Episode 10 (Finale): Of Fathers and Forces

PLAYER CHARACTERS (and what we know about them).

Asti : Female Young Jedi. Quiet, cool-headed and sensible. Once a slave on an Imperial droid production planet.
Stoge : Brashest Pilot. Has a bounty on his head for reasons unknown.
Straun Solarwind: Young Jedi, trying to follow in his father's footsteps.
Dar : Muscled black native. Prefers the ways of his people to technological means. Uses an ornate sword with his great strength. By tribal law, he cannot return to his home system until he brings back the head of Palpatine.
Karlos Trialeki : Eight-gun slinger. Deadly with firearms. Running from his past and a death mark.
Surge : Combat Medic. A man of medicine, knowledge and action.
Menarggrah : Tough, intelligent Wookiee.

[GM's NOTE: This was the last game we played (not counting our reunion adventure)- 1993 was drawing to a close, the exams were about to start and we were all going to leave uni, so I had to tie up all the ongoing plot lines into one big finale. The dice spoke loudly, and we had a blast.
I've modified part of one person's speech in light of The Phantom Menace, but that's all that has been changed from the gaming session.]

The holographic image of the Imperial Moff wavered slightly, along with his air of politeness. "I don't have time to attend military demonstrations, Commander Fynas. I have a sector to run". Some of the other officers images nodded their agreement.
Beside the Commander, the man in dark gray robes spoke. "
But Governor Lorsaal, you yourself keep a system in civil war, funding both sides to reap the technological benefits. Surely you know the importance of-"
Technology superiority" the Moff cut in "is secondary to its tactical and innovative use. Yavin showed us that".
I couldn't agree more" the Commander nodded slightly. "Our project involves work never before conceived with Spaarti technology".
There were shocked murmurs from the holoconference, and one audible gasp. "
Cloning cylinders?" queried General Veers in surprise. "Where did you find them?".
Fynas' eyes flashed with triumph. "
We tracked some rebels and beat them to a droid who had the co-ordinates. Phase two incorporated some developments from the Axat system, and our first complete units are ready for your review before we deliver them to the Emperor himself".
Moff Lorsaal thought for a moment, the microlights on the prosthetic section of his skull glittering. "
I'll send Captain Doensche" he assented sharply, and nodded to someone on his ship. His holographic image winked out.
Most of the others followed his lead, and within another two minutes the holo-conference was over.
The robed man glanced out the viewport to see the tunnel of hyperspace whirling past the Desecrator. "
Is everything ready for the demonstration?" he queried the Commander.
Another self-assured nod. "
As you foresaw months ago, we've finished Lord Vader's task. We only need one final element of our demonstration, and we're about to obtain that now".


The tranquility of space was shattered with the object's appearance. When it first appeared it seemed, to an observer, to be over three kilometers in length. This lasted only for a microsecond before it reverted fully into realspace, becoming a mere seventy meter transport as the fighters appeared around it like a spatter of droplets.
All fighters report in" said Stoge in a businesslike tone as the Z-98 glided from the Fell Infidel. The three X-Wings, Y-Wing and A-Wing sounded off in tinny communication as they formed up around the transport.
I've got a visual on the primary" said Greer from the A-Wing.
In the Infidel's cockpit, Menarrgrah strained to see.
Hanging in space ahead of them was a space station. Over half a kilometer across, it formed the circular image of a giant Imperial symbol, rotating slowly.
The Ginn station" said Surge, from the lower turret.
Not too many lights on" noted Greer. "Fraggine's diversions must have worked, nobody's home".
I wouldn't say it's empty" said Asti, at the Infidel's sensor station as the rebel group narrowed the distance to the Imperial base. "Ships have launched from it, coming this way". She worked the controls and an edge of concern came into her voice. "TIE fighters- twelve of them!"
A full squadron" Stoge whistled. "I'm flattered. S-Foils in attack position, boys. Here's the call: X's run defence of the Fell, the Y trims the station. Greer, you're with me. Catch me if you can!" he nudged the throttle, and the Z-98 speared forward.
Good hunting, everyone" Greer saluted. "Clear skies, no TIEs".
With a scream of Ion engines and the crackle of deadly energy the fighters met, breaking formation as they picked up targets. Stoge was hit in the opening pass, a TIE flight leader raking his shields with cannon fire. Spiralling into evasive maneuvers, he led the TIE out of the melee in order to give his wingman a clear shot. Greer pounced instantly, and the TIE lit up with a flash.
Splash one!" Greer exulted.
Watch out- low left!" Stoge cried, too late. Greer was hit below the cockpit, blowing his shield generator. He spun the craft crazily as Stoge blasted him clear.
Yowch" he said, returning to the fray.


The Infidel shuddered with a hit, jostling the members of commando team Theta in the cargo hold. The sound of a TIE roaring past accompanied the heavy chatter of the ship's guns as Karlos and Surge returned fire. The combat veterans ignored the noise, focusing on Sergeant Hek and the portable holoprojector.
One more time- we've got an estimated two squads of Imperial combat troops, here and here. Intel tells us that Stormtroopers have been limited to a single command squad, but I ain't bettin' on it. Prisoners will probably be in one of these lower levels, and some may need extraction by repulsor-stretcher. The ship's crew is gonna take that droid of theirs and head for the station computers, then we pull out fast"
The elevator hissed down, and Dar stood there in drab grey warpaint.
Three minutes" he said.
Hek nodded, then turned and kicked one of his men who was sitting down.
On the ready line!"


The Y-Wing peeled off as the proton torpedoes struck the turbolaser emplacement. Fire flared from the station as oxygen escaped, and Derrie snapped his fingers in punctuation.
White 3 here- station is blindsided" he looped over its rolling bulk. He'd covered a quarter of the distance to the others when a well-aimed shot from one of the remaining Imperial turbolasers speared his port engine. He managed only a brief scream before the fighter spun into the surface, the sharp flare of light flickering out with Derrie's life.
No!" cried Stoge. Singling out another TIE, he ruthlessly chased it down and blew it into scrap. Burning with grief, he pressed the attack with little regard for personal safety. Fortunately by that time the rebels had swayed the odds so that his bold risk-taking was an advantage rather than utter suicide.
By the time the Infidel slid carefully up to one of the station's airlocks, the remaining rebel fighters were in poor shape. One of the X-Wings had lost an S-foil, Greer's A-Wing was heavily damaged, and the rest had taken cannon fire to their hulls. They formed a tight perimeter as the ship connected with a clang.
Go, go, go!" Surge's voice accompanied the clomping of boots as the Infidel's crew raced aft to the airlock. Team Theta was already there in a packed formation, one of them setting fusion-burn explosive on the station's side of the airlock. He stepped back and to the side, motioning a countdown of three with his fingers. The airlock fizzled brightly and dropped inward.
Deck!" yelled Hammer, repeating blaster in ready position.
The front ranks of team Theta dropped prone as the view through the airlock became clear. It showed six Imperial soldiers crouched low on the floor.
Behind them was a stormtrooper with a repeating blaster.

