Chapter 95: Battle of Andor VII
OPERATION MOHAMMED IMPERIAL REAR
“Go, go, go!” Jellico barked loudly as he stood up from his command seat and urged his fleet forward.
“All ships you are go!”
“Reckless Hope moving into covering position.”
“Dresden taking the vanguard position.”
Jellico continued standing as he watched Kurgos, the Andorian fortress moon, quickly falling away as his starships gunned their impulse engines and raced for their rally point. With the Imperial fleet’s center of gravity drastically forward and away from Kurgos there were no immediate threats to Jellico’s task force.
That did not mean that the Imperials could not hurt them, long range turbolaser fire could be just as deadly to the starships than if they were right with them toe to toe. It did not matter that the stardestroyers were fully engaged with the Imperium and Federation fleets either because the mighty warships had more than enough guns to spare.
But so far Jellico was satisfied with their start.
“Begin sensor disruption operations. I want so many false shadows thrown up that they think their equipment is failing. It is essential that Thrawn not have a clue what we’re doing out here or the jig is up.” Jellico ordered tersely as his taskforce began to fan out in a precise geometric patterns to form a large sphere.
“This is the Endeavor, deploying our payload.”
“Acknowledged Endeavor. Sagan do you have a reading?”
“All systems look good.”
Captain Entebbe sat impatiently in his command seat. He was watching crucial readouts scrolling across the top and bottom of his view screen. He drummed his fingers nervously while his science officer ran the series of continuous scans on the rapidly unfurling project dubbed “Mohammed.”
The Endeavor, a Nebula class vessel, slowly backed away as a volley of canisters were launched from her weapons pod mounted over her primary hull. The canisters fell away and as they cleared the starship they exploded open, the shell spinning away revealing a delicate framework of receivers and glittering circuits. The framework unfurled quickly, long spindly metallic arms lancing out driven by motors and each arm quickly found another and linked with it.
In a matter of moments the Endeavor’s payload had fully deployed into a latticework of vaguely triangular shape. Small rectangular pads flipped out from the sides of the spider web of tritanium and focused inward facing the interior of the triangular field.
More canisters were launched from the task force as it fell into a spherical formation. Each canister deployed a similar device of tritanium latticework that all slowly cam together.
“We have company, Captain. I count seven squadrons of Imperial fighters in bound and looks like a Carrack frigate is moving in to support.”
“That all you’ve got Grand Admiral?” Jellico smirked. “You’re going to regret treating us so casually.” He quickly glanced down at his tactical display as the spider web continued to grow exponentially, each triangular cluster of arrays joining together linked by powerful magnets and interlocking seals.
“Have the Endeavor break off and support the Dresden and the vanguard units in screening the array. Those bastards can’t get a whiff of what we’re doing out here or we’re in deep trouble.”
“Sir, Reckless Hope is moving into over watch position.”
Jellico nodded perfunctorily and watched the progress of the growth of the array.
“C’mon, boys. Faster.” Jellico urged. The first flashes of phaser and laser fire criss crossing in the corner of his screen signaled the start of his own battle. The moment the Imperials got wind of what was happening here Thrawn would squash them utterly. Of course, that would require him to believe what they were attempting out here. Part of Jellico still thought this was going to be a spectacular failure but he could not deny that if it worked they would be making history at this moment.
ADJUDICATOR IMPERIAL LEFT WING
“Stay on him….all weapons prepare for time on target volley.” Tarsi urged hands closed in fists so tight that his knuckles were bone white. On the view port an Imperial stardestroyer, the Irresistible, was listing badly to port, the entire forward forecastle was engulfed in flamed and one of her sensor globes had just erupted into a geyser of molten metal and hot gasses. She was a ship wracked by death throes. Tarsi was about to put it out of its misery.
“Does the rest of the triumvirate have our targeting beacons?” Tarsi asked quickly not willing to take his eyes of his prey even for a moment.
“They are standing by.”
A wave of TIE Bombers delivered their payload with devastating effect at that very moment and a bright blossom of fire and plasma burst on the starboard side of the crippled Imperial warship.
“Now! Fire for effect!” Tarsi barked.
The triumvirate, moving aggressively forward in a tight wedge formation were perpendicular to the Irresistible. All three stardestroyers released a horrific torrent of emerald turbolaser fire as one single volley that easily ripped through the Irresistible’s heavily taxed shields and blew open gaping holes in the armored side of the warship.
Moments later geysers of molten metal and plasma plumed all along the center and port side of the ship, scattering debris and hot gasses into the void as the proud stardestroyer finally died. It erupted into a bright star of rapidly annihilating hypermatter while the triumvirate gracefully peeled apart in three different directions away from their fallen foe.
“We have heavy fire from 27 degrees!” Tarsi’s XO warned.
“The Hierophant?” Tarsi asked tersely.
“And her strike group. They are massing on our right wing.”
Tarsi glanced over in the exact location where the Imperial stardestroyer and her retinue of experts were gathering. The Hierophant was obviously the command ship of the trapped Imperial left wing and she was putting up a valiant fight. She had beaten off a determined assault from a pair of Imperium stardestroyers and had hulled over a dozen Romulan warbirds. She was a sight to behold, resplendent in ivory armor plating bristling with a weapons suite that put his own ship’s to shame.
“I see the Emperor has been keeping new stardestroyer classes from us.” Tarsi noted grimly.
“Captain, I have a holo-transmission from the Imperator’s Will.” The comchief reported over the din of the bridge crew hard at work at what they did best. Destroying their enemies.
