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1  10:47pm 02/06/15        
The Slothful Padawan
It had been a rough year.
 
Captain Marcus Antonius stood stoically on the bridge of the Imperial Star Destroyer Brazen. His command of the last five years, hard fought for through years of blood, sweat, and tears. But this year had been the hardest.
 
He had started his Imperial career not long after Endor. Pressed into service in the dying days of Palpatine's Empire. He had seen the Empire fall to shambles, as men ripped it to parts for whatever piece they thought they could keep. He had managed to survive the years of Grand Admirals, Warlords, and would be Emperors. The long march back to galactic dominance, and the trials that the loyal were put through. But it had been reborn, rebuilt, stronger than the one before it. And yet in one year, everything had fallen apart. The leadership that brought this New Order together had all been captured, killed, or were missing in some distant corner of the galaxy. Without the mortar that held the Empire together, people eagerly tore at the walls.
 
Kaine. Drayson. Desaria. Kraken. Hyfe.
 
The Brazen had remained on station off Balmorra for too long. They were left to help shore up the system's defences, while the rest of the fleet engaged the Empire's enemies on the fringes of their now limited territory. It had been weeks now, with little word. In all the confusion of the past year, communications were becoming more and more sporadic. People of rank less and less common. Antonius had a growing fear that the rest of the 37th Fleet may have been destroyed, and that he may be a lone command.
 
The Captain cast a slow gaze across the bridge officers, all busying themselves with their duties. He had begun to notice the same realization dawning on his subordinates in the last couple of days. That gnawing discomfort and unease that he could read on all their faces.
 
"Sir?" Came a voice, cutting through his thoughts. Captain Antonius turned his gaze to the interruption.
 
"Yes Ensign?" He said expectantly to the junior officer, who gave him a quick salute at the acknowledgement.
 
"We received a transmission, sir." The young man said, nervously handing the Captain a datapad. "Encrypted to your code cylinders, sirs. It bore official authorization, for your eyes only."
 
"Thank-you, Ensign." Antonius idly dismissed the ensign and looked sternly at the datapad. Questions rolled through his mind as to whom it could be that sent it. The Fleet Commander wouldn't have gone through these many loops. Perhaps someone had finally taken the reigns of Imperial leadership and was going to start regrouping.
 
Antonius quickly ran his code cylinders through the encryption matrix, and after a minute the message was made available to him. He looked up as the message autodestructed, deleting any sign it had existed in the first place.
 
"Lieutenant Grimsby!" The Captain called towards the helm section, one man looking up from the huddled group of officers with a sharp salute. "Set course to the Fondor system. We have orders."
 
-----------------------------------------------
 
The escorting TIE Defenders pulled off as the shuttle was gently guided into the Star Destroyer's hangar by tractor beam. Captain Antonius and a honourguard of stormtroopers stood ready to greet their guest. The message had been sparse in details, and it was that which made the Captain so concerned. More than a few Imperial Officers had fallen during the years for being unprepared for the class of guests which they were sometimes demanded to entertain.
 
As the shuttle settled down, Antonius prepared for the worst.
 
Down the ramp came what appeared to be a very unassuming young woman. Very plain in appearance, with simple clothes that didn't denote any rank, she seemed to very casually walk down the ramp. But Antonius had felt it before he saw it. That creeping feeling as the hair began to stand up on the back of his neck. The lightsaber at her side just confirmed what he already knew.
 
"Good afternoon, Captain." The woman said curtly as she walked up to Antonius. He did the best he could to size the woman up, but it was impossible to know the might of a Forcer by sight alone.
 
"Morning, by the Brazen's chronometer, ma'am." Antonius corrected in as respectful a tone as he could manage. He saw a flash of quickly repressed anger across the woman's face, and made a mental note of it. He motioned for her to follow him across the hangar. "To what do we owe the pleasure of your pressence?"
 
"My Mistress works with the Supreme Commander, Wes Vos." She recited as they crossed the hangar, the stromtroopers standing to attention as they passed between their ranks. "I have been tasked with... evaluating you."
 
The Captain's jaw tensed at that. He had heard of Wes Vos and his SS before this point, of course. A sort of Moff who fashioned himself with the rank of Commander to differentiate himself from the more bureaucratic governor generals in the Empire. Supreme Commander was new to him, though that could just be self aggrandising. But Antonius had not heard of him having any Jedi; Corps, Sith, or otherwise, at his disposal.
 
"Things change, Captain Antonius." The young Dark Jedi had a small smile playing on her lips. "Some things, dramatically."
 
Unbidden memories popped to his mind from a lifetime ago, of the last time his thoughts were not his own. Swiftly, he forced those thoughts back to the dark recesses of his mind that they had resided in. The Captain forced composure upon himself and motioned for her to get in the turbolift before him.
 
"I have been loyal to the Empire through a great deal." Antonius said to her as the doors for the turbolift closed behind them. "Nor was I aware that Commander Wes Vos had jurisdiction over the 37th Fleet and the vessels in it."
 
"As I said." The woman said, casting him a very serious glare. "Things change."
 
"Indeed." The Captain said, as the turbolift lurched to motion. The woman seemed to be about to go into something, but Antonius cut her off. "I know all about loyalty, ma'am. I have seen the price of insubordination, not just on a personal level. I have seen how one being's disloyalty can stretch out and affect the lives of billions."
 
"So, what does Commander Vos want?" Antonius bluntly asked the Dark Jedi, apparently catching her off guard. Enough that she didn't have a retort prepared. "If he has taken command of the 37th, I have heard no word of it. And if he hasn't, I'd expect Admiral-"
 
"There is no more 37th Fleet." She responded, cutting the Captain off. She stared the Captain dead in the eyes as she continued. "You are all that's left. The Admrial took the fleet too close to Reaver space. That is the last anyone has heard of them."
 
"I see." Was all Antonius could muster. The faces of his peers flashed through his mind, and the thoughts of what had happened to them. Of how they all chose to die. He pushed those thoughts back as well, focusing on the task at hand. He could not give this Dark Jedi any leverage against him if he meant to survive this evaluation.
 
"The Supreme Commander wishes to bring you into his operations, but first must determine the readiness of your ship and crew." The Dark Jedi recited, again as if reading off some lines she had memorized. "So, I am to meet your senior staff. If they are up to it, I have a small task for you to do. If you succeed, you will be brought into his service."
 
"And should we fail?" The Captain asked with a raised eyebrow. He already knew the answer, but he wanted her to say it.
 
"Then you will be... relieved of your command." She said coyly, as the turbolift continued its long, twisting journey through the Star Destroyer.
 
-----------------------------------------------------
 
The Brazen has been refit just a few years prior to this inspection. Though it wasn't one of the new ISD V's they reserved for command, or the IV's they started rolling to the lines, the Brazen was the finest of the third series of the iconic ships you would find in the fleet. With some of the adjustments of their own they had made over the years, they had a ship that could hold its own against most anything.
 
The Dark Jedi seemed distinctly bored throughout the experience of seeing it. She had seemed positively perplexed with ship operations, systems engineering, and fleet theory. The bored has crossed the border to frustration  well before the tour was nearing its conclusion.
 
"Do you have any more systems and officers to show me?" She nearly growled as they made their way down yet another hall into yet another section. She was apparently trying her best to be diplomatic, but containing emotion was obviously not one of her strong suits. Antonius smiled thinly as the rounded a bend and made their way towards yet another of the identical T-Junctions within the vessel.
 
"Ah well, there is Ensign Reebo in auxiliary forward fire control. Ensign Fielding and his team in optics repair. Ensi-"
 
"Enough!" She roared, the air seeming to electrify around the young woman as the last strand of patience finally wore through. She turned, seething, to the Captain. "Are you trying to waste my time!?!"
 
Her focus bore into the Captain, and it took all his will not to flinch before it.
 
"A little." He admitted, stoking her fury. "If you are done with the tour, would you please stop wasting MY time on this evaluation and tell me what you really-"
 
Antonius felt the pressure clamp down on his neck much more quickly than he had expected. The sudden lack of air had caught him by surprise. She glared, focusing all of he built up rage and frustration against this one man.
 
And she never noticed the troopers who had been waiting behind the next junction until the stun blast hit her backside.
 
He expression twisted to one of absolute fury and for the briefest moment her grip intensified. Antonius became afraid she'd snap his neck. But as quick as it came, it passed. Her grip began to spasm like her muscles, slackening, until a second stun blast broke her hold all together.
 
He gasped in air as the troopers moved in on the prone Dark Jedi. And, rubbing his neck, he watched as they dragged her away towards the lifts for the detention block.
 
It was time to get answers.
 
-----------------------------------------------
 
Elana slowly regained conciousness, to find herself strapped... somewhere. She had been... Her mind lashed out at the thought of thinking. She grit her teeth, her thoughts deafened beneath all the... noise.
 
The door to the cell opened with a whoosh, and in stepped Antonius. The older man held a few datapads under one arm, and smiled warmly despite the setting.
 
"Good evening." He said to her politely, taking a seat on the bench that normally served as a bed. Elana began to realize she was on a wall. Attached... somehow. "We took the chance while you were unconscious to attach a neural inhibitor to you. We also supplied you with some drugs we normally save for full interrogations. Through drip, in case you find some way to call the Force to purge yourselves of them."
 
"Wh-What?" Was all Elana could manage to mutter.
 
"Do not worry. I do not intend to harm you." Antonius said, as he took one of the datapads to give it a quick look over. "Consider yourself under... evaluation."
 
"Why?" Elana demanded as forcefully as she could manage.
 
"Where should I begin?" Antonius said, his head snapping from his datapad to look into Elana's drug addled eyes. "You come aboard my ship under false pretences, threatening me AND my crew with an authority unrecognized by any official channel."
 
He tosses one datapad to the ground, and lifts up another. His tone intensifying. "Then you say I am under the command of a Supreme Commander, when the only one to have ever held that title is Simon Kaine who is... Force only knows where in the galaxy. This implies YOUR Supreme Commander has apparently granted himself this title without authorization from any of our various Emperors."
 
He tosses down another, looking at the other he brought with him. His gaze never leaving Elana's. His voice was practically booming at this point, nearly deafening to Elana's frazzled senses. "Fleet traffic on either side has implied the SS hasn't responded to orders from either Kraken or Gevel. And I can tell that since he sent a Dark Jedi for this test of his, that he has obviously chosen to oppose Emperor Gevel and his support of the Dominion's Anti-Forcer policy."
 
Tossing the last datapad to the ground with the others, he stood to his full height. He struck a rather imposing figure, as most who knew to cast their authority in the Empire did. "I will not be threatened. Nor lied to. Not aboard the Brazen."
 
Elana silently glared daggers at him. She was trying her best to get a handle on her senses, but they remained hazy. The best she could do was try to groggily keep up.
 
"Now. Let us begin again." The Captain said, his tone softening back to its more polite, curt tone. He settled back down to his previous seat. "I am Captain Marcus Antonius, commander of the Imperial Star Destroyer Brazen, element within the third flotilla of the thirty-seventh fleet. And you are?"
 
Captain Antonius sighed as Elana continued to just glare silently at him. She refused to give him any sort of satisfaction. She swore the Lade Skygge would find her, and his kill this arrogant fool. Or... would she? She had failed her Mistress and been taken prisoner. Lady Skygge had become... much harder to predict since Illum.
 
She ground her teeth as the neural inhibitor sent another jolt of obfuscating pain and numbness through her mind.
 
