A/N: Here we are! The end of book one! Man I never would of imagined when I started this it would not only become a full length fic but a series. I hope to post up chapter one of the sequel by Monday night if all goes well. The sequel will be titled Alliances, so watch for it! :) Thank you once again to my loyal reviewers who have stuck with this and kept me going! :) I plan to stick with a every couple days update schedule for Alliances so long as my muse holds out. Sorry this chapter is a bit short. I had a very specific idea of where I wanted to end it. I could of probably made it a bit longer.. but I wanted to keep this on point and stick with my planned ending. Chapter one of book two will be up by Monday night latest I hope! :)
Thrawn stood perfectly still, his face expressionless looking out the window of the throne room at the city scape below, as he listened to Pestage's rambling about the ins and outs of running the Empire in Palpatine's absence. The trivial details of Imperial Court held little interest to him, outside where momentary lapses in judgement allowed him information into the intended direction of potential enemies plans. Today however that was not the case. Pestage had already made clear his opinion on the Chiss, and as with other aliens it was not a favourable one. Thrawn suspected the man was intentionally dragging out trivial pointless details to vex him, but he would not give the man any such satisfaction. Apparently tiring of the game he was trying to play, Pestage finally invited Thrawn to speak. "Have we learned the location of the Rebel fleet?" he asked.
"We are close to narrowing it down. His Majesty was most helpful in that regard." Thrawn answered. Pestage raised an eyebrow at him.
"Oh? How so?" he asked.
"He was able to trace the Force signatures of his former Hand and apprentices to the Inner Rim before they suddenly vanished." Thrawn said.
"And how pray tell does that help Admiral?" Pestage grunted. Such a simple minded man Thrawn thought to himself. Answering out loud he explained.
"There is only one way I know of for one to vanish as it were in the Force." he said, stroking the ysalamiri resting across his shoulders.
"Which is?" Pestage pressed. Very simple minded, Thrawn decided.
"Ysalamiri. They are native to Myrkr… a planet in the Inner Rim. They are able to push the Force away from themselves and anything near to them." he responded. "We can assume Lord Vader, Jade and Skywalker are in the Myrkr system at present based on this." Thrawn explained, feeling very much as though he were talking to a small child. The man had no imagination of foresight. He looked greatly forward to Palpatine's return to the throne… someone who would appreciate his tactical mind, not question and struggle to understand it.
"That's very interesting, but I fail to see how that relates to the location of the Rebel fleet." Pestage said with a bored sigh.
"I thought a man Palpatine held in such confidence would have figured it out." Thrawn said and Pestage glared at him.
"What do you mean by that?" he snapped. Thrawn spread his hands.
"It's only obvious the next logical step for our defectors to take is to approach the Rebel Alliance with a bid to combine forces." he said. Pestage laughed.
"You really think the Rebellion would work with Vader and the 501st?" he asked. Thrawn ignored the man's mocking laughter.
"I expect they might be reluctant to meet… but Lord Vader does have Skywalker, the former hero of the Rebellion with him. He also has the former Emperor's Hand who is a master at getting into places. I expect anyone who can successfully intricate themselves into a criminal cartel long enough to take it down should have little difficulty in securing a meeting with the Alliance long enough to convince them Vader has indeed defected. After that point they would be fools to turn aside the assistance of former high ranking Imperials and an entire garrison of the best storm troopers." he explained. As he did Pestage stopped laughing and finally saw his point.
"I see…" he said, considering the point Thrawn had made.
"I would like to propose we divert firepower and men back to the Death Star while it nears completion of it's construction. I believe once allegiances are made the Alliance will once again target it." Thrawn suggested.
"Right now forces are needed here to maintain order." Pestage told him firmly.
"I understand." Thrawn said "But his Majesty will be most displeased if the Death Star should be lost to the Rebels. I trust you have informed Captain Paget or whoever is replacing him while he is on Coruscant of the large Imperial defection?" he asked. There was a slight twitch in the other man's face.
"I do not wish to lower moral at such a time as this." Pestage said.
"There is a difference between lowering moral and alerting to a significant potential threat." Thrawn told him sharply, his jaw clenched.
"Perhaps. I shall consider you input, Admiral." Pestage said dismissively. "If you are so worried, why not send your own fleet in to protect the Death Star?" he asked.
"My fleet is spread at present over much of Chiss and WIld Space, keeping the Empire safe from extra-galactic threats you can't even begin to consider." Thrawn said.
"Aliens, you mean. Unreasonable barbarians." Pestage responded disgusted.
"Not all are so unreasonable… I have co-oped several species into assisting." Thrawn explained "But my ships are still limited. I understand a lack of troops. All I ask is three destroyers and a few commanders." he said. Pestage laughed bitterly.