Shocked expletives accompanied point-blank blaster fire. Hammer was hit in the leg almost immediately and dropped to one knee, spraying energy. Karlos threw a grenade that hit the top of the airlock and fell short, showering them all with shrapnel and smoke. Team Theta fought back hard, taking down three of the troopers as Asti was hit in the thigh. Hammer got in a lucky shot on an Imperial that had just pulled the pin on a grenade (which then wiped out the troopers own comrades), and the rest were mopped up by fine shots from Karlos.


Menarggrah studied the airlock walls closely, then advised Karlos (with arm-ripping motions) that he would be wiser not to use grenades in an open airlock again. The gunfighter nodded, then turned to acknowledge the men of Team Theta as they finished attending to Hammer's wound and crept off toward the lower levels, blasters checking corners as they went.
Ambling through the airlock behind them came Stoge, who had landed the Z-98. "
Mmm, big guns", he sighed, reaching down and hefting the stormtrooper's repeating blaster. "Here" he said, tossing his heavy blaster pistol to Surge.
Straun gained his attention with a wave. Asti stood staring down the other corridor, a look of grim apprehension on her face.
Someone's com-" Straun began, which became a scream as a blaster shot hit him from down the corridor. The young jedi staggered and collapsed.
Three stormtroopers edged into view, snapping their blasters into firing position again. Veet rolled protectively in front of Straun, jetting concealing smoke as he went went, but the troopers fired again. The droid was hit above its right leg joint and, sparking, toppled to the steel plating beside its master, cursing electronically.
Bravely, Dar stepped in front of Straun, shielding him as Menarggrah approached, then the warrior and the wookiee charged. Menarggrah snarled viciously and shot two on the run before Dar dispatched the third with his sword.

Surge knelt beside Straun. The chest wound wasn't deep, but the young Agostian had gone into shock and was bleeding badly. With calm, sure movements Surge removed further danger from his mind (trusting that his friends would protect them both), and set to work- spraying a bacta derivative, setting microsutures and applying synthflesh. Checking Straun's signs for the effects of his work, he gave a satisfied nod and, with a small injection of military-grade pharmaceuticals, brought him back to consciousness.
Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that Asti had performed operations of similar skill (and effect) on Veet. The little droid was now upright and could move its legs again. It thanked Asti and wheeled away slowly, adding a limp aimed to enact sympathy.

Karlos had found a locked security door at the side of the corridor. The rebels arranged themselves and their weapons as he levered the cover off the lock, fiddling with the wiring inside. A small click, and the lock's light went green.
With a swift movement, Karlos kicked the door open. A many-armed mechanical monstrosity moved to clamber out of the doorway toward him, appendages whirling.
There was a loud staccato noise as the rebels' blasters, firearms and other weapons opened up. The metallic threat was decimated, parts raining onto the corridor floor. A small metal ring swirled around and settled with a clink, then silence descended.
As Asti studied what remained of the droid, Surge leaned into the doorway it had come from for a closer look. It was some kind of closet, with bottles of fluids on shelves. Realisation dawned.
He turned to the others as Asti held up a severed polishing arm. "
It was a janitor droid" they said together.
Well, we sure cleaned him up" Straun said in the embarrassed silence.

Another door led them further into the station, down thin catwalks and polygonal passages. Periodically they stopped and Veet projected his holographic map, a rough approximation based on a similar station that had once been captured by the rebellion. On one such occasion the comlink beeped, and Sergeant Hek informed them that Team Theta were nearing the detention area.
Their journey ended in a large room with corridors perpendicular to them, and a heavy door on the opposite side, slightly open. Crossing the room, Menarggrah gripped the door and pulled, straining his muscles unsuccessfully against the metal. His head whisked around as they heard the heavy clomping of boots coming down the right corridor.
It was a lone stormtrooper, running with hand held aloft. Stoge snapped the repeating blaster into position and fired a split second behind Karlos. The armoured imperial was cut down, too late- the metallic sphere flew from his hand and skittered across the plating toward them. The rebels flung themselves prone.
There was a deafening blast as the room was filled with fire and debris, shaking the walls with the force of the shockwave. The world was suddenly a disorienting mass of black smoke and flying particles, then there was only the whirling haze and ringing of ears.
Straun coughed and rose to his feet, dusting himself off. Stoge was reeling around the room in a daze and Veet had been flung out of the room, but everyone seemed ok.
Then he saw Menarggrah.
The huge shape of the wookiee was crumpled on the floor, silent and still. Karlos nudged him with his foot. He didn't move. The gunfighter glanced to Surge, eyes wide with concern.
The man of medicine dropped to his knees and bent over the furry body, trying to recall the details of wookiee anatomy from his training. Menarggrah hadn't been close to the epicentre of the blast, but large chunks of shrapnel had caught him at the side of the head and thigh.
Wow" said Stoge in an awed voice. "I didn't think ANYTHING could stop the big guy".

[GM's note: neither did I. Menarggrah has 5D str, and was brought down by 3D damage- it can happen!]


Dar stared down the corridor, absently running his fingers down the blade of his sword as he kept watch. Here he was again, standing on a small artificial world. Most citizens of the wider galaxy seemed to be like his friends- floating amid the systems on ships, living their lives on stations like these. He knew in his mind that they were from other cultures and this must seem natural to them, but his heart couldn't shake what it felt.
Nobody else seemed to know, really know, where home was.
No attachment to their places of birth (small wonder, if they were metal boxes drifting in space). Little attachment to their family. Most of the rebels were the same, even those he had met from Alderaan. Whilst Dar fought to protect his people, so many others focused primarily on destroying the Empire.
They fought AGAINST something. Dar fought FOR his cause.
<chink> of electrospurs behind him gained his attention. Karlos looked relieved.
He's awake" he said.
They found Menarggrah sitting on the floor, holding his head and making a sound between a growl and a whimper. As the wookiee climbed groggily to his feet, he <grrrmph>ed his thanks to Surge. Being an outgoing wookiee, he had always tended to overlook the quiet medic, but now he felt an awed appreciation of his skills that almost reached the depth of a life-debt.
They continued on, wary of time ticking away but more cautious than the beginning of the assault. A few corridor twists more, and they found themselves at a large, important looking double door.
Karlos tried the lock for a few minutes, then threw up his hands in frustration. "
It's beyond me" he shrugged.
Surge moved forward, bringing out his vibrocutter. The tool gnawed uselessly at the door for a while before he gave up.
I could try-" began Straun, reaching for his lightsaber, but Dar was already moving. Activating his vibroblade, he braced himself and, grunting with the effort, pushed the weapon through the metal.
At last there was a defeated clunking sound from the other side of the door, and Stoge pushed it open with a boot.
A giant chamber lay before them. Large banks of computers at the far end indicated that it was the room they were looking for. Set into pits in the floor were row upon row of cylinders- dozens of them, standing vertically and as thick as a large doorway. An unsettling silence reigned. Veet started taking holopictures.
Let's get to work" said Straun, motioning for the droid to join him.
Walking down the rows of cylinders, they all reached the computers. Veet plugged in and Surge jumped down among the cylinders.
What are they?" Asti asked as he studied a console. Surge straightened with shock and looked up at her.
It's hard to tell- they were made by another species, but it just might be the inverse of my career".