"One Emperor demands that I hand you over to the Dominion. I have no idea what they will do to you, and what will become of you in their hands." Captain Antonius said, lifting one hand. He slowly raised the other, measuring the balance of both hands. "And on this hand, the other would likely hand you over to whatever scraps are left of the Jedi Corps. Likely full interrogation to get any information of worth out of you."
 
He lowered both his hands, giving Elana an appraising look. "If I had a better, third option? I would take it under due consideration. But I need to know the details of this third option. What this third option would ask of me. What its goals are.  And why this third option chose to send you to me."
 
"Now, I'm going to turn down this neural inhibitor so you have a chance to consider MY offer." The captain said, as he reached up besides Elana's face and slowly twisted... something. Slowly, Elana could feel her thoughts returning near their normal speed. She even felt her perception of the Force reawakening, but it felt numb. Like a limb she'd have awkward slept on, or looking through foggy glass.
 
"I will not negotiate, or make this decision with a knife to my neck. Any more trouble from your end, and I will cast this third option aside without another though." Captain Antonius promised her as her eyes began to clear.
 
"Now, Dark Jedi, tell me-"
 
"Elana." She muttered to the Captain, realizing now fully the compromised position she was in. "My name is Elana...."
 
---------------------------------------------
 
The senior officers of every sector was standing in ranks in the pilot concourse. Normally, this sort of meeting would happen in the war room, but there wasn't enough room for all the staff from every section and every shift. It was very rare to have this many of the officers together unless a ship was being commissioned or decommissioned.
 
Captain Antonius made his way to the lecturn, looking out to the men and women under his command. The burden of his responsibility never felt quite so heav as when he stood before them all and could see their faces, and never as heavy as it did today.
 
"Ladies and gentlemen of the Brazen. I am sure most of you know why I've called this meeting of all the command elements aboard this vessel." He began, acknowledging how quick rumours and news  spread on any ship. "We have been approached by a representative of one Supreme Commander Wes Vos, claiming to represent the will of the Empire. As you all know, we also have a call from Emperor Park Kraken for all able bodied Imperials to report to him at Vladet. We also have Emperor Hyfe's designated successor, Theren Gevel, who is dictating his commands with Dominion backing."
 
"Our hand has been forced." Antonius said, banging his fist against the lectern for emphasis. The officers didn't sort to murmuring, but they each looked to one another in turn to try and gauge the thoughts of the other. Concerns of whom would side with whom. "At present, we have a Dark Jedi locked in the detention block, loyal to Wes Vos, who had come to force us to his side. Her master will come looking for her. And whatever we do with this woman shall be the declaration of loyalty of this ship and her crew."
 
"This is, however, a decision I cannot make on the behalf of any of you. This is a decision outside of the chain of command, as it will redefine who sits at the top of it. Each of you must make a decision of where you stand. I will not, and CAN not, force any man or woman aboard this ship to an act they view as treasonous. Every officer, and every crewer, will be given this ONE chance to decide whom they support." Touching a couple keys on the lectern, the briefing monitor sparked to life to show the best nearby choice. "Denon is a nominally neutral planet, and you would be able to book transport from there to anywhere you would so choose in the galaxy. I will allow ANY one who disagrees with the side this vessel chooses to disembark. From there, you may make your way to whichever faction you so choose. You will not be stopped, and I promise safe passage to the surface. From there, it will be up to those who choose to leave to broker passage. I will ensure all pay due to those parties is given to them before departure."
 
Even disciplined Imperial Officers could hold their peace no more, and the room erupted into arguments. People accusing, challenging, or simply trying to find like minds. But no quickly had it started, then Antonius ended it with a slam of his fist against the lectern.
 
"I will not have loyalty to me sway your loyalty of Empire." Antonius continued as if the outburst had never even happened. "There is a distinct possibility I may lose the Brazen for even allowing this. As such, I will state my decision LAST. No depending on me to make this decision for you."
 
"Each of you must think carefully on this, and inform your subordinates to do the same. Everyone on this ship has ONE DAY starting NOW to decide where their loyalties lie."
 
"Dismissed!" Antonius called, years of drill eliciting a salute as they turned and began to leave. As they began to file out towards different corridors and turbolifts, one of the officers made their way to the podium. A thickset middle aged human woman who gave the Captain a quick salute.
 
"Captain." The woman began, looking distinctly unhappy. "So, you actually did it?"
 
"Against conventional wisdom, and the advice of some of my senior command officers." Antonius said, giving the woman a thin half smile. She was Lieutenant Commander Wallis, his second in command. The two had served together on and off on different vessels over the years. She had been transferred over as his XO a year back.
 
"Gevel and Kraken will have you killed as an example to other fleet officers waiting on the side line." She said, giving him a serious look. "And if Vos doesn't kill you for attacking his Sith Messenger? Her Master will."
 
"Someone had to take responsibility. And we aren't in the position to strike out on our own." Antonius said, with a sigh. His mind was still raked with doubt, but he had to make the best decision he could. "No, this is the only way to keep the crew safe. We don't have to worry about this Dark Jedi roving the halls, causing trouble, and if we make a decision to go to one of the others it will give us something to present. Even then, it relies on Emperors being forgiving and merciful. Not a trait often found in people who take that station."
 
"I have accepted that either way this plays out, I will likely have to pay for it with my life."
 
"You know I've always wanted command of a Star Destroyer." Wallis said, her brow furrowed. "Though I never wanted to get it like this."
 
"It isn't all it's cracked up to be, Lieutenant Commander." Antonius said with a sigh. "No, not at all."
 
--------------------------------------------------
 
Captain Antonius had decided this matter had to be handled personally. With a whoosh of compressed air, the door to the Dark Jedi's cell opened. She looked more aware than the last time, but no less incensed. He walked up to her without showing any attention to her ill-meaning gazes, and began to under her restraints.
 
"Good morning." He said as he undid the first arm restraint. He didn't know if it was the drugs or the shock, but Elana just stared at him in disbelief. He just kept going one to the next, as casually as another man would take down laundry. "We just finished off loading the officers and crewers who wanted to swear loyalty to Gevel or Kraken. Lucky for you, most of the staff, including myself, are more interested in the alternatives. Kraken has few friends in the Fleet, none of us knowing the next time we'll find one of his body doubles in a crater. And Gevel has obviously sided with the enemy, assuming that actually IS Gevel and not some clone. My staff and I figure-"
 
She didn't even bother reaching out with the Force this time. With the last restraint off, she moved with inhuman speed and strength to wrap a hand around Antonius' throat. Her eyes blazed with hatred.
 
"You left me chained to a wall for three days." She growled into his ear as she squeezed her grip tighter. "Give me one good reason not to snap your neck like a dry twig."
 
"The- The-" Antonius tried to cough out, but couldn't get more than a sputtering through her grip. Elana slackened her grip slightly, obviously interested to hear the man's excuse. "The crew of the Brazen. They've sworn nothing yet, and I do not think they'd take kindly to you murdering me in the Brig. And then you'd have to fight your way out."
 
"The Force is a powerful tool. If I must." She growled, Antonius noticing his feet no longer touched the floor despite the height he had on this woman.
 
"Bravado. If you were that powerful you wouldn't have had to use that much focus to choke me in the first place." Antonius spat out between forced breaths. "And even if you could, I doubt your Mistress or Vos would take well to the casualties."
 
Elana kept her gazed locked with Antonius' as she processed the situation and her position. The effects of the neural dampener and drugs gone from her eyes. With a sound half groan and half yell, she released the Captain.
 
"You WILL pay for this." Elana promised, turning her back on the Captain as he recomposed himself. "Maybe not today, but some day."
 
"I do not doubt it." Antonius said, with one last cough to clear his aching throat. He opened the cell door, and motioned graciously for her to follow him. She pushed past him, obviously having had her fill of Antonius' company.
 
---------------------------------------
 
"ISD Brazen, this is transport Omega One." Antonius said into the comm unit of the Lambda class shuttle. "We are heading out."
 
"Acknowledged Omega One. We look forward to your return." Wallis' voice came in reply.
 
"I can't believe we are going without that Star Destroyer." Elana said, her facing showing how annoyed she was with the whole situation. Antonius didn't feel particular good about it either, feeling exposed. But he had to. If Wes Vos was serious, and wasn't just another of a hundred other Warlods before him, he would bring the Brazen in. If not? Then he would be in Wes' clutches with or without the Brazen. Wherever Wes chose for this meeting. It wouldn't matter if the Brzen was a kilometre away, or a thousand lightyears. He would be dead long before the Brazen could do anything to stop it.
 
With the push of a lever, and a swell of pseudomotion, the shuttle and its passengers were off to meet Supreme Commander Wes Vos.
2  6:42pm 17/06/15        
Supreme Commander, Skygge's Empire
Six Standard Months Ago
Imperial Administrative Offices
In’chion
 
Moff Liam Georgi Zhukov sat back and rubbed his temples. His head was pounding as though a rancor was beating a rock against it. The past weeks had been disaster after disaster for the Empire, and it was everything he could do just to keep this little corner together. First had been the news that Colonel General Vos had been reassigned, and he’d been stuck with that womp rat of a toady, Admiral Targon, who had immediately split the fleet up into patrols that could not support one another in case of an attack. It was all Zhukov could do to keep the In’chion fleet together and the Echtabahn shipyards protected. Then had come the disasters at Yaga Minor and Coruscant, followed quickly by news of these abominations that were being called Reavers.
 
On top of the galactic-scale troubles, there were troubles closer to home as well. Reports from Oversector Outer – the Hutt Space portion at least – were disturbing; increased reports of rebel activity, on top of the rumors that the Hutts were once again forming a cartel. Zhukov wasn’t sure which would be more disturbing, if true. And the Confederation continued its ceaseless expansions along the borders of Imperial space.
 
And now, with the galactic problems rising, Imperial citizens were clamoring for someone to tell them everything would be alright. That the Empire would be strong. Many of them here on the Outer Rim didn’t buy the idea of a Regent Park Kraken, and nobody wanted to follow Kach Thorton, though both had indicated they might move to take the reins in the Core. And just today had come the proclamation that Theren Gevel was named Emperor, though everyone knew he would simply be a Cree’Ar puppet at best.
 
It was a sticky political situation for someone whose strengths had always been as a partisan fighter, not as a politician. He’d held together a coalition of rebel forces on Valinor before being exiled (though he had to admit, looking around at his expansive office, that exile had been good to him), but he’d done that mostly by being the shrewdest fighter of the bunch. He’d never had the political knack. Murdering a political rival was one thing – he had no qualms about that – but engaging in actual political maneuvering? Or pacifying an anxious and desperate populace? That was something else altogether.
 
At the whoosh of the office door, Zhukov’s eyes snapped open – he hadn’t even realized he’d closed them. Sloppy, he thought to himself even as his hand darted to the blaster concealed beneath his desk. He stopped a hair’s breadth from pulling the trigger, recognizing at the last second Admiral Targon. After a deep breath, he eased the blaster back into its holster and nodded. “Admiral, to what do I owe this visit?”
 
Sirca Targon didn’t smile. He never smiled. He simply blinked once, then replied, “Moff Zhukov, we must discuss the In’chion fleet. I need to transfer part…”
 
“We’ve discussed this twice already, Admiral,” Zhukov interrupted. “You know full well that Colonel General Vos left the In’chion fleet under my direct command, its purpose to protect the sector capital and, more importantly, to safeguard the routes in and out of the planet. That is what I intend to do. Now, do you have something further to add?”
 
The Admiral’s face got sterner, if that were possible. “Moff Zhukov, I have a transmission here directly from the new Emperor. He requires our fleets, and we will be obeying. His command overrides even that of Colonel-General Vos.” The last words were said with – could that be a sneer?
 
