Chapter 6 The Imperial Star Destroyer Palpatine's Will loomed over the planet of Carida like an imposing warrior king on a throne of blue and green. The massive wedge-shaped vessel had been shrouded in darkness, but now gleamed white in the light of the yellow sun cresting the planet below. The ship hovered in recovery mode, retrieving a line of TIE fighters. These fighters were not the standard training flights arriving daily from the base on the planet below, but the veteran warriors of Razor Squadron, returning from Yavin IV. All other traffic was put in holding patterns, the main docking bay of the great vessel devoted entirely to the recovery of these valuable pilots. Two gleaming red modified TIE interceptors were the last flight pair to pass the magcon field of the yawning bay. The ships moved lazily on repulsors, but their angular lines, dagger-like wings thrusting forward menacingly, made them appear to be perpetually in motion. They were finely crafted weapons, reserved for the most accomplished, and equally deadly, pilots of the Empire. With the two ships settled down on the deck plating of the bay, the top hatches hissed with the sound of equalization and opened simultaneously. Two dark forms unhooked flight gear, dropping it unceremoniously back into the vacant cockpits for techs to retrieve, and clambered over the edge of their respective hatches, slowly descending the ladders pulled alongside their dormant craft. Around the bay the occupants of the rest of the squadron's fighters had done the same. Though some of these pilots were doubled over with exhaustion, without fail they picked up their heavy flight helmets and snapped to attention as the last two pilots hopped down to the deck. One of these pilots removed a decidedly non-regulation TIE helmet, emblazoned with an intimidating death's head symbol, to reveal the incongruous visage of a petite, dark-haired woman. Even more unusual was the fact that her wingman, removing a standard TIE helmet, was also female. The flaxen-haired executive officer handed her helmet to a properly submissive tech and looked around at the double row of storm troopers on either side of the pilots, saying, "Well, looks they've brought out the welcoming committee." Her voice, though soft, echoed oddly in the vast hangar. "I wonder if Syn will try to put us in the brig again?" She said in a voice only her commanding officer could hear. A slight smile tugged on the corner of the other woman's normally severe mouth. She kept her eyes forward, locked on the rotund Imperial officer approaching, but said out of the corner of her mouth, "I'll take that over his alternatives.” The corpulent officer, Peccati Syn, was attired in the gleaming white uniform of a Grand Admiral. He saluted the two pilots, and all of Razor squadron dutifully snapped to attention and returned the salute. "Welcome home, Razors," he said, rather more cheerfully than any of them expected. "I am sure you are all quite tired from your long journey, and I am equally as certain that you'd all like to get to a proper refresher station before debriefing, so I will dispense with typical protocol and allow you all leave until 07:00 tomorrow. Dismissed." Audible gasps of relief echoed in the bay, irritating the dark-haired CO of the Squadron. They should be stoic, accept reward and punishment as a warrior should. I will make sure to train them more rigorously, she thought ruefully. Her irritation turned to disgust when the admiral let his appraising eyes examine her. "Commander Gorbunov, a word if you will." He turned to walk slowly towards the exit, implying that she should follow. Sighing, the commander turned to her executive officer and said, "Get the men settled and set a sim training schedule beginning at 05:00 tomorrow. The admiral might have given them leave, but I have not." She paused before saying, "And get some rest Deacon, I have a feeling we'll be shipping out again soon." The blonde woman saluted smartly and moved off, ordering the men into ranks and heralding them out of the hangar, her voice rising above the whine of the TIE carousel lifting their ships into the neat racks above the hangar. The commander moved quickly, but not frantically, to catch up to Grand Admiral Syn. When she was side by side, they took several steps before he said simply, "It was a difficult battle, but I am glad to see you back in one piece." "We failed the mission." She stated simply, wanting to end the conversation as quickly as possible. Still looking forward, the admiral said, "Ludmyla, the mission was never intended to be a success. At least not in the way you see it." Stiffening noticeably, Ludmyla Gorbunov came to a stop, looking at the admiral with a severe inquisitiveness. Syn, ignoring the slight, turned and faced her, "Oh, don't doubt that we wanted to hurt them. And hurt them we did. But we never planned on eliminating the entire Rebel force. The survivors have proven far more valuable to us." He looked away wistfully, "Still, it's a shame that that corvette got away. I had rather hoped of making it into a personal shuttle." Shaking her head incredulously at the man's pomposity, Ludmyla regained her composure and walked with him to a turbolift. As the door slid open and they entered, she said in a steely voice, "You set us up? You sent us into battle expecting us to fail?" "Oh, not me my dear 'Myla." Ludmyla shuddered at his strained familiarity, "Lord Vader." He said with a casualness that implied obviousness. "The ‘Dark Lord'" he said derisively, "attended your little battle." He pushed a button on the control terminal of the turbolift and looked at her with a gleam in his eye that repulsed the warrior, "He was...quite impressed with your fortitude and your ruthlessness. This is a high honor indeed, to be so acknowledged by the right hand of the Emperor." Ludmyla couldn't quite tell if it was jealousy or ambition that laced the admiral's voice. She decided that she didn't want to know. The hum of the turbolift was the only sound for a few moments, but behind its high-pitched whine, she started to hear the pleads and cries of the pilots of the stricken ships Razor squadron had left behind to their deaths. Those cries had reminded her of... She pushed the thoughts away violently, directing the anger at her superior officer. "What was the objective of such a mission then? We took heavy casualties. I lost...I lost...valuable resources!" "We were able to install several tracking devices on the hulls of several pitiful Rebel freighters." The Admiral replied calmly. Ludmyla looked at him, bewildered, and then raised her eyebrows in awareness, "The TIE bombers." She said softly. That explains why they failed to destroy the Argent. "Very good." He said condescendingly, "Several of the new XX-25 tracking droids were installed in specifically modified torpedo housings. They attached themselves to the slow freighters that are unlikely to have sophisticated detection systems. During the battle...it is unlikely that they discovered this." The door to the turbolift hissed open, and the two walked down a long corridor ending in open blast doors leading to the bridge of the massive vessel. Walking out onto the catwalk overlooking the myriad officers in the command pits below, Ludmyla looked at the Admiral. He was standing tall, his hands casually clasped behind his back, illuminated by the light of the Carida sun pouring in through the panoramic transparisteel view ports of the Star Destroyer. He looked as pompous and self-satisfied as ever, as if posing for nonexistent holocameras. Looking out over the bow of his ship, stabbing like a sword past the horizon of the planet below them, he said, "We know where they are." He balled a hand into a pudgy fist. "And now we will crush them."