"How the hell did they show up so fast?" shouted Solo as he yanked the control stick of the Millennium Falcon, veering the ship sharply away from three approaching Imperial Star Destroyers.
He had barely cleared the atmosphere of Yavin IV, and the Imperials were breathing down his neck. Through the canopy, he spotted several Rebel ships leaving the system Imperial ships in pursuit of them. He and Chewbacca had spent some extra time working on the Falcon to conduct some much-needed maintenance, and so they had been on the ground at least an hour after the departure of the Death Star.
"Han, this is Luke," sounded a voice from the communications suite.
"Hey kid, I'm a little busy right now. Can it wait?"
"Thought you might want to know that an Imperial fleet just dropped out of hyperspace close to the planet."
"No kidding!" retorted Solo, busily scanning his instruments.
Chewbacca roared as one of the panels began to chirp.
"Yeah, yeah, I know! Imperial fighters, and they're gaining on us fast. How close are we to being able to make the jump?"
Chewbacca grunted something else. Han's face clouded momentarily, revealing some internal conflict. He cursed loudly, and then jammed toward the communicator.
"Luke, this is Han, I'm going to have to go down and get the Princess."
"She's still there?"
"Yeah, she won't leave until the rest of the staff has evacuated."
Solo looked at his wookiee companion. Chewbacca growled softly.
"Well, who said you gotta live forever?" groused Solo as he swung the Falcon back toward the surface of the moon from which they had so recently departed.
"Hey Luke, I'll get her out on the Falcon. You just keep those fighters off my tail."
"Hard of hearing, kid? I need you to keep those fighters busy, got it?"
The heavily modified YT-1300 light freighter streaked toward the planet's surface, as a swarm of TIE fighters closed in for the kill. As they approached within firing range, laser cannon fire from Luke Skywalker's X-Wing fighter and the several fighters with him reduced two of the lead TIE fighters to slag. The remaining TIE fighters adjusted course to meet the newly-identified threat.
Multiple landing craft decended upon clearings within the jungle-covered surface of Yavin IV, a thick fighter screen protecting them from above. As ramps descended, stormtroopers in dark gray and jungle camouflage poured out, fanning out and establishing perimeters.
Some of the troopers in dark gray formed into squad-size elements and maneuvered quickly toward pre-assigned objectives in wedge formation. Some of the troopers carried light mortars in backpacks, while others carried combat engineer breaching equipment and shaped charges.
Scout troopers wearing armor with jungle camouflage unloaded speeder bikes from the landing craft, mounted them, and sped toward their respective over-watch positions. The scouts outdistanced the fast-moving stormtroopers in dark gray camouflage, the whine of their engines dimming in the distance. Dusk was setting in, and the troopers switched over to thermal imaging.
As dusk gave way to darkness, the first transports lifted and were replaced by fewer, but heavier transports. As the ramps were lowered, more stormtroopers in jungle camouflage exited, carrying with them multiple heavy boxes. They opened the boxes, emptying their contents upon the jungle floor.
Within minutes, twelve fixed artillery pieces were set up and registered. Troopers manning the guns received direction from the mobile fire coordination center, and they began launching ordinance, which briefly lit the darkness around them. Deadly rounds arched away from the artillery pieces, finding marks deep within the jungle.
Upon the Imperial Star Destroyer Punishment, an Imperial colonel stood next to a table-sized holo-projector, monitoring progress of the battle upon the surface of Yavin IV. Five other officers also monitored the battle but were seated at various terminals, speaking into microphones, sending and receiving reports.
"Sir, Target Two Seven Alpha has been spotted. Strike Team Bravo Six is in position to engage."
"That is a capture target, captain," barked the colonel, "Lord Vader wants that one alive."
"Sir, Strike Teams Bravo Three and Charlie One have penetrated the main Rebel base," said an officer seated at a different terminal.
"Bypassed and marked, sir."
"Engage with indirect fire."
