The Closing Noose
"Okay, what the hell happened?"
Rex had a rebuke on the tip of his tongue, yet that was silenced when the entire superstructure of the freighter shook violently once again, sending everyone flying to the deck. Naruto was the first to recover, scrambling to his feet and barrelling through the exit and towards the cockpit, Rex and Aayla was right on his heels as he reached his destination only to find not the long lines of hyperspace but the flickering pinpricks of real-space.
"Everyone to your stations, as in right now!" Naruto shouted as he jumped into the pilot's chair and buckled himself into the crash webbing. Rex took the co-pilots seat while Aayla rushed the main sensor array.
"Looks like we were forcefully taken out of hyperspace by a gravity well," Aayla called from her station.
"A gravity well, as in a planets gravity well?" Naruto asked with a puzzled frown as he pushed forward on the hyperdrive lever, shutting off the engine before it could explode and bringing the sublight drives online. "Who planned the course?"
"I did." Rex replied.
"Rex, did you break my ship!?"
"No, there weren't any planets in the way, it's a heavily used route," Rex shot back gruffly. "I checked the Hutt spitting thing three times before giving it the okay."
"I see no signs of any astral bodies," Aayla piped in helpfully, bringing Rex into the clear.
Celeste and Obi-wan came in next, the millennia old Jedi taking her spot on the comm. while the Jedi Master came up beside Naruto. "I sent Knights Antilles and Lo'kris to the ball turrets... your Wookiee friend took a knock to the head but is otherwise fine, he's tending to the youngling."
Naruto nodded before turning back to Aayla, "Anything on the sensors?"
"Yeah, and you're not going to like it." She replied. "We've got a large ship bearing down on us."
"I'm getting some chatter on the comm." Celeste added. "Whoever it is they're demanding our immediate surrender."
"Well that settles it." Naruto replied before pushing the throttle and gunning the engines, a sudden wave of inertia forced those seated into their chairs and those standing to brace themselves as the Will of Fire increased speed.
"This is Lo'kris to the bridge," the familiar voice of one of Kenobi's Jedi blared through the intercom. "We've got an Imperial Interdictor on our six, can't be sure from this distance but it looks like an Immobiliser."
"Well that explains everything," Rex ground out. "An Interdictor has the technology to create an artificial gravity well to pull ships out of hyperspace. I'd heard rumours they were experimenting with the idea during the war, reverse engineering old technology or something, but I never saw it in use so I thought they had given up on the idea."
"Well it looks like they haven't." Naruto barked.
"Confirmed as an Interdictor, I've got smaller signals... they've launched fighters!" Aayla called.
"How many?" Rex asked.
"Half a dozen!"
"Hey kids, get those guns primed because it looks like we've got company coming!" Naruto shouted into the intercom, getting clicks of acknowledgement from the two young Knights on the other end. "Lowie, get down to the engines and see how bad the hyperdrive's been shot up, see if you can coax it into another jump!"
A roar from the comm. was his answer. His friend was on the job.
"That'll be useless as long as that field is active!" Rex called.
"Don't give me the obvious give me options!" Naruto shot back.
"Two options, either we outrun the thing or we find a way to shut down or malfunction the Interdictor field long enough to jump away," Celeste answered, making the other members of the crew look at her in mild surprise. "Interdictor fields were used during my timeline. It's a bit strange though, Interdictors have to make sacrifices in armament to fit those gravity well generators. It's usually good strategic practice to have an escort!"
"Meaning something bigger is probably being notified and is on the way." Obi-wan surmised.
"You boys aren't going to like this but I've picked up another ship, few hundred kilometres away." Aayla interrupted as she brought up the information from the sensors and cross referenced it with all known ship classes on the database, "Dreadnaught-class Heavy Cruiser, inbound."
"Congrats Celeste, you just jinxed us!"
"Could be worse, at least it's not a Star Destroyer, eh?" Naruto asked.
"TIE's are in range, opening up!"
Naruto snarled under his breath, bringing the freighter into a sharp roll as the first shards of emerald laser blasts shot past them, in response he felt the slight tremor of the ball turrets on the Will of Fire's ventral and dorsal sections return fire with streams of crimson. He saw this and immediately brought the ship into a sharp turn to port, forcing the TIE's to pursue while trying to get more distance on the Interdictor.
"Well this is going to be fun."
The Xanadu Blood was the personal ship of Cad Bane, a Rogue-class Starfighter modified well beyond her original specs. Out of the bounty hunters small repertoire of ships and vessels it was considered his favourite, and he only used it for what he considered his most difficult and dangerous jobs.