Zhukov raised an eyebrow. “The new Emperor, you say? Which one would that be?”
 
Targon’s eyebrow twitched. “Emperor Gevel, of course,” he replied. “There is no other Emperor.”
 
Zhukov smiled. Had Targon been paying attention over the last month, he would have known that smile foretold his own doom. But he had not, so the expression of surprise a moment later when the blaster bolt took him in the gut was most satisfying.
 
The blaster holstered once more, Zhukov stared at the smoking corpse. Sighing, he activated the intercom. “Lieutenant Kenten, please send for a disposal team. And get me a secure frequency; I have a call to place.”
 
***
 
Four Standard Months Ago
Unknown Regions
ISD-V Tyrant
 
Colonel-General Wesley Vos stood at parade rest as the shuttle touched down gently in the Number Four Hangar Bay of his flagship, the Imperator-class Star Destroyer V Tyrant. Like himself, his visitor had been out of contact with the rest of the galaxy for some time; it would not do well for him to make a bad impression now.
 
Ever since the idiot of a Regent had sent him out here to chase pirates, Wes had been plotting his return. It would have to be quietly, he knew. Kraken had exiled him here to get him out of the way – the elimination of a political rival – while ‘Emperor’ Theren Gevel would certainly have him executed as soon as he returned, if he could, for failing to declare his allegiance. As it was, the time spent here in the Unknown Regions had been fruitful. He’d been able to stay out of the heart of the Empire’s internal squabbles, and he had continued to repair and even build his fleet. Kraken had been making himself less and less popular, losing worlds and even sectors to rebellion, Reavers, Cree’Ar, and the Coalition. And he and Gevel had been denouncing one another left and right, so much that the Empire was fracturing into pieces and neither seemed to notice.
 
Though Kraken hadn’t planned it, certainly, sending Wes out here had been the best thing the Regent could have done for the Colonel-General of the SS. He was well out of reach of the Reavers, beyond the Cree’Ar’s clutches, and, for all intents and purposes, lost to the galaxy. He’d been able to sit quietly, biding his time, watching events closer to the core play themselves out, watching the various factions explode or implode as they all squabbled over what scraps the Cree’Ar or the Reavers left to them.
 
And it was approaching the time for him to return. The galaxy needed a firm hand, and the SS was nothing if not that. Still, he was unprepared to challenge either Kraken or Gevel for control of the Empire as a whole, and no other galactic player had the power – at least within the Empire – that they commanded. He could, of course, defect to the Coalition or – perish the thought – the Confederation, but he doubted either would have him. So he would have to declare for one of the two imbeciles who now wielded power. A difficult choice, and one he would put off as long as possible.
 
For now, he was content to sit and watch. A little while longer, at least. Perhaps one of the two would gain the upper hand, or perhaps both would fall. A little longer would not hurt.
 
Of course, he thought, that could all change in a moment. This moment.
 
As the shuttle’s passenger descended the ramp onto the hangar deck, Wes straightened to attention and bowed. “Lady Skygge,” he said formally, “it is an honor to welcome you to the Tyrant.”
 
***
 
Three Standard Months Ago
Imperial Administrative Offices
In’chion
 
Grand Moff Zhukov leaned back in his well-cushioned seat and smiled. Actions always have consequences, he thought, some far better than others. His decision to shoot Admiral Targon had certainly had its consequences. A larger office, for one. More aides. A promotion to Grand Moff, from the hand of self-styled Regent Tarkin himself. Useful consequences, these. And comfortable ones.
 
Of course, the position did have its downside. Zhukov had to at least act like he was loyal to the Regent. And like the entire SS Sector was. Not that Regent Kraken had done anything to earn that loyalty. The one time Zhukov had worked with him personally had been during Operation Divide and Conquer, and Kraken had royally screwed up his part. Between his assault on Truk and that new commander’s debacle at Makin, it was a wonder the whole campaign hadn’t fallen to pieces.
 
From what Zhukov could tell, Regent Kraken was no more competent than Admiral Kraken had been. The Empire was falling apart, and while Zhukov gave lip service to the Regent, those who mattered knew where his true loyalties lay.
 
Heh, he thought, I guess I’ve gotten better at that political thing.
 
The intercom chimed at him – that had been another of the perks of the higher office. No one bothered him without asking first. He flipped it on. “Yes?”
 
Captain Kenton’s voice sounded a bit strained. “Grand Moff, you have a visitor.”
 
Zhukov frowned. He hadn’t been expecting company. “Captain, tell this visitor to make an appointment.”
 
Another voice came over the comm. Female. “You will make time for me, Grand Moff.”
 
Zhukov frowned. His mind seemed suddenly clouded. “Uh…ma’am…” Shaking his head to clear the cobwebs, he tried to regain his thoughts. “Yes…no. Wait.” Some of Colonel Selere’s training came back to him. Resist. “No, ma’am, you do not get to tell me what to do. And I don’t appreciate Force tricks.”
 
The Captain’s voice returned, sounding very strained now. “Grand Moff—”
 
The distinctive sound of a lightsaber cut him off, followed by a thump. “Grand Moff, you will make time for me, or I will cut my way into your office, carve you into pieces, and send your corpse to the sands of Valinor. Are we understood?”
 
Zhukov’s eyes widened. Sands of Valinor! He reached over and palmed the door controls, letting the massive durasteel door slide open. A woman – younger than he had expected – stood there, red lightsaber blade at Captain Kenton’s throat. A large plant had been toppled nearby. She held up a hand, and Zhukov felt the angry words he was about to release physically stopped in his mouth. The woman gestured to the office, and he complied.
 
The door slid shut behind him, and he turned to find the woman shoving Kenton away and deactivating her saber. She stared at him, and Zhukov got the distinct impression that something was amiss. Before he could speak, the woman shoved forward a datapad, then tapped her ear and pointed to the desk. Zhukov nodded. “I don’t know what you are doing barging into my office, but this sort of behavior will not be tolerated. Captain Kenton was a good man – there was no need to butcher him.”
 
“His death served the purpose of my Master,” she replied. “All serve his will, if they know their proper place.”
 
Zhukov quickly scanned the datapad. It was a list of dates and coordinates, along with a single name of great significance. “And what would your Master have of me?”
 
“His return to the galaxy is imminent, and he requires your unquestioned loyalty.” The woman pointed to the datapad, then raised an eyebrow.
 
Zhukov nodded, then handed the datapad back. “And who would your Master be to demand such loyalty?”
 
The woman smiled. “Emperor Daemon Hyfe.” As she spoke, she punched a command into the datapad, presumably erasing its contents.
 
Zhukov nodded. I’ll be there, he thought. Aloud, he said, “My loyalty from the Emperor has never wavered. He will always have my support.” And you’ve just given Kraken a great deal to think about.
 
***
 
Two Standard Months Ago
Deep Space
ISD-V Tyrant
 
Grand Moff Zhukov stepped off the shuttle and sighed contentedly. The black-armored stormtroopers to either side were an image he had not hoped to see for years, yet here they were, not too far from Imperial space. And at the end of the long row of black stood three very familiar and very welcome faces.
To the right stood the large, imposing form of Colonel Racen Selere, commander of the elite SS Kommandos. To the left was the black-armored form of the Colonel-General of the SS, Wesley Vos himself. And in the center was a diminutive female form, clothed in the robes of a Sith – the Lady Skygge. Zhukov nodded, then strode forward and saluted. “Colonel-General, Colonel, my Lady.”
 
The Lady Skygge raised an eyebrow. Colonel-General Vos cleared his throat. “Grand Moff, you have not yet been informed so the error can be written off. The Lady Skygge is claiming the Imperial throne. The proper title is Empress. She has named me Supreme Commander.”
 
Zhukov dropped immediately to a knee. “My Empress, you have my unconditional support and loyalty. It will be a pleasure to serve you. I pray that you will bring stability and order to a crumbling Empire.”
 
Skygge smiled. “No need to fear me, Grand Moff. I am not as fickle as our former Emperor was, or as most Sith. You serve well, and have served my Supreme Commander well in the past. Now you serve me as you served him.”
 
Zhukov bowed lower. “What would you have of me, my Empress?”
 
“First, stand,” she said, and Zhukov nearly collapsed in shock. Stand, in the presence of one who would be Empress? Still, she was to be obeyed. He stood.
 
“The Imperial throne is currently occupied by two incompetent fools, one of them a traitor,” the Empress began. “Neither are Sith. This is unacceptable.”
 
She turned and began walking slowly from the hangar bay. Zhukov and the other fell into step beside her. “I intend to ensure that the legacy of the Empire remains in the hands of a Sith, where it belongs. And I intend to see the end of these usurpers and incompetents.”
 
Zhukov frowned, then cleared his face. The Empress glanced at him. “Speak your mind, Grand Moff. You may speak freely.”
 
“My Empress,” he said, nodding to her, “what of Lupercus Darksword? And the other Sith scattered throughout the galaxy? And what of the Cree’Ar?”
 
The Empress nodded. “All valid considerations. Darksword will die – he is an arrogant hedonist, at best, and no true Sith. I do not expect you to understand the internal politics of the Sith, but his actions have more to do with his own personal gratification than with the good of the Empire. The other Sith are irrelevant for now; they may accept me or not, but few will openly oppose me. The Cree’Ar…shall be dealt with.”
 
Zhukov nodded. “The SS Sector and its fleets stand ready to serve you, my Empress.”
 
The Empress nodded to Supreme Commander Vos, who responded. “We’ll have need of those fleets, Liam. I intend to combine them with what I have here and strike against the Empire’s enemies.”
 
The Grand Moff nodded, and as they exited the hangar bay, he smiled. The Empire was going to return. And it would be glorious.
 
***
 
Present Day
Deep Space
ISD-V Tyrant
 
Supreme Commander Vos watched the shuttle float gently into the Tyrant’s number three hangar bay and frowned. This Captain Antonius was cautious, and apparently quite skilled. Vos had dispatched Elana – with the Empress’s permission, of course – to bring back Antonius and his Star Destroyer. Now Elana had returned, with the Captain in tow, but without a Star Destroyer. Somehow the Captain must have gotten the drop on the Sith apprentice – not an easy thing to do without Force-sensitive resources of his own.
 
Beside him, the Empress – nearly a foot shorter, but imposing in her own right – stood stoically, watching the shuttle kiss the hangar deck. Wes still wasn’t sure what he thought of this arrangement. When Skygge had made her appearance on the Tyrant some months ago and declared herself Empress, Wes saw the opportunity to establish stability in the Empire and had seized the moment. Skygge had always been a most reasonable Sith, rarely if ever indulging in the sort of emotional outbursts that characterized so many of the dark warriors.
 
How things could change. Six months ago, he was a Colonel-General of the most fearsome force in the Empire. Now, he was Supreme Commander, and by Imperial decree, that force was no more. He almost chuckled at that. A Sith reclaims the Imperial throne, and the first thing she does is dissolve the SS. A smart move, certainly – the new Empire Skygge was building would have no need of a terror-force like the SS – but Wes would never have thought a Sith would be the one to see that. Terror was sort of their thing.
 
As Captain Antonius descended the shuttle ramp, therefore, he was greeted by no stormtroopers bearing twin lightning bolt insignias. Black armor, yes – that had been another change Skygge brought, as white-armored stormtroopers were being phased out of service – but no SS or Waffen-SS troops. Just Imperial military. The old units were still together, but they had been integrated into the regular command structure. Most had taken it well, and the few who hadn’t had been dealt with quickly. Skygge may be Empress, but she had given control of the military to him, and he had always boasted efficient discipline.
 