Darth Vader strode into the room, and walked up to the colonel, then turned to glance at the holographic depiction of the ongoing battle.
"Has the Rebel base been breached yet?"
"Yes, my lord. Two strike teams have penetrated and are preparing to engage select targets."
"Good. I will go to my ship. Rebels continue to escape from the moon," boomed Vader. The colonel nodded and returned his attention to the ground battle. Vader strode toward the hangar deck.
"You two, come with me," said Vader as he motioned toward two Imperial TIE pilots. He knew that the Emperor wanted him aboard the Death Star, but the fight against the Rebels was here, and so here he had come. This would be a day, long remembered. It had seen the end of Kenobi, and it would soon see the end of the Rebellion.
Greg knew. What was worse, he wasn't so certain he should tell what he knew. That flew in the face of what he had always practiced as a tactical intelligence officer: Who else needs to know? Even so, he felt confused. The attack on Coruscant by the Resistance had been masterfully planned and executed. If they had intended to kill the Emperor though, they had failed.
"Who was in command of that ship?" demanded Palpatine.
He sat in the middle of the command center deep underground, flanked by two of his Imperial guardsmen. His escape had been perilously close, but he remained alive. He was certain that by the end of this day a great many more would not be so fortunate. A nervous Imperial general stood before him at the position of attention.
"My lord, we are still attempting to determine the situa…. akh!" said the officer who then suddenly clutched at his throat.
"That is not enough. If you cannot perform such a simple task, then I will find someone who can!"
The officer collapsed to his knees, but then gasped loudly, apparently released from whatever had been choking him.
"You have ten minutes of your life left in which to tell me who was in command of that ship."
The officer scrambled to his feet, bowed, and sprinted toward Greg and the officers with him, coughing loudly. General Voss stepped forward to meet the running general.
"Find … find, cough, I want the name of that commander, now!"
An officer who had his attention glued to a terminal arose and shouted, "Sir, I have the name!"
He gave the name to the senior officer who turned to sprint back toward the Emperor. Greg took the name and entered it into another terminal. Using his rank cylinder, he was granted access to the officer's personal records. A cursory examination of the record revealed what he had already suspected. There was nothing in the officer's background to suggest he was capable of or willing to crash a starship into a planet.
"Captain Yost," said Voss quietly.
"Sir, the ship's commander seems to be in the clear."
"What are you thinking?"
Greg hesitated, "Sir, it could have been a malfunction of some sort."
"You know better than that."
"Sir, it might have been Rebel saboteurs aboard who sliced into the ship's systems."
"Those vessels have multiple redundancies and fail-safes. No mere slicing could have facilitated an attack like that."
"I'll keep looking, sir."
Greg saw a red blinking message on his terminal, and he wrinkled his brow. It was a new message from Ms. Elliott, and it was marked as urgent. He opened it.
Your uncle was fit to be tied! His team almost lost the game in the fourth quarter, and he was cursing like a sailor. The team pulled it off, though your uncle had some choice words for the coach, much of which I'm too embarrassed to print here. We really hope you can take some leave soon!
PS – Your uncle included this for you; hope you enjoy hearing it as much as he did recording it!
Greg spotted the attached file, and he opened it. The file was small, and it downloaded quickly. He leaned forward, so he could hear it through the small speaker on the console.
"We won! Roll Tide!"
Greg felt a sudden sense of vertigo, and then darkness threatened to take him. Confusion momentarily gripped him, and then he felt a sense of absolute revelation and resolution. He knew what he had to do.
The uniform felt wrong on him, but he attempted to ignore the sensation. Keeping an ever-present sneer upon his countenance, Colonel William Dudley strode down the hallway maintaining an appearance of complete arrogance. Flanking him were two Imperial stormtroopers. The damage up ahead was considerable, and confusion still reigned in the area. The crashed ISD had left much destruction and confusion in its wake. Dudley was counting on that. He walked imperiously into an emergency command center. In the center of the room, an Imperial lieutenant colonel feverishly sent and received reports, shouting orders and instructions to other officers manning consoles throughout the room.
