Genre: Drama, wildly … nay … happily AU, H/L, L/M
Rated: PG. Some mild language and adult situations.
Summary: Episode I of The Unseen War. One year after Grand Admiral Thrawn's death, shadowy forces pursue Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade across the galaxy, Han Solo is pressed back into service with the New Republic military, and Leia Organa-Solo has only herself to rely on as she combats a corrupt new government ... and her own dark demons. AU, 10.5 ABY, L/M, H/L.
Disclaimer: I own a big fat nothing. Not my hopes. Not my dreams. Nothing. All were pawned off to pay for school.
A/N: My fic Sidereal serves as a prequel to this; it isn't entirely necessary to comprehend what has happened since Wayland, although it may help somewhat.
Major thanks to Jade-Eyes, Jedi-Emeritus, and Jedikatie for being a beta and/or a sounding board.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
THE UNSEEN WAR
It is a dangerous time for the New Republic. Although Grand Admiral Thrawn's campaign of terror has ended, the destruction wrought by his forces has severely impaired the Republic Navy, leaving it exposed and vulnerable.
Seizing upon this perceived weakness, desperate Imperial warlords are poised to launch a massive crusade to retake Coruscant, the capital of the galaxy and symbol of ultimate authority.
At the same time, internal dissent and political strife threaten to split the New Republic apart even as mysterious forces intent on chaos begin taking the first steps that could topple the government of the restored Republic once and for all...
DEATH ruled the broken world.
Seen from orbit, the planet seemed utterly barren, with blackened mountains and wide gaping rents in the outer atmosphere where turbolasers had scorched the world decades earlier. Angry crimson clouds dominated the planetary sky and the splashes of green that would denote vegetation seemed sadly absent. Dark seas churned and twisted, pounding against the already shattered cliffs with violent force that seemed appropriate given the erratic orbit of the planetary moons. Where other planets glittered with the life of inhabited cities, this world hung silent and black in the void of space, circling a dark red sun like a sullen and angry child. Nothing could live here.
Or so it seemed. Twelve Imperator-class Star Destroyers cruised around the ugly world, each perfectly situated to provide maximum protection for the planet. Hundreds of smaller craft – fighters, shuttles and freighters – darted around the slow-moving behemoths like angry gnats, docking, regrouping, scouting. Despite the planet's utter lack of appeal, it seemed as busy as any Core World, even the far distant Coruscant.
From where he stood aboard the bridge of the Executor-class dreadnought Allegiance, Commodore Gilad Pellaeon took in the image with growing resentment and anger. It seemed impossible this dead world had become the capital of the Empire, that this miserable hunk of rock and dirt was so important it would require such a mighty force to defend it. If it hadn't required more effort than he was willing to expend, Pellaeon would have hated the Rebels even more for the Empire's fall.
Around him, the bridge of the Allegiance was swarming with activity. Officers and crewmen went about their duties with sharp precision that reminded Gilad of days long past. They were all too young for their jobs and far too many of them were conscripts, but nonetheless, Pellaeon felt a flicker of pride as he watched them from the corner of his eye. For just a moment, he was able to forget that Grand Admiral Thrawn had been dead for over a year, or that the Rebels had won every single engagement since that time, or that the Empire was now a hollow shell of its former self. His mood darkened as he reflected upon that and Gilad returned his eyes to the glittering starfield beyond the transparisteel viewports, frowning at the turn his thoughts had taken.
The recent defection of Kuat to the Rebels had been a particularly devastating blow, more so than any of the recent military defeats as it robbed the Empire of their greatest shipbuilding asset while turning over that same capability to the illegitimate government currently occupying Imperial Center. Without the ability to construct new capital ships, it seemed it was only a matter of time before the Empire would be forced to sue for peace and given the general lack of testicular fortitude within the current Moff's Council, that time seemed closer than ever. Gilad nearly snorted with disgust at the idea as he stared at the nearest star destroyer. It was Chimera, he realized with a pang of homesickness.