This would be scaled as perhaps one of the most difficult jobs he had to pull off in years. So dangerous that even he knew he probably couldn't take it alone, so that was why he had agreed to forming a small alliance with a handful of other mercs and hunters under the employ of Black Sun. His prized possession was just one a half a dozen other vessels, ranging in size from small modified fighters like his to heavily modified freighters and gunships.
Of this small assortment of ships only one caught his eye, not on the designs but because he knew exactly who was piloting it. The Mandalorian Hunters ship was an AEG-77 Vigo, a fairly new transport ship which could be easily modified with weapons such as laser cannons and missile launchers.
His comm. crackled to life, the Mandalorians voice echoing into his cockpit. "I have found them."
"Where?" Bane asked.
"Coordinates sent to you now, they've been ambushed by an Imperial scouting group." The Hunter replied. "An Immobiliser and a Dreadnaught-class Heavy Cruiser, looks like the Imps have been sending out messages since they engaged."
"What are they saying?" Bane asked.
"It's a message to a High Inquisitor, reads a simple 'We have them'." The hunter was silent for a moment. "If the Imps get them we can kiss that bounty goodbye."
"Obviously," Cad replied as he relaxed into his chair. "Not to worry though, I've got a contingency."
"Want to share?"
Bane allowed a thin smile, easily changing the subject. "If they keep going on their planned trajectory where will they go?"
There was a moment of silence before Skirata replied, obviously not liking his question being skimmed over. "There are a few choices, but the most obvious seems to be Cathar."
"They're probably not going there now, look for any planets which are habitable but don't have any major settlements on them," Bane ordered idly, cracking his neck. "Chances are once they escape the Imps they will go to ground. The tracker you placed on their ship will do the rest."
"You seem so sure they will escape." Skirata replied, returning to the previous subject of his interest.
"Lead a Bantha by the nose and it'll run right into trouble without noticing, that is what will happen my friend." The supposedly best Bounty Hunter in the business replied. "Send word to the rest not to pursue until I say otherwise."
"Very well," the Mandalorian replied at last before the comm. shut off, leaving him alone.
"Mandalorians," Bane scoffed, reaching under his pilots console and pulling out a small flask, "Always pushy."
"My lord, we have news!"
The High Inquisitor turned from where he stood, one good eye watching as the Imperial officer approached with a simple datapad in his hands. The man saluted sharply before presenting the device to him, and Antinnis Tremayne took the device and looked through the contents.
"Now that is interesting." He muttered to himself.
"Your orders my lord," the officer asked.
"Recall all agents in the sector. If they are close enough to the contested area then they are to help with containment, if they are not then they are to assemble here and await instructions." The High Inquisitor replied as he continued to look over the contents of the holopad. "I want the Usurper ready to go effective immediately, head to the location, find and apprehend the fugitives."
"Yes my lord." The officer saluted and turned on his heel, rushing from the observation deck and the small unit of black robed agents which guarded it.
High Inquisitor Tremayne did not give the man a second glance as he turned his attention back to the holopad, eyes scanning every bit of information presented before him. The target had been spotted in a number of random sites from Alderaan to Mustafar to the final sighting barely a day ago on Naboo, he was also sighted on Taris in roughly the same time and place he had lost two agents, so that explained their fate.
This man was living up to his unpredictable reputation, and it seemed the sheer blind luck of a Captain had finally brought his series of rebellious movements to an end. The Captain in question would be handsomely rewarded for bringing such an infamous enemy of the Empire to justice, probably a promotion or a generous sum.
He would be rewarded, but it would be Tremayne who would bring the vagabond to the Emperor, alive and in chains. The Inquisitor allowed a cruel smile. He supposed half dead and broken would suffice just as well.
The TIE fighter went up in flames, its solar panel wings detaching from the impact which destroyed the cockpit and spinning into open space. The remaining fighters did not even hesitate with the loss of their comrade, but swooped back into the fray, after their prey, with a renewed fighting spirit in watching one of their comrades fall.
You can say a lot about an Imperial pilot, but at the end of the day they were sentient beings just like their enemies. If one of their comrades, wingmate, and friend was blasted out of the sky then the Imperial pilot would feel what any other person would feel, sadness, a sense of loss, and then a burning wish to avenge their fallen comrade.
It was with this renewed vigour that Aayla watched the other five TIE fighters break off, regroup and then continue their chase in a new formation. In response Antilles and Lo'kris continued to unleash streams of laser fire from their ball turrets, trying to keep the Imperials guessing and disorientated enough to not make a straight shot.