"Colonel!" barked Dudley.
The officer paused to turn and meet the iron gaze of a man dressed in the uniform of Imperial Intelligence and wearing the rank of a major general.
"Sir, if you do not mind, I am a bit busy working to clean this mess up," he indicated a large monitor depicting catastrophic damage done by the crashed ISD with a broad sweep of his hand.
"That does not concern me, colonel. We have received reports of death squads that infiltrated this facility, and are attempting to assassinate the Emperor."
"We will intercept and neutralize them, before they can carry out their mission. I require all access codes in order to expedite mission success."
The lieutenant colonel gave Dudley a slightly dubious look, "I'll have to verify that, sir."
He reached for his terminal.
"Colonel, we do not have time for this, and you know as well as I do that our systems have been compromised. As you were; I will find another officer more willing to cooperate. Provide me with your name and service number so that I can hand them over to General Voss once the death squads have killed our Emperor."
The lieutenant colonel paled and swallowed, "Sir, there's no need for that. I will provide the codes. I want nothing to do with preventing your mission."
"I knew we could count on you to be reasonable."
It had been a long time since Dudley had used the Force to influence someone, and he was out of practice. He knew just how close he had come to having to resort to violence here. The last four officers had not offered quite as much resistance.
"We have our orders," announced Tarkin aboard the Death Star.
The giant space station dropped out of hyperspace and moved slowly toward the heavily guarded singularity, using its massive sublight engines. Seven Imperial Star Destroyers and multiple smaller ships patrolled what was essentially the entrance to the galaxy containing Sol.
"Sir, we have clearance to proceed through the anomaly," said the watch officer.
"You may proceed when ready."
Deep within the Death Star, a stormtrooper clad in white conducted checks during his patrol. He worked with his squad to ensure safe operation of the main reactor. It was a thankless job, but he knew it was necessary. He peered through the transparencies toward the giant reactor powering the massive mobile battle station.
Fluun imagined he could feel waves of energy emanating from the reactor. The amount of power being produced by that monster was unthinkable. Multiple worlds could be powered for many years by what that thing produced for a single hyperspace jump.
He continued his trek down the long corridor ringing the main reactor, and thoughts naturally drifted toward the drink he would be entitled to this evening, along with a friendly game of Sabaac. He had lost too many credits over the last three games, but he intended to make those up.
This was one of the more monotonous jobs for troopers aboard the Death Star, but Fluun knew that even elite troops had to pull dull patrols. He carefully scanned the multiple gauges against the bulkheads to ensure they were within tolerance. He also checked to ensure the doors within the ringed corridor were properly secured. His other troopers were scattered throughout the ring, conducting similar checks.
Fluun spotted another trooper walking toward him, and he checked his internal heads-up display. The man was from a different regiment. That was odd. He was also carrying a plasteel box. The other trooper turned toward one of the doors that would allow access to catwalks for the main reactor.
"Trooper, remain where you are," Fluun shouted. He held his carbine at the low ready.
The trooper stopped, turned to face him and said, "Wait."
"What? You are not authorized to be in this area. We got no reports of other units patrolling this sector today. What is in the box?"
The trooper said nothing. He opened the door, set down the box just outside, pulled a switch from inside, and turned to face him. Fluun felt a sudden wash of realization and horror, and he raised his weapon, but he knew it was too late.
As Fluun fired into the torso of the trooper, he shouted, "Ah, Sith spit!"
Thermonuclear fire tore apart the ring, and a blast wave smashed into the nearby main reactor. Struck with violent force, the skin of the reactor ruptured, and multiple smaller detonations played around its edge. Nearly simultaneously, another nuclear fireball erupted on the opposite side of the reactor, and a terrific shock wave slammed into the reactor from that side as well. While the battle station was designed to repel attacks from capital ships, the designers had not considered an attack on the main reactor from a point-blank range by primitive nuclear weapons.