The sound of someone discreetly clearing her throat drew Pellaeon's attention, and he redirected his attention to the interrupting lieutenant's reflection in the viewport. Recognizing her cue, the woman – a girl, really, and far too young to be wearing that rank, Gilad mused – made her report.
"Contact established, sir," the lieutenant said.
"Finally," Pellaeon murmured as he turned away from the viewport and began walking slowly toward the hologram pod at the far end of the command deck. He forced himself to maintain an easy, steady pace so as to appear unhurried. One of the first things he had learned from the late Grand Admiral Thrawn was the importance of appearances; great men did not hurry, the admiral had once said, they caused other men to hurry.
As he approached the waiting holograms, Gilad felt his pulse begin to increase fractionally. What he was about to do could be construed as treason by the Council of Moffs, but Pellaeon realized he no longer cared what that group of incompetent bureaucrats thought. He had stood by and allowed them to waste precious resources and personnel for too long in useless gestures of aggression which had little to no military benefit. Politicians, he thought with disgust. They have no business running a war. It was past time for a change of leadership.
"Report," he said by way of greeting once he stepped onto the holo-transmitter, hoping the two officers would be receiving a clear transmission despite the distance. Natasi Daala, for example, was virtually on the other side of the galaxy, and Xamuel Lennox had been long exiled to the Corporate Sector for political reasons which had little to do with his current mission.
"Phase One is complete," Daala announced, shifting slightly on her feet as she spoke. Even in holographic form, she was an attractive woman and Gilad knew her appearance had led to some difficulties for her. For nearly her entire career, she had been plagued by insinuations and rumors that she had once been Wilhuff Tarkin's mistress, despite the obvious evidence otherwise. Pellaeon himself had believed those stories until Thrawn explained the obvious following his restoring of her to active field service: she had been given several career ending assignments by Tarkin himself in retaliation for her snubbing the long-dead Grand Moff's romantic overtures. It was an indication of her resilience and skill that she had not only survived those assignments, but had thrived. "I have made contact with the Corellian Diktat and presented your proposal," she continued. "He seemed quite interested, sir, and I am proceeding to Phase Two."
"Good." Pellaeon gave her one of his rare smiles as an indication of his satisfaction. Phase Two was critical in this new gambit, particularly with Imperial resources as scarce as they currently were. With the backing of the Corellian government – even if it was secret – they could finally look to rebuilding the shattered fleet. Daala's background in intelligence made her ideal for this mission and Gilad knew she would be able to keep the ambitious Diktat in line. If the man got out of hand, he could always be replaced with a more … pliable leader.
"Well done, Natasi," Pellaeon added, making sure to use her given name as a subtle reminder that his status was greater than hers. His eyes shifted to the hologram of Captain Lennox.
"Nothing new to report, Commodore," the captain stated. "The situation remains unchanged."
"Excellent news." Gilad gave them both appraising glances. "You both know what is at stake," he told them, grateful for their somber nods of understanding. "I will contact you again in forty-eight Standard hours. Good luck." He stepped off of the transmission plate as the two holos winked out of existence.
He had barely taken three steps when the world exploded around him.
The shriek of alarms and the distinctive sound of blaster fire roused him back to consciousness and Pellaeon opened his eyes to chaos. For a long, extended moment, he was unable to move as panic and shock conspired to rob him of motor control. An armored hand suddenly gripped his uniform jacket and he felt himself being rapidly dragged across the floor. It was a stormtrooper, he realized in the instant the man shoved him into a more defensible location and began firing his rifle at an unseen foe.
Like angry hornets, blaster bolts flashed around them, splattering against the bulkheads and computers with fierce explosions. A rain of sparks from an exploding computer console fell upon them, scorching Gilad's exposed skin and causing him to yelp in surprise. The pain snapped him out of the mental fog which had clouded his mind, and he pushed himself off of the floor.
"Stay down, sir!" the protecting stormtrooper shouted as he triggered a rapid burst of fire at a suddenly exposed target. Pellaeon felt his stomach tighten with horrified fury as he finally recognized the uniform of the attackers: naval troopers.