“I’ll take it here.” Tarsi replied and took his post at one of the command posts on his deck. “And Joril, for the love of Skywalker get our fighter screen back, they’re all over this battle field and we’re heading into the thick of this nest of gundarks.” Tarsi added with that self assured smile that signaled to his crew that all was well. They were all in their element now, no more guerilla fighting, hunting random starships through ion storms, subjugating barely defended worlds or
His CAG acknowledged with his own smile and quickly began recalling whatever fighters he could. There was only one reason Tarsi would want his entire fighter screen back in place so abruptly. It meant he was going to try and destroy the Hierophant.
“Grand Admiral Kittaine.” Tarsi reported with a perfunctory bow of his head. A holographic representation of Kittaine stood on the small holographic display disk. He was handing a report to Captain Branna as he turned his full attention to Tarsi.
“Admiral Tarsi. The Hierophant is the lynchpin of their defense. My intelligence sources have pegged her as an Imperial Mark III, they were not meant for mass production until three more years of testing and test bed vessels. Obviously the Emperor has sped up that production schedule.”
“I suspected as much, she’s the most heavily armed ship of her size I’ve ever seen. She’s built for ship to ship obviously.” Tarsi mused darkly and with a hint of jealousy.
“Consider her the natural progression of the ISD class, the Mark II’s were the interim design but you have some advantages, for example you may have noticed her escorts.”
“Indeed. Lancers and some Strikes.”
Kittaine nodded with a half smile. Tarsi was his best tactician, best fighter over all. If anyone could sniff out the weakness of a new ship it was him.
“Her weapons load out comes with some sacrifices. Her fighter load out is minimal. She compensates with an anti fighter heavy escort.” Kittaine paused as the bridge obviously took a hit and bright light washed out the image for a moment. “Intensify the anti fighter batteries and get the Romulan warbirds to take over watch, too many of their torpedoes are getting through.” Kittaine ordered. He turned his attention to Tarsi again.
“I don’t have much more time, the Imperial relief forces are hitting us hard, Tarsi. Kirk’s fleet has been doing their best but they’re being bulled aside. I need you and triumvirate to take out the Hierophant immediately. You will only have your local sector resources. I cannot spare you any more Imperium warships. I can give you access to the Scimitar squadron cloaked in your sector. A dozen scimitars so use them wisely. They’ve proven to be more effective than we imagined. Commander Shinzon is in command.”
“We will not fail you, Grand Admiral. Consider her gone.”
“Hurry Tarsi, Thrawn’s dogs are nipping at our heels and too many of his left wing are still intact.” Kittaine replied seriously. “Tarsi, I want you to clear my sky.”
“Understood, Adjudicator out.”
The holographic image of Kittaine vanished.
Tarsi nodded to himself for a moment and examined his target through one of the armored view ports of the bridge. The Hierophant floated serenely ahead and above them, her turbolasers hungrily searching for prey whenever one of the Imperium ships drew too close.
“You’re mine.” Tarsi whispered. “All hands prepare to engage the enemy.” He announced a moment later and strode down the length of his command pit. “Navigation bring us hard about, I want us on an oblique approach to the Hierophant keep as many of our guns on her as we can during final approach. Gunnery, maintain a steady stream of fire on her, concentrate on a single shield grid if possible throughout the approach, forget counter battery fire, she’s got too many guns for us to suppress. Shields, maintain intensity at all costs, you are authorized to draw from emergency and battery reserves and if necessary bleed some off of the off angled shields but you must maintain them throughout the approach or we’re all dead. Fighter command, have our screen move in behind us, they will execute a concentrated alpha strike on the shield grid that I designate when the time is right and keep our fighters away from their escorts, I have something special planned for them.” Tarsi stopped at the end of the walkway after his machinegun like delivery of orders.
“Inform the triumvirate we’re moving now. We will utilize a Correllian Flying Wedge on the advance.” Tarsi informed his XO.
“I will have our navigators coordinate for the wedge formation.”
“Very good.” Tarsi leaned forward on the railing overlooking his command pits. “This is our hour crew of the Adjudicator. We are going to take that bitch down and clear our Grand Admiral’s sky in the name of the Imperium and Luke Skywalker. It will take more than some warship dragged out of a space yard to stop us. The emperor himself could be on that beast and it wouldn’t matter a whit because I am with the finest crew on the finest ship in the Imperium or any fleet for that matter.”
The men exchanged smiled and some even laughed nervously.
“Now.” Tarsi smiled wolfishly. “Let’s go kill the Hierophant.”
USS ENTERPRISE NCC-1701-E BOARDING ACTION
Kirk jumped back in time to avoid a sizzling bolt of blaster fire that blew open a panel on the far wall behind him. His lightsaber flashed up reflexively and he severed the blaster’s barrel and then he swung the blade in a back stroke that cut a glowing red swath through the stormtrooper’s white breast plate.
The fight for the bridge of the Enterprise was a bloody struggle now, dead and wounded lay next to each other as the bridge of the proud starship was being reduced to a smoking battered moonscape of destroyed consoles, chairs and melting deck plates. Stormtroopers were still dropping like an obscene ivory rain from the assault transport latched onto the Enterprise.
If Kirk could see outside of his starship he would see several more of the heavily armored beetle like assault transports clinging like obscene parasites to the graceful Enterprise with armored legs that punched into the hull of the starship giving them purchase as their boarding umbilicals burned through the hull plates allowing their cargo of stormtroopers access to the interior.
“Anytime would be good Scotty!” Kirk shouted back at his chief engineer who was feverishly working on some control panels. Spock and Uhura were providing covering fire.