Antonius, followed closely by Elana and a small honor guard, made his way down the double line of stormtroopers towards Skygge and Wes. Behind the Empress were her typical guard of Apprentices, each mimicking their Master’s relaxed stance. Perhaps most surprisingly, only one was human – a large male specimen. The others were a green-skinned Twi’lek, a Togruta, and a tan-furred Bothan, of all things. And this wasn’t the most diverse group Wes had yet seen. How the Empire was changing.
 
Wes had never been prejudiced against aliens, though he knew some in his command had been. And what he’d seen the Empire doing to them on Coruscant had sickened him; he and Colonel Selere had been largely responsible for shutting the experimentation houses down. Without official sanction, of course, but they’d managed to do so. Now, with Skygge’s new Imperial plan, aliens would be on equal footing with humans. Some former Imperials hadn’t liked that, either; those Imperials had been…efficiently disciplined.
 
Captain Antonius arrived, and Wes nodded at his salute. “Captain Antonius. Good of you to join us. May I present your new Empress, the Lady Skygge.”
3  2:46am 01/07/15        
The Slothful Padawan
Captain Antonius gave the hangar a careful look every step he took. His head locked forward as per military discipline, but his peripheral vision trying to soak everything in. The units, their insignias, their meanings. The stormtroopers under Vos’ command wore black armour, compared to the traditional white. Was it a cosmetic change? Was the armour composition different?
 
He had yet to make out a single one of the SS’s signature lightning bolt insignia among the ranks. Had this Empress isolated Vos from units directly loyal to him as a precaution to maintain loyalty? Or was something more dramatic in play?
 
Questions would have to wait, Antonius thought as his escort came to a stop before the new Empress and her Supreme Commander.
 
The Captain snapped to attention, and gave a quick salute before settling into parade rest. “Captain Antonius, ISD Brazen, Thirty Seventh Fleet.”
 
Commander Wes Vos returned the salute as courtesy demanded. The Empress quietly and intently stared at him. The hairs on the back of Antonius’ neck stood at end as he felt the probing against his mind. Either his mental defences had improved immensely since his last encounter with a would be ruler of the Empire, or she was nowhere near as powerful. He knew precious little about the Force and those who wielded it to say for certain.
 
“Welcome aboard the Tyrant.” Wes Vos said, his face serious. “Though I was told I was to expect the Brazen to be with you.”
 
“My Lady, I can-” Skygge’s apprentice began, before she was cut off by the Empress’ raised hand. Antonius half expected for a dazzling spark of blue lightning to come, but it did not. The apprentice merely fell silence, and her expression changed to one of deference.
 
“I believe we could do with some privacy.” Empress Skygge said, giving a quick look over to her apprentice before turning her eyes back to Antonius.
 
“Very well, my Lady.” The Supreme Commander said, casting a dark look over to Antonius before turning heel towards the turbolifts. The escort began to move forward again, and Antonius moved along with it. The Sith casually walking their way amongst the unison timing of the marching boots around them.
 
They made their way to one of the secure War Rooms on the ship. A round table, with a holoprojector in the middle, the room’s major defining feature. It allowed for a clear view between officers, and the ability to discuss a plan.
 
The escorts waited outside. Within were the Supreme Commander, the Empress, the Apprentice, and the Captain.
 
“Captain, do you know why we have summoned you?” Wes Vos began when all were seated, folding his hands on the table.
 
“Know? No.” Captain Antonius began carefully. These questions tended to be a trap, whether to allow someone to set up a situation that didn’t exist or to drag forth some insights. So he chose to keep to what they already knew. “If I were to guess, I would say to integrate my vessel into your fleet. The existing fleet I was attached to is currently presumed destroyed, so I would be awaiting reassignment.”
 
“And what makes you think that?” The Commander asked, leaning forward, folding his hands together and watching the Captain. Reading his face. Probably trying to think of some way to extract the information he wanted. An SS Officer to the end, Antonius thought ruefully.
 
Antonius took a careful breath, and began. “You sent a Sith for a ship inspection. The ship inspection obviously to make sure the ship was in full working condition. The Sith because most in the fleet wouldn’t question the will of one in fear of angering their Master.”
 
“You do not fear her Master?” The Commander asked, raising an eyebrow. The Empress’ expression didn’t even flinch.
 
“I cannot make my decisions based on what I do or do not fear.” Antonius said carefully. He did not know if it was the answer they wanted, but neither of their expressions faltered. “I have to make them on what is best for the security and safety of my ship and crew. They are my responsibility, and I must accept that harm and death are very real repercussions for nearly every miscalculation I make. And sometimes the necessary result of even the best laid plans.”
 
“You feel there is some threat to your ship?” The Commander asked, shifting his posture. His expression suddenly turning far more severe. “And which would that be?”
 
“I attacked one of your Empress’ Dark Jedi.” The Captain said bluntly, looking from the Supreme Commander to look at the Empress. “Palpatine would’ve had me, my senior officers killed and any one close to us thrown in jail for that offense. Hyfe would’ve likely settled on all of us being sent to a spice mine.”
 
“And you didn’t want us to punish your crew for your actions. Take the ship, and have your officers jailed for treason.” The Empress said for him. “Because to you I am an unknown element. Something to be tested.”
 
“Sith and Dark Jedi are known for their... darkly impulsive behaviours.” The Captain said, mulling over his choice of words but deciding those were his best option. “I know nothing of you, Empress Skygge. I say this with all due respect, but before your apprentice came upon my vessel I had never even heard your name.”
 
“Palpatine served as a civil servant for decades. Hyfe served in the effort to restore the Empire before donning the mantle and title. The Supreme Commander obviously has faith in your abilities, but the rest of the Empire does not know you.” The Captain frowned slightly.
 
“I can respect that.” The Empress said, slowly. “I would not expect you to give away loyalty quickly, or easily. Loyalty should be earned.”
 
“Much like trust.” Antonius replied in turn.
 
"On that we are agreed. Tell me, Captain, what is your analysis of the state of the Empire?” The Empress asked, and with a wave a map of the galaxy appeared. The focus of it obviously being on Imperial space, and who controlled what.
 
"Much like in Palaptine's time, we have lost a serious blow to our leadership. We have lost almost all senior members of Imperial Leadership in one swift and sudden blow." The Captain answered with a small frown, looking at the different sectors of Imperial Space on that map, and how many were different colours. "And it is beginning to fracture again."
 
"Though he is the next in the official line of sucession, Gevel is at the beck of the enemy. No one outside of the worlds occupied by the Dominion can, or should, trust him. But the Dominion can use him to create a proxy Imperial state in the Galaxy under his name." He begins, raising a finger.
 
"Kraken, on the other hand, has faced numerous attempts to topple or kill him over the years. Though he has proved wily enough to survive, it shows his unpopularity and lack of control within even his own domain. Outside of the Midrim, his standing is even worse. The Empire will not survive the intrigues that follow him. Eventually, his luck will run out and we will be exactly where we are already." He raised a second, and brought his gaze to look firmly towards Skygge.
 
"Your faction has control over its own space, is organized, and as of yet hasn't lost face with the rest of the Empire. Now, when it comes to external threats you face... unique challenges. But internally, you seem so far the best choice."
 
"So far?" The Supreme Commander asks, narrowing his gaze.
 
"I joined the Empire just after Endor. I presume you have looked at my service record some point before choosing to dispatch the Apprentice to recruit me?" The Captain said, his expression turned dour at the memory of those days. "I have seen this Empire go to shambles before due to weak leadership. I have seen every Moff and Colonel-General with ambition try to rise up and claim the mantle of Emperor."
 
"If this isn't handled quickly, we will face an ever deteriorating state. I imagine Darksword, thrown out of Corellia, is looking for a new domain. Desaria may attempt to make a play from Kuat to restore his vision of order. And there are many and more. And what turns from a situation that can be handled decisively turns into a decade of individual wars."
 
The Supreme Commander nodded. The Empress didn't even blink.
 
"So." The Supreme Commander said, a bit of the hostility taken out of him. "Your analysis is much as mine. Tell me, Captain, what is the greatest threat the Empire faces?"
 
"Greatest?" Antonius pondered with a slightly raised eyebrow. "Division. If we allow this fracturing to continue, we will be pulled apart by our enemies. Each region left without the strength of the whole, to all of our enemies who ahve been more than waiting for this opportunity. Divide et impera."
 
The Supreme Commander actually smiled at that. "Excellent answer, Captain. Excellent answer." He sat back and looked at the Empress, who nodded. "It seems you see things much as we do."
 
"One thing more, Captain," the Empress said. "What do you think of non-humans?"
 
The Captain paused for a moment at that, the first moment in this exchange he had been noticeably halted by a question.
 
"Extremely violatile."
 
"You think they are... unstable?" The Empress asked, with the slightest tilt to her head.
 
"It is that they can be extremely destructive. Both for the enemy, and for yourself."
 
"Admiral Thrawn was the greatest of the Grand Admirals. Better than any other man, or woman within the Empire. And he was a non-Human. A non-Human that made the rest of us look like... children in comparison."
 
"But Thrawn was undone by having faith in the non-Human Noghri. Their betrayal was the final nail in the coffin of the old model of the Empire and the New Republic forcing out the Remnants to the fringes."
 
"Different kinds of minds gives rise to different strategies. Different ways of thinking give rise to different ideas and designs. Different physiologies handle enviornments differently."
 
"Non-humans can be a powerful force."
 
The Empress nodded. The Supreme Commander leaned forward, gaze piercing. "Captain, you have said that the Sith are given to...how did you phrase it? Darkly impulsive behaviours? Tell me, Captain, what would have happened to you had you responded to any other Sith as freely as you have in this room?"
 
"Likely be harmed, berated, threatened, and / or killed." The Captain said, unflinching. He had presumed, to this point, that the Empire needed the ship this badly. That this Skygge was maintaining her calm, simply for the sake of necessity.
 
The Supreme Commander nodded. He appeared about to say something when the Empress held up a hand. His words died in his throat.
 
"Captain," she said, "I want you to see something."
 
Standing, she strode to a console nearby and input a code. After a moment, the table around which they were sitting displayed a holographic representation of hundreds of ships, many of them cruisers and larger. Many older ships - some even dating back to pre-Endor days - but potent in their own right. "These are the ships already declared for me, Captain. You are not needed as desperately as you think. But you are wanted, Captain Marcus Antonius. I want your mind, your perspective on things. You have a mind, Captain. Never be afraid to use it, even to question an order.
 
"More importantly, Captain, you see things that many Sith, including the first Emperor, never could. In his blind hatred, he alienated ninety percent of the galaxy. In his passion, he created and supported a Rebellion. He understood so little." She paused, then looked at him. "Captain, the Empire I am forming will be a new kind of Empire. It will be heir to Palpatine's empire, but far different. Far more powerful. I want officers like you, Captain. Will you join me?"
 
"And what would you have of me?" The Captain said, running through the roster and cross-referencing for any names that would match those of missing friends and colleagues. "This sector is cut off from the rest of the Emprie by Reavers and the Confederation. Attacking either in your present state would be suicide."
 
"Your first mission will be to identify any of your officers or men who were transferred to your ship by COMPNOR. They will be immediately transferred off your vessel." The Supreme Commander said as he slid a datapad towards Antonius. "This will explain why."
 
The Captain slowly looked through the datapad. "Seems like something out of a bad story I read once." He muttered, an incredulous look on his face.
 
The Supreme Commander nodded. "I thought so too, at first. Unfortunately, it's all too true. We will take care of the matter, but it is important that the rest of your men not know what is going on. You understand."
 