"Only three destroyers? Why didn't you say so?" he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "If you wish other ships or commanders, find them yourself. Perhaps you might find among the military forces some sympathetic to your little plight. I will grant my permission if you can convince them of the need Admiral." Thrawn ignored the man's barbing and bowed.
"I thank you sir." he said cooly "I shall speak to my fellow Admirals." Thrawn said as he turned and left the room. As much as he felt Pestage was a blind fool, he was required to respect him as the Emperor for now. He had no true loyalty to the man, but protocol must be followed for the moment. None the less he looked forward to returning to Byss where the true Galactic power lay.
Captain Paget swore the galaxy was out to get him. It seemed he had been effectively demoted to a mere shipment runner of prisoners for Ysanne Isard. Instead of returning to his post on the Death Star he had been told his position was now filled and he would be tasked with bringing the unescaped Rebel prisioner to Byss for the Imperial Director of Intelligence to deal with. It annoyed him no else how much power that kriffing woman seemed to hold. Still she was better then the woman who called herself Lumiya. Paget had made the mistake of speaking condescendingly to her, assuming she was a simple piece of Imperial fluff to add something attractive to the city scape. She'd rather rapidly set him straight on that matter he thought as he shrugged his jacket off to change the bacta on the Force lightning burns she had inflected upon him for his insubordination. As he applied the bacta he considered perhaps he should not be so quick to assume. It wasn't exactly his fault though. Women were rare in the Empire… woman in power even rarer…. it was just his rotten luck to encounter all of them. First the Hand- or former Hand now he'd been told- had beat him down and would of killed him had Pestage not interrupted… then there was the Director of Imperial Intelligence who Palpatine allowed to control some of the military forces. It was a decision Paget thought was a fool move, but he would never dare voice it. This Lady Lumiya demoting him to simple errand boy for herself and Isard? It was the final straw. It was a wonder the Empire hadn't collapsed more then it had already. Sighing he made his way to the aft of the ship to check on his charge. The prisoner- Wes Janson he noted checking his data pad- sat miserably in the corner of the cell. Then again he would be kriffing miserable if he knew he was going to be stuck under Isard's thumb for months. As he thought it he hoped he hadn't just jinxed himself. Clearing his throat he asked the prisoner "How are you? Are the medications still effective?"
"Oh just kriffing fine. Since when do you care anyways?" Wes grumbled. Paget shrugged.
"I don't care. It's simply my orders to ensure you reach Byss in optimal health." he answered.
"Yeah would be a kriffing pity if I can't scream for Isard." Wes said scowling.
"Should of considered that before joining up with Rebel scum." Paget told him sharply. Wes laughed bitterly.
"Like you are fairing much better. Ok, you aren't being tortured and probably going to be subjected to seeing Palpatine kriffing… but you are stuck in a dead end job, superiors always telling you what to do. No respect." he said. Paget frowned, but the prisoner was right in a sense. Had he not just been bemoaning his life? As he considered the prisoner's words he cocked his head as one phrase stood out to him.
"Palpatine… kriffing?" he asked revolted.
"Yeah that was about my reaction. Made the mistake of asking that damn Sith woman about it… got a lot more detail then I ever wanted." Wes sighed. "I'm hoping Isard either kills me or uses one of her drugs to wipe my brain clean to be honest."
"You are unafraid to die then?" Paget asked. Despite their differences, he felt a margin of respect and pity for the man.
"I knew I would probably die the moment I chose to get caught in a gamble to save my friend. I accomplished that much, so I can die content knowing I did what I could to make the galaxy better." Wes answered.
"I commend that. It's a shame you aren't on our side. We could use devotion to duty like that." Paget said.
"I could never join such disgusting, misogynistic, xenophobic ranks." Wes said.
"Pity." Paget said. "I suppose it's no matter since Lady Lumiya plans to execute you eventually. If she changes her mind however… I hope you will reconsider"
"I'd rather kriff a Hutt." Wes spat.
"I'm sure that could be arranged." Paget snapped before turning and leaving the room. He'd done his duty to verify the prisoner was alive and in decent health. The sooner he dropped the Rebel scum off on Byss, the sooner he could hope to get back to actually being a military Captain and not an errand boy… he hoped.