“You don’t rush this kind of work, sair.” Scotty replied as he entered a string of over rides into the control system as it bitterly protested what he was trying to do.
“Yes. Actually yes I do.” Kirk snapped as he grappled with a stormtrooper shoving him back against the guardrail adjacent to the view screen. They struggled fiercely for a moment each trying to gain leverage on the other. Kirk unexpectedly dropped one hand down bringing the butt of the lightsaber crashing into the stormtrooper’s helmet. The trooper grunted and stumbled backwards giving Kirk the scant second he needed to flip the humming blue blade up and through the trooper’s midsection.
Another stormtrooper vaulted over a fallen comrade and clubbed Kirk viciously between the shoulder blades with the butt of his blaster while Kirk was in the middle of recovering the blade. Kirk jerked forward and the trooper managed to swing his blaster around Kirk’s shoulder pulled it taut against his throat holding onto the barrel and the butt like a makeshift garrote. The trooper hauled back hard and Kirk gasped loudly, his grip on the lightsaber loosening and falling down blade end first into the deck plates at their feet. The blade hissed hungrily as it ate into the plate and reverberated back and forth on its own weighted hilt without anyone holding onto it to stabilize the weapon.
Kirk clawed at the blaster rifle’s barrel as it dug further into his throat and breathing was impossible. The trooper pulled back hard again putting all his weight behind the movement and the barrel dug in deeper to Kirk’s throat and neck. Kirk’s vision blurred and his face turned a deep purple.
“Die, rebel scum.” The trooper grunted as he prepared for one last pull that would surely shatter Kirk’s windpipe and end it all.
In his rapidly decreasing peripheral vision he saw the dancing lightsaber blade as it swung back and forth like a humming pendulum while the blade’s tip continued burning into the deck plate. Kirk gathered up all his strength, braced himself and swung around as hard and fast as he could, carrying his assailant with him using the momentum of his movement.
The trooper flailed about for a moment before gathering his wits enough to jerk back harder than ever on the blaster rifle and settle all of his body weigh beneath the move.
Kirk gasped and croaked as air completely cut off now and his windpipe creaked in his ears where this heart was pounding like drums and the roar of blood rushing through his body became an incessant all consuming noise. His vision tunneled and he could feel himself letting go.
He felt a sudden jerk and a loud hiss followed by a scream. An ivory armored leg spun into his field of vision and clattered lifelessly against the guardrail. Kirk fell forward onto his stomach and the stormtrooper toppled over on top of him. His grip was still strong against Kirk’s windpipe but it was weakening and the trooper’s breath came ragged and wet over the helmet speakers until it finally ceased and the trooper’s grip slacked off.
Kirk rose up to his knees simultaneously pulled the rifle away and it dropped down to the floor. Kirk gasped frantically to get back his breath and coughed in a spastic fit rubbing his raw throat. He gingerly reached out for the swinging saber that was now half way into the floor and took a hold of the hilt. The blade doused he brought the hilt to his side.
“Captain! I’m tripping the fuse!” Scotty exclaimed over the din of battle.
Kirk rolled his eyes.
“Now you tell me.” He croaked and immediately leapt up onto one of the remaining whole seats on the bridge and then launched himself onto one of the guardrails on the second level of the bridge. The rest of the Enterprise security detail heard Scotty and they struggled to get off the main bridge deck’s floor.
Scotty tripped the control stud and the suddenly all the stormtroopers on the primary level of the bridge stiffened and began to jerk uncontrollably like puppets on strings. Sparks flared up all along the deck plates like Fourth of July fireworks as thousands of volts of power surged along the plates and through the stormtroopers. Light blue tendrils of power danced between their legs, equipment, utility belts and weapons.
Scotty took a moment to admire his handiwork.
“It took me precious minutes ta bypass every security and safety code built into our power supply and environmental system but seeing these sinners in this state was worth every moment of it, Mr. Spock.” Scotty mused with a soft smile.
“As you promised, Mr. Scott, just like Taurus II.” Spock noted.
“I’ve never flown a shuttle that handled quite as well as the Galileo 7.” Scotty added.
“Only you two could get sentimental about that mess of a mission. Now let’s go help the captain and get these bastards off our bridge.” Uhura chimed in raising her phaser.
“You are one fiery lass!” Scotty exclaimed with a laugh.
“Would you three get down here!” Kirk croaked as loud as he could through his raw throat in annoyance but with a large grin on his face while crouched against the guard rail watching the electrical display going off mere meters away. “We’ve got a job to do.”
DOGFIGHT IN SECTOR J-12 IMPERIAL CENTER
Luke grunted against the monstrous g-forces that were piling against him as he flung his X-Wing between two dueling capital ships and finished his maneuver with a mad spinning corkscrew as green bolts whipped past him seeking his craft with eerie intensity and precision. Every move was instinct and reaction. There was no time for thought or hesitation. Do or do not, there was no try.
He smiled to himself as he remembered those words from his ancient Master.
The green flashes from the near hits of Vader’s attacks were illuminating the interior of the cockpit bathing Luke and his controls in a sickly emerald glow.
His father was trying to kill him.
The thought was like a sledgehammer driven into his consciousness. It was a realization though painfully obvious also easily ignored or overlooked in his experiences. It was so simple to categorize Anakin as Darth Vader, a figure cloaked in shadow and darkness, trapped inside a walking life support tank who had eliminated all his old friends, in some cases hunting them down like animals. This creature of the Sith was easy to categorize as an enemy, a fiend who deserved not a whit of pity or compassion and certainly no remorse in killing it.
But this was also his father.