He reached for the stormtrooper's holstered sidearm.
It fit his hand perfectly, as if it had always been meant for him, and Gilad crouched behind his defender, wincing slightly as his old body protested such treatment. With the pistol braced, he took aim at the nearest traitor and squeezed the trigger; watching the man topple, his face a smoking ruin, was more satisfying than it had any right to be.
Thirty seconds later, it was over as the last of the naval troopers fell. For a long moment, the stormtrooper shielding Pellaeon didn't move as if he was waiting for a second wave of attackers. When none came, he stepped forward slightly, blaster rifle still held at the ready.
"Commodore!" one of the bridge officers shouted. It was the young female lieutenant, Gilad noticed, and her eyes were wide with horror at the carnage before her. She squeaked in startled surprise when the stormtrooper abruptly pointed his rifle at her.
"Stand down, trooper," Pellaeon ordered sharply, recognizing instantly the other man was still operating under the haze of adrenaline. The stormtrooper gave him a sidelong glance which lasted mere seconds before slowly lowering the rifle; he didn't relax, though, and Gilad was grateful for that. "Seal off the command deck," Pellaeon continued, directing his comments to the lieutenant. "I want a status report immediately!" He turned his attention to the silent stormtrooper. "And get reinforcements up here that you trust."
"Already en route, sir," the trooper revealed. When Gilad offered the man his sidearm, the helmeted soldier cocked his head. "Perhaps you should hold onto that, sir," he suggested. Pellaeon nodded.
"Good thinking," the commodore conceded. "What is your designation and rank, trooper?"
"MA-zero-zero-three, sir." The stormtrooper barely seemed to be paying attention to Gilad as he spoke and instead seemed focused on their surroundings. Pellaeon's opinion of the man climbed a notch. "I hold the rank of ground-captain."
"Not anymore," Gilad announced. "Effective immediately, you are promoted to the rank of major." The trooper glanced once in Pellaeon's direction. "Do you have a name?" he asked, ignoring the startled looks he received from the surviving officers and crewmen. For a moment, he had the feeling the stormtrooper knew exactly what he was thinking, but Gilad realized he was being silly. Of course, the man knew. With a designation of zero-zero-three, he had to understand the necessities of command; even in the face of impending death, a field or flag officer simply could not show concern or fear.
"Flint, sir," the new major answered. "Flint Torul."
"Well, Major Torul," Pellaeon declared softly. "I owe you my life."
"Commodore!" a petty officer suddenly exclaimed, panic radiating off him. "Enemy ships in sector forty-seven!"
"Battle stations," Gilad snapped in response. "All pilots to their fighters, all gunners to their stations! Helm-"
"Weapons fire in engineering!" another enlisted crewman suddenly shouted.
"What?" Pellaeon demanded, his blood running cold. A firefight in the drive section while enemy ships were in range? Could there possibly be a worse scenario?
"It's stormtroopers!" the crewman declared, and Gilad's eyes darted to the silent man standing less than a meter away.
"Major?" he asked, tightening his grip on the sidearm. If it came down to it, Pellaeon knew he wouldn't survive long and only hoped he could get a shot off. He wanted to go down fighting.
"I diverted all armored assets to secure the engineering deck," Torul announced without a gram of remorse in his modulated voice. "Standard Rebel Infiltrator tactics call for a lightning assault against the bridge to distract the command officers, followed by a surgical strike into engineering so they can place their charges." Gilad's eyes narrowed.
"You're not a normal trooper, are you?" he asked softly and the major half-turned to face him.
"I hold a rating of SC-Aurek, sir," came the response. Pellaeon blinked in surprise. An SC rating.
Also called shadowtroopers, the Storm Commandos were an elite branch of the stormtrooper corps, second only to the Royal Guardsmen in the level of training they received. There remained some contention between the two branches exactly which one was more combat effective, though the smart money – had Gilad been willing to wager on such a thing – was on the shadowtroopers.