"I can only think of one COMPNOR transfer we have. I only remember it, because they were so insistent upon it." The Captain said, wracking his memory. "He is well liked. Are you sure of this? I doubt his comrades will take well to the first order under this new command being one of their own pulled off in chains for no apparent reason."
 
The Supreme Commander frowned. "Tell him whatever you like. But we can't have the general panic that the truth would cause. And he can't stay on your ship."
 
"I doubt, if he is what you say, he will go willingly. And news travels fast on a Star Destroyer." The Captain replied with a frown. "I will attempt to think of something."
 
The Supreme Commander nodded. "Good. Now, I know you don't yet fully trust us, and I understand. My former unit's reputation justifies that lack of trust. You should know, by the way, that the SS has been formally disbanded." He said this with a nonchalance - almost pleasure, as though he were happy to no longer have to fill the role of the most feared unit in the galaxy.
 
"Disbanded?" The Captain asked, with a raised eyebrow. "I imagine that the SS' talents for occupation would be useful, with the sort of campaigning we are likely to see in the future."
 
"The SS was an organization based on terror, Captain," The other replied. "The old Empire needed such terror. The new Empire will not. The SS units have been integrated into the regular military, but they will no longer use the tactics that have become so associated with them, and with Palpatine's Empire. There will be no more Death Stars, or Sun Crushers, or World Devastators. We have no need of such things. Ours will be an Empire of order and of justice. It is something the galaxy has sorely lacked, and something that is desperately needed in these times."
 
"It will chase many Imperial Officers from our cause." Antonius said carefully. "The only way to keep the non-Human worlds in line would be to give them that justice. And many in the Empire have been involved in different... activities that they would demand punishment for."
 
"How many commanders, yourself included, have taken part in pacification in the past? Do we honestly expect them to accept that those actions are just washed away?"
 
The Supreme Commander shook his head. "No. But we will provide justice for them by giving them those most responsible for such acts - the ones who ordered them done, and the ones who revelled in them. Some will not understand, but many of the non-humans did what was needed to survive in Palpatine's Empire. So did humans." He paused, then continued, "The Empire has resources to pay reparations to some of the worlds so devastated. And some of our commanders will need to face justice - the ones who most deserve it. They will be replaced with competent non-human commanders."
 
Wes frowned. "Unfortunately, we cannot bring those most responsible to justice. It was Trachta's Experiment Houses that perpetrated the worst crimes - Houses the SS contrived to have shut down or destroyed, by the way - and he has disappeared. But we will do what we can."
 
“And then we run a risk of having to run every senior member of the Empire through trials to satisfy all the different peoples of the Galaxy. It will turn into a spectacle of people demanding the conviction they desire for political ends.” The Captain pointed out with a frown. “It may turn into a spectacle.”
“Grand Moff Zhukov and the Empress will worry about the politics.” The Supreme Commander said with an air of finality. “Our concern is on military matters.”
 
Pressing a few buttons on a pad, the map changed to the local sector. A few areas were highlighted, showing positions of interest. Captain Antonius stiffened, as they transitioned from meeting to briefing.
 
“The former SS sector was not designed with a campaign of this scale in size. Though we are powerful for our size, we will require more resources. More to fight with. More to barter with.” The Supreme Commander began, rising from his seat and walking towards the hologram. He points to one section of the hologram, highlighted green. “Here we have the planet Tarrentine. It is an agriworld that has been under Imperial influence for years, and is part of the Empire in all but name. We intend to resolve that oversight before another claimant can.”
 
With a touch of a button, the projector expanded the green highlight, showing the system. And it also showed the image of an older man, “The planet is under control of one Governor Drulo. He has been accommodating to the Empire in the past. You are to convince him to bring his world formally under our banner.”
 
“Peacefully, would be preferred.”
 
“This seems like a task more suited for this Grand Moff Zukhov you mentioned earlier.” The Captain said, looking at the blue green sphere on the holoprojector.
 
“He would be a good pick, yes. But I have chosen you for this mission, as it will lead you into next mission.” The Supreme Commander said, and with a click of a button the holoprojector shifted further along to an asteroid belt. A number of screens of different vessels of different classes came up. Most of them small vessels, nothing larger than a light cruiser.
 
“This asteroid field is known as Berold’s Hideaway, and is near a major trade way. As the name suggests, the compositions of their asteroids are naturally resistant to most sensors and has long been a den of pirates, raiders, and ambush parties.” And as he spoke, markers of attacks during the last couple of years displayed. “There is a small Imperial Fleet here as an anti-piracy force. Mostly smaller craft intended to intercept any illegal traffic in the region. As you could see from our fleet layout, though we are strong in capital class ships, we are very weak in terms of pickets.”
 
“I hope you can see where I’m going with this, Captain.
 
“I am to go and convince them to swear to our banner.” The Captain said, noticing the smallest hint of a smile from the others by referring to it as ‘our’ banner. “But wouldn’t pulling the fleet out of there just allow the pirates free reign over the area?”
 
 “Which is why I am sending you to Tarrantine first. They are near enough that they should be able to respond to any problems with their defence force. A few well placed probe droids to track incoming and outgoing activity, and we can ensure a response if there is anything greater than minor pirate activities in the area.” The Supreme Commander said, detailing the greater part of his plan. “As it stands, we cannot continue to dedicate a patrol fleet solely to this task. With all the losses the Empire has taken, we will need every vessel we can get.”
 
“I will have all the details forwarded to your craft. Otherwise, you have your orders. You are dismissed, Captain.”
 
The Captain quickly came to his feet and came to attention, giving a formal salute to his superiors, and sharply turned and left the War Room. The Supreme Commander and Empress turned to one another.
 
“I’m still not certain we can trust him.” The Supreme Commander said to the Empress with a frown.
 
“He will serve.” The Empress said, with a thin smile, leaning back into her chair. “You must learn to have more faith.”
4  4:06pm 02/07/15        
Empress
ISD-V Tyrant
Deep Space
 
Darth Skygge, who was Myneneial, who was Myra Tyrell, who was Empress, knelt alone in a meditation chamber on board the Tyrant. When the notion of claiming the title of Empress had first been presented to her by then Colonel-General Vos, she had been hesitant. Who was she to claim Hyfe’s throne?
 
But as she considered the matter, the merits of the idea began to grow on her. She would be in a position of power, one that she could then use to disseminate the truth of the Force to the galaxy. She would be able to spread what she had learned on Ilum. She could change the Empire for the good. So she had claimed the title and named Vos her Supreme Commander.
 
So far, the results had been much to her liking. The fleet had grown quickly under Vos’s leadership; he seemed to have a knack for finding older ships and devising new ways to use them effectively. Zhukov, though not the best politician, was quite adept at administering the various departments of the Empire. The former SS Sector had not suffered much from the events in the Core and was still economically sound, giving her a strong base from which to make her claim. Soon, it would be time for her to declare herself openly to the galaxy as the rightful ruler of the Empire.
 
There was still time before that declaration, though, and she intended to make the most of it.
 
Behind her, the door slid open, then shut. Without turning, Skygge said, “Supreme Commander. I hope the reason for this disturbance is urgent.” She needed him, and he knew it, but appearances did have to be maintained.
 
The Commander cleared his throat slightly. She heard his feet shift – the unconscious reaction of one who has faced less reasonable Sith. Good, she thought. He needs to fret a bit occasionally.
 
Vos spoke. “My Lady, we’ve had reports of the Confederation sending picket ships close to our location. Shall we eliminate them?”
 
Skygge did not speak for a long moment. Then she stood and turned slowly to face him. “Supreme Commander Vos, we have had this conversation before, and I do not wish to have it again. As of this moment, the Confederation is not our enemy. They never should have been in the first place. I will not authorize any engagement without good reason, and the Confederation has not, and I believe will not, provide sufficient reason. I understand you hate them – it is difficult not to hate the one who has so long been your mortal enemy – but you must learn to let such hatred go. It is but a crutch for the weak, and you, Supreme Commander, are not weak.”
 
Vos bowed, then stepped back to leave.
 
“Wait,” Skygge said, stopping the Commander in his tracks. Vos looked back at her and blinked. “I do have a task for you, Commander,” she said. “One you will find most engaging, I think.”
 
***
 
Mon Calamari Cruiser Evanescant
Deep Space
Just outside the Calamari Sector
 
Captain Jesma Eespik, recently promoted, stared nervously at the blue tunnel of hyperspace visible through the transparisteel viewport. This was not her first hyperspace jump, not by a long shot, and not even her first in command of a vessel. But it was her first in command of a vessel this large. May the waves be gentle, she thought to herself.
 
The cruiser she commanded, Evanescant, had been new in the days immediately following the Emperor’s death – may the ocean never give up his soul – but it had seen much use since then. Now it was primarily used for transport duties. Still, it was a command, and she was grateful to have it. Her record was spotless, and her academy scores were well within the acceptable range for command, but she’d never seen combat, and time after time she had been passed over in favor of combat-experienced commanders. Of course, with the Evanescant, it was unlikely that she would ever have to engage in combat, but at least she was commanding a cruiser now.
 
Of course, it would have been nice if the cruiser still possessed more than one fourth its original armaments. It would have been still better if she’d been in actual service to a governmental defense force instead of working for a Hutt-controlled mercenary transport company.
 
Best not to think about the waves that have already passed, she told herself. Still, it was hard not to feel some resentment.
 
With a jolt, the cruiser decelerated and the hyperspace tunnel turned to the black of space. Warning klaxons sounded throughout the bridge, and Jesma’s mouth dropped open. What under the sea? Then the call came up from the sensor station – “Captain, picking up multiple contacts emerging from hyperspace in our wake! Transponders reading them as unknowns!”
 
Jesma’s mind raced. Pirates? Imperials? “Ensign, can you give me a profile of the ships?”
 
An image popped up on the holoscreen. There were four ships, all different. One was an old Nebulon-B Frigate, one an old Imperial Assault Frigate, another a Corellian Corvette, and the fourth the smaller Marauder Corvette. A pirate fleet, then, certainly, she thought. “Ensign, what dropped us out of hyperspace?”
 
There was a long pause. “I’m not sure, Sir.”
 
Jesma frownd. “How are our hyperdrives?” she called down to the engineering station.
 
Another long pause. “Inoperable, sir,” came the eventual reply.
 
Jesma did some quick calculations. The current armaments of her vessel against the pounding of the four attacking frigates. The strength of the Evanescant’s shields. The result was not good. “Lieutenant, what’s wrong with the hyperdrive?”
 
“No idea, sir,” the Lieutenant said. “Running diagnostics now.”
 
Jesma closed her eyes. “Oceans preserve us,” she muttered.
 
“Captain!”
 
She opened her eyes and glanced towards the communications station. “Yes, Lieutenant?”
 
“We’re being hailed by the attackers.”
 
Jesma nodded. “Put them on.”
 
The holoscreen filled with the image of a Bothan, tan-furred with red stripes dyed in unappealing patterns. Meant to invoke fear, Jesma thought to herself. It worked.
 
“Captain Espik, greetings,” the Bothan hissed. “Your ship is now my property. Please lower your shields and power down your weapons. We have no wish to destroy you.”
 
Jesma stared at the Bothan and blinked.
 
After a moment, the Bothan sighed. “Captain, as much as I like a good scrap, you are outgunned. I know your vessel is underarmed. You may as well surrender.”
 
Jesma sighed and closed her eyes. Her first major command, and now this. All the currents in this ocean flow against me, she thought. “Lower the shields and power down the weapons,” she said. “If I may ask, to whom am I surrendering the Evanescant?”
 