It was working, for now. But Aayla could already see another half dozen TIE fighters escaping the main hanger of the Interdictor and closing in on them, and the escorting Dreadnaught Cruiser was playing it just as safe as the capital-ship it was guarding, staying on its flank just in case Naruto decided to do something crazy like try and take out the gravity well generator with a dozen proton torpedoes.
This was something which she knew he was thinking about.
"I think we may need to go for broke guys," he said at last.
"You're not thinking of charging the Interdictor are you?" Rex asked, looking at his friend with slightly wide eyes. "Do you know the chances of a freighter like this surviving a head on confrontation with one of those ships?"
"I'm guessing in the hundreds to one." Naruto supplied.
"You're damn right."
"It's either that or they run us down, give me some options here Rex." Naruto shot back.
He wanted too, really Rex did, but he didn't have one. At the rate they were going they would eventually be overwhelmed and run down by the Imperials. He knew this, but turning around and facing off against an Imperial capital-ship, even if it was an Interdictor whose purpose was more to entrap prey than destroy it with heavy guns, were still very small in terms of odds of success.
"I suppose we don't have much of a choice." Rex said at last.
Everyone else was in complete, but worried agreement. Aayla could feel the worry and lack of belief in survival through the force. Naruto even seemed to feel it, though he hid it behind his usual demeanour of bravado. "Alright folks, let's show them just how lucky we are!"
"Hold on a moment," Celeste shouted, listening into her earphones with widened eyes. "I'm getting some comm. chatter."
Rex sighed, "Looks like we're not getting out of this after all."
"You're being awfully cynical this morning." Naruto quipped.
"I'm getting half a dozen ships coming in, but they don't match any Imperial schematics." Aayla decided to report, watching as they appeared just outside of the interdictor zone and made the rest of the way in on sublight engines. "Give me a minute... this doesn't seem right."
"What do you mean?" Naruto asked, cursing as another few burst of laser cannon fire slammed into the ailing shields.
"I mean they don't seem to be coming in with any real strategy or formation in mind." Aayla replied as she continued to scan the ships by the information giving to them on the scanners. "This doesn't coincide with any military tactics or professionalism... it almost seems like they're each coming in on their own."
"I'm getting some chatter on the Imperial channels," Celeste called from her console, it was a good thing Rex spent those six months they were training on learning how to hack, and he seemed to teach those learned skills to Celeste over the last few months. "The Imperials are sending out their last wave of TIE's. The escort has been ordered to get into a tighter formation with the Interdictor."
"Why would they do that?"
"I've got six vessels... small, fast and nimble." Aayla relayed.
"I'm getting a broadcast," Celeste called, pressing the earphones into her head with a frown before turning back to her friends. "They're introducing themselves as the Stark Pirates, demanding that the Imperials back off and leave us to them."
"What did the Imps say?" Obi-wan asked.
"Not sure, but I think the commanding officer asked if the leader of the pirates was on drugs." Celeste replied, looking at them quizzically. "They seem to be insulting each other."
"Seriously?" Rex asked, amused.
"The Pirate made some comment about the Imp officer's mother, and the Imp officer said something about him being a noble of Eriatu and promising to dance on the pirate lord's grave once he puts him there." Celeste continued, lips slowly curving into an amused smile of her own as she continued to listen to the conversation. "Oh, it's getting pretty colourful."
Aayla and Naruto looked at each other for a moment before the blond sighed, "When did this go from invitation only to open season?"
"Maybe we should use this chance to escape boss." Rex put in helpfully.
"Not while the generators are active we can't." Naruto replied, and then a grin spread across his features. "Remember that suicidal idea I had a few minutes ago?"
"Yes?" Both Kenobi and Rex replied.
"What are the chances of it working when they're engaged with a pirate fleet?" Naruto asked.
"Better, but just on the top side of suicidal," Obi-wan replied, though everyone could see that the Jedi Master was in agreement with the Shinobi's idea. The smile basically took away any deception that he was trying to convince Naruto otherwise.
"I've got another contact," Aayla called.
"Sure, why not invite someone else?" Naruto mumbled out in annoyance. "Who is it this time!?"
"Star Destroyer," Aayla murmured disbelief clear.
"What?" Rex asked, feeling a chill which had nothing to do with the temperature.
"We have an Imperial-class Star Destroyer, the Usurper!"
"Is that bad?"
"It's the preferred ship of Antinnis Tremayne, former Jedi Apprentice, current High Inquisitor of the Imperial Inquisitorious." Rex explained, watching as images of the Star Destroyer appeared on the console.
