Domus Prime:


Chapter XI

Something wet and sticky splattered all over Devron. In-between the real world and the blackness threatening to overcome him, in the red murky haze, a voice jabbered something in Basic. The red beginning to fade, Devron levered himself up to see what he landed on.

Kala fruits. 

“Damn, aren’t I lucky today?” Devron wondered, pulling a cracked fruit out from under him and taking a bite as he gets up. He turned to face the angry fruit vendor and reached into his boot, bringing out a couple hundred Republic credits and relieving the man’s anger. That done, Devron took a moment to orientate himself before heading toward the Palace. He noticed a clothing store up ahead. ‘Why not?’

Stripping off his wet armour, leaving the black bodysuit and boots on, Devron walked into the store. Ten minutes later, he exited, wearing a business suit, like the other tens of thousands of people walking or driving landspeeders along Coruscant St. Up ahead, the Palace loomed in the sky like a mountain. Devron stepped over to the street curb, waving his hand in the air for a taxispeeder.

“Where ya goin’? You lazy and want a ride to the Skipray crash? It’s only five streets down, you know.”

“No, I want a ride to the Ralx and Serol commercial cybernetics building.”

In response, the driver kicked the landspeeder into motion, driving well above the speed limit toward the building. A few minutes later, the guy pulled up at the building. “That’ll be one hundred and twenty eight standard Republic credits.”

Devron paid him one hundred and fifty, told him to keep whatever he wanted, and stepped out of the speeder. Perfect – the Imperials had not messed with the layout of Coruscant St. Before going into the cybernetics building, Devron stepped into the Coruscant St. Guns and Etc. store.

“Whad ya want?” the man behind the counter asked, his feet propped up on the table in front of him. 

“Merr-Sonn 36T carbine and a fifteen metre length of syntherope.”

“Yeh, yeh, be right back.” The man lumbers off into the back room, coming back out with five power packs, his weapon and his syntherope. “That be nine hundred and ten credits. Five power packs’re free with 36T.”

“Charge it to the palace under…” He hesitated for a second. What would it hurt? “Devron Zal.”

“Yeh, yeh.”

After concealing his weaponry, Devron hailed down another taxispeeder, paying the last of his credits to be taken down Republic St. to the bar and grill only a half-block from the Palace walls. Ten minutes later, upon reaching a section of the Palace wall where he could not be seen, he threw his syntherope up. It latched into the wall and stayed, allowing him to climb the wall, reposition the hook, and climb halfway back down before slipping.

Devron landed on his back with a thump. “Ouch,” he muttered. Getting up, he snatched his 36T out of its holster and sprinted the hundred to one hundred and twenty five metres to the Palace proper.

He reached the side of the Palace, giving him time to think and plan. Lobby and public relations on first floor, more junk on second floor, third floor, fourth. Fifth floor was residential for higher-up military officials. Sixth floor was the political floor, and seventh floor would be where the Queen was. Risking poking his head around the corner, Devron counted rows of windows up to the Queen’s chambers, ‘yep.’ Seventh floor. About twenty-five metres up. 

‘Might as well start on the fourth floor.’ Devron launched his syntherope grappling hook up three times. On the third, it finally caught, and he started climbing the wall as inconspicuously as possible.

‘When is my luck ever gonna run out?’ he thought as, upon reaching the fourth floor, a window lay open ready for him to just step inside.

“What the-?”

Devron turned to encounter a group of two Imperial troopers. Instinctively bringing his gun up, he double tapped the trigger, sending two bolts at the first trooper’s head. As the second trooper brought his own rifle to bear, Devron launched himself to the side, his left shoulder impacting on the ground and helping to cleanly execute a tuck and roll. He came up on a knee, blasting the second trooper down with three shots to the leg, chest and neck. ‘Hopefully, nobody heard that.’

Taking time to make sure where he was, Devron started off toward the nearest turbolift and, when inside, ordered it to the seventh floor. The doors slid open quietly, depositing him in the War Room. The room in question was silent, with no Imperial troops poking around to discover Royal Forces secrets. ‘What gives?’

Shrugging the question off for now, he made his way to the main hallway toward the Queen’s room. He ran down the hallway, slipping into her room with his gun at the ready.

Nobody. 

‘Is the whole seventh floor deserted? … Wait a second. What if they’re pulling out and they snatched the Queen?

‘Don’t be a devil’s advocate, Devron,’ he admonished himself. ‘She’s friends with the Grand Admiral. Maybe she’s with him.’

That done, he made his way toward the War Room again, and down another hallway to the Grand Admiral’s chambers. He rounded the final corner near his door and spotted a trio of stormtroopers marching toward his door, evidently to break in and grab some people. Devron pulled his carbine into firing position immediately, taking out two of them before they could turn around and nailing the third in the forehead twice. The threat dispatched, he opened the door and stepped inside. “Grand Admiral?” he shouted.

Ace, being told to guard, saw a man in an expensive business suit open the door and stroll casually in. “Hold it!” he ordered the man, levelling his own weapon at the other.

“Sithspawn!” Devron cursed upon seeing the attacker. Reflexively, he lunged to his right, doing a tuck and roll and coming up on a knee, levelling his blaster at the other’s head. For some reason, though, he refrained from pulling the trigger to dispatch his attacker.

Ace tracked the intruder with his blaster, keeping it trained on him after only a moment’s hesitation. His tracking is a bit slow, though, and the intruder managed to roll out of the line of fire and get his own weapon to bear. A half-second passed while Ace snapped his own blaster to train on the man, but held his fire, noticing that the intruder had not fired either. A second or two passed, both men keeping each other in their blaster sights.