The duality was hard to accept. It was one of the reasons why he did not know if he had the strength to do what must be done. If his father would not turn then he would need to be destroyed.
Save that Luke could only feel the good in him, past the anger and fury that seethed from the fighter behind him, he could sense it pulsing softly like a dying heartbeat almost drowned out by the cold cutting murderous intent behind his father’s attacks.
The intent unexpectedly stung him for a moment. His father had no hesitation. He was actively trying to kill Luke and if not for Luke’s skill and strength in the Force Vader would have made him one with the stars by now. Luke was holding back, had been holding back from the moment he started down this path with his father. And his father knew Luke was holding back yet here he was trying his utmost to kill Luke.
Without thinking Luke jerked back on the controls and kicked his vectored thrusters hard with a grunt and his eyes narrowed as he swung his X-Wing into a spin on its horizontal axis, lights glared bright red and his engines shuddered as baffles swung directly into the engine nozzles directing the exhaust into a nearly impossible angle perpendicular to the same plane as the fuselage.
The X-wing spun like a top and faced the TIE Fighter. For a moment both fighters were face to face roaring at each other at high sublight speed. Only Jedi reflexes allowed each pilot to get of a burst from their weapons before each blasted past each other between the blinks of an eye. Luke’s burst found their mark, one blast tearing a gash from the leading edge of the armored cockpit to the wing strut while another vaporized the life support unit slung under the body of the TIE. Vader’s burst scored twin hits, one knocking one of Luke’s laser cannons askew, the tip melted away into a white hot steam and the other had hit Luke’s nosecone, shearing away components and ebony armor revealing a delicate latticework of sensor equipment.
Both fighters immediately dropped away from the main plane of engagement in power dives, engines flaring bright crimson, both spun in and out of a increasingly shrinking spiral, every time one fighter pulled slightly ahead and fell within weapons range of the other, weapons fire burst forth in brief staccato bursts seeking their prey.
Each pilot ignored the increasingly alarmed warnings of their crafts, Luke’s astromech droid was nearly shrieking now as it saw all indicators flaring into a cacophony of distress and hysteria. Each pushed their fighter to its limit and beyond, each one built to the specifications of its pilot. One was a veteran warrior and the greatest pilot of the Clone Wars the other was young, fearless and a pilot without peer of his generation.
One was the father, the other the son.
They each were intent on killing the other.
Sweat beaded on Luke’s brow as he stabbed his firing control studs in precise clipped patterns and peppered the silhouette of Vader’s TIE fighter as it barrel rolled across his field of vision in a daring attempt to cross Luke’s forward weapons arc and fall into his six o clock position. The TIE fighter’s barrel roll took it right between the crimson bolts as if each shot were coming in slow motion and the fighter pirouetted elegantly through the storm of crimson blaster fire.
Luke’s fingers suddenly switched over to his torpedo control stud and he knew within a heartbeat that if he released his torpedoes the proximity fuses would detonate destroying his father, no amount of Jedi reflexes could outrun the blast wave. Luke also instinctively knew he could pull away and only catch the bow front of the blast, damaging him as well but not killing him.
“I have you now.” He whispered and then his finger froze and his eyes narrowed and his breathing seemed to stop and he heard a distant voice like a whisper in the wind that could have easily been mistaken for the soft gurgle of air from his environmental unit. But Luke was currently one with the Force and he knew this was so much more.
A ripple in the Force brought time to an absolute stop. All was still, even his own breathing simply ceased and a host of possibilities opened themselves to him. Each one dark and chaotic as the future was no longer set. The very fabric of reality seemed to unravel around him on each path, as if it was all going to end the same. In oblivion.
He briefly wondered if this simply meant he was doomed to die and after that there was nothing but he remembered the ghost on Hoth and Dagobah of his lost master. Obi Wan was proof that death was meaningless in the Force.
His memories suddenly drifted back to the dueling circle on Coruscant. He walked around the outer rim stalking like a panther crimson lightsaber lit and humming hungrily for its prey. Standing in the center like a mountain was the armored giant Darth Vader who watched his move with calm precision. Vader’s own saber was not activated but rested on his belt.
Lord Nemesis smiled predatorily as he watched for an opening.
“The dueling circle is not just about trying to kill your opponent, Lord Nemesis.” Vader cautioned.
“Indeed?” Nemesis replied darkly and suddenly he sprang forward in an explosion of movement and flashing light. He feinted hard left and bent his body at an almost impossible angle back to the right and drove his lightsaber blade tip first into the center of the black armored mass with a grunt of effort, muscles rippling like an ocean swept by tempests beneath the black skin tight fighting suit.
Vader’s hand swept upward calmly and his lightsaber sprang from his belt, activating mid-flight and landed firmly in Vader’s gauntlet. His blade easily intercepted and parried Nemesis’ strike. He forced Nemesis blow away from his body and followed through with a sharp riposte.
Nemesis parried with ease and twisted his body at the waist to sneak his blade under Vader’s.
Vader batted Nemesis’ strike aside and launched a series of wide sweeping strikes.
“It measures your own will.” Vader’s blows came down around Nemesis like a flashing crimson rain. “It judges your strength” The strikes crashed down against Nemesis’ blade with a harsh electric sizzle. “Your cunning.” Vader bulled in past Nemesis’ harried defenses closing the gap between them so that he could bring his bulk and superior strength fully to bear on Nemesis. “and your power.”
Vader’s blade meant to take Nemesis’ head in one swift stroke. Nemesis raised his blade instinctively and blocked the blow and as the blades locked both Sith lords stared into each other’s eyes, wills locked in the same contest of superiority as their blades.