"Again, is that bad?"
"He was personally trained by Darth Vader."
"Target confirmed. It is the rebel's ship."
From his command chair Tremayne nodded, "Launch fighters, and bring us within range. It is time we wiped this threat away at its source."
"We also have an Imperial taskforce, and a cluster of unmarked vessels."
"Ignore them, they are not the target." The High Inquisitor waved off, rising from his chair and walking a few steps towards the huge view-screen. "If anyone gets in our way they will be annihilated, no mercy, no quarter."
His orders given Tremayne clasped his hands behind his back and watched the events unfold. All of the Empire's recent woes, the sudden organised approach the remnants of the Jedi Order were taking to conceal themselves, the escape of the last great Separatist armada, the low level insurgency taking place by a band of rebellious Clones. They could all be traced back to this man, Naruto Uzumaki, he was a danger to the Empire, to the forces of Order, and he needed to be stopped.
"Oh what the hell," Rex threw up his hands in defeat. "By all means, wield away."
"Awesome!" Naruto grinned as he brought his freighter into a steep turn, right back towards the Imperial formation. "Pirates and Inquisition behind, Imperials in front, place your bets people!"
"Oh force me!" Celeste cried as the greyish form of the Imperial Interdictor quickly overtook their main view-screen.
"We're going to die," Rex added, murmuring more to him than shouting it out to the masses.
Naruto did not seem to take notice, only using his free hand to open the trigger for the three tubes under the main disk of the freighter at the fore, each one loaded with two proton torpedoes designed for rapid fire. By this time the Interdictor and its escort was firing all of its weapon batteries in response to the fire of the Pirate fleet, perfect for his insane plan.
He pushed away the plastic holders for the triggers and pushed the three of them, feeling the tremor as three proton torpedoes fired from their launchers, all aimed for the same spot. That spot was the dome shaped form of the starboard front gravity well generator. The shields took the strike, shimmering blue as the shields rippled, but Naruto pressed the switches barely a second later, releasing the other three proton torpedoes.
The shields were overwhelmed.
They stopped the first torpedo to hit, but the other two pierced the taxed defence and struck the dome shaped construct with explosive consequences, dual explosions of flame and debris almost overtook their cockpits screen as Naruto pulled up and away from the suddenly stricken Interdictor.
The moment they passed the cruiser the pirates followed, and were drawn into a fire fight between them and the Imperials. One took several hits from the Turbolaser batteries and exploded, this took the rest of the pirates from their chase with them and turned them against the Interdictor, Imperial and Pirates trading blows with each other.
The blond turned to his comrades, grinning like a fool. "Well, how did we do?"
"The Interdictor field... is down." Aayla said with wide eyed surprise.
"Can we enter hyperspace?" he asked.
"Yes, we can."
"Lowie, can we jump!" Naruto shouted into the intercom.
A roar of acknowledgement was all he needed.
He grinned, grabbing the hyperdrive lever and pulling it. "Then let's punch it!"
The Imperial Officer rushed down the corridor, a sheet of flimsiplast held firmly in his hands. His destination was clear, as his commanding officer had demanded any information brought directly to him instead of blaring it over the intercom systems.
Finally he reached his destination, and allowed to the doors to open the moment they registered his presence. Immediately the officer straightened his uniform and put his cap back on so as to look professional before stepping into the dimly lit chamber. Within was his commanding officer and his unit of deadly agents, just looking at them brought a chill to his spine, for he had heard the reports of what they did and how well they did it.
They were modern assassins, warriors who displayed skills and abilities matching anything the Inquisitorious could rally in return. They looked the part with their black outfits with hoods covering their faces, donned with light black armour around their torso, as well as guards on their forearms and knees. He could see the dim bulges of blaster pistols and combat knives on their utility belts, but they had many more weapons hidden on their person.
Their commander was even more intimidating in appearance, decked from head to toe in black armour of the same make as his subordinates, a cape hung around his curved shoulder guards and a sheathed blade was at his waist. His head was free of any helm or cloth, messy black hair, skin as pale as death, deep onyx eyes crafted a carefully neutral face which rose as he noticed the officer.
"The report?" he asked.
"Yes my lord." The officer replied with a sharp salute. He approached his commander, handing him the sheet of flimsi. "We have received word from a scouting group conducting anti-piracy operations in the Colonies. They have located the ship you requested."
The Commander took the sheet, onyx eyes flashing from side to side as he read its contents, before they narrowed, a thin smile spreading his pale features. "Send word to the Captain, we're heading to the Colonies, Naboo will be our destination. Get in touch with the local naval assets in the region, ask them to deploy holonet buoys across the sector and look for any comm. traffic with the words I have inscribed."