The comlink interrupted with a shriek. It was Hek's voice, broken by the sound of blaster fire. "Infidel team" it said, rushed and breathing heavily. "We were set up! heavy opposition has wiped out most of the squad- a new type of trooper, and they don't go down easy. They're heading your way- we'll delay them as long as we can. May the F-" his voice was cut off with a burst of static.

"Oh no" interrupted Veet in a quiet voice, withdrawing from the computers.
Oh no?" said Karlos. "What do you mean, oh no? You're getting data from-"
Suddenly the lighting in the room dimmed, then brightened, repeating the process with pulses of energy. The droid whistled.
Once I started accessing the files, some sort of beacon was activated. It doesn't look like normal security to me- it's like it was supposed to be set off".
So what you're trying to tell us" said Dar "Is that this is a trap".

The rebels looked at each other. Menarggrah spoke for them all.
{Let's get out of here!} he howled.
They ran- through the winding corridors, back the way they had come. On the way in they had been glad of the deserted corridors and lack of opposition; now they cursed their foolishness at not seeing the obvious. Up stairs, through doors, out into the perimeter passage and up to the airlock at a dead run, where they slid to a stop.
Look!" cried Asti, pointing out the viewport.
Only a kilometre off the Fell Infidel's port bow, and closing, the massive shape of a star destroyer dwarfed the station and their tiny ship. An icy fear touched them all at the sight of the giant, unstoppable warship moving toward them. The severed S-foil of White 3's X-Wing drifted lazily past the viewport. The trap was sprung.
No words were said. The rebels scrambled into the Infidel, rushing to their stations.
Dar swung the airlock closed with a shuddering clang.
Menarggrah threw his heavy bulk into the pilot's chair and powered up the ship.
Surge slid down the ladder into the lower turret, hearing Karlos strap in above him.
Straun started astronavigating. He didn't have to ask where they were going- he knew they'd all shout "ANYWHERE!!!". Even the short hop he planned seemed in vain- Menarggrah was all for jumping into hyperspace randomly rather than being caught by the Empire.
Asti snatched a headset from her console and held it to her mouth as she adjusted the sensors. "Karlos, Surge- two TIEs coming in" she said tensely.
The turrets opened fire. The TIEs had been coasting past on reconnoiter, expecting their prey to be trapped within the station, and didn't expect fire from the docked transport. Karlos winged his on its starboard solar panel, Surge blew off the cannons and one of the engines of his target. The TIE pilots fled to a respectful distance as fast as their damaged craft could fly.
Dar strode into the cockpit, holding a struggling Stoge and stopping him from running aft to the Z-98. "
I can take 'em, ya pansy" the pilot said gruffly. Dar pointed out in a soft voice that they main priority was to escape and his fighter didn't even have a hyperdrive.
The comm winked on. "
Fell Infidel" a harsh voice spoke. "This is the Victory Star Destroyer Desecrator. By order of the Emperor, you are requested to power down your engines and await boarding".
Hurry UP..." said Surge in a nervous voice.
The Fell Infidel swung away from the airlock roughly, engines flaring and turrets firing defiantly as it struggled to gain speed. Before it had covered a hundred metres there was a creaking shudder, and everyone lurched forward.
Tractor beam" Straun voiced the obvious.
Several despairing glances were exchanged.
Attempting to brighten the mood, Stoge flicked on the comm and said "
This is the Fell Infidel, requesting.. uh.. permission to board the VSD Desecrator".
Infidel" came the icy reply. "You will prepare to surrender as soon as you are aboard".
We'll.. er.. buy you a new cleaning droid, honest" said Karlos.
We had no choice" added Straun "it wanted to wash the wookiee".
The comm cut off.

Slowly, the Fell Infidel slid toward the mass of the Desecrator. Menarggrah pushed the throttle into the red, shaking the ship with the screaming of its engines, but the freighter made no headway against the grip of Imperial might. angrily, he shut down the engines and howled.
They all just stood there, watching the star destroyer grow larger through the transparisteel.

Nervous energy began to creep in.
Merarggrah began to conceal the more important objects he owned, in his fur.
Straun and Asti glanced at each other. "
No fear" Straun said grimly. Asti nodded in calm resolve.
Dar picked up Veet. With the droid under his arm, he strode aft to find the Infidel's small concealed compartment and placing the small astromech snugly inside.
Stay there" he instructed, noting the droid's winking photoreceptor as his slid the cover closed.
In the blackness, Veet powered down all non-essential systems and waited.

As the Infidel neared the star destroyer's giant docking bay, a sense of hopelessness covered them all. Inside they could see rows of TIE fighters and bombers on racks, a phalanx of troops assembled to meet them, At-Ats in storage, Imperial weaponry as far as the eye could see.
A squad of zero-G stormtroopers jetted out to their ship. One attached itself to the hull and moved into position at the life-support systems, the others cycled the airlock and entered the ship.
With a metallic sigh, the Fell Infidel settled to rest inside the docking bay of the Desecrator, defeated.

They were led out in binders, shoved roughly down the ramp of the ship. Surge had always wondered what would happen if he had been publicly known as a rebel- he had imagined jeering crowds and thrown fruit. The reality was the opposite, and it unnerved him even more: row upon row of armoured stormtroopers standing before them in unmoving discipline. It was an eerie feeling as they were forced onto a small repulsorlift sled.
Look" said Surge. Above them on a rack was a TIE interceptor that was painted a deep blood red.
Uh oh" said Stoge as the sled sped them away.

Many thoughts crossed many minds during the silent journey.
Karlos thought of the other time he had been captured by the Empire- on Agost, before he had met his friends. He had been beaten severely and led out to be executed, when he was rescued by a Wilder- his first meeting with Dar.
Dar thought of his capture and torture on Fo. He had been saved by his friends with the aid of the noble Kwol- this time there was no-one to help them.
Asti remembered her slavery under the Empire, and began to resolve herself to death when she began to feel a presence she had felt before...
Surge hoped against hope that the rest of White group had escaped and could reach help in time.
Stoge and Menarggrah looked for their moment to take someone important with them.
Straun began to feel cold.