"Do what you must, Major," Pellaeon ordered abruptly, his voice ringing across the command deck. "And pass the word," he added, this time directing his words to the female lieutenant whose name he still couldn't remember, "Anyone who resists the stormtroopers is to be considered a saboteur and shot on sight." Clenching his hands tightly at the small of his back, the commodore walked to viewport in order to watch the coming conflagration.
The Rebels would pay for this.
"We're going to pay for that," Leia Organa-Solo murmured the moment Borsk Fey'lya exited the office.
The heavy sigh which emerged from Supreme Chancellor Mon Mothma's lips sounded heartfelt and so unbelievably tired that it nearly caused Leia to yawn. It was to be expected, of course. Dealing with Fey'lya was difficult on a good day, but negotiating an arrangement with him over his voting coalition in the Senate while he held all the winning cards was nothing short of exhausting. For someone like Mon, who had been playing this game since well before Leia was even born and remembered firsthand how Palpatine had abused such petty shortsightedness, it had to be especially hard.
"We'll need his votes to pass this measure next month," Mothma replied sadly. The older woman began pinching the bridge of her nose as she spoke. It was the most she ever let herself relax in front of non-family members, and Leia had always felt honored that she was allowed this glimpse of the woman inside. "I just wish he wasn't so…"
"Recalcitrant?" Leia asked with a smile and Mon chuckled slightly in agreement. She sobered quickly, though, and pinned Organa-Solo with a look.
"He's gathering support to make a bid for the chancellorship, Leia," Mon pointed out. "If you don't declare your candidacy soon, I'm afraid it's going to be impossible to prevent him from winning."
"I know," Leia replied. It hardly seemed possible that Fey'lya could have recovered from the damage he'd suffered during the Thrawn campaign but, against all odds, he had managed to turn it around so he instead appeared to be the victim of a military conspiracy. In a political atmosphere simmering with war fatigue, his arguments had appealed to a sufficient number of like-minded senators that, in no time at all, he had bounced back, with more political capital at his disposal than ever before.
With Mon's recent decision to retire from public service at the end of this current session, Leia had found herself on the short list to replace the venerable chancellor. While it was flattering to be considered so indispensable, she struggled with the decision to officially throw her hat in the ring. Han didn't even try to hide his dislike of the idea, especially since the Senate already kept her so busy she rarely saw him to begin with and Leia knew the job of Supreme Chancellor required a level of dedication she wasn't sure she could bring to the table. Her duties as the Coruscanti Senator were already positively overwhelming and her position as the last surviving princess of Alderaan only added to the workload, reducing her already limited amount of free time to nonexistent. Still, the work ethic which had been instilled upon her by Bail and Breha Organa forced her to seriously consider the opportunity in front of her; one's political life expectancy was always short in the Senate, and this chance might not come again.
"Have you spoken to your brother?" Mon asked, rising from her chair. Leia followed suit automatically, smiling slightly as she recognized her old mentor's change of subject for what it was. Though Mothma had a reputation among many senators as a consummate politician, she'd rarely tried to force Leia into something Organa-Solo wasn't already interested in pursuing. This was no different: either Leia would decide to go for the chancellorship or she wouldn't. Nothing Mon said or did would sway her opinion.
"He's still on Ossus at that Jedi dig," Leia revealed as they headed toward the door leading out of Mon's office. "I think he's scheduled to be back next week."
"Is there any chance he's reconsidered his decision?" There was a hopeful note in the older woman's voice and Leia sighed.
"He's still not willing to undertake any missions for the Republic at this time," she admitted cautiously. It remained a point of contention between them, though a part of Leia understood Luke's reasoning. He really did need more Jedi to take the load off his shoulders and Leia always felt awful when she was asked to press him for his assistance. In the years since Yavin, she'd watched with growing sadness as the wide-eyed innocent farmboy slowly transformed into a young man old before his time and she hated that she was, in some part, responsible for that change.
