Star Wars: Shades of Gray

Preface: As children we live in a black and white world. We know the difference between what is good and what is evil. We are secure in this assumption, never questioning and always trusting. As we grow older, however, we begin to see that nothing is as it appeared in our naïve infancy. Black and white begin to merge into ever-increasing shades of gray.

" . . . you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view."

Obi-Wan Kenobi, Return of the Jedi

Part I: Land of the Blind

Chapter One

Flight Officer Tilyer Raan took a deep breath to settle the mynocks fluttering around in his stomach. He slowly surveyed his surroundings in awe of its grandeur. The floor spread out before him like a glossy sea of ebony, reflecting the light of the many glow panels that lined the ceiling. The Golan Defense Platform's landing bay was at least thirty meters tall, though only half of that space was dedicated to the various forms of Imperial landing craft settled on the deck.

Tilyer craned his neck upward as the sound of whirring machinery and charging energy coils filled the cavernous room. One of the hexagonal-winged craft above him shifted forward in its rack toward a trio of figures waiting on the catwalk ahead. The central figure of the three stepped forward to meet the approaching ship. He wore a bulky black flight suit, his face concealed by the equally cumbersome black helmet. Even from this distance, Tilyer recognized the man for what he was: a TIE fighter pilot. The technicians on either side of him helped him into his craft before sealing the hatch. Again the rack shifted forward, this time catapulting the star fighter through the bay's magnetic field and into space.

Tilyer's eyes followed the TIE out of the hanger as it began a slow ascent up toward the shining silvery crescent of Imperial Center visible beyond the containment field. Upon the sight of his home world, his mind wandered backward in time to when the Imperial Academy first accepted him. With the Rebellion's cowardly assault on the Empire's new battle station, a strong anti-Rebellion sentiment swept through Imperial space. How dare they? Hundreds of thousands of men and women had perished in that savage blow to Imperial supremacy, and among the dead lay his own brother.

Mikal Raan had joined the service as a medic, hopeful that such a position would keep him well-away from the battles that raged across the galaxy and yet allow him to somehow make a difference to those who needed it. He had been working with the Imperial medical corps on the Empire's new space station when the Rebels struck.

At the thought of his brother's unjust demise, a deep-seated rage begin to seethe throughout Tilyer's entire being, anger that the Rebellion's terrorism had expanded to his own family, anger that they had carelessly snuffed out the lives of so many productive, innocent citizens. His hands unconsciously clenched upon recalling the memory, and he could feel the artery in his neck pulsing harder and faster.

"You alright, there buddy?" a deep, resonant voice asked from somewhere behind him.

Tilyer turned to see a rather large man dressed in standard imperial gray cover-alls. The insignia upon his collar identified him as crewman, second class. Tilyer forced himself to relax, nodding to the other man, "yes, I'll be fine . . . "

"Little tense, huh?" he asked as he approached Tilyer, oblivious to the obvious rank difference. "Hey, I'm Gabel—Gabel Thahlwin."

"Tilyer Raan," he replied a bit coldly, turning back toward the glittering expanse of stars as a hint that he wished to be left alone.

Gabel didn't seem to get the hint. "You waiting for transport, too? Lemme guess, the Enforcer?"

Tilyer frowned, turning back to Thahlwin, "Yes . . . how did you know?"

Gabel shrugged, setting down his duffle bag, "Just a guess, really. That's the one I'm bound for too." He squinted at the insignia on Tilyer's collar, "You a pilot or something?"

"Correct," Tilyer said coolly, still a bit miffed at Thahlwin's over-familiar demeanor. The crewman still didn't seem to catch on, and pressed forward.

"Really? That's great . . . bridge pilot, or fighter?"

Tilyer sighed, giving up hope of shooing away the larger man, and gave in to his invasive questions, "Fighter."

"Oh, ok. Yeah, I heard that the Enforcer had been refitted with a small fighter bay. How many craft can it hold?"

"It's big enough for two standard TIE fighters. The Enforcer is only a Corvette, you know."

"Yeah? Well you know, I actually started my training as a pilot," Gabel said trying to sound nonchalant. "Most people think it woulda been my size that kept me out of it, but hu-uh. I was just under the limit. I did fine in the sims—great even, but when I got behind the stick in real life . . . well, the doctor called it spatial inertia displacement, or SID. Without a substantial gravity well, I lose my orientation and can't navigate."

Tilyer opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off as alarm klaxons blared within the landing bay. Blue lights atop the open bay doors flashed as a mechanical voice announced, "In-coming landing craft. All personnel, clear landing pad 2B."

"Is that ours?" Tilyer asked.

He had expected Gabel to reply, but a sheepish voice spoke from behind him. "Yes, Lambda-class shuttle Corsuca—that's the one." The speaker was a rather short, black haired woman dressed in the drab olive uniform of an imperial naval officer. Her glossy black hair was tied up in a regulation bun, and her face possessed an aquiline nose that would have made her seem pretty had she not been so timid. The insignia on her shoulder read Ensign, but her quiet demeanor didn't seem to fit that officer's rank. Still, the fact that she was a woman spoke volumes about her skill as an officer. For a woman to be accepted into the service, she had to be an exceptional soldier.