Explosions rocked the grounds of the ancient temple, as artillery rained down on dug in Rebel soldiers and fixed positions. Wreckage of two Rebel transports was strewn over the entrance to the jungle nearby, along with the charred remains of Rebel soldiers and officers.
Solo ran with Chewbacca, diving for cover whenever they heard the incoming rounds, praying to whatever deities would listen that his ship would remain safe from the deadly rain of explosives. Two Rebel guards met them at the massive doorway to the ancient temple, crouched behind hastily-emplaced barriers made from scrap metal and pieces of stone that had been blown free.
"Halt, or I'll shoot!"
"I'm Captain Han Solo, you idiot! I'm here to pick up the princess."
"I am not authorized to allow…"
The high-pitched whistling of an incoming round sent all three sprawling to the ground. The blast from the explosion picked up Solo and hurled him against a nearby wall. That should have killed or grievously injured him, but Chewbacca had him in a bear hug and took most of the brunt. The Rebel soldier wasn't so lucky. Solo saw that the man was still, either knocked out or dead. He shook his head to free up the cobwebs and looked up toward his friend. Chewy looked no worse for wear. Both bolted through the doorway.
"Your highness, we're leaving!"
Leia looked up from a map table and yelled, "What are you still doing here? You have your permission to leave!"
"Not without you, your worship!" shouted Solo as he reached for the princess.
As she was being pulled out of the room, she turned to the Rebel watch officer and said, "Send the evacuation code, and get the rest of your men to the transports."
In the space just above Yavin IV, Luke Skywalker was in a tough dogfight, but the craft against which he was locked in battle was not the usual TIE fighter. This one appeared to be a bit larger, had panels that were bent inward on the top and bottom, and the pilot was good … really good. Every time he thought he might get the enemy ship into his sights, it would juke out and work to return the favor. Too many scorch marks around Luke's ship attested to just how good that pilot was. One wingman remained with the strangely-shaped TIE fighter, while the other had met his end several minutes before. Most of the other X-Wing fighters were engaged in combat elsewhere.
"Huh?" said Luke. That had not come from the intercom within his helmet.
"You must go to the Dagobah System. Make haste!"
"You must lose no time! Go!"
Luke spun his ship toward the gas giant and gunned his engines. The strange fighter followed quickly. Luke entered his destination into the navi-computer while moving his ship around to keep his enemy from acquiring a firing solution. It would take a few moments before the computer was able to make the calculations for a hyperspace jump.
"Stay on him!" growled Vader. The Force was strong in this one, but he would not remain alive for long. His quarry was clearly attempting to escape. Vader reached out through the Force to get a feel for where the enemy ship would be next, but it was tough for this particular target. He worked the dials on his stick and watched as the image of the enemy ship danced within his targeting monitor. Finally, it locked.
"I have you now."
An explosion to the left of Vader's ship jerked him off of his target.
The Millennium Falcon shot through what remained of the TIE fighter wingman of Vader, and he sent two concussion missiles toward the strange looking TIE fighter. They detonated just to the right, and the fighter took some damage, spinning away.
"You're clear, kid. Now let's get the hell out of here!" shouted Solo into his microphone.
He wasn't sure where Luke was going, but anywhere was better than here.
"I'm sending you some coordinates, Han. Follow me to Dagobah."
"Don't ask, old buddy, but I need you with me!"
"Ok, kid, sure thing."
"That pathetic planet will no longer be of concern to us," grated Palpatine to the officer.
The officer had just informed him that extremists from Sol had been responsible for the terrorist act on Imperial Center.
"I have dispatched the ultimate weapon to that world to end strife upon its wretched surface, permanently."
On the other side of the command center, a young officer signaled to General Voss. Voss walked over to him, and the younger officer motioned him still closer.