It seemed like they travelled for miles, along corridors, into turbolifts. Dar, who had a good sense of direction and had studied the layout of a star destroyer as part of his research into the Empire, reasoned that they were heading up the command tower of the ship.
They were led into a room with a raised dais and more guards. One of them stepped forward with a smile of superiority and some kind of scanner.
Who do we have here?" he mused.
A smug, overconfident, Imperial wok head" answered Stoge, inciting a hard blaster butt to the back of the head. He grimaced in pain.
The guard scanned Dar, pausing to read from a computer terminal. "
Ah, the primitive we captured on Fo. Quite an impressive specimen- you may last a little while in the arena complex". He smiled until he saw the look in Dar's eyes, then averted his own and moved on.
He scanned Straun and Asti. "
It's them all right" he nodded to some troopers. They wrenched them roughly from the group and manhandled them down a corridor. Surge only had time to catch a brief glance of concern from Asti's eyes, then they were gone.
Surge was scanned. The guard shook his head as information filled the screen. "
What a waste" he commented "You could have lectured at the academy", then did a double-take at the results of Karlos' scan. "This can't be right" he muttered, then scanned him again.
OK" he admitted. "So you weren't disintegrated on Agost. We can soon fix that, and we may have to have a little talk with the Ice Man".
Too late" said Dar.
The guard grunted and scanned Menarggrah. "
Pirate scum" he said, keeping a respectful distance from the wookiee "A bandit turned idealist? You rebels are all the same". In spite of the tense situation, the rest of the rebels looked at Menarggrah in surprise. They'd never thought to ask him where he came from.
When the guard scanned Stoge, he gasped in shock. "
Oh my-" he began, then composed himself and spoke nervously into his comlink. "Sir, if I may, you'd better get down here... Yes sir, sorry sir, but... it's the group that escaped when Redfist died. Yes, Eegar's with them, sir".
They waited, some of the rebels struggling with their binders. Before long a door at the rear of the dais slid upward, and Commander Fynas stepped into view.
Stoge scowled. "
Hi Dad" he spat.
{Dad?} rumbled Menarggrah. This day was certainly having its share of surprises.
You worthless brat" Fynas glared. "Look at how low you've become- a disgraced criminal".
Gee, Dad" Stoge retorted cynically. "that sure sounds a lot worse than, say, betraying your own home planet for personal gain".
Fynas' nostrils flared with anger, and the rebels knew that Stoge had used the sharpened barb of truth. "
I should never have taught you to fly on the moons of Kettooine, upstart".
What are you gonna do?" Stoge sneered like his father. "Ground me? Check out this moon!" hampered by the binders, he struggled with the pants of his flight suit until restrained by his guard.
The Commander motioned to two of the stormtroopers. "
To answer your question, I'm going to trim the dead wood from the family tree". He nodded to the stormtrooper sergeant. "Take him back to the hangar".
As for the rest of these insurgents, get them to the arena complex, now".


As the two young jedi were escorted down a corridor under guard, Straun fought to control his fear. Here they were, captured by the Empire, inside a star destroyer being led to an unknown (and presumably hideous) fate. When he was with his friends and the blaster bolts were flying, he felt like they could take on the whole galaxy together. Now they were gone, and only he and Asti faced.. whatever lay before them. What could they do?
What would a Jedi do?
A Jedi?
Slowly, like a star appearing at twilight, a feeling began to swell inside him. A feeling he had known long ago as a child, the one voice that drove away the shadows and gave him courage to face the unknown. The voice came to him now inside his mind, and said simply:
Father" Straun whispered.
<Clear your mind of fear> Miguel's voice drifted in and out, clear then distant. <Keep your mind in the here and now. You must be awake and alert>.
<Above all, stay awake and alert. The Force will be with you...> it faded to silence. "Father" Straun said again, but the Jedi's voice was gone.
Heeding his father's words, Straun let himself relax, feeling the living Force within him and willing it to grow, to fortify his alertness. The first effect this had was that he noticed a shocked look on Asti's face, felt within her a mix of anguish, anticipation and.. recognition.
What is it?" he said softly as they turned into another corridor.
My father" she replied, a look of deep concern crossing her features. "He's here, on this ship, and in great pain". Her sense of helplessness was drawing her toward anger, but she was in control. Not yet, they both knew. Wait until the time to strike.
Their journey ended at a hexagonal door that hissed open to reveal a wide room that, apparently, was reserved for meetings on a typical star destroyer. Here it was an open space with a small central table and cage at either end, each the size of a visicomm booth.
Pushing them apart, the guards locked one of them in each, then left. The door hissed closed again, and they were alone in the dreadful silence.
Asti looked around the room. The Empire had obviously been expecting them.


Commander Tilldorn Fynas cast his gaze over the dozen officers before him. Most of them were classic Imperial officer stock- soft, rich nobles that had supported Chancellor Palpatine in the last corrupt days of the Republic. This type lived on pride drawn from stature- none of them had fought their way up through the ranks. He had come from different lineage- earning their respect was not easy.
But today- today he would not only have their respect, but awe.
Gentlemen" he said, motioning for them to be seated "behind this screen you will witness the dawn of a new age of Imperial military domination. From strength to strength, our war machine has neared perfection for the last thirty years. It reaches it today. I regret that I must attend to an unexpected personal matter, but within the hour you will see a demonstration you will not forget".
But first a look at how this came to be. A question: what is the greatest military means of ruling the galaxy?"
There was silence for a moment. "
Fear" ventured a general.
Fynas fought to stifle a sneer. "
Textbook Tarkin philosophy- and it did have its day. But rebel victories, while insignificant to our war machine, have destroyed that. Yavin made our most powerful weapon a laughing stock, and unless the Emperor can construct another and decimate the rebels with it, it will be ineffective. The galaxy has been offered hope, and rule by fear is eroding. No, we cannot rely on that".
The fleet" stated a moustached captain.
Fynas nodded patiently. "
A better answer, but still incorrect. The Star Destroyer is an awesome achievement- we can blockade a planet and pound its defences to slag as we did at Perodeen, but..."
But that doesn't gain us an inch of territory" interjected captain Doenshe with a nod of understanding.
Exactly" the commander nodded again, this time with respect. "Territory is only gained -and only held- by one means".
Ground troops" the murmur rippled among the small assembly. One of the officers, a general Haiken, rose to his feet.
We already have excellent ground forces, commander. Our stormtroopers are-"
You are correct" Fynas cut him off. "We have highly trained, well equipped troops. But you're still thinking too small- the Empire doesn't have enough for every system. The outer rim, the corporate sector, some of our more densely populated systems- all impossible to efficiently control, which has allowed the breeding of rebellion. But that will now change".
Tell me- before Palpatine rose to power, how did he amass his troops?"
He made them" Doenshe answered. "They were Federation battle droids- loyal and easy to mass produce, but without efficient combat reflexes".
Precisely. Their shortcomings necessitated the creation of the stormtrooper army. What about cloning?"
Spaarti cloning cylinders have a major fault" retorted Haiken. "If you tried to produce clones at a rapid rate, their mental capabilities were stunted and they turned insane. Kamino clones are better, but good ones take ten years to produce".
Correct" said Fynas. He straightened as the effect of his words began to sink in, and called a scientific officer to take over the demonstration. "Two failed means, gentlemen, by which troops could be produced by the thousands, both methods with weaknesses but each with a great strength".
The solution was obvious".