"Your will be done, my lord." The officer responded before moving to the task.
"So," Sasuke began as he turned back to his assembled agents, all peering over a meeting table of charts and handheld devices. He looked at one large chart in particular. He pressed a few keys on the table and watched as a complete holographic map of the known galaxy materialised. "They have been confirmed sightings of them on Chandrilla, Kamino, Mustafar, Alderaan, Taris and finally Naboo."
As he spoke a line appeared on the map, moving from each aforementioned planet before stopping at Naboo. One did not have to be a genius to see that Naruto had picked up a few tricks since the last time he had met him. There was no sense of direction, any common denominators or predictable paths. He was living up to his reputation as completely unpredictable, hard to find and even harder to lockdown.
"Give me a rough location of the scouting unit."
One of his agents complied, and the line continued through Colonial space into the Inner-rim, stopping in an area between two solar systems of little importance, areas which would be considered a hotbed for pirates. The commanding officer of the taskforce was probably just on a routine patrol and happened upon them by accident, an incredible piece of luck in the man's part.
"How long will it take to get there?" he asked.
"From our current position about three hours, my lord," Hayate answered.
"They'll nab the prize before we could even get close." Yuki snarled in annoyance.
Sasuke chuckled at his agents words, "If my target was that easy to catch he wouldn't have survived this long."
"So, are we going to fight some of our brethren, Commander?" Ayame asked, obviously thrilled by the prospect.
"It would seem so, yes."
"I look forward to it." The young woman replied, an assertion shared by all in the room.
Sasuke had to admit he looked forward to it as well, a chance to meet the man once considered his friend, who always spouted his nonsense that he wanted to become Hokage and save their home from destruction. The one who went back on his promise and brought calamity to the village he had forgiven, and to the woman he loved.
When he first arrived in this strange place he did not remember. His amnesia when he awoke on that planet which did nothing but rain, followed by the indoctrination by the Emperor and his agents had made him forget about himself and his past. Kessel had changed all that. Now he did remember everything, it didn't come immediately. It took weeks and months of lying awake at night to piece all of the broken fragments of his memories together.
The Emperor and his handlers didn't know. How could they? He had simply continued to play the part of the domesticated guard dog all so he could bring his revenge together and to fruition. Revenge against his once best friend turned bitter enemy. Naruto and he both wanted to become Hokage, for Naruto it had been a dream of his all of his life, but it was something Sasuke had decided on during the war. He would become Hokage, not for recognition like Naruto but because he truly wanted to bring to the village all consuming change.
It was the only way the ghost of his teammate would find peace.
Naruto Uzumaki, the traitor, must die.
"They'll go to ground."
"Are you sure?"
"After what he's just escaped from, yeah I'm sure." Boba nodded as he relaxed in the pilots chair his father once sat on, knowing all too well it was still too big for him. "Inquisitorious, Bounty Hunters, Imperials, Mercenaries, Black Sun, the Hutts... he'll realise soon enough that he has too much heat on him, and he'll go to ground. The question is where."
"And you're sure he's escaped from that?" Sintas asked. "I mean it sounded pretty big, an Imperial taskforce, a fleet of pirates, a new Star Destroyer. I don't think anyone could escape that."
Fett allowed a grin, "Oh he'll escape it alright. That man has become infamous at achieving the impossible; the question is where he will go to ground."
"Well with the bounty on him and his known crew I would safely say he'll stay away from anywhere remotely civilised," Vel was thoughtful and Boba agreed. Indeed with such a bounty on his head Naruto would not be able to step foot into any civilised port in the galaxy without a small army of bounty hunters and mercenaries firing at him.
"So that leaves places where civilisation does not exist."
"And there are as many planets, both known and unknown, which fit that bill, as many as the stars on a clear night." Sintas sighed, massaging her neck. The blue expanse of hyperspace blurred past them as the Slave I followed the trail, a trail which almost any bounty hunter brave enough or stupid enough would be following. "But he wouldn't be able to go very far without being spotted, would he."
Boba agreed, "Not with the entire Imperial military looking for him, so that would take everywhere but the region he was spotted in, but even there I would safely say there was a few dozen un-colonised worlds at least."
Sintas sighed, "This is going to be a long haul."
"Comes with the mission of looking for a singular target," Fett was nonchalant. This was not the first time he had hunted single bounties across the vast expanse of space, and if he and his partner survived this it wouldn't be the last. "This should be good practice for you, Sin."