"Sir, we have no communications outside of this room."
"What do you mean?"
"Sir, someone, or something has cut us off."
"That's impossible. The access codes … I see."
The senior officer sidled up to Voss and said softly, "The Emperor wants updates on the assault on the Rebel base, as well as progress of the Death Star."
Voss stared blankly at his superior and then told him of what he had just himself learned. The already pale senior officer lost what little color he had retained.
"Sir, will you inform the Emperor of our situation?"
The lieutenant general rubbed his throat nervously and said, "No. I think that might be unwise. I will tell him that all goes according to plan."
He walked up toward the Emperor confidently and said, "My lord, the Rebel base has been defeated, and the Death Star is en route to the planet of Sol as we speak."
"You lie, commander, and you have done so for the last time."
The Emperor stood, and Force lightning lanced out from the Emperor's hands as he stepped forward from his two guards. The officer writhed on the floor in agony. Another blinding blast of Force lightning ended any further movement.
"General Voss, you are now in command. Gain a status report and then see me."
"Yes, my lord."
The Emperor turned around, just in time for one of the two Imperial guards to knock him to the floor with a force pike.
"Kill the guards," screamed the Emperor as he lay sprawled on the floor, one hand in the air in a defensive posture, "They are traitors!"
The Emperor had not felt the attack sooner, for these natives of Sol repelled the Force and he could not sense them. He reached into his cloak and pulled forth a light saber. Igniting it, he severed the foot of the guard, who roared in pain, reeling backwards.
"Did you really think you could dispatch me so readily? Your lack of vision will lead only to your death!"
A blaster bolt slammed into the now single-footed guard, sending him backwards into the Emperor's chair. The second guard raised his force pike to impale the Emperor, but a blaster bolt ended his motion. Stormtroopers within the room opened fire on the guard as he fell backward, and he collapsed into a red heap.
Greg, who had fired the initial blasts reached out with his left hand for the Emperor. The Emperor had extinguished his light saber and moved to take his hand. Greg then raised his blaster with his other hand and aimed center-mass, squeezing off two shots in quick succession.
Two smoking holes appeared in the torso of a shocked Palpatine, as he mouthed the word, "treason."
Greg had little time to appreciate what he had accomplished, as multiple blaster bolts slammed into him from different directions.
Vader managed to limp his improved TIE fighter back to the ISD Punishment, and he now towered before the holographic tactical display.
"My lord, we have detained several Rebel leaders," said the colonel overseeing the ground attack of Yavin IV.
"Is the princess among them?"
"No, my lord."
"How did she escape?"
"We spotted a small freighter ... the same one that recently escaped the Death Star. She may have been aboard."
Vader spun to face the ship's commander, "Calculate all known tragectories from this location, and send ships to find them."
"Yes, my lord."
A communications officer approached the captain and said something into his ear, beneath Vader's hearing. The captain's face turned ashen.
"Are you certain? You had better check again."
"What is is, captain?" demanded Vader.
The captain swallowed, "We are confirming a report we just received. I want to ensure it is accurate prior to telling you more, my lord."
The team was nearly complete. One of the stormtroopers in dark gray turned to face a man wearing Imperial gray.
"We are almost through, sir."
"Ensure that once you get through, there are no survivors."
The man wearing the uniform of an Imperial general officer stood and walked away. As he left, he saw at least two dozen more stormtoopers in dark gray lined up at the entrance and others would soon join them. This was dirty work, but it was necessary. Colonel Dudley had been involved in some questionable acts in his time, but this was the most questionable. He told himself it was for the good of Earth, and for the galaxy as a whole. For it to have a chance of working, there could be no witnesses. He had something else of critical importance to check.
Once clear of the wreckage, Colonel Dudley made his way to a room that served as a medical facility. Upon one of the beds and surrounded by Imperial guards, the deformed visage of a gnarled man met him. He was wearing a robe.