As the guards filed out the door behind them, Karlos, Surge, Menarggrah and Dar stood looking at the large room they had been led into. It was half the size of a sporting field, dotted with crates, metal slabs and other obstructions, with a large door at the far end. Above them, to their left, a group of Imperial officers watched intently from another room with a transparisteel window. One of them pressed a button on the wall.
Their binders sprang open and clattered to the floor.
Does anyone else" inquired Surge "have a bad feeling about this?"
One of the guards had deposited a metal case inside the door. Karlos opened it and pulled out an object.
It was his eight-gun.
Yep" he agreed. He spun around and fired. The bullet whined off the transparisteel, making most of the officers jump back.
The case contained weapons for all of them- Dar's vibroblade, Surge's blaster, and Menarggrah's bowcaster. They'd even given them their comlinks. Dar noted the shortcomings of Imperial intelligence- they knew what types of weapons they used and had brought them from the Infidel, but they didn't know their preferences. Dar favoured his sword over the vibroblade, and Menarggrah had never used his bowcaster in combat.
He used it now, also firing at the officers. It also ricocheted, detonating on one of the obstacles. One of the officers laughed.
{Magnetic seal} growled the wookiee.
Uh, guys?" Surge got their attention.
At the other end of the arena complex, the door began to rise.


"Well that's something, at least" Asti gave a grunt and, with a final effort of contortion, removed the binders from her wrists. Dropping them on the floor of the cage, she tested the strength of the bars. Straun began to remove his binders also, using the force to manipulate the joints of his hands.
They waited.
What are we doing here?" Asti asked, her voice echoing in the stillness of the room. "They haven't killed us. If they want to torture us, why this strange cell?"
Maybe it has more audience room" Straun suggested tensely.
And why is my father here? Why keep an Imperial slave on a star destroyer?"
Hardly a coincidence" said a third voice as the door slid open.

Into the room stepped a man in dark grey robes leading Anatar, Asti's father, in a ragged prison uniform. He had obviously been tortured badly, and could only croak his surprise at seeing his daughter.
Your connection with him" said the robed man "is how I found you".
But how did you know that she was strong in the Force?" Straun demanded. "Nobody knows who we are". The two young jedi exchanged strengthening glances.
You underestimate the Dark Side" said the man. "I have brought Asti here to train her, as I have before..."
He pulled back his hood, to reveal the strong features of a middle-aged human.
Ledean!" Asti gasped. "But.. you helped me escape! You were a slave on Axat too!"
Indeed I was" he grinned. "until a ship stopped on Axat to pick up some torture droids en route to the death star. On board was Lord Vader, and he sensed in me the potential to serve him as these uniformed children never can. He has shown me the true nature of the Force, as I now offer it to you".
Setting down the datapad he carried on the table, he placed two objects beside it- Asti's force lash and Straun's lightsaber. "
You are both growing in strength, and need to embrace its real source; fear, anger".
Straun addressed him with a calm resolve. "
I would sooner die than join a Sith Lord!" he said with determination.
Ledean met his eyes. "
There are only two Sith Lords, and I am not one of them. I am taught only what I need to serve Vader, so I cannot be a threat to him. But with the two of you...".
He turned again. "
There is your choice, Asti. I offer you the chance to join me and defeat Darth Vader himself, claiming his power for our own. He is the one who enslaved your father here. Defeating him is the one chance your rebellion has".
Time seeped like molasses. The chance to defeat Vader! Straun considered the offer for a long second, then rejected it. This man could not be dealt with.
No" breathed Asti, as if agreeing. "Never".
Expression left the man's face. "
A pity. I had hoped you would turn willingly. But if you will not embrace your anger, it must embrace you!". With a swift movement, he placed his outstretched hand over Anatar's face.
As they looked on helplessly, a flow of electricity washed over Asti's father. He shook uncontrollably with the force of the onslaught, mouth open in a silent scream, then relaxed as his tortured body was pushed past its limits.
Anatar slid to the floor, dead.
Asti went beserk.


The Z-98 had been taken out of the Infidel and sat on the hangar deck as Stoge was force-marched toward it.
Adjusting his helmet and flight suit, Stoge paused on the ladder and looked around. Alone among enemies, his fighter in a VSD, about to duel his own father to the death. The name of Tilldorn Fynas was renowned among TIE pilots- his father had become an officer the hard way. And what if Stoge won? he'd be stranded here with no hyperdrive and only a star destroyer for company. Man, did he need a drink.
Across the hangar sat the Infidel. At this distance, surrounded and violated by the Empire, their faithful ship felt to him like a mistreated pet.
He looked up. His father had climbed into his personal red TIE Interceptor, and it was being slowly lowered from the rack.
Stoge threw himself into the cockpit. "
Once more unto the void" he said, and powered up the engines.


The arena door slid upward to reveal four figures. Three of them were stormtroopers of a kind they had never seen before, their black armour glistening as they surveyed the arena chamber with the same commanding stance, blaster rifles at the ready. The fourth figure was a black-furred Wookiee whose repeating blaster moved with his cold gaze.
{How could he serve the Empire?} Menaggrah wondered aloud at the traitor to his kind. Removing two objects from his fur, the rebel wookiee slid them onto his hands- metal fighting claws from Kashyyyk.
You have claws of your own" Surge interjected. "What's to stop you using them instead?"
{Honour} replied Menarggrah.
Without a word or gesture spoken between any of them, the unknown Imperials fanned out into combat positions. One of the troopers clambered up a section of hull plating and sought cover where he could have a good field of fire, acting as a lookout.
Prepare" said Dar, activating his vibroblade.

"As you can see" Dovin the technician addressed the watching officers "our units are capable of both orbitally linked tactical cohesion and independent operation. Their opponents are known rebel veterans operating as a typical comlinked force- watch closely".

They saw Surge first, the lookout spotting him as he crept from a crate to hide behind a detached TIE fighter wing. From Surge's perspective it was eerie- two of the troopers who had previously been out of his line of sight instantly changed direction toward him. The lookout fired, a very accurate long range shot that narrowly missed the medic's head and forced him to roll and run. He let off some suppressing fire at the troopers walking toward him, then dived behind a cargo container.
He breathed hard and thought harder. The troopers appeared to be hardened veterans- they hadn't flinched when fired at. They just kept coming, one firing cooly from the hip, the other watching for a trap.
Which it was. Dar sprang from cover and swung hard, roaring like an Agostian grassstorm. The trooper moved fast, bringing his blaster rifle up to block the weapon, but Dar was faster. The vibroblade sheared through the rifle, bit into the armour of the trooper's forearm, and stuck.
Giving no visible sign of pain, the trooper smashed Dar solidly in the face with the severed rifle butt. The Agostian native lifted the trooper and swung him around as a shield, keeping the other trooper from firing at him.
As they grappled, Surge ran from cover to aid his friend.