A roaring, howling noise came from behind her, near the bridge entrance. Jesma spun quickly to find a large red-furred Wookiee, with white tribal patterns from some scarring along the right side of his body, standing at the door. His right leg and left arm were clearly prosthetic; the fur there was a different shade than the rest of his body. Most surprisingly, the hair along his entire body had been cut short, at least by Wookiee standards. The Bothan spoke again. “I am Captain Kai Ers’Lya, commander of the Krak’jya Pirate Fleet. The Wookiee is my lieutenant, Whraorwowa Oowhwo. He will take command of your vessel.”
 
As the holoscreen went dark, Jesma blinked. “But I don’t speak Wookiee.”
5  11:48pm 02/07/15        
Avatar
Sith Apprentice, Pirate, General Scallywag
A wookiee with deep red fur, cropped into a long buzz-cut paced calmly down the hall from the engineering department. The day had been long and trying and the balding human fumbling along beside the him seemed agitated now that the two were alone. 

"I don't see why you had to do that Whraor. That was the lead engineer; what if we have an actual problem with the hyperdrive?"

The wookiee didn't bother to speak at first, he merely glared at the translator that had been a long-time friend. It was times like these that he found the man particularly annoying, his morality and conscience frequently looking at things with a skewed perception. Raising his nearly naked and clawed fingers to gingerly pinch the bridge of his nose in a show of annoyance, Whraorwowa gave the man as simple a response as he could muster. 

"AH WAAHWAWH'AO RHRCWORAOR RAWHROAOACAHWHRR, AH SHHUCAO WAAHCANOOOARAAOWOWA ACAHC ACOOHUANWAWORC. AHWW COOSCWOAOACAHWHRR WAOOWOC RROO OHRCOOWHRR, ACWO'C CAOAHANAN OARAAKRARHANWO OOWW WAOOAHWHRR ACAHC SHOORH, AOACWO OOAOACWORC WOWHRRAHWHWOWORCC OHAHANAN SHHUCAO ACRAHOWO AOOO ACRAWHWAANWO AOACWO AKACROCAHOARAAN ANRARHOORC."

James the translator blanched as the wookiee talked so blandly about a dislocated shoulder and the coldness with which he spoke of what the soon to be wookiee captain was going to expect of his newly acquired crew. Of all of the things they'd done together, James wasn't sure if this was something he could play a part in. It had only been ten years since they'd begun their working relationship, and the wookiee was showing more and more violent tendencies as of late. 

"RCWOSCWOSCRHWORC AOOO RCWOSCRAAHWH CAHANWOWHAO OHACWOWH OHWO RCWORAOAAC AOACWO RHRCAHWARRWO HUWHANWOCC AH RACOR ROOOHU AOOO CAKWORAOR WWOORC SCWO."

Broadening his shoulders and raising his head, the wookiee with short hair and elaborate burn scars put on an air of power and control turning onto the bridge. No one would have guessed that only fifty some odd number of years earlier, his body had been maimed beyond recognition. His powerful presence was largely, in part, due to his mechanical arm and leg, but slashed burns laid into his body by the Skywalker child had turned his skin a bright white and left his hair unable to grow in places. The slashes in his body were old and healed, but the missing limbs would never look quite right. In consequence, the wookiee had taken to shaving everything down to an almost human level of nakedness, wearing some light armor over his chest, thighs, and the space in-between to maintain the human concept of modesty. Though the off-brown of his leg and arm were still noticeable, buzzing down his hair hid the fact that the scarring would not grow hair again. The wookiee kept a well trimmed beard and the growth of his facial and head hair was almost uncontrolled in it's length, adding a look of wildness to the wookiee's face that his body seemed to lack, save for the muscle clearly rippling beneath skin. It almost looked as though the skin was stretched tight over it. 

Whraorwowa Oohwhwo, the naked one, turned on the bridge, seeing the face of the captain of the pirate fleet he was bade join, he bellowed a roar of challenge at the captain's chair, readying himself for a trial by combat, should he so need. But as the young woman that turned around with clear confusion in her eyes and uttered her statement, Whraor reached up with his right hand and pinched the bridge of his nose again, gesturing for James to come forward. 

"I will serve, as I have for the last ten years, as translator for Lieutenant er... Captain Whroarwowa Oohwhwo, should the need so arrise." He turned a bemused gaze back to the newly nominated captain as if waiting for instructions, but the wookiee simply continued to pinch the bridge of his nose between a clawed finger and thumb as though fighting off a migraine for several minutes before speaking. 

"AOWOANAN ACWORC AH WHWOWOWA RA WWHUANAN RCWOAKOORCAO OOWW AOACWO CACAHAHC' OARARCRROO RAWHWA WAWOCAOAHWHRAAOAHOOWHC, WOKAKWOOAAOWOWA WAWOANAHHOWORCRO WARAAOWOC RAWHWA OOAOACWORC AKWORCAOAHWHWOWHAO AHWHWWOORCSCRAAOAHOOWH AOOO SCRAAHWHAORAAHWHAHWHRR COAACWOWAHUANWOWA CAOOOAKC. CACWO OHAHANAN RHWO SCRO CWOOAOOWHWA AHWH OAOOSCSCRAWHWA RAWHWA OHAHANAN RAOAAO AHWH RAANAN OHRAROC RAC CACWO CWOWOC WWAHAO AOOO SCRAAHWHAORAAHWH AOACWO CRAWWWOAORO OOWW AOACWO OARCWOOH HUWHAOAHAN CHUOAAC AOAHSCWO RAC OHWO ACRAHOWO SCRAWAWO AKOORCAO. RAAO AOACRAAO AOAHSCWO, RAANAN AOACOOCWO AOACRAAO OHAHCAC AOOO RCWOSCRAAHWH OOWH AOACWO CACAHAK SCRARO CAORARO, RAWHWA RAANAN OOAOACWORCC OHAHANAN WAWOAKRARCAO. AH ACRAHOWO WHOO WAWOCAHRCWO WWOORC WHWOWOWAANWOCC RHANOOOOWACACWOWA."

The translator turned his head and in a droll monotone that almost made him visibly disappear from the bridge he spoke,  

"You have been demoted to second-in-command, for obvious reasons. The captain wishes a full report of the ship; cargo, destinations, the works. Have it ready as soon as possible. You will remain second in command until such time as we reach our next designated port. You are being held personally responsible for the safety of your crew. Once we have arrived at port, all those that wish to stay on board the ship will be allowed to remain in their positions, and all of those that wish to leave may leave. The captain is not a fan of needless violence. Speaking of violence, the chief engineer has had his shoulder dislocated, as he was in need of... persuasion to take us out of hyperdrive safely. He, and the rest of your crew, are otherwise uninjured. We would like to maintain a stable working relationship with all that are on board, at least until such time as they decide to depart. You are dismissed until you are ready to give full report, Lieutenant."

The last word came from the translator's lips as almost a sneer, and the wookiee, clearly displeased with this behavior, smacked James in the back of the head. 

"WAOO WHOOAO WAAHCRCWOCAKWOOAAO ROOOHURC CHUAKWORCAHOORCC. AHAO AHC AHSCAKWORCAOAHWHWOWHAO RAWHWA OHAHANAN WHOOAO RHWO AOOOANWORCRAAOWOWA. SCRAORWO CHURCWO CACWO HUWHWAWORCCAORAWHWAC."

Rubbing the back of his head and looking irritated, James looked back to the newly dubbed lieutenant, 

"He says to be sure you know that disrespect is not tolerable. Even from me. I would heed his words were I you."
This post was edited by Whraorwowa Oowhwo (1:25am 03/07/15, 3 years ago)
6  8:31pm 08/07/15        
Supreme Commander, Skygge's Empire
Bridge
ISD-V Tyrant
Deep Space
 
Supreme Commander Wesley Vos stared out the viewport of the Star Destroyer’s bridge and contemplated the vastness of space and the minutia of time. Three years ago he had been but a lowly captain, newly transferred into the Imperial Special Forces. He had molded them into a force to be feared, been promoted again and again. Now he stood by the side of the most unusual Sith he had ever met, one who proclaimed herself Empress and who had named him Supreme Commander.
 
Supreme Commander. It had a nice ring to it.
 
Of course, keeping the title was up to him. Park Kraken would certainly have his head if this whole mess crashed down. Theren Gevel might even if it didn’t. So for Wesley Vos, there was no option but victory.
 
Victory. A sweet concept.
 
That victory would have to come against overwhelming odds, though. In order to secure the Lady Skygge’s claims, her rivals would have to be eliminated and the Imperial remnants consolidated, stolen away from their current masters if possible, by force of arms if not. Even presuming such a victory, the Empire would then have to turn its focus on the Cree’Ar and their alien technology, not to mention the Reavers and their galactic rampage.
 
Across a galaxy full of stars, full of inhabited worlds, pinpricks of light in the darkness, and the young Wesley Vos of Bakura was chosen as Supreme Commander in such a time as this. It almost made one a believer in a divine providence. He could almost credit the Jedi claim that the Force guided all things.
 
Almost.
 
Wes knew better than most that human agency, or rather sentient agency, played a role in the course of galactic events. His actions, his push to create, then disband, the SS, had not been guided by some mystical force. It was not the Force that had pushed the Confederation almost to the breaking point, nor was it the Force that had called him away when they were on the very edge of defeat. It was the competence and incompetence of individuals that saw Coruscant fall, that saw Yaga Minor all but destroyed, that saw the Reavers sweep across the galaxy.
 
Now it was time to fix everything.
 
Despite hearing the footsteps behind him, Wes stared out at the panorama of stars before him for several minutes longer, thoughts – both philosophical and strategic – running through his head. Only when he heard feet shifting behind him did he turn and fix the one who intruded on his contemplations with a glare hard enough to crack stone.
 
The junior lieutenant, who was made of less stern stuff than stone, froze mid-shift. Eyes wide, he looked ready to wet himself.
 
Vos glared at him for a moment longer, then raised an eyebrow. “Well?”
 
The lieutenant blinked, then shook himself and snapped to attention. “Lieutenant Davries reporting, sir. Compliments to the Supreme Commander, and Colonel Selere wishes to meet with him, at the Supreme Commander’s convenience. Sir.”
 
Wes stared, making the lieutenant sweat. Then, unable to restrain himself, he cracked a smile. “Lieutenant, how long have you been posted on the Tyrant?”
 
“A year, Sir.”
 
“And nobody told you that the Colonel enjoys razzing lieutenants?”
 
Davries blinked. “Sir?”
 
A booming laugh came from the other end of the bridge. “Commander,” Colonel Racen Selere, head of the Imperial Commandos, said, “I never fail to find amusement in these rookies. Poor boy just about crapped himself.”
 
Wes chuckled. “Lieutenant Davries, you’re dismissed. And you are relieved of duty for the rest of the day – take some time to recover.” When Davries left, Wes shook his head. “He did crap himself. I could smell it. Next time you try to pull that one on me, I’m going to order whatever young fool you send to anoint you with whatever excrement comes out.”
 
Selere chuckled, then joined Wes looking out the viewport. “Commander,” he said softly, “we’ve received a report from the Sith apprentice. The Bothan. All is apparently going according to plan. The Evanescent is in their hands and has formed the flagship of the pirate fleet. They’re beginning to prey on Hutt shipping lanes. Per your orders, they’re transferring valuable cargo to the Evanescent and capturing escort ships. Within a standard month, they’ll have enough vessels for the operation.”
 
Wes nodded. “Tell them to speed things up if possible. We’re vulnerable here, Colonel. I don’t want to lose my head before the target loses his.”
 