Vader’s blade suddenly slid down off of Nemesis’ and struck Nemesis’s exposed bionic hand and slid down his forearm. The smell of burnt flesh flashed up into the air and Nemesis hissed in anger and pain as he fell back and his blade dropped from his wounded hand.
Nemesis fell to one knee for a moment to gather his breath.
Vader towered over him, saber still lit.
Nemesis looked up apprehensively at the silent goliath staring down at him. His eyes drifted between the emotionless eye lenses of the Sith lord’s helmet and his ignited saber.
“You have much yet to learn young one.” Vader said softly as he doused his blade and extended his hand.
“Why would you help me?” Nemesis asked sharply, pride still stinging at the ignominious defeat.
“Because you are my apprentice, because you are a fellow Sith lord.” Vader gripped Nemesis’ hand and hauled him up gently to his feet. No one would have believed the giant armored warrior could have shown such gentleness and care but then again they were not there at Bespin when the Sith lord brought Nemesis to him, crippled and battered and placed his cape around him to shield him from the cold winds whipping around the central processor station of the Cloud City.
“And because you are my son.” Vader finished as he brought Nemesis completely to his feet.
“The emperor warned us about our feelings interfering with our training. He is violating one of the most sacred covenants of the order by working together as three.” Nemesis pointed out sullenly.
Vader seemed stung by the correction.
“Do not presume to lecture me on the Sith. You have not seen what I have seen, whelp.” Vader hissed and released Nemesis’ hand as if it were diseased..
Nemesis could feel the anger seething at the jibe and he instantly regretted what he said. It did not occur to him then but it did now in the clarity of his experiences since then that he chose that particular tact because he knew Vader cared. He knew Vader loved him. It was the one chink in his armor Nemesis could exploit without fail.
That was his name, the old Sith trick still worked. It was so simple and it worked now even millennia after the founding of the Order. You separate the man from his name and you have reinvented the man. Anakin Skywalker needed to die in order to become the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Back in the dim half forgotten past of the Sith Order the prospective lord would be required to face trials that were meant to burn away the man that was whether figuratively or literally and in his place leave a new man, a new person that needed a name to give him power and meaning.
Thus the renaming ceremony that shaped the Sith way since its inception. Take away the old name and give a new one and you can change the man. You can make him powerful, feared, respected. You can liberate him and make him do anything he desired for he was no longer chained to what he once was. Now he was someone else entirely.
Luke Skywalker was once Darth Nemesis. He betrayed his old friends, destroyed the rebellion, killed his master and had brought this quadrant of the galaxy to its knees. Now as Luke Skywalker he fought to defend this galaxy from what was once his master’s military. He struggled against his very flesh and blood.
And that was the old Sith trick he nearly fell for now. Darth Vader and Anakin were two separate individuals for the Sith. But Luke was no longer a Sith and he did not need to see it that way. Just as he had let go of the dogma of Light versus Dark Sides of the Force he needed to see this conflict through new eyes.
Luke Skywalker could kill Darth Vader but he could never kill Anakin Skywalker.
With this revelation the anger vanished like some fevered dream upon awakening and his fingers relaxed on the trigger of the weapons stud. His eyes fluttered as if waking up from a long sleep and for the briefest moment, reflected in the canopy of his fighter was the face of a young woman. Her face was beautiful and innocent. Her deep eyes regarded him with love and affection and he felt a fleeting sense of recognition.
“There’s still good in him Luke. Do not give up as I did. Save him, my dearest son.”
Luke’s eyes widened.
“Mother?” he whispered.
Her face was no longer in the reflections of his canopy. There was only Anakin’s TIE fighter and he instinctively depressed the trigger to his torpedoes, simultaneously yanking his fighter hard to starboard.
The torpedoes whooshed out of the tubes and the glittering trail of their onboard rockets activating blinded Luke for a moment. Anakin’s TIE fighter spun into a steeper dive to get away from the torpedoes. The combination of Luke’s violent maneuver upon firing coupled with Anakin’s peerless piloting and Jedi reflexes saved him. The proximity fuses detonated heart beats too late to encompass Anakin’s fighter and he managed to escape destruction but one of his bent wing panels was perforated in many places by shrapnel and plasma, nearly completely shredding it and sending his fighter into an out of control spin through a haze of a dying starship venting a cloud of molten metal and plasma from the stump that was once an engine nacelle and out of sight of Luke as he recovered from his own wild maneuver.
NOWHERE AND EVERYWHERE
“Can you feel it, the tension is rising. So dramatic, so epic.”
“Clichéd?” Q offered as he slowly slid a piece down the line of the board threatening one of Gary Mitchell’s pieces. The silver eyed god smirked as if insulted by the move.
“That offense your piecing together out of the disparate remnants of your side is what I find clichéd. I mean really, who didn’t see the boy having a change of heart and joining the side of the angels.” Gary sneered in disdain.
“That’s just it, Mitchell. What you fail to realize is that there is no side of the angels in this game. Skywalker chose to walk on the side of his enlightened best interest. He did not disband the Imperium, he did not free the worlds occupied by his forces. He is maintaining the status quo save that now he is not a dark lord of the Sith.”
“You sound almost disappointed.” Gary noted with a cold smile.
“That would mean I actually gave a damn about these primitive creatures.”
Gary shook his head.
“You know, Q, here, at the end of all things, you are still going to sit there and tell me you don’t care?” the silver eyed god asked with a nearly bemused tone.