In the depths of the void was where the Separatist fleet were, outside of the known borders of the galaxy, passed the veil and into the great all consuming darkness beyond. It was the one place where they would be able to recuperate their strength and patch up their losses, well away from the military power of the Galactic Empire, for what better place to lay low than in the middle of a true abyss.
The galaxy could be seen in the distance, a great swirling mass of stars and gasses, tendril arms with a huge circular core representing the centre of the galaxy. Anyone could see this great colossus of nature from their view-port, a reminder that no matter how technologically advanced or powerful any one race of beings were they were lesser than ants before the whole of the universe.
Admiral Swell's armada was almost ready to dive back into this beautiful chaotic melee. The vessels deemed too badly damaged had been broken apart and used for repairs to those ships which were deemed salvageable. The surviving crews of these now nonexistent ships had been spread out and amalgamated into other crews. In some cases the rush repair jobs weren't the best aesthetically, but as of this moment every capital-ship, every escort, every cruiser, carrier, frigate and auxiliary vessel had been repaired and was now ready to return.
Ruk Sull, current Director of Confederate Intelligence, or should he say Fleet Intelligence, looked over the latest series of files and information from his datapad, going over the personal files of thousands of new volunteers and whatever few ships had openly joined their cause. The six months spent so far in building support were beginning to bare fruit, however few.
The fleet had been strengthened with the appearance of a few dozen ships from across the galaxy, mainly lead by former commanders of Planetary Defence Fleets and a few Confederate ships which had managed to survive thus far by staying under the radar of their Imperial hunters. A couple of Providence Carriers, at least another five escorts, even a five kilometre long Subjugator-class Heavy Cruiser had found its way into the fold, a ship which Swell had made his flagship.
That was just the Confederate elements. There were dozens of smaller ships from Consular-class Space Cruisers, Dreadnought-class Cruisers, Carrack-class Light Cruisers, alongside other Frigates, Corvettes, Gunboats, heavy fighters and bombers. Most of them were within seven hundred meters in length, barely considered capital-ships compared to the new generation of vessels the Empire was developing, but the Admiral was not about to look any potential gift horse in the mouth.
Least of all when most of these volunteers were coming to them thanks to their new found connections with the remnants of the Jedi Order. Even when they were considered nothing but traitors and dissidents the Jedi still held considerable clout in the Outer territories, many of those who joined felt a great respect and compassion for the Order which had acted as their shield for so many centuries.
On the note of the Jedi their own Star Destroyer was still within the safety of the fleet, alongside that Frigate their new ally had commandeered. The Frigate had remained by the Star Destroyers side ever since it had arrived, a protector for the younglings and innocents aboard. The freed slaves had been transferred from the Frigate Morning Star to the larger and roomier Refuge. Most of the non-Confederate volunteers were now acting as the capital-ships escort, a fleet within a fleet.
Sull knew that such a thing would happen, as he looked over yet another file, and couldn't help a small smile to form. It was the latest bounties on those associated with their infant alliance. The bounties of the Admiral, the Grand Master and himself had doubled. It was beginning to look like none of them were going to be able to enter a civilised star port in the near future.
He supposed he should have seen this coming. With the Jedi reorganising themselves, going to ground, looking out for each other and setting up their own independent information networks it was becoming harder and harder for the Empire to track them down. Their own forces disappearance from known space was also raising a few worried eyebrows. An armada of enemy vessels vanishing into the blackness would have worried him in their position.
The surprise he supposed was that the young Commander who had been instrumental in organising all this was one of the top three bounties on the new list of dissidents, right in the same field as the good Admiral Swell and Grand Jedi Master Yoda. It was intriguing that he would be in such a high demand, especially considering his actions had been recent compared to the others on the list.
"Hmm, now why would they want you," he wondered, tilting his head to the side as he read the list of offences to his name. Wanted for dissent against the Empire, crimes numerous in number and insidious in nature including murder, assault, piracy, dissent, terrorism, gunrunning, larceny, impersonating an Officer of the Imperial navy, aiding and abetting fugitives and traitors of the Empire, prime suspect in the bombing of the Sorenno Space Port. Suspect is considered armed and extremely dangerous; flee on sight order for civilian's is advised. "Huh, I suppose he would be pretty high on the list with that fact sheet, most Jedi don't have this many charges against them."
"Excuse me Director?"
"Yes," he asked, chastising himself for not noticing his secretary enter the room.
"You have a line from Commander Uzumaki, secure."
"Thank you, I'll take it here." He pressed the button of his comunit, 'speak of the devil' was the first thought on his mind. "You have been busy Commander."