***
 
Life under a Wookiee captain wasn’t as bad as she’d thought, Jesma decided. It could have been worse. She’d once spent time as an ensign under a captain who thought the best job for someone of her rank was cleaning the ‘fresher. And he’d had bowel issues.
 
Compared to that, avoiding disrespect was quite easy, and she mostly had run of the ship. She didn’t get to decide where the Evanescent went, of course, but she’d never had that authority. Instead, she made sure it got wherever the Wookiee wanted it whenever he wanted it there. She finally had the chance to fight the ship, too.
 
The life of a pirate wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Though she still had to pick Wookiee hairs out of the controls regularly.
 
In the last two weeks, they’d captured two dozen vessels, all frigate size and smaller. It seemed these pirates knew exactly where the ships they wanted would be. It was amazing, the way that Bothan leader – Kai Ers’Lya – was able to pick targets that were lightly armed, and how he coordinated his forces.
 
Now the command had come down that the raids would be stepped up. The pirates had some operation planned, something major, and they needed more ships. So the Evanescent would comply.

With a nod from Jesma, the ship leaped forward into hyperspace.
This post was edited by Wes Vos (10:06pm 09/07/15, 3 years ago)
7  11:34pm 10/07/15        
The Slothful Padawan
All the senior officers on the ship were gathered in the War Room of the Brazen. A large semi-circular table sat around a holoprojector, less than a dozen different officers sat around the table, while Antonius stood in the hollow in the middle, next to the holoprojector, laying out the orders they had been given by Supreme Commander Vos.
 
“...and once we manage to convince this anti-piracy force to fall in, we will return for further assignments. Any questions?” The Captain asked, looking about the room at the men and women under his direct command.
 
“Full equalization with bloody aliens? Not just the Near-Humans?” Commander Hispacius asked, an incredulous look on his face. He was the oldest man sitting at the whole table, nearly completely bald if not for a ring of grey hair around his head. Clean shaven, with the typical mean looking narrow set features that the Old Empire favoured. The man was the head of the medical section aboard the Brazen. Every doctor and nurse, human or droid, was under his purview.
 
“Does the Empress intend to just imprint the physiology of a hundred different species into my mind with the FORCE!?!” The old Commander growled, knocking a fist against the table for emphasis. “We would need to completely retrain staff, or deeply expand our dependency on medical droids!”
 
“And where are we to get new uniforms, supplies, and barracks for these creatures?” Asked the Quartermaster, Lieutenant Agripa. A smaller woman, but with a keen mind for logistics and numbers. She managed the movement of materials aboard the ship, a daunting task for a vessel of the size of the Brazen.
 
The Captain raised a hand, silencing the growing discontent amongst the officers. “Each of you has agreed to this decision and there is no backing out now. Unless any of you would like to fall at Kraken’s knees and pray he is in a merciful mood.”
 
No one said a word. The Captain nodded confidently and continued.
 
“I understand your concerns about the implications for the future of the fleet. I share many of your concerns. But we cannot worry about them now.” The Captain said as he slowly paced along the semi-circle. “No one has yet talked about bringing aliens in large scale into the Imperial Service. And if they were, it’ll take months to get any trained and years before we could see them in any significant numbers. When and if the time should come that we take on a large alien crew, we shall, as always, find a way to overcome.”
 
“Understood?” Captain Antonius asked, looking at the group.
 
“Yes sir.” They all replied.
 
“Good. Now, the mission...” Captain Antonius paused, pointing at the holoprojector. “It should be easy. Public relations, and then an extraction. Best case scenario, we do not even need to fire a shot.”
 
“But when has it ever been easy.” Antonius said, eliciting a couple of laughs from the more light hearted amongst the staff.
 
“I want all hands to be prepared for the worst. If the Tarrentine government has decided to stop being neutral over the last couple of months, it could be a messy situation. Therefore, first we shall observe.” The Captain pointed at the hologram of the system to a gas giant on the fringe of the solar system. “If we jump an assault shuttle here, we can use this planet to mask it from their sensors. The crew will spend a day in orbit, collecting intelligence, and will return. From that, we shall determine our approach to the system.”
 
“If they are still neutral, we will approach them diplomatically. I have a list of terms that the Empress will be willing to agree to for their loyalty and support. If not...” The hologram changed, to show a map of the planet with a few glowing red patches. “We require the Tarrentine’s defence fleet as intact as possible. So, if we must use force, we must be fast and decisive.”
 
“As this is an agriworld with a low population, the planet is mostly unshielded. However, they do have a small projector to protect the capital. It is the location of their only starport, the location of all of their granaries, the location of most of the population, and the location of their government.”
 
“Colonel Braxton, I have listed some viable locations around the city to put down assault shuttles. You have two days to draft me contingencies and prepare to deploy your men in the worst case scenario.” The Captain ordered, pointing to the comparatively young Colonel for emphasis.
 
He was a broad man, who looked every bit the soldier. In his late thirties if that. Even aboard the Brazen the man seemed to always be fighting. He had command of all Imperial Army elements on the Star Destroyer. But many of his army elements had to bow to the will of the other departments. He had to depend on the Quartermaster for his logistics. The head of Operations needed his Stormtroopers for internal security details. It was at least once a week that Antonius had to clear up some matter on who got command of what until the next argument.
 
Braxton gave a small nod to the Captain as an acknowledgement.
 
“We’ll be running ship wide drills over the next couple of days before we head to the Tarrentine system. A few of the more likely scenarios if we are put into a fight. Each of you will find the files detailing the different scenarios, and their timings, at your terminals.” Captain Antonius said, finishing his pacing to look at the gathered officers. “Any questions at this time about our mission?”
 
With the silence, Captain Antonius nodded to the group.
 
“One final matter before I dismiss you all.”
 
“I need each of you to select a junior officer from your departments. They will be transferred off the Brazen.” The Captain said, as the officers all cast unsure glances to one another.
 
“Why?” Lieutenant Commander Bellareon asked. The man in charge of the different weapon batteries aboard the Brazen. Young for his station, but sharp. Antonius didn’t know how much longer he’d be able to hold on to Bellareon before he was appointed to his own command.
 
“As all of you know, Thorton and Trachta launched a coup attempt during the chaos six months ago. One of their resources included COMPNOR. Supreme Commander Vos believes they peppered the fleet with sleeper agents, and he has determined how to flush them out. But I do not know if I trust his intel.” The Captain says with a furrowed brow. “And so, I plan to put his method to the test. A dozen men and women. One our COMPNOR transfer, the others clean.”
 
“I want to know if he is starting some damned inquisition, or if he actually has something.” Antonius said with a frown. “The ruse shall be that with the manpower shortage in the fleet that they need officers, and that we shall be transferring them to fill key gaps in the fleet.”
 
“And what if he just liquefies the lot to be certain?” Waller asked, a displeased look crossing her face.
 
“We learn a lot about the type of man our Supreme Commander is then.” Antonius replied, looking just as displeased about the situation as she was.
 
“Any other questions?” The Captain asked, and took the moment of silence as his cue. “Then you all know your duties. I will be calling another meeting of all senior officers before we deploy to the Tarrentine system. Good day, Ladies and Gentlemen, and Emperor Pr-... Empress Protect Us.”
 
The other senior staff repeat the call, and filter out of the room back to their respective tasks.
 
--------------------------------------
 
“Lieutenant Jenkins!” The Captain called out as he entered the secondary communications room. The walls were lined with a variety of equipment, red and blue and white lights flashing from the different consoles. Amongst them, a young man stood to attention.
 
“Sir! We weren’t expecting an inspection.” He fumbled out, as the other men in the room began standing to, realizing what is going on.
 
“That is because this is not an inspection, Lieutenant. This is a transfer.” The Captain said, handing the young man a datapad, who nervously took it. “You have been performing well. Not well enough as to replace a Lieutenant Commander, but well enough that you deserve a better position. Better chance of promotion.”
 
The Lieutenant simply stood there with a lack for words. Military discipline kept his mouth from going agape as the Captain simply continued.
 
“This new fleet is full of openings. A lot of skeleton crews out there. I managed to find a promising opening on the ISD Baleful. A class four. You would do well.”
 
“I… Sir, I cannot accept.” The Lieutenant managed to stutter out, looking flustered by the whole situation. Antonius forced the creeping suspicion from his face.
 
“It is a good opportunity, Lieutenant, and part of my agreement with the new Empress on our terms of allegiance. We have a good reputation for efficiency, and they want us to send some of our more talented junior officers amongst the ranks.” The Captain said, explaining the charade to the Lieutenant. “You will not be going alone. There will be nine others joining you. One from each section. I expect you to represent the Brazen’s communication section well.”
 
“But sir... There’s just so much work to be done here... and it’s so sudden...” The Lieutenant stammered out, looking at his compatriots, a little overwhelmed.
 
“Do not worry, you will get into the step of things quickly enough. And you’ll have a much better chance of advancement in the fleet.” The Captain said with an encouraging smile. “Consider it an order if you must, Lieutenant.”
 
The Lieutenant seemed even more taken aback by that, if that was even possible. Finally he got himself collected enough as to respond. “Sir, yes sir.”
 
“Good man.” Antonius said with a small smile.
 
“You’re relieved for the rest of your shift, Lieutenant.” The Captain said, with a salute to the Lieutenant. “Pack up. Say your goodbyes. Your transport shoves off tomorrow, oh-eight-hundred.”
 
The young Lieutenant gives a quick, sharp, instinctual salute and filed out of the room.
8  8:54pm 21/09/15        
Supreme Commander, Skygge's Empire
Bridge
MC-81 Evanescent
 
The blue tunnel of hyperspace blurred, then reverted to pinpricks of stars…and the bright red flashes of turbolaser fire. The cruiser rocked as bolt after bolt slammed through its armor and began tearing into the ship’s innards. Jesma righted herself quickly and screamed out, “Shields up!” In mere moments, the blur of a rising shield surrounded the Evanescent, giving the captain a moment to sort out the situation.
 
“Damage report?” she called down to the crew pit. The reply was not encouraging. “Engines hit, operating at fifty percent. Hyperdrive damaged. Life support damaged, operating at seventy-five percent. Communications damaged and down. Sensors damaged, operating at twenty percent. Shields at sixty percent. Main hangar bay damaged.”
 
Jesma cursed, then glanced at the sensor board. It was all but useless. “Do we have a visual on the attackers?”
“Behind us, captain!”
 
Jesma glanced at the screen showing a holoview of the ship’s aft and cursed again. “Helm, ninety degrees starboard – get them off our tailfins!”
 
As the ship began its ponderous turn, Jesma took stock of the situation. An unknown fleet had ambushed them as soon as they dropped out of hyperspace, their first salvo doing significant damage. There were five vessels, all frigate-size or smaller, but two of them were new Stellar Enterprises designs. Even uninjured, the Evanescent would have been at best evenly matched. With the damage, they were in trouble.
 
<What is happening?> The Wookiee roar filled the bridge as the shaved monster stumbled through the door. It needed no translation.
 
“We got ourselves ambushed!” Jesma shouted back. “If you can help, then help. Otherwise, stay out of the way!”
 
The Wookiee roared again and started towards her, rage filling his face. Just then, another turbolaser blast rocked the bridge, sending the large creature careening into the crew pit. The Evanescent, now partially turned, began returning fire, and Jesma turned her attention back towards the battle.
 