Tilyer was about to say something when he heard a wash of cascading energy. He turned to see the shuttle's form rippling as it passed through the magnetic containment field. Its lower wings began to fold up into their signature delta form as landing thrusters flared to maneuver the ship into place. Its landing gear settled to the floor with a dull reverberating thud, and the boarding ramp began to grind downward.

"Orders didn't say the name or design of the ship," Tilyer said as if trying to defend against some unspoken slight.

The young woman moved past him and toward the Corsuca. "I just checked the station's travel manifests, that's all."

Gabel just shrugged and shouldered his duffle bag to follow her.

Tilyer grumbled and strode after them.

Tilyer stared out the port side window as the myriad of stars beyond slowly spun with the shuttle's lazy turn. He could hear Gabel chatting with that woman in the background.

"So you're a communications officer, huh Linia? That is you name, isn't it? Linia Taulin?"

Raan sighed, trying to tune out the arbitrary conversation as he set to staring out the window once again. This time, however, something else caught his eye. The vessel would have seemed extremely strange had Tilyer not been studying this particular configuration for quite some time: the Corellian Corvette. Approximately one fourth of the vessel was devoted to its eleven engines. It had an oddly shaped fuselage, if that could be applied to a capital war ship, and a forward-placed bridge that lent the craft the look of a deformed hammer. He could even see a pair of turbo laser batteries located along the vessel's midsection tracking the Corsuca's approach.

The pilot's voice crackled over the loudspeaker, "All passengers, prepare to dock. You may debark through the aft floor hatch once the landing procedure is completed."

His words were punctuated by a loud grating sound as the shuttle settled down over the corvette's docking collar. Another deep thump resonated throughout the compartment. Then a green light appeared over the door to the cockpit. Flight Officer Taulin was the first to rise from her seat followed quickly by Gabel. As he grabbed his duffle bag, Tilyer could hear the magnetic seal on the hatch dissipate before the lock slid open.

He approached as the lift whirred upward and the three of them stepped onto the platform. He briefly wondered if he had spent enough time shining his boots or pressing his uniform along with a multitude of other worries, but the elevator suddenly lurched downward. Too late for that. He managed to assume parade stance just before the lift ground to a halt at the head of an antiseptically white corridor.

Two officers in Imperial olive-gray uniforms stood before the trio. The one with the Commander's insignia loomed rather than stood. He seemed wolfishly lean, and though he appeared young enough, had a haggard stern look to his face that made him seem aged beyond his years. His hawkish nose jutted out above his sternly clenched jaw, and his close-cropped brown hair was beginning to thin beneath the officer's cap he wore atop his head. He turned toward the group, eyes seeming to settle upon Tilyer specifically and glared like a raging bantha. He said nothing, but gestured to the wall impatiently.

Tilyer tried to cover up his shock at the brusque greeting and hurried to comply. The others followed suit. The commander gestured once more, but this time he indicated the older man by his side.

The other officer turned to the new crew members. He did not examine them with the practiced eye of the instructors at the academy, looking them up and down as if the mere passing of his eyes could register their moral, intellectual, and physical stature. On the contrary, his eyes barely registered their presence. His face seemed to be weathered beyond its years, with sunken eyes that appeared bruised because of the shadows that dwelt there. His chin was almost non existent, giving him the look of an elderly fish. He did not at all embody the dashing officers portrayed in the recruitment holovids, nor did he seem to have the inner fire that the instructors back at the academy possessed. Tilyer got the impression that he had spent so much time in the Imperial Navy that all enthusiasm had fled his body. He had probably been shuffled around from post to post in one lackluster assignment after another for years, doing nothing to make himself stand out nor anything to engender the wrath of the Fleet Admirals. He refrained from any more musings as the captain began to speak.

The voice that issued forth from that husk of a man seemed hollow and empty of emotion. "Greetings, I am Captain Almund Ygra, the captain of this vessel." He faltered as if trying to find the proper words.

The wolf of a man beside him stepped in, "And I am Commander Venka. Welcome to the Enforcer." The tone in his voice made Tilyer feel he was anything but welcome.

Commander Venka continued, "I know the three of you are fresh out of the academy, and we will do our best to make your transition from training to active duty as smooth as possible. You will find life upon this vessel to be less strictly regimented than that of the academy, but unlike your training, perfect performance is expected. Do your job quickly and efficiently, and I see no future problems. Understood?"

A chorus of "yes sirs" came from the assembled three.

Captain Ygra nodded as if coming out of a trance, "Very well then, ah, Commander Venka shall show you to your quarters." With a sluggish nod, he strode down the hallway and out of sight, leaving the young crewmen alone with the Commander.