Chapter 26

The flat-nosed imperial officer stared down from his perch upon the bench. The admiral was flanked on either side by a pair of officers of slightly lesser rank, but all wore the same stern expression. Standing before them in the middle of the towering Grand Imperial Hall, Lieutenant Del'Goren suddenly felt very small.

The admiral glared down at the dark-skinned pilot. "Now then, Lieutenant, if you would be so kind as to give the court your rendition of the events that took place on the Enforcer."

Del'Goren met and held the officer's gaze. "As I said in my written statement, a malfunction occurred while the technicians were enacting repairs upon one of the TIE fighters. The resulting explosion touched off the ship's fuel reserves and crippled her. Her orbit deteriorated until she crashed into the planet's surface."

One of the other tribunal officers nodded, "Yes, we have heard other crewmen testify to that fact. We are more interested in hearing what events took place after the general order to abandon ship."


He consulted a datapad. "Data from your escape pod shows that it was launched at 0234 standard hours, a full fifteen minutes after the general order was issued, as described by the rest of the survivors. Why the delay?"

"Did the other crewman inform you of the incident with Flight Officer Raan and Ensign Taulin?"

The admiral nodded, "Yes, we know of the attempted mutiny."

"From what I gleaned from Commander Venka, the guard in the brig was attempting to move them from their cell to an escape pod when they overpowered him and tried to escape. Commander Venka took command of the stormtrooper detachment on board and went to hunt them down. He requested my assistance."

"If you were hunting down the fugitives along with Commander Venka, why is it that you are here and he is not?"

"The Enforcer was rapidly descending. Commander Venka saw no need in me staying aboard when he had several stormtroopers at his disposal. He ordered me to abandon ship shortly after Raan and Taulin made it apparent they weren't going to be taken easily."

"Do you believe they had anything to do with the explosion onboard?"

Del'Goren shook his head. "I don't see how, sir. They were in their cells the whole time. They had no access to the fighter bay. Commander Venka went after them because he wanted to ensure they did not somehow escape his custody—not because he thought they actually caused the explosion."

"It sounds as if Commander Venka was an exemplary officer."

Del'Goren swallowed the distaste in his mouth. "Yes sir. Unfortunately, sir, it appears that wasn't enough. After I jettisoned my escape pod, I did not see any other pods launch before the Enforcer hit the planet's surface. Most of it burned up in the atmosphere on its way down. I doubt anyone could have survived."

The tribunal members nodded. "From what we have seen, we have to concur in this matter. Thus, we have no choice but to rule the demise of the Enforcer and its crew an accident."

With an air of finality, the admiral rapped his gavel on the desk.

Del'Goren gave a soft sigh as he watched the officers file out of the room. He stood there as the sound of shuffling feet receded from the hall, leaving him alone in the cavernous chamber. He craned his neck upward, studying the intricately carved curves of the ceiling. His thoughts went back to the first time he had seen him, that stoic youth that had been so filled with nationalistic pride. He smiled.

"Raan," he said softly, "Where ever you are, I hope it was worth it."

An icy wind whipped and howled over Belsavis' ice plains, swirling through channels and furrows like a pack of wolves bounding along the landscape. Tilyer Raan stood with his arms folded, bundled tightly against the cold as he stoically looked down at the frozen wreck that had once been his TIE fighter. The mass of mangled metal creaked as the salvage sled's grapple arm latched on, straining to extricate the wreckage from the frozen earth.

"What do you plan to do with it?"

He looked to his right where Tana Yin'Baara stood by his side, watching the scene below.

When he didn't reply immediately, she turned her face up to him, eyes squinting against the wind and face flushed from the cold. "Hey, you listening?"

"Yeah," he replied slowly. "I'm just not quite sure." He sighed, "I guess I could try to rebuild it, but I doubt it would look anything like it should, or if it would even fly again, for that matter."

Her face scrunched up in confusion. "So why come all the way out here?"

He shrugged, "I don't know. It just felt like what I was supposed to do, I guess. I actually thought about naming it." He laughed at some private joke.

"What are you going to call it?"

He shrugged, "Vigilance has a nice ring to it."

Tana nodded, pretending to understand the significance. A short silence stretched out between them before she spoke again.

"So what about Gabel?"

"What about him?"

"He still seems pretty mad at you."

Tilyer looked over to where Gabel sat in the cab of the hover sled staring resolutely forward.

"He'll get over it. He knows I didn't have to do what I did for him up there. That's what's eating him—knowing who he owes his life to. Anyway, I've already forgiven him. There's no use in holding grudges anymore, not after what we've been through. He'll realize the same thing. Just give him time.

Tana shook her head. "I still don't understand what went on up there."

"It's complicated," Tilyer replied noncommittally.

Again silence reigned before Tana interceded.

"So are you going to stay here for a while?" She grinned sheepishly, "After what you did for us, even Oltan couldn't say no."

He gave her a sad smile. "I don't think I would make a very good farmer."

"You're probably right," she said, returning the smile. "But what else would you do? Go home?"

He shook his head. "I can't go back home. If word gets out that I'm alive, the first people to suffer will be my family. I can't let that happen to them."

"Well what about joining the rebels?"

"The Rebels aren't any better than the Empire."

She frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Like I said before, it's complicated."

"So explain it to me."

He sighed. "They're both out for their own interests. They try to come off as great philanthropists who want to change the galaxy for the better, but they're all just looking out for number one. They don't care about the people like your family, the ones who just want to be left out of the whole damn mess. I don't want to be a part of that ideology any more. People can't just flock to whatever banner is flopping in the wind at the moment and expect things to turn out right. That's how the Empire started. A man has to find his own way through the universe, or else he'll become a slave to someone else's ideals. If I've learned anything from all of this, it's that in this galaxy, there is no true black and white. It's all just a bunch of gray."

Tana was silent, mulling over those words. She looked up at him again, but he silently watched as the salvage sled continued its work. She opened her mouth as if to say something but stopped. Instead, she slipped an arm around his shoulders and watched as the crane lifted the mangled fighter into the air, reviving it from its icy tomb to be reborn anew.