The opposing fleet was in a spread formation, with the five ships positioned to provide maximum firepower but unable to overlap shields. It was a workable strategy, but only with the Evanescent already damaged. Standard tactics required her to maneuver around the formation, requiring them to continually move to keep up with her and using their own ships as cover. In fact, two of the frigates were already maneuvering in anticipation of such a move. But with her engines operating at less than full efficiency, and her shields already damaged, and with the other ships’ advantage in maneuverability…
 
“Helm, I want a slow rotation to starboard. Shields, shift everything to starboard and rotate them with the ship. Weapons, I want focused fire on the frigate furthest to starboard of their formation. Now!”
 
The cruiser began a ponderous rotation as the starboard turbolasers rotated to bear on the designated target, an older Nebulon-B frigate that had already begun turning in anticipation of the Evanescent’s expected maneuvers. Caught with its shields shifting, the frigate withered under the cruiser’s fire. The first salvo blasted away its shield generators. The second and third severed the frigate’s spine, venting its atmosphere into space. The next few salvos systematically dismantled the frigate’s engines and bridge. Within minutes, the enemy ship was drifting listlessly, spouting fire, atmosphere, and flash-frozen bodies.
 
Such focus was not without cost. “Captain, shields down at thirty percent!” came a call from the crew pit. Jesma glanced at her viewscreens. The enemy fleet, besides the now defunct Nebulon-B, were reformed nearer her aft, focusing their fire into the weakened gap between her top and aft shielding. Shortly, their fire would chew through the shields and take out the generators themselves.
 
By this time, the Wookiee had crawled out of the crew pit. <I’ll pull your kriffing arms out of their sockets!> he roared. Jesma ignored him. “Shift shields aft. Engines half-speed. Helm, ninety degree port rotation, then one-twenty degree turn to port. Shields, follow the turn. Weapons, focus—”
 
At that moment, the Wookiee reached her and lifted her bodily from the deck. <You will not ignore me!> he roared, right in her face. Ugh, she thought, strangely detached. He had raw nerf today. Roaring again, he demanded, <And you will not give me orders!>
 
James, the Wookiee’s translator, finally caught up to Whroarwowa. “Please, Lieutenant, apologize before he does pull out your arms.”
 
Jesma nodded. “Sorry, Captain. I’ll apologize further after we survive, but if you want to live through the next few minutes, please, put me down!”
 
The bridge shook again with another blast, and the Wookiee blinked and released his captive. Jesma fell to the ground and quickly righted herself, calling out, “Damage?”
 
“Hit to the engines – we’re leaking reactor fluid now!”
 
Jesma let out a string of curses, making James blanch. Brushing past Whroarwowa, she strode to the intercom and keyed the main hangar. “Lieutenant, have you got the hangar bay cleared yet?”
 
“Negative,” came the reply. “We’re working as fast—”
 
“Blast it open, then. We need those fighters now!”
 
Moments later, an explosion came from deep within the vessel. “Hangar clear,” came the Lieutenant’s report over the intercom.
 
“Launch all fighters,” Jesma commanded. “Try to draw their attention.”
9  1:40am 26/02/16        
Is dead. Would rather not be.
Since its creation as a Coalition member state, the Cooperative has been committed to ensuring the security of commerce routes in and around Coalition space. With the inclusion of Ubrikkia into the Cooperative's Alliance of Corporate States, that commitment quickly expanded to include several key sectors on the border of Hutt Space, sectors containing many of Ubrikkian Industries' independent trade partners. Protecting the image of these historic business relationships was a priority for UI's new leadership, and so it has become a priority for the Cooperative itself.

Recent reports from the region, however have indicated a substantial increase in pirate activity, specifically the kind of piracy that involves the seizure and disappearance of starships. These weren't resource raids on industrial shipping of raw materials, or ransom-seekers kidnapping hostages; these pirates were snatching up armed freighters and security escorts. The Cooperative could not allow this to stand.

Fortunately for them, Ubrikkian Industries had a Schemer on hand. The specialized Guardian AI, developed by the Nimbanels and now installed at the UI headquarters, was especially adept at the sorts of pattern recognition and data crunching necessary to identify, for example, that key information derived from incident reports indicated that a single, growing organization was responsible for the recent uptick in piracy across the region.

That is how GR0081 came to find itself stationed at an unspectacular point between the stars, scanning surrounding systems for indications of hyperspace reversion. Predictive models based on known and suspected attacks by the mysterious organization indicated that they were likely employing a network of rendezvous and stop-over points in uninhabited systems to coordinate and stage attacks. Without the resources necessary to patrol every shipping lane in the region, and with no clear pattern to indicate the pirates' method of target selection, the most favorable option available to the Guardian-led anti-piracy effort was to catch a raiding party unawares during their staging operations, to detain them and turn them over to Coalition Intelligence where progress might be made in uncovering more regarding the scope and objectives of the organization.

The blip of tachyon energy originating from a nearby star was the first promising reading in the operation's short life. GR0081's hyperwave transceiver powered up from standby as on-board supercomputers crunched available data on regional traffic patterns, nearby ports of harbor, known emission patterns of various hyperdrive types on file, and so on in order to construct probability-based models regarding the likely size, number, position, and vector of the ship or ships responsible for the hyperdrive signature. It transmitted its initial findings immediately, Shemer's orders returning only a few seconds later.

The lone Recuasant-class Light Destroyer jumped to hyperspace without delay, using the time before reaching its destination to model possible scenarios, preparing itself to react to an array of unfavorable circumstances should the need arise. Its efforts, though extensive, did not encapsulate any scenario approaching what it actually found upon reversion.

A Mon Calamari Star Cruiser was under fire from four smaller vessels, the wreckage of a fifth drifting listlessly away from the battle. A check of the ships' transponder codes identified the Mon Calamari craft as the Evanescent, owned by a Hutt transport security company. The other vessels had no recent public records, but some of them had been flagged by Coalition Intelligence as suspected pirate vessels.

“I am Guardian of grid sector Dee-Four-Three-Dash-Five-Nine,” GR0081 broadcast immediately, angling for an intercept burn that would place it squarely in the midst of the battle. Its prior estimations had landed the vessel reasonably close to the engagement, well within range of intervening before either side could settle the conflict decisively, should intervention be warranted. “State your intentions and the cause for this conflict.”

Neither side responded, but a preliminary sensor sweep identified damage to the Evanescent: targeted strikes to the communications and propulsion systems that could only have only been dealt from a position behind the vessel. It was a clear indication of ambush, with the Evanescent having subsequently turned to protect its damaged stern, and sufficient indication of the aggressor to engage priority overrides in Guardian's decision-making processes.

Beaming off an update to Schemer and requesting assistance, GR0081 maxed out its engines, rushing toward the deadly conflict. “I am bound to the preservation and defense of life,” Guardian continued to broadcast, its comm systems powerful enough to be picked up by the Evanescent's starfighters and even the personal commlinks aboard ship. “To the unlawful assailants of the starship Evanescent: you are commanded to disengage from hostile action and withdraw from this system immediately. Failure to comply will be met with the full measure of the force available to me. Be advised that reinforcements are en route and your capture or destruction will be ensured at that time. You will not receive further instruction.”

It was a fairly standard threat, designed to impress upon outlaw militants the consequences of conducting their illegal actions in the presence of a Guardian. By the time it was finished, the Recusant's limited complement of Vulture droid fighters had been launched and its shields raised. Though its targets were beyond even the extreme effective range of its weapons, the Guardian ship opened fire with all but its main cannon, peppering space with harmless and inaccurate flashes of light, attempting to intimidate the assailants into withdrawing.

Those efforts had no appreciable effect. “To the commander and crew of the MC-81 Evanescent: I am committed to safeguarding your lives and preserving the integrity of your vessel. I advise you to establish an optimal defensive posture and allow me to draw the fire of your assailants until Coalition reinforcements arrive to secure the area.”

A more detailed scan of the Evanescent and her assailants solidified the tactical situation in GR0081's artificial mind. The Recusant-class was designed for pack assaults against unsuspecting foes in a war half a century past expiring. It embodied the principle of quantity-over-quality, its more than one kilometer long skeletal frame shielded by systems appropriate for a vessel half its size, its narrow structure vulnerable to the same tactics that had sealed the enemy Nebulon-B frigate's fate. This was not a fight that GR0081 could win.

Not alone, at any rate. The forward squadron of Vultures, just now drawing near to the Evanescent in their charge toward the enemy attackers, broke off their assault run, circling around to take up a close defensive posture around the Mon Calamari cruiser. Each of the starfighters' relatively simple comm systems began cycling through channels, transmitting a simple, short-range messages unlikely to be detected by the enemy: “This is Guardian Eighty-One, please respond.”

It would take several seconds, possibly a few minutes if fortune did not favor the tactic, but soon the commlinks of the Evanescent crew would be crackling with the Vulture-synthesized voice of Guardian's relayed message, and GR0081 would have secured its only advantage in the battle to come.

Reliable communication was a powerful weapon, especially when burdened with the unknowns of an alliance of circumstance. The Vultures were close enough to pick up commlink chatter from the Evanescent crew, once they honed in on the channels in use, and their encrypted lines back to GR0081 would give it direct access to the ship's captain.

If that stranded ship and its doomed crew were to have any hope of surviving the ambush meant to destroy them, then this ship, this Guardian, alone and with all of the baggage its rickety old design carried with it, would have to push the limits of its synthesized tactical genius, and capitalize on the one, tenuous secret weapon it had at hand.

Its main cannon fired; the jumbled, haphazard, rolling shots of its uncoordinated weapons synchronized into a single pulse of destructive energy, and these unsuspecting outlaws felt for the first time what it meant to stand against a Guardian.
10  3:59am 25/06/16        
Supreme Commander, Skygge's Empire
Deep Space
MC-81 Evanescent
 
As the new ship’s main gun began ripping through the shielding of the largest of the unknown attackers, Jesma breathed a sigh of relief. “It appears we have a reprieve,” she commented. The Wookiee beside her roared acknowledgement, then said something that she interpreted to be a command to get the kriff away from there. She hesitated. With the new arrival, perhaps…
 
The Wookiee roared again, but Jesma ignored him. “Signal the fighters any way you can. Have them break off and regroup around the Evanescent. Get our soldiers to the dropships. We’re taking that one.” She pointed towards a frigate, one of the new Stellar models, that was listing to port.
 
Whroarwowa roared a protest, but Jesma ignored him. He needed her now to get him out of this mess, so it was unlikely he’d kill her – at least until they were safe. She watched as the fighters slowly reformed by the new hangar opening. Almost there…
 
“Captain Jesma!” Dooma, the Twi’lek comms officer, was signaling her. “We’re receiving a signal from the new vessel!”
 
Jesma paused. A signal? How were they receiving a signal with comms out? She shook her head. No time to worry about it now.
 
“Store it,” Jesma responded. “We have a ship to steal.”
 
***
 
Major Lomax, formerly of the Imperial SS, shrugged uncomfortably in the unfamiliar uniform as he felt his dropship launch from the Evanescent’s hangar bay, or rather what was left of the bay. He still wasn’t comfortable in his role as a pirate commander – he missed the matte-black armor and discipline of the SS. It didn’t help that none of their enemies, up to this point, had presented any sort of challenge. This fight would be interesting, though. Ten surviving dropships, each able to hold ten pirates, to coordinate and take a frigate. Each dropship contained at least one member of the former Imperial SS Kommando Green Squadron, each leading their own contingent of pirates, most of them undisciplined louts picked up off whatever ships they’d managed to steal.
 
He watched through the tiny viewport as the frigate came into view. It had been damaged, which was no problem – the Evanescent could take it in tow if needed. Two minutes until docking. Time to roll.
 
Lomax glanced over his squad. “Lock and load, boys. We’re taking us a frigate.”