold." He held up a hand, forestalling her objections. "It would only be a formality," he said calmingly. "We would accept no orders, and continue to operate independently."

    Tavira's eyes narrowed. "And what do you want in exchange for this?" she asked.

    Vorru smiled. "Nothing, of course. We agreed to a partnership. That partnership cannot be fulfilled unless each of us offers the other all the aid we have. This I can offer you. All I ask is you continue to fulfill your end of our bargain after I have delivered Invidious to the repair yards."

    She pursed her lips together. Vorru could see the wheels spinning behind her eyes. When they had struck their bargain, he had asked for much, but in exchange he had promised much. So much that it was nearly unbelievable, even.

    "I will fulfill my end of the bargain," Vorru said confidently. Her eyes narrowed, fury and avarace competing for dominance behind them. He felt his lips twitch, yearning to smile, but resisted the impulse. You have her, he thought again, sure of it now.

    "Where are we going?"

    Vorru did smile now. "Linuri, in the Doldur Sector," he said. "It's the last major Imperial fleet base in the galactic southeast. The Moff in charge there owes me," he paused, clasping his hands together and adopting a conspiratorial tone, "more than a few favors." His tone shifted, turning darker. "And if he chooses not to honor them, I have blackmail material that would end him."

    Tavira straightened her uniform, still scowling. "Fine. I'll have us underway." She pointed at him, her eyes narrowing. "This had better be worth it, Vorru," she hissed, then turned and swept out the door like a stormcloud on a swift Tralus breeze.

    He watched her go, quite satisfied with his day's work. He turned his attention to his next task, and his expression darkened with fury provoked by the memory of betrayal. Oh Disra, he thought to himself, you are going to be so unhappy to see me again.

    But before he could see to making proper repayment for past slights, he had a friend to see. One who too had suffered because of Vorru's imprisonment.





    * * *




    The quarters Vorru had procured for Eliezer were dark when the ex-Moff entered. He could hear the elderly Drall breathing; heard the slight relaxation of that breathing as the Drall realized it was Vorru who had entered. "Vorru," the alien said, a distinct note of relief in his voice.

    Vorru turned on the light. Eliezer had been average height for a Drall, but his posture was slightly hunched with age, reducing him to a little under one meter. His fur was a deep, reddish-brown, spotted white around the mouth and whiskers, giving him the appearance of a beard. The lack of physical exercise combined with age had rendered him physically feeble.

    Vorru just hoped that did not extend to his mental faculties as well.

    He could remember the younger Eliezer; older than Vorru, easily, but still in his physical and mental prime. Energetic, ambitious, lured by greed and patriotism in equal measure. "Do you remember how we met?" Vorru asked.

    The Drall laughed, his beady eyes closing briefly as his claws stroked at the arms of his chair. "Is this a test of my identity, Vorru?" he asked, the sound darkly amused. "Do you think that Cracken would go so far to hide a spy in your service?"

    Vorru just smiled. "No," he replied. "Oh, I have no doubt that Cracken would, if it were within his abilities. But I am reasonably certain he does not yet know that I escaped from Kessel, nor that I had discovered your HoloNet messages and would be coming for you. Unless you know differently?"

    "No," the Drall agreed, seemingly enjoying the comfortable armchair which had come standard-issue with the room. "Cracken was the cleverest of my keepers in many ways, but his obsessions with secrecy and morals hindered him from properly surveilling my activities."

    "One lasting weakness of the Republic, both Old and New," Vorru agreed. "The moral demands of its philosophy."

    "Hardly the Republic's most fatal flaw," Eliezer riposted, and Vorru smiled. That was more like it, he thought. That sounded like the Eliezer he remembered. "But to answer your question, I did a job for a Smuggler. Jorj Car'das' outfit, if you remember him. Nothing too complicated or difficult. What I didn't know," Eliezer's beady eyes leveled on Vorru, "was that, as with every smuggling outfit that operated in or around Corellia, you were their silent partner, and privy to the details of that job."

    "Car'das and I had an understanding, yes." Vorru drew the desk chair out from its place against the wall and sat in it, half-facing Eliezer. "The standard agreement. I agreed to allow him to use Corellia as a base of operations and safe haven, a place where he could safely fence his goods for a fair price. In exchange, he kept me up to date on affairs and gave me a cut of the profits." He smiled. "Those were good years."

    "Hmmmm," Eliezer agreed, the sound approving. "Good years for Corellia as well. Safe from the overreach of the Old Republic, then safe from the talons of the Empire. Good years."

    Those years were long past, now, disrupted by Palpatine's decision to eliminate Vorru as a potential rival and bring the ever-restless worlds of the Corellia system to heel, both Vorru's and Eliezer's among them.

    "Care for a game of dejarik?" Vorru asked. He turned to one of the cabinets and fetched from it a portable dejarik table. In times past, he and Eliezer had played many a game; playing again would give him a good sense of the Drall's mental fitness. He set the table between them and switched the board on.

    He was gratified when Eliezer made the first move quickly. He took a moment to counter, and watched as Eliezer peered at the board. The Drall took his time, which would have concerned Vorru if he did not see the calculating poise behind Eliezer's beady eyes.

    Relief settled over him and he smiled. Eliezer may be physically feeble, but he had no more slowed than Vorru had himself.

    The game took some time to complete, and Vorru found himself genuinely engrossed in the competition. He won of course, but it was a near thing.

    The Drall sighed in annoyance as he settled deeper into his chair, his measured gaze now on Vorru. Vorru realized that the game had not just been his opportunity to test Eliezer; it had also been Eliezer's opportunity to test him. "You got me out to do a job," Eliezer prompted.

    "I did," Vorru replied, smiling. "As much as I like you, Eliezer, we both know that the effort of breaking you out was greater than the value of your company alone."

    The Drall laughed, though the sound turned into a hacking, awkward sounding cough. The furred alien clenched his taloned-hand into a fist and pounded his chest for a moment until it passed. "I wouldn't think so. And you never were the sentimental type." He unclenched his hand and stroked his claws over the arm of his chair slowly, the soft sound of sharp nails sliding over inexpensive leather.

    "I need two things," Vorru said, sitting up. His eyes bored into the Drall's. "Two things I am reasonably sure only you can provide."

    "Go on," the Drall replied, his eyes narrowing.

    "I need you to use your HoloNet infiltration skills to extract information for me. Eavesdropping on classified communications, both Republican and Imperial. Tracking ships through hyperspace, that kind of thing."

    Eliezer laughed. "Yes, of course," he replied. "And that would be quite enough." His voice grew quieter, arrogant. "No one else can do that for you, because I have husbanded those secrets very, very carefully. But I know you, Vorru. I can taste the ambition. There's something else you have planned… something dangerous. Something rewarding. Something challenging." His claws dug into the leather and tugged, and there was a tearing sound. "I am old for a Drall, older than you are for a human. I had not expected a true challenge again." The Drall leaned forward in the chair, his eyes gleaming. "Tell me."

    Vorru pulled out a chair across from Eliezer, sat down across from him, looked him dead in the eyes like an equal, and told him. He could see the Drall's ambition grow with his avarice. Even if they gave Tavira her promised cut, there would be more than enough left over to pursue all their ambitions.

    More than enough.





     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2020