As the Falcon, Rogue Squadron and Home One dropped from hyperspace above Jandur they saw no other ships. Well, so far it didn't look like a trap. It was agreed the Home One would stay in orbit, while the Falcon would take the Alliance leaders planet side. The Rogues would follow them. Docking with the Home One to bring the Rebel leaders on board, Han waited as they boarded the Falcon. It would be a bit snug with himself, Lando, Chewie, Leia, Mon, Madine, Rieekan, Dodonna and Ackbar all on board… but the Falcon could take off faster and was more manuverable than the bulky Mon Cal cruiser if negotiations went south. There was an air of tension as they entered the Falcon. Everyone knew this was their only hope of regaining their hero, and possibly making a well connected ally… but it was a huge gamble. Some had argued for leaving more of the Alliance leaders in orbit onboard the Home One, but in the end no one had wanted to be left behind on such a critical meeting. As the last of them boarded the Falcon Han closed the hatch and settled into the cockpit, nosing the Falcon down towards the planet to land. It was 1100, so they still had an hour before their Imperial contacts would be arriving in theory, but it was decided it would be best to arrive early and secure the perimeter. Much as everyone hated to admit it, though they did want Luke back… most were scared of him after the holo report. They trusted Mara even less. Last anyone had heard both were Palpatine's loyal servants… not to mention the kid was Vader's son. In terms of winning hearts outside the Empire… being Vader's son didn't get one very far. It had taken a fair bit of vouching for Mara's character by Han to convince the Alliance to agree to meet and not back out at the last minute. As Han brought the ship down Lando walked into the cockpit. "Hey buddy." he greeted Han.
"Hey yourself." Han muttered, focused on the task at hand.
"Mind telling me what's got Leia so nervous?" Lando asked. "The rest of the group assumes it's just nerves like everyone has… but I've been in the game of shady dealings as long as you have, and I can tell it's more then just nerves." he said. Han sighed.
"Lets just say she has a bad feeling about this… I do too." he answered. If Leia hadn't told anyone about her vision he wasn't going to either.
"We all do buddy… it's a big risk bringing all our leaders and best pilots to meet an Imperial agent who last we saw boasted about answering directly to Palpatine. Even if it isn't a trap, she could be acting as a double agent." Lando said.
"We've considered that. Part of the agreement is all her communications will be monitored." Han said.
"As I recall she doesn't need a comm to report to him." Lando reminded him. Han sighed.
"Yeah I know… but I think she would… aw kriff." he muttered, realizing he just said too much.
"Leia can sense things can't she?" Lando asked. Kriff the man was too perceptive.
"Yeah. She doesn't want to broadcast that fact though… not after what happened with the kid. Mon is the only person besides myself and Chewie she's told and I'd like to keep it that way. I'm sure you can understand." Han said, keeping his voice low. Lando nodded at that.
"Your secret is safe with me… but with that… what is she so worried about?" he pressed. Han pinched the bridge of his nose, and blew out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.
"She had a vision… of Vader and the 501st standing in front of the Alliance… there was other stuff that happened before that… which came true." he explained, keeping a careful watch on the door.
"Kriff you are worried about that?" Lando exclaimed.
"Keep it down will ya buddy?" Han whispered. "Yeah I am, but what else can we do?" he asked. Lando ran a hand through his hair.
"I see your point. Well.. may the Force be with us." he said as the ship landed. Han brought the Falcon as close to the coordinates Mara had sent them as he safely could. The Rogues landed to form a perimeter around the Falcon. Everyone unboarded and stood in front of the ships to wait. Leia stood by Han's side, where he reminded her to breath every few minutes. Lando and Chewie paced restlessly. Mon eyed them suspiciously and Han could tell she wanted to ask Leia about what she knew, but also knew she could not without breaking her confidence with Leia. Madine wore a mask of an expression. He tried to look calm and serious, but as the hour wore on Han could see the cracks in his expression. Ackbar's typically bright red skin had turned a pale pink with the stress of waiting. Rieekan and Dodonna had started off mask like as Madine, but in the end joined the Rogues who had cracked open a bottle of Whyrens Reserve to steady their nerves. As it drew ever closer to the meeting, even the always proper Mon had joined the Rogues in taking shots of Corellian whiskey. In their words… if there was a chance this was a trap and they might not leave alive… it was the Rogues motto to go out fighting with a drink in hand and a song in their heart… even if the lot were tone deaf Han decided listening to their off key drinking songs.
As it drew closer to 1200 they watched as a large Imperial marked shuttle made it's way through the atmosphere and landed. Tensions were high as the shuttle landed and it's loading dock descended. The group collectively held their breath as the shuttles occupants stepped forward through the hatch. Leia's heart dropped as from the shuttle stepped not only Luke and Mara, lightsabers drawn, but behind them was none other than Darth Vader. Following behind him was at least 40 members of the 501st, blaster riffles all drawn and at the ready. Against her hip Leia's comm buzzed in a silent alarm pattern. Her brain decoded the silent buzzing pattern, though she already knew the message before she got it. Star destroyer was in orbit… guns pinning the Home One between it and the planet, blocking any escape. They were trapped and out gunned. Her nightmare had come true… she never should of agreed to this. She'd doomed the whole Rebellion. They were all going to be captured or die and it was all her fault