A groan down the line, "You've heard already?"
"I wouldn't be considered the Director of Fleet Intelligence if I wasn't."
A moment of silence, "How bad is it?"
"You are officially near the top of the Empires shit list, if you pardon the speech." The Director replied, holding up his datapad. "Crimes are numerous in number and insidious in nature. That is the opening statement on your rap sheet. Tell me how did you manage to impersonate an Imperial officer?"
"Trade secret," the Commander replied.
"Trade secret or not there are very few Jedi alive who have a sheet as numerous as you have, and considering they are all considered traitors these days says a lot." Sull pondered. "You're basically in the same grade as the good Admiral and the Grand Master."
"What is your opinion?" Naruto asked.
"That you go to ground, and soon my young friend." The Muun informed. "This kind of heat is not going to go away anytime soon, not until you hit the source and make them rescind the bounty or you get caught and delivered to the Emperor in a silver platter, and a word to the wise the Emperor is known to have a small platter, just big enough for a head and nothing else if you understand."
"Yeah I figured as much."
"Go to ground Naruto, disappear, and fast. From what my sources say you have more than bounty hunters, pirates and the Imperial fleet after you. I'm talking about the shadow troops of the Empire. The biggest, the meanest and the deadliest blades Palpatine has in his arsenal, the ones the public doesn't know about."
"Alright you've made your point. I'll disappear for now, and hook up with the fleet when I can. Do you think it's a good idea to recall all diplomatic teams?"
"I have already put the idea forward to the Admiral. You just worry about yourself boy, clear?"
"Then go boy."
The line went dead, and the Director was once again alone.
It was time to get back to the job at hand. He had not been sitting idle these past six months. He had been using the time, spreading the seeds of new spy networks and agents across several sectors of the Outer-rim. It was in its infancy, and there were definitely going to be plenty of failures along the way, but by the time he was ready he would have a network of spies, informants and agents which would give him everything from fleet movements to what the local Moff had for breakfast.
It was definitely more challenging when you didn't have the resources.
More challenging, but the results were more satisfying.
"Okay, sit-rep," Naruto said after a moment of silence, looking upon the congregation of crew and allies which were all either seated, standing or leaning somewhere in the lounge. The ship was already safely in hyperspace, away from any threats for the time being. "I know we're no strangers to unwanted attention, but getting into trouble two planets in a row, then an Imperial taskforce, then a pirate navy is a little bit much for a few days."
Everyone was here except for Rachi, little thing was asleep in their room. Aayla sat at one side of him while Obi-wan was on the other, Rex and Celeste were seated on swivel chairs across the room, Lowbacca was leaning against an expanse of bare wall, and the two young Jedi were standing to the side, not sure what to do with themselves so simply staying where they were.
The two Knights were young, humans, kid boys barely leaving their teenage years. The taller of the two was Seth Lo'kris from Commenor, lanky as he was tall with shoulder length black hair and dark eyes. The other went by the name of Jack Antilles, from Alderaan originally, a head shorter than his compatriot but bulkier through training and exercise. They were good kids, Naruto thought, a little impulsive but eager to learn new things and improve themselves.
Rex hummed in agreement, sitting on one of the swivel chairs on the far side of the chamber. "Yeah, sure we're no strangers to mercs, bounty hunters and the odd opportunistic pirates, but this seems like someone really has it out for us."
"Did you manage to contact Sull?" Obi-wan asked.
"And what did he say?"
"That I'm quite high on the Empires shit list."
"We all knew that was coming." Rex smirked.
"Celeste, could you get onto the holonet and look up the bounties list?" Obi-wan asked.
The millennia old former Jedi nodded her head before setting to the task. "Just give me a little bit of time. Accessing the holonet is not easy in hyperspace."
"You're thinking the bounties on us have increased beyond normal?" Rex asked.
Naruto nodded, "I do, but it's more than that. We've had big bounties but it didn't get us quite this much attention. It's almost like being hunted by a pack of wolves on their own turf, as long as your there they will continue to hunt you."
"Maybe it was a coincidence," Seth shrugged. "I mean on Taris you were ambushed by a couple of Inquisition agents, and on Naboo it was a couple of mercenaries. Maybe they saw you by chance and decided that they could make a name for themselves by collecting your bounties."
"Maybe, but if there's one thing I don't believe in it is coincidences, everything happens for a reason, there are little underlying causes under every rock and blade of grass." Obi-wan said; arms on the table as he looked at everything and nothing at once, deep in thought.