The eerie feelings just got worse. As he coasted out of the docking bay and under the belly of the star destroyer, Stoge looked up and watched the banks of turbolaser cannons track him, not firing. He felt like an insect scuttling across a dance floor, with the music about to start.
He opened the S-foils and dropped his eyes to the sensors. His father's TIE interceptor screamed from its mother ship, deftly spun on its starboard wing and headed in the opposite direction, gaining distance for the combat to begin. Both ships turned about five kilometers out from the Desecrator, accelerating to attack speed and jockeying for a suitable striking vector.

They fired at almost the same moment, red and green needling through the black. The aim of both pilots was true. Stoge scored a hit on the Interceptor's port panel, noting the glow of energy shielding. The Z-98 jolted violently as Tilldorn damaged its shield generator, making Stoge curse as the fighters swept past each other.
Instantly Tilldorn moved to press the advantage, pushing his machine to the limit with an extremely tight high speed firing split-S maneuver. This was a bold move- too bold. Physics came into play and the TIE interceptor spun away from its intended path, stalling briefly before the commander could regain control. It was an instant Stoge could have pounced on, but he was too slow in coming around again. In a moment the red Interceptor had looped around the bridge of the Desecrator and came back at him, firing.
Stoge felt a moment of real fear as his ship was hit again, at the same point. The shield generator was blown out into a cloud of superheated shards that swept behind him and disappeared into the black.
He swallowed. His father was good, really good. Better than he remembered. Exaggerating the damage, he rolled the Z-98 into a difficult and deceptive manouver he called "punch-drunk", whereby his damaged ship appeared to be erratic and out of control. While remaining hard to hit, it allowed him to discreetly work his ship's nose around to firing position.
It was well executed, and it almost worked. Tilldorn had drawn closer to line up the crazily twisting craft when he spotted the deception and spun the TIE to port as his cockpit filled with the red light of a near-miss.
And then, unexpectedly, both pilots were distracted by the magnificent sight of two capital-class starships streaking out of the darkness- the Vigilant and Usurper dropping out of hyperspace.
Yeah!" Stoge whooped into his headset. "White group made it!". Now that there was a Calamari cruiser and a Nebulon B frigate to stand with him against the station and star destroyer, it was almost a fair fight.
Tilldorn didn't hesitate. "
Desecrator" he addressed his crew coldly "TIE launch pattern SK. Fleuret and Estoc squadrons are on bombardment, Gladius and Pilum take interception. I'll be with you shortly".
Cutting the throttle, the Commander slammed the TIE interceptor into an inverted loop and found that the two fighters were once again racing directly at each other. His eyes narrowed as he aimed his cannons.
Stoge levelled his damaged fighter, his narrowing eyes duplicating his father's expression as his thumb hovered over the firing button. Seeing that he would only get one more chance, he drew upon all of his reserves to focus himself on one final shot. Courage, will and concentration were tempered into pilot's skill, mixed with timing and garnished with luck.
Both fighters fired as one. The blaster cannons of the Z-98 lanced through Tilldorn's interceptor and into the ion engines- it splintered apart in a fiery explosion that hurt the eyes. Three of the bolts of its final shot passed between Stoge's S-foils, the forth leaving carbon scoring as it sent the little fighter shuddering. With some effort and a sick, empty feeling inside him, Stoge held control.
He glanced over his shoulder to see TIEs streaming from the Desecrator as the first rebel broadcasts reached his ears. The battle was joined.

[GM's Note: Stoge's player used a force point in his final shot. Tilldorn had three hull dice to roll for defence- he got a 1 on all of them. With a reroll of the wild die and a house rule we used, he made a defense roll of -3. Ouch.]


Had he not been fighting for his life, Dar would have been puzzled. He'd once laid out a gamorrean with a single punch to the jaw, yet these humanoid troopers seemed to shrug off all but his hardest blows.
That wasn't the strangest part. Every other warrior he had fought had exuded their attitude to the battle- bravado, fear, hatred. These troopers fought silently, and even their body language revealed nothing.
With a last great effort he swung the vibroblade into the troopers neck as Surge fired two point-blank shots into it. Dar withdrew his blade quickly as the Imperial collapsed and turned to face the other trooper, but he had seemingly vanished.

Thanks to some careful stealth, Menarggrah now had the dark wookiee dead to rights- for all the good it did him.
The bowcaster shot went wide, causing the dark wookiee to fire reflexively in his direction. Menarggrah ducked the burst, cocking his slow-loading weapon, and fired again. That shot sailed into the air, missing its target completely, and blew apart a recording lens on the far wall.
He set down the unfamiliar weapon.
{Been away from Kashyyyk too long} he lamented, and worked his way around some crates as the dark wookiee moved in.
Springing from cover, metal claws raised, Menarggrah had more sense than to attack the other wookiee directly and instead threw all his weight onto the repeating blaster, sending it flying. Grasping each other viciously, the wookiees fought for supremacy.

"Who ARE these guys?" Karlos asked Surge as he arrived. The medic shrugged, then they all ducked another blaster shot from the distant trooper who held the high ground.
Surge looked over at the fallen trooper beside them. On an impulse, he crept to the body and worked at the fastening of the helmet. Taking it off, he gasped with shock: the human face beneath was a younger version of Emperor Palpatine!
I was right" Surge exclaimed. "Those were cloning cylinders on the station. He was probably custom-gened with some of their best fighters and given the Emperor's face".
They jumped back reflexively as Dar reached across and severed the head with a clean blow. Picking it up, he threw it into the weapons case.
What are you doing?" Karlos' voice had a sickened edge to it.
Not again" Surge added. "That wampa pelt still stinks out half the ship".
Dar turned to them and they saw triumph in his eyes, mixed with longing. "
I'm keeping a promise. A very important one".
Great" Karlos nodded, eyes scanning the area. "We've stayed in one place far too long. Let's go kic-"
Wait" Surge interrupted. He knelt and studied the neck stump of the fallen Imperial. "Look at this- a metallic alloy skeletal structure, with neural microprosthetics and biochanics in the brain stem! How could they possibly have done that?" He felt a tingling sensation as the implications set in.
So?" Karlos fumed impatiently. "So what?"
Surge looked at him with a concern that went beyond the fact that their lives were in immediate danger. "
This is big, Karlos. We've stumbled onto something really important, and we have to get word to the Alliance".
Karlos saluted with his eight-gun. "
We'll get there" he said. "One bullet at a time".