Q sighed softly as he regarded the god that was once human sitting across from him. Gary Mitchell was the embodiment of the Continuum’s greatest fear. That humanity, so full of promise and ability would ascend too quickly. That they, gifted little monkeys that they were, would take the power that the rest of the community of ascended had earned over millions of years in a relatively short time without maturing as the others had.
Gary was a god but humanity still clung to him like a cheap coat and all the negative connotations that went with that state of being. Emotionally immature, primitive in out look, vengeful, spiteful and petty like a child. It was all the ingredients that could make humans the holy terrors of the galaxy in a scant million years or less.
The Continuum had debated the fate of mankind since they first left their caves and commanded the basic elements. There were several instances were extinction was seriously considered and nearly carried out. How many near asteroid and comet misses that the Q almost nudged an extra degree to the left or right had the humans not known about?
Their self destructive streak saved them. The Q and the other members of the ascended decided that direct action, something all but the most reckless were loathe to take in particular the Organians, would not be necessary. They would destroy themselves in a blaze of stupidity at some point in their bloody history.
But now look at them, taking their first childlike steps into the unknown and Q was there waiting for them, like an older brother ready to tease and cajole but also to secretly assist when the time was right and the parents were looking the other way. The rest of the Q thought he was mentally ill to take a liking to the race known as humans. Of course, when the Organians got involved no one gave them grief or called them unstable. But Q was used to the slings and arrows of injustice.
But when Q looked into those cold silver eyes he could see the anger, the hunger for power and vengeance that consumed Gary Mitchell. In the silver eyed god seated across from him, Q could see the personification of the Continuum’s and the other ascendeds’ fears. Mankind with the power of a god held the promise of horrible things to unfold.
“This game is almost morbid when you think about it. Don’t you just want to give it up and walk away?” Q asked softly.
Gary blinked as if the concept had not even crossed his mind.
“When you think about it, it doesn’t really matter what unfolds here does it? We’re all facing oblivion in a very short amount of time.” Q added with a shrug.
Gary shook his head as he touched a piece and contemplated the board with a critical eye.
“No, Q. You don’t seem to grasp that for me, the game is everything. If you want to tip your king, please do so but the game needs to go on.”
“Why?” Q asked nonchalantly.
Gary smiled softly as if at a private joke.
“Don’t worry, my friend. When the end comes all will be made clear to you.”
Q pursed his lips.
“You do realize that I’m, the one that’s supposed to be all mysterious and mischievous. It doesn’t become you.”
Gary paused and looked up over the board at Q, silver lifeless eyes boring into Q’s.
“There’s so much about me you don’t know Q. I can be full of surprises.”
“I don’t doubt it.” Q replied with a shrug but he immediately reached out across the ether. No one was going to pull a fast one on him, much less this human relic.
“Some people on the other hand,” Gary continued. “Can be so predictable.” He finished with a cold smirk. Even though his eyes were on the Enterprise piece Q did not think it meant James Kirk at all.
EXECUTOR IMPERIAL CENTER
“It will be over quickly, Captain Solo. You can spare them so much pain and suffering.”
“This is not what I want to do.” Han protested as the comlink was raised to his lips by a stormtrooper.
“I understand but as you can see, Captain Ochoa is in no position to accept your defiance, isn’t that correct, Captain?” Thrawn asked calmly with a sweep of an arm.
“This ends poorly for you Grand Admiral.” Ochoa bit through clenched teeth as the Noghri around him held him still and one unsheathed a humming vibroblade.
“This is regrettable but unavoidable.” The Noghri commander whispered to Ochoa. The blind starship captain nodded.
“It always is.”
The Noghri shifted uncomfortably. They detected no fear from Ernesto Ochoa and it only made them feel worse about killing him in cold blood. One so brave was not meant for a death like this one.
“I said I’d do it now leave him alone.”
“I will, Captain Solo, as soon as you speak to your friends and convince them to lay down their arms.”
“Things may have changed a lot since I went under but I don’t think for a second Luke or Leia is going to lay down their arms because I say so.” Han replied sardonically.
“You never know until you try.” Thrawn chided darkly then turned to the com link open in his hand.
“This is Grand Admiral Thrawn to the Rebel forces of the Imperium and the Federation Remnant that are defying Emperor Palpatine’s will at this very moment.” Thrawn began evenly. “I extend this offer of clemency to all forces involved in hostilities against Imperial authority. I will only extend this offer once. To show my good will towards this moment I present a rebel who has accepted my mercy and authority.”
Thrawn inclined his head towards Han. The holographic cams focused on Han and bright lights illuminated him in an intense halo. Han blinked for a moment, trying to shield his eyes as the blindness that he suffered since coming out of hibernation was dispelled for a moment by the intensity of the lights.
“Hi, guys. It’s me. Han. Miss me?” he asked after clearing his throat nervously.
OPERATION MOHAMMED IMPERIAL REAR
“What in the name of---” Leia froze in place and her blood ran cold and her skin was electric. Her eyes widened slowly as she regarded the hologram standing over her in one of the tactical displays.
Her heart sank deep into her stomach.
Chewbacca’s roar of surprise, joy and outrage echoed through the CIC of the Reckless Hope.
“Oh my! It’s Captain Solo.” Threepio exclaimed. Artoo whistled excitedly “Indeed Artoo he does look rather well. I told you the Carbonite would keep him safe.”
Leia’s hand slowly lifted and gently reached out to touch the grainy black and white hologram of the man she loved. He seemed lost. Almost afraid if that were possible and her heart went out to him at that very moment. He was alone on the flagship of their enemy and it pained her most to know that they were no longer together, not like they used to be. Before the Battle of Hoth when they seemed like a big family and no one could stop them and the galaxy was awash with possibilities.