"My lord, it is good to see that you are safe," exclaimed Colonel.
"I am better than ever, and rest assured that this day has been one of victory for the Empire."
"Yes, my lord."
"The insignificant rebellion has been utterly crushed, and all others who oppose the might of the Empire will feel my wrath."
"Indeed, my lord."
Aboard the ISD Punishment, the captain approached Lord Vader, two stormtroopers in white flanking him.
"Lord Vader," began a clearly rattled captain, "The Emperor has survived an assassination attempt."
Vader reached out through the Force. The ever-present power of his master was gone.
"No, he did not."
"Lord Vader, the Emperor has issued orders for your arrest. You are to accompany us to Imperial Center in order to stand trial for involvement in an assassination plot against his highness."
Vader lashed out through the Force, throwing back the captain and his accompanying stormtroopers to the floor.
"The Emperor was assassinated, but it was not my doing. The Emperor did not issue orders for my arrest, for he is no longer alive. We will uncover this plot and hold those who are responsible accountable for their crime," growled Vader.
More stormtroopers entered the room, and Vader used the Force to seal the doors.
"Lord Vader," said the captain as he regained his footing, "we can discuss this once we get to Imperial Center. My orders are clear, and I have verified them. I am certain that the Emperor…"
"The Emperor is dead, so whoever is issuing orders in his name is a traitor!" roared Vader. At the signal of the captain, several stormtroopers approached Vader. He then ignited his light saber.
"If you are not for me, then you are my enemy!"
As stormtroopers fired, Vader parried the bolts with his saber and cut them down. Outside the room, troopers clad in dark gray prepared to breach the door.
Three days later, the oldest of the Jedi stepped forth and sniffed the air.
"Over, is my long exile."
Luke Skywalker stood next to Yoda, hardly believing he was on Coruscant itself. He looked very much the farm boy from a far-off world. Leia stood to the other side of Yoda. Not so long ago, she had been a member of the Imperial Senate.
"I understand that the Senate is being reinstated," said Leia with some wonder.
"That is correct, your highness," said a new, approaching voice.
A man wearing Imperial gray and the rank of a major general stood before them. He added, "You are Princess Leia Organa. I am sorry about Alderaan, but I would like to welcome you to Coruscant."
"Don't you mean Imperial Center, general," replied Leia with a tinge of bitterness.
The general winked, "The Emperor has had a slight change of plan, and he sees now the necessity for the Imperial Senate."
Leia gave him a dubious look.
Yoda said, "General, alone with you I would meet."
Aboard the Falcon, the Imperial officer and Yoda sat alone.
"Your true identity you cannot hide from me."
"Indeed. I am actually a colonel in what was the United States Army, master jedi. My name is William Dudley"
"This already I knew, but more there is. But speak of that we will later. How long do you think you can keep secret, your fake Emperor?" Dudley frowned slightly.
"Perhaps it may be long enough to accomplish what we have in mind."
"Vader, the Emperor's apprentice; fooled he will not so easily be."
"I imagine not, but we took some measures to mitigate such a risk."
"Enough will they be?"
"We hope so, though we have received no reports either way."
"Your fake Emperor, a vote will he have in this play of yours."
"Moheb is a good man."
Dudley recalled the surgical procedure that had altered the Syrian's appearance. He took on his modified role readily enough - almost too readily.
"Sense him, I cannot. Closely watch him, you must."
A beeping sound came from Dudley's pocket, and seemed to recall something. He stood to leave.
"I will take my leave, master Jedi. There is much to do today. It has been a pleasure to speak with you." He bowed and turned to leave the ship.
"A long time has it been, Bel Shadar."
Dudley's back stiffened, but then he relaxed.
He turned his head slightly toward his old master, "That name no longer has meaning for me, Master Yoda."
"What name would you have me use?"
"As I told you, my name is William Dudley, though others know me as Lancer Six."