Menarggrah roared as a heavy swipe from a black-furred fist caught him full in the face. Staggering back a step, he blocked the follow-up swing and drove a solid clawed strike into the dark wookiee's stomach. This time it at least seemed to feel it, flinching as it tried to hit him with a double-fisted wallop.
The comlink on his bandolier beeped. "
Menarggrah" Surge's voice crackled. "These things are some kind of new Imperial weapon; a sentient, prosthetic and droid hybrid. They aren't human troopers and that's not a real wookiee. Be careful".
Unable to take the time to reply, Menarggrah shifted the balance on his feet as the dark wookiee came in again. Not a mercenary without honour, not a brainwashed Imperial dupe, but something far worse- a twisted, perverse distortion of his kind. A foul creation from the evil of the Empire that dared masquerade as one of his noble race.
The thought filled Menarggrah, reaching down into the depths of who he was and finding something there that only a real wookiee could have.
Pure, savage RAGE.


Asti dropped to her knees inside the cage, sobbing hysterically as she saw the terrible sight of her dead father before her. To look for him for so long, to endure so much with him, and to have it end like this, was unbearable.
Ledean reveled in it. "
Yes!" he nodded, facing her with a commanding stance. "I can feel your pain turning to anger. Embrace it!"
Behind him, in the other cage, Straun saw his chance.
Ledean frowned at Asti. "
Your control is strong- stronger than I had thought. No matter, your anger will grow even more-"
Reaching his hand through the bars, Straun tried to be calm and let the force flow. Lifting silently from the table, his lightsaber flew to his waiting hand.
-when your friend is struck down in battle" Ledean finished, motioning behind him with a finger. Straun's cage clicked open.


"Another element at point two-seven, white ten" Stoge said hurriedly, pouncing on a TIE bomber as it lined itself up for a bombing run. Killing it with an instinctive burst, he looped over the bulk of the Vigilant, Greer on his wing.
Below and to the starboard, he could see the Ginn station breaking apart under the bombardment of the rebel ships. The Vigilant had taken damage, but was holding. Above him a squadron of Y-Wings launched from the Usurper, and Stoge's breath caught in his throat as he saw them form up in a bombing formation aimed at the Desecrator.
My friends are on that ship!" he said helplessly.
Greer's voice crackled in his headset, thick with sorrow. "
They're captured by the Empire, boss. You know what they do to Rebel prisoners. There's nothing we can do".
Stoge was silent for a moment as he watched the battle, the darting energy and tiny flashes of extinguishing lives amid the tranquility of space. Then he slammed the throttle forward with an air of finality.
Bloody oath there's something we can do. We can make it quick for them. White eight, white two, form up on me. Let's give those Y-Wings a clean run".


Straun hesitated. He'd thought he had a chance to strike only to find that Ledean had expected it, had planned it to happen. Uncertainty swelled within him, but he cast it from his mind before it became fear. He was of the Jedi.
Dropping into a combat stance, he activated the lightsaber as it came to ready position.
Leadean laughed, a mocking sound projecting confidence as he raised his hands.
Energy crackled from his outstretched fingers, engulfing the young Jedi. Straun could not stifle a scream as electrified agony washed over him, then it was gone.
Straun still stood, albeit shakily. By the Force, Ledean was powerful! He had not only felt a terrible pain but a palpable hatred, as if the man's aggression had become raw power. His eyes met the dark servant's piercing glare, then Straun started forward.
Asti thrust her hand through the bars. The force lash jumped into it.
The lightning came again, but this time Straun caught some of it on the blade. Gritting his teeth and shuddering with the effort, he strode against the tide of power through sheer force of will. But it was everywhere at once, millions of needles of pain that flowed through his very being, tearing at his control, his confidence, and finally his consciousness.
When he was just two steps from Ledean, Straun crumpled to the ground and lay still.
Impressive" Ledean commented. "But futile". As Asti cut through the bars and stepped from the cage, Straun's lightsaber leaped to his hand and he turned to her.
And now that you feel the anger, your training can begin".


"It's dead, Menarggrah" said Surge. "You can stop hitting it now".
Menarggrah dropped the dark wookiee to the ground where it lay unmoving. He kicked it once more to express his distaste at its creation.
There was a loud
The stormtrooper on the high ground glanced around as a bullet whined from his helmet. He squeezed off three shots in retaliation before a second
<CRACK!> coincided with a hole in his helmet's eyepiece. The trooper toppled lifelessly from his position and clanged onto a metal storage bin.
Karlos stepped into view, eight-gun smoking. "
Sheesh" he exclaimed, eyeing the scorched hole in his poncho.

In the viewing room, Captain Doensche gasped as he saw Dar and Menarggrah take down the last trooper by attacking from two angles. General Haiken brought the full intimidating power of his moustache to bear on technician Dovin. "A very impressive demonstration" he snarled sarcastically in his face. "I assume the arena chamber is sealed against any means of them getting out?"
Er.." said Dovin, consulting a datapad. "They weren't supposed to win".
Get some troops down there!" bellowed the General. "NOW!!"
Officers and rebels suddenly lurched as the giant ship rumbled and shook.


Orange and blue met in a shower of sparks, the hiss and crackle of energy accompanying the blur of colour as the combatants fought. The Servant of the Sith fought with a flurry of combinations that spoke of training tempered with experience.
It was all Asti could do to keep Ledean's attacks at bay, yet the more difficult battle took place within herself. Her father was dead, Straun was in a coma or slain, all of her friends were probably dead as well. There seemed no escape, and it was all due to this man, who had once been her friend and mentor.
The anger of betrayal was a difficult foe.
The floor rumbled.
She aimed a strike at his head to draw up his guard, then twisted her wrist and cut low, pulse racing and fighting down the fear that any hesitation or slip was death. Ledean swatted the attack hurriedly.
Excellent!" he cried over the sound of their crashing weapons. "Your skills have grown beyond what I had thought. Realise your anger for what it is, and embrace its powAARRGHH!" he cried as the Force Lash bent around his blocking saber and caught him on the shoulder.
I am of the Jedi" she retorted simply, seizing the moment and cutting him again across the chest as he staggered back.
The moment was soon gone, Ledean forced to the defensive but quickly recovering and pressing his attack. Asti was aware of the Force guiding her actions, her arms moving with little effort and the speed of thought to parry the deadly blue blade.
If that is your choice" Ledean growled savagely "Then your destiny awaits. To be a Jedi is to be dead!" With a feint and sudden step, he closed the distance between them and brought all his weight smashing down onto Asti's guard. She was thrown to the floor, Force Lash spinning away, and could only lay there as her former mentor stood over her, saber raised.