Now they were broken up, Luke leading a rebel contingent of Imperial forces, Lando and the Alliance back in their home galaxy and now Han alone in the clutches of the Grand Admiral. It struck a deep abiding sense of sorrow to her soul.
“Han.” She whispered.
His holographic image seemed to look up at her as if he heard her.
“Luke. Leia. I know everything.”
DOGFIGHT IN SECTOR J-12 IMPERIAL CENTER
“Han.” Luke gasped in surprise as he heard the transmission. He could feel his friend’s presence in the Force like a beacon at the center of the Executor far ahead of him with the rest of the Imperial fleet between him and his friend.
Or was it another vision? No. He was sure of it. That was Han and he was in Thrawn’s presence speaking to him after all this time.
All thought and concerns about his father faded for a moment. All he could do was listen to Han and wonder where everything had gone wrong. For if anything crystallized for him how much his life had changed it was this moment, seeing his dearest friend alone on the bridge of the Executor while he was off trying to kill his father leading his own Imperial faction.
How things had changed from those days on Tatooine and Yavin.
“I know that you have all changed and forgotten what you were. Luke, you’re a Sith lord now and it breaks my heart to know that. After all we’ve been through kid, you might as well have spit on my face at Yavin when I saved your life. Makes me wish I left you to freeze out there on Hoth.”
Luke’s jaw tightened.
“I don’t think you care anymore, but I’m ashamed of you, ashamed of what you’ve become. Did Ben Kenobi die for nothing?” Han demanded.
Luke felt shame prick at him and he was silent for a moment as his friend’s words sunk in like a corpse into the mouth of the Sarlaac back home.
OPERATION MOHAMMED IMPERIAL REAR
“Ignore that noise on the main channel and focus on the mission objectives.” Jellico snapped as he watched the lattice work expanding swiftly before his eyes until it was growing off screen.
“We are at 87% completion.” His science officer reported.
“Sagan, how is she looking?” Jellico asked leaning down into the com board at his communication officer’s station. The usually cool calm commander had taken up pacing between the stations as the project neared completion. The Imperials were obviously getting suspicious of their activities as more and more vessels started to approach.
The Executor, looming far to the Port remained stationary but one glance down at his tactical display showed another half dozen squadrons peeling away from the fighter screen and racing towards their position.
“We can’t keep him in the dark forever, she’s getting too big to hide.” Jellico muttered under his breath.
“Entebbe here, sir. The array is functioning well within parameters. The power cells are fully deployed. We need to begin the jump start process if we want her fully charged in time for the go ahead.”
“I copy that Entebbe, pass on the order to Andor.”
“Acknowledged, Sagan out.”
Jellico had to grip the com station for a moment as the Cairo pitched forward nearly ten degrees and lights dimmed for a moment. A flight of TIE Fighter roared into sight on the main viewer as they completed their strafing run on the Cairo and spun like mad tops in tight turns to come around for another pass.
“Damnit, get those fighters off of us and prepare to initiate the final phase.”
Jellico pursed his lips as he peered at the viewer and seemed to be willing the array to finish its construction.
“Andor, this is the Sagan. Begin power transfer. Repeat, begin power transfer.”
“Acknowledged Sagan. We are transmitting in five...four…three...two…one.”
A series of bright white beams lanced out from Andor and crossed the gulf between the planet and the array in less than a heartbeat and caught the dish arrays fanning open on hard points along the increasingly oval array. The dishes sparkled and glowed brightly and moments later small disc emitters built in regular intervals along the spider web like structure flexed and started to pulse in regular geometric patterns.
Captain Entebbe watched the sensor readings scrolling along the top and bottom of his main viewer and nodded.
“It’s working.” He glanced back at his Science officer. “We’re almost ready.” He smiled.
“This is going to make history, Captain.” His science officer replied with a hint of awe.
EXECUTOR IMPERIAL CENTER
“And Leia, I know all about you and your Captain Kirk, I can’t say I blame you. You had no way of knowing if I was coming back. But you know something? I loved you and still do, and knowing that I would have waited. I would have done everything in my power to save you. Instead you left me behind. I can’t believe you would all abandon me. Even you, Chewie.” Han’s eyes glistened slightly with tears and his voice was thick with emotion. Thrawn nodded approvingly. Yes, Solo, was playing his part. And then, off balanced and confused by emotion he would deliver the coup de grace.
Jerjerrod blinked away the sweat that was trickling down past his eyes and focused on his target. There was nothing else but the one he needed to kill and his master’s voice demanding that he do it, over and over again like a dark chorus. There was only one way to silence it.
His hand trembled slightly as he felt the cool bulk of the holdout blaster nestled in his hand.
He silently brushed past the last pair of stormtroopers between him and his quarry.
He lifted the datapad in a motion to hand it over to an aide.
OPERATION MOHAMMED IMPERIAL REAR
Chewbacca let out a loud mournful growl and hung his head at the sound of Han’s disappointment.
Leia turned on her heel and grabbed Chewbacca’s forearm. She was battling her own regrets and guilt that were gnawing at her like predators at a carcass.
“Listen to me, Chewbacca. This is what Thrawn wants, but we can do something about this. We know where Han is and we have the modified Falcon.”
Chewbacca glanced up at her and let out a plaintive warble.
“Do you understand? A good enough pilot can get you close enough to the Executor and then….”
Chewbacca’s eyes lit up with understanding.
“We’re not going to abandon him again Chewie.” Leia urged eyes softening as she shared the Wookiee’s pain. Han’s words struck harder than any blaster bolt.