"We could really use his help, Leia," Mon commented. "The people will listen to him before they'll listen to Senator Fey'lya." They stepped out into the hallway and were almost instantly flanked by two of the blue-robed Guardsmen. At the very edge of her Force senses, Leia could detect the two Noghri currently assigned to her bodyguard detail and she once again marveled at their ability to remain unseen.
"But we can't make him do what he doesn't want to do," she argued, carefully tempering the flash of temper which spiked through her. Though Luke always took offense when she implied it, Leia had a very good idea who was responsible for this recent decision of his. He was lot easier to deal with before Wayland, she reflected sourly before chastising herself for not seeing his perspective. The restored Republic was her great cause, not his.
Once again, Mon exhaled heavily, though whether it was in frustration or exhaustion Leia couldn't quite tell. The part of her that was a strictly political animal agreed with the chancellor; they desperately needed Luke Skywalker out there to win the hearts and minds of the disaffected if they were going to keep this republic alive.
"I'll speak to him again," Leia said though she harbored few illusions that he'd inexplicably change his mind. Their last argument over this had been a particularly vicious one, ending when she lost her temper at his ongoing recalcitrance and accused him of listening to the Imperial spy he was sleeping with instead of his sister. He had walked out without a word and left for Ossus within the hour, despite her repeated attempts to apologize. What had made it worse was the fact that both Han and Chewbacca had sided with Luke, with the former telling Leia flat-out that she was being unreasonable, petty and childish. When did this get so damned complicated?
A flicker of movement drew her attention away from Mon and Leia quickly tuned out what the chancellor was saying as her danger sense flared. Compared to Luke's, it was imprecise and haphazard, but it had served her well over the years. Her hand instinctively dropped toward her belt and the small hold-out blaster concealed there even as her eyes sought the source of the danger. Initially, nothing seemed out of place: a half dozen security troopers were moving toward them, but it was late and such patrols were commonplace at this time of night. Almost at once, though, her gaze zeroed in on the fact that the troopers already had drawn their weapons…
"Protect the Chancellor!" one of the blue-robed guards bellowed in the half second before chaos erupted.
By then, it was already too late.
Moving quickly, Leia dove to one side, ripping the hold-out free of its holster and pumping a pair of shots into the nearest of the false security officers. He toppled without a sound and Leia shifted aim even as she triggered the alert button on her comlink. It squealed in protest and she snarled a Huttese curse she'd picked up from Han over the years; they were being jammed.
The corridor was suddenly crisscrossed with blaster bolts as a second team of assassins bolted out of nearby offices, weapons spitting lethal pulses of energy. Another of the security officers fell to her blaster and Leia cursed as a third group of assassins rounded the corner.
Her back was suddenly ablaze with pain and Leia screamed out in agony. Her legs and arms went numb, and she collapsed like a droid that had suddenly been deactivated. With a loud crack, her head struck the marble floor as she fell and her vision exploded into dancing lights. A whimper tried to escape her lips, but froze in her throat at the sight she beheld.
The older woman was flat on her back, sightless eyes staring at the grand ceiling of the Republic even as tendrils of smoke wafted from the horrific injuries that had claimed her life. Yet, despite those wounds, for the first time since Leia had met her, Mon appeared at peace.
A hollow boom echoed loudly through the corridor and drew Leia's attention back to the melee. Most of the security troopers were down, along with one of the blue-robed Guardsmen and a Noghri. The remaining defenders – the Guardsman who had shouted and Adarakh, one of the newest of the Noghri assigned to her detail – were fighting back-to-back, vibroweapons humming as they circled around Leia's unresponsive body. Lights were flashing, indicating that the anti-blaster countermeasures had finally been activated throughout the Senate, and alarms were shrieking. Adarakh suddenly gasped as one of the assassins speared him with a wicked-looking blade and slowly sunk to the floor, hands wrapped tightly around the false security officer's neck despite the man's repeated stabbings. A second flash of light stole Leia's vision and the sound of thunder rattled her teeth. The last thing she remembered was the Guardsman still fighting over her body, blood staining the blue of his uniform and dripping onto the floor.
And then … darkness.