"I did not mean to-"
"Leave it be kiddo," Naruto calmed with a toothy grin. "Don't ever think putting your opinions out there is a waste of time."
Seth gulped a little, but nodded, sending his friend a sharp look when Jack elbowed him in the side and gave him a humorous smile. Yeah, Naruto had decided, they were good kids. Lowie echoed a growl from where he leaned, and it was a good thing Naruto had learned enough about his native language that he could now tell what he was saying. Aayla still beat him to the punch though.
"Lowie has a point. This could be your heroics on Kessel and Serenno finally getting you a little bit more attention." Aayla looked at Naruto as she spoke, only to frown at his boyish grin.
"I should damn well hope so; otherwise what was the point on saving a group of Jedi, commandeering a Sep fleet and taking an army's worth of freed slaves from right under their noses. It would be a waste of time if I wasn't placed pretty highly on the public enemies list."
"And boy, are you up there." Celeste spoke up at last, turning to Naruto. "You're bounty has just increased."
"I had a bounty?" Naruto asked as he got to his feet and made his way over to the millennia old Jedi. "This is news to me."
"It wasn't much, you were pegged down as the bodyguard to a Jedi, only around five thousand Imperial Credits," Celeste explained as she brought up the main page of the site. "You just jumped from a little known mercenary to the top of the Empires list, hell boss you're in the top ten."
Naruto's mouth was practically salivating, if he wasn't with people he shared food and sleeping arrangements with he would have began cackling maniacally. "Are we talking top ten of a sector, a territory?"
"Top ten most wanted of the entire freaking Empire more like it," Celeste snorted, bringing up what looked like a basic file, with a scratchy picture taken at an angle. "Take a look, you're third, let's see... Naruto Uzumaki, rebel leader, wanted for conspiring with the Jedi enemy against his majesties Imperial forces, crimes include sedition, murder, anarchy, piracy, all manner of debauchery, terrorism, embezzlement, impersonating an Imperial officer, aiding and abetting enemies of the Empire, considered armed and extremely dangerous, wanted dead or alive for two million Imperial Credits."
The Shinobi whistled in appreciation, "I'm guessing that's a lot of money."
"You could buy your own warship with it."
"Hmm," Naruto hummed as he thought. "Two million credits, I wander if I can claim the bounty myself."
"Doesn't work that way love," Aayla chastised lightly.
Naruto snorted, "Debauchery, have they been placing listening devices in our room love? Owe!"
"Serves you right," Aayla muttered, lekku twitching as she removed her fist from the top of his head.
"Wow, that's quite a jump, from five thousand to two million credits," Rex tilted his head as he looked at the file before turning back to Celeste. "Who posted the bounty?"
"Give me a minute."
"So I'm like an S-ranked enemy of the state now, never thought I'd be in that position." Naruto smirked as he looked at his partner. "When you're done checking out who posted the bounties can you check out the rest of yours?"
"I want to keep score," the blond replied as he clasped his hands behind his head.
"Ah here we are, looks like the bounty was placed by... oh Bantha shit!"
"What?" Naruto asked, not missing the exclamation from his friend and colleague. "Who posted it?"
"Prince Xizor of the Black Sun Syndicate and Jabba the Hutt of the Desilijic Hutt Cartel, oh boy this is bad." Rex murmured, not believing the ramifications of what they had just been thrust into. "Boss, we're dealing not just with the Empire anymore, but the two most powerful criminal organisations in the galaxy. Black Sun rules from the Core worlds to the Mid-rim, while the Desilijic Cartel unofficially rules huge swathes of the Outer-rim. Together they could assemble an army of hundreds of thousands on a whim."
"Not good then?" Naruto suddenly found his enjoyment dampened somewhat, didn't last long though. "Okay now I'm thoroughly pumped, don't care if it's the Empire, Black Sun, the Hutts or my grandfathers god damned ghost."
"I knew it. The man wouldn't know danger even if it came and bit him in the balls." Rex muttered under his breath with a sigh.
"Got to admit his enthusiasm is kind of contagious." Celeste allowed.
Author's Note: Okay, not much during this chapter, just a hell of a lot of action, a bunch of different people basically talking and agreeing around the same thing, getting all of the players together for the next couple of chapters. I apologise if anyone found this repetitive, just thought it was good to get the input of all the different factions.
Then there was Sasuke's new state of mind, many of you will be wondering what the hell he was talking about. Has he deluded himself into believing his own twisted version of events, or is his own version the right one? Has he really overcome the Emperor's influence, or is it another step into his transition as a pawn? All will be revealed in time.