Straun felt like he was drowning from within, awhirl in a morass of black pain. There was no up or down, here or there. He spun inside himself on currents and eddies of awareness.
Awake and alert
A greyness penetrated the ebony, and Straun felt the presence of.. life. His own life and others- life itself made energy. Pulling at him, calling him out of the darkness. An unheard voice, and growing louder.
Awake and alert
With an effort he moved toward it, neither walking or swimming, just.. moving (or was it coming to him?). The universe seemed to brighten in pulses.
Awake and alert
With a slow exertion, Straun dragged open his eyes.
He lay on the floor, barely able to move, and felt his body ache. On the other side of the room Asti and Ledean dueled with their sabers. Asti was fighting magnificently, better than she ever had in training, but it was obvious that she was losing. Both were mouthing words that were lost in the pounding within Straun's ears.
Awake and alert
Straun knew then that he was only conscious because of the power of the Force used at his father's suggestion. Not that it did him any good- he was weaponless and couldn't even stand.
With a savage blow Asti was thrown to the floor, force lash barely out of her grasp. Ledean stood over her, grasping his wound with his free hand and savouring the moment before the killing strike. Time froze.
She could do nothing- no time to call her weapon to her hand and bring it up before the last blow fell. Straun felt helpless.
His eyes shifted focus to the datapad on the table. If he used it to attack Ledean it might give her the time she needed. But what had Tiacc, their teacher, told them? This misuse of your abilities is of the Dark Side. Many thought that they could turn to the Dark Side just once. Their folly consumed them.
Maybe, just maybe, he could save Asti's life. But the only way to do it was to risk turning to the Dark Side himself.

[GM's Note: I had thought of this situation months before and had hoped things would work out this way, that Straun would be faced with this terrible choice. Bwa ha ha!]

In reality it may only have been the time taken to draw a breath, but the power of the moment and the magnitude of the choice stretched the passing seconds to an eternity. To watch his friend die or to look the black maw of the Dark Side full in the face?
Hardening his resolve, Straun extended his hand to use the Force to attack.

Asti knew that she would die. Always cool in a crisis, she focused herself not on searching for an escape that did not exist (joining Ledean was not an option), but on going to her death without fear, without regret.
A feeling flickered over her, a sense of hope and urgency from Straun. She barely had time to register its meaning before there was a deep thumping sound and Ledean lurched to the side, groaning. The force lash was in her hand in an instant, activating as it came up, and Lord Vader's servant was no more.

Dropping her weapon beside Ledean's body, she leaped to her feet and ran to her father, but he was beyond help. Straun had picked himself up to hands and knees but failed to acknowledge her, eyes closed and hissing through gritted teeth. She sensed conflict deep within him, at the core of who he was, then he relaxed.
He opened his eyes, and Asti saw peace in them, calm. "
The power" he said. "striking out with it, giving in to yourself, it's so seductive. It's not about defence and attack. It's about using it for others or using it for yourself".
It sounds to me" said Asti "like that's why you won. Let's go".

[GM's note: It came down to a roll of a single die. If Straun's player had rolled a 1 he would have been consumed by the Dark Side. He rolled a 6: not a dry eye in the house]


The ship shook again, making Dovin lurch to one knee and Captain Doensche almost drop the comlink. "I don't care what he said" he bellowed. "Align for the jump NOW- that's an order. The hull is going to fail, and the Apocalyptic won't make it here in time".
The door hissed open behind the assembled officers. They turned to be confronted with one of the fastest guns in the sector and an enraged wookiee with a repeating blaster.
The officers reached for their weapons. Two almost made it.

Surge and Dar had been covering a corridor (and trying to ignore the shaking floor) when a humming shaft of blue energy thrust through a locked door. Straun and Asti stepped through warily and both looked terrible.
The arena complex was easy to find" Asti commented as Karlos and Menarggrah joined them from the massacre.
This way" Dar pointed back past the viewing room. "Officers quarters have their own escape pod". With the deafening noise of groaning metal in their ears, they ran.
{Our ship..} Menarggrah lamented.


"It's going, White Leader" reported Tesko in White 2, juking to avoid turbolaser fire as he skimmed over the Desecrator's massive surface.
Stoge didn't reply, overcome by loss. Greer gave the order. "
White group, get clear. She's gonna blow" he said, pulling back on the stick.
As the snub fighters scrambled to escape, the great ship erupted in a fierce firestorm, incinerating a luckless X-Wing too close to the engines. The rest were thrown across the sky by the shockwave as giant sections of spinning debris speared into the blackness. The brightness of the explosion blossomed in space for a moment, then vanished. Only a temporary imprint on the retina indicated that the Desecrator had ever been.
White group" Stoge's cracking voice transmitted as he turned the Z-98 back around "mop up any TIEs refusing to power down, but leave any pods alone. Fraggine wants prisoners". And, he added to himself, I need to remove false hope.
Any rebel craft" a droid's voice came over the comm. "Please don't shoot. This is the Fell Infidel, and I'd like someone to keep any TIEs away. I can't do much more than fly this thing in a straight line".
Veet?" said Stoge. "What happened? Is anyone else alive?"
Don't know" the droid's voice came again. "When the ship started shaking I just headed out of the docking bay".
I've got escort, White group" Stoge regained his professional tone. "You have your orders, now let's finish the job and get out of here". Waggling his wings, he flashed past an escape pod and headed for the distant transport.


A sunset orange curtain of nebulae hung over the damaged ships like a tender veil, softly illuminating the clusters of worker droids as they scuttled over the battered hulls of the Vigilant and Usurper.
Inside the Vigilant was a stark contrast to the hive of activity. The great hall was filled with row upon row of rebel soldiers standing at attention borne not only of military discipline but of respect. On the dais they were facing stood six humans and a wookiee.
As the assembly broke into spontaneous applause, the seven were awarded a gleaming symbol, the Shield of Hope. Having found themselves in the clutches of the Empire, in a place devoid of hope, they had all found the courage in adversity that typified the rebellion, and brought down a plan that would have tightened the Empire's stranglehold on the galaxy.

"Strewth, do I hate tacky ceremonies" said Stoge, tossing the Shield of Hope onto one of the Infidel's acceleration couches. Still, he thought, there might be a good pick-up line in it somewhere.
He wandered into the cockpit, where everyone else was at their station or looking out of the cockpit as the Fell Infidel slid from the Usurper's docking bay.
Dar turned the medal over in his hands. Straun wondered for a moment where he could pin it. "
I feel like we have achieved" he said. "Like my tribe walks closer to safety".
{I hope so} rumbled Menarggrah gently. {I wish your people could have been there, they would have been proud of you}.
That was just what I needed" Karlos stated with sarcasm as he tossed his hat onto the landing gear handle. "More attention. First I'm a wanted man, then I'm a wanted rebel, now I'm a wanted rebel war hero".
Hero" Straun echoed the word, pondering it. "I never thought of myself as a hero".
Don't kid yourself" Surge injected reality. "Think of the thousands of worlds out there the Empire has control of. Everybody fights this war, one way or another. There are a lot of battles to come, and a lot of brave people are going to die".
Asti nodded, agreeing. "
When this war is over, if anyone remembers us it'll be that we were just ordinary people who got the job done".
Alright then" said Straun, slipping his medal into a pocket. "Let's get the job done".
Menarggrah barked his assent.
The Infidel turned gracefully, arcing smoothly away from the nebula, and when its engines flared it accelerated away to the stars so that in a moment it was just another point of light among thousands.