The Wookiee nodded fiercely and immediately turned and began to storm out of the bridge, he paused long enough to haul Artoo with him. The astromech droid let out a surprised series of beeps and whistles before vanishing out the door.
“Artoo! Artoo! Oh my, where is that crazed Wookiee taking him?” Threepio lamented.
EXECUTOR IMPERIAL CENTER
Thrawn’s crimson eyes narrowed as he saw the white power beams emanating from Andor and touching on the mysterious object that the Federation was deploying in the gulf between the Executor and her fleet and Andor.
“Sir, those are raw power transmissions coming from the planet. We believe the Andorians are transmitting all their excess power capacity into the object. Their planetary shields are weakening in response.” Admiral Piett reported with some bewilderment.
“Why are they beaming that much power into space, especially when it leaves them vulnerable?” Thrawn demanded coldly.
“I do not know sir, but I will find out.” Piett assured him.
“I want to see all status reports on that object now.” He whispered out of ear shot of Solo’s performance.
He was immediately handed a data pad and as he quickly scrolled down the sketchy tactical readings he was receiving several things immediately stood out to him and he scowled.
“These particle readings, I’ve seen them before…” his voice trailed off as he tried to recall from his vast encyclopedic memory where these readings had appeared before. Something ubiquitous about this galaxy, something on the tip of his tongue, in the background of every combat report.
He heard the sudden change in the smuggler’s tone. Thrawn sighed deeply, how pathetically predictable this whole farce had become. Just once he would like someone to surprise him in this wretched galaxy.
“I don’t care about any of that. I want you to do what you’re doing, I want you to fight, fight these bastards and send them straight to hell.” Han urged.
Thrawn nodded to the troopers behind Han and one grabbed Han by the shoulders and the other tried to placed his blaster rifle against Han’s temple.
“It doesn’t matter anymore, I’m gone, they killed me on Bespin and I know that you tried to save me –” Han tried to fight off the troopers that were restraining him as he spoke. “I don’t want to be here anymore in a place that I’ve never known, out of my time and with friends who’ve grown without me. Finish what you started here! Kill these Imperial slugs!”
The stormtrooper wrestling with Han finally got him under control with a savage grip that nearly shattered the bones in one arm. Han twisted and grunted in a frenzy but paused when he felt the cool metal against his temple.
The transmission still open they could all hear Thrawn’s voice off screen when he spoke.
“Your defiance results in the same for all who oppose the Empire. Death. Say goodbye to your friends Captain Solo, I am told parting can be such sweet sorrow.” Thrawn stated with grim purpose. He raised a hand to give the motion to fire.
“DIE TYRANT!!” Jerjerrod screamed as he raised his hand, dropping the datapad and pointing his holdout blaster right at Thrawn’s head. Thrawn’s eyes narrowed on the young wild eyed officer.
“It doesn’t end this way.” Thrawn assured him.
The entire bridge froze for that instant before Jerjerrod’s blaster spat crimson death.
THE FAR SIDE OF REALITY A RIVER BANK
Q2 sat quietly, straw hat on his head and chewing on a blade of grass feeling the breeze off the cool waters. He hummed something off tune. He ignored the cold that clawed at the edges of his consciousness. The raw entropy hungrily devouring all of reality and leaving oblivion behind.
No, this was a place of quiet contemplation. He wanted the end to find him here. Content and alone.
Q2 paused humming and tried to imagine it was one of the bugs buzzing around the river bank
“It’s not bugs, Q2, it’s me.” Q snapped.
“What do you want, Q?” Q2 asked in annoyance not raising the straw hat from his face.
“You have to go to Mitchell’s house.”
“Gary Mitchell? The human you’ve been paling around with all this time? How is your game going by the by? The Continuum is none too thrilled with your pursuit of this game, toying with mortal lives and history at this twilight hour for all of us. They think it cruel and twisted to play with the mortals when the end of history approaches so rapidly.” Q2 smiled beneath his straw hat. “I tried to tell them you are that twisted but some of them still have high opinions of you. I can’t guess why.”
Q appeared floating over the river in a wispy smoky image.
“I don’t have time for this. I’m using a momentary distraction to send this signal and you know damned well how hard it is to pull of the two places at once trick.” Q2 shook his head in dismay. “You need to go to Mitchell’s house, the one we were so gracious to grant him when he came to us. He is hiding something in there.”
Q2 raised his straw hat slightly and eyed Q critically.
“Are you losing the game? Is that why you’re coming to me like this?” Q2 asked suspiciously.
“The game has always been a damned distraction both for him and me. I can feel it, Q, I can feel that he is hiding something monumental from us. Every now and then his shields slip, his guard drops and I get a hint, a glimpse. This time I managed to catch more of it. His guard dropped enough for me to see it, like a roach crawling down into the rotten pilings of a house it scuttled away but I caught enough to know that he is hiding something in that house.”
“Couldn’t you have used a less disgusting description.” He sniffed.
“It’s apt, trust me. Q. I am serious. You have to go.” Q’s voice sharpened.
Q2 smirked and methodically slipped his straw hat back down over his face and slumped into a reclining position..
Q shuffled his feet uncomfortably, looked down at the water flowing beneath his feet and frowned.
“Please.” He added reluctantly.
Q2 lifted his straw hat and looked genuinely surprised at Q.
“Alright Q, I’ll go.” Q2 shrugged. He lifted an index finger suddenly. “But if you’re sending me on another wild goose chase…” he warned.
“I wish I was.” Q replied gravely before vanishing with a snap of his fingers.