Devron spoke first, after keeping his senses alert for any tightening of the trigger finger. “Who are you?”

Ace tightened his grip on his blaster. He carefully watched the intruder’s moves before replying. “My name is not important unless you are on Queen’s side.” The intruder remained silent and Ace adjusted his aim a little. Ace realised that the intruder would not hesitate to kill him. 

“I ask again, WHO… are you?” The intruder said aloud. “And yes, I’m on her side.” The intruder kept his eyes firmly at Ace, his blaster never moving. Doubt flickered across Ace’s face; he knew who would win if it came to firing.

Ace, without showing any fear, replied calmly. “In that case-” 

Suddenly the Queen entered the room, finding Ace and the intruder pointing their weapons at each other. “What on Domus Prime’s going on in here?” She looked questioningly at Ace.

“I recognise that voice”, the intruder said and slowly turned around to spot the Queen standing before him resplendent in her battle uniform. There was a pause as she finally saw who it was that Ace had been aiming at.

“Devron?” The Queen exclaimed in amazement and joy. “You came!”

“Yes, your Majesty.” Devron walked to her, bowing low, and it was all that the Queen could do to keep from embracing him. There was something in his eyes that she did not recognise though, something had happened, but she would not ask Devron in front of this stranger.

“Ace, everything’s alright.” The pilot lowered his blaster and closed the door. He stayed at the same place to keep guard. 

Devron turned his head to Ace, grinning. “We didn’t introduce ourselves. I am Devron Zal, General of the Royal Forces. And you?”  

Ace nodded brusquely. “Ace Azzameen, X-Wing pilot from Rebellion. I apologise for my behaviour, I didn’t recognise you.”

Devron looked at him for a few seconds before turning his sight back to the Queen. It was at this moment that Jester and Riddler entered the room also, and that Devron noticed K standing quietly by the wall. 

All five then started to discuss the troopers, and the seemingly hopeless situation they were in. Despite everything that had been done, the stormtroopers had control of large sections of the Palace, and the planet as well. It was going to be awfully hard for five people – six if Ace was included – to save Domus Prime.

Feeling somewhat left out, Ace leaned back against one of the walls and began to examine the condition of his blaster.

Sometime later, the Grand Admiral and Jester walked outside to finish the conversation that had barely begun when the Queen had sensed Devron’s somewhat dramatic arrival. 

The Riddler stared at Jester, trying to understand the animosity in his friend’s face. “What’s the matter?”

Jester only blinked before shaking his head emphatically. “You! You are the matter!”

The Grand Admiral was stunned, and it showed on his strongly featured face. A burst of fire flickered in his eyes momentarily. “What have I done?”

“Don’t play innocent with me. I don’t think you work for Her Highness. You haven’t made one Offensive against the Sith in months and you spend your days in your room living the life of a recluse. Hey… What’s the deal?” 

The Riddler smiled despite himself, deciding to confide in Jester. “I’m thinking of stepping down, Jester and starting a real life away from all the war.”

Jester laughed, thinking of all the stormtroopers that had seemingly taken over the Palace. “Yeah, right. War is what keeps you going.” It took a moment for Jester to realise that the Riddler had not done anything to actually fight the Sith or the stormtroopers since their arrival.

The Riddler looked suddenly sad and very tired. 

“I want a wife and a family and to live the rest of my life in peace. I love the glory of war but I can’t keep going on forever. Someday my past will catch up with me. You saw what happened to me when Darth Blade attacked me in my room a long time ago. If I had been ready, that bastard would never have had a chance and that’s no lying either. Someday, I’ll probably end up on the other side of a lightsaber.”

The Jester had never heard the Grand Admiral talk in such a manner. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the Riddler’s voice again, seemingly more like himself. “So who is this Ace?”

“He appeared out of nowhere. I think we ought to check him out.”

The Riddler smiled; a feral grin that reminded Jester of someone else he could not place. “Leave it to me. I have a way with people.”

The Jester bowed his head in acknowledgment, wondering what would happen next. 

The Riddler stormed into the room, grabbed Ace by the throat and hoisted the pilot into the air with one hand. Ace kicked and writhed in the Grand Admiral’s powerful grasp, but was unable to escape as the Riddler used the Force to augment his own strength. 

“OK, Ace. I’m going to ask you a question and I want to hear the right answer. Who do you work for? Darth Ravage? The Sith?”

Ace struggled to break free, wondering what had suddenly come over the leader of the Royal Forces of Domus Prime.  “I… work…. for… you!”

The Riddler shrugged and looked at Jester who also shrugged. But it was not until the Riddler looked at the Queen and saw her startled and almost terrified expression that the Riddler let go of the pilot. Ace fell to the floor gasping for air. 

In a motion too quick to be seen clearly, the Riddler pulled his blaster from its holster and pointed it at Ace’s head. “On the count of three, either produce some real identification or I pull the trigger.”

Ace’s eyes went wide as he stared down the barrel of the powerful hand blaster. Desperately he tried to think of something that would satisfy this madman before him. 

“One…”

Ace looked at the blaster, then moved his sight to the Riddler’s dark eyes. “I… told… you already. I work to free the galaxy from evil. I work for Rebellion, I also work for you then. You do battle against evil, don’t you?” He felt the blaster that the Riddler pushed to his forehead, cold against his skin.

“Two…”

“Guess not.” Ace waved his hand, no longer caring what happened. “I really hoped I would die in X-Wing while trying to help the galaxy. It’s your choice; either you kill me, or let me help you.” Ace slowly raised his hands and removed his helmet, placing it right in front of Riddler, pointing the Rebellion logo and the completed mission marks. 

K looked from the Riddler to Ace and back again as the countdown went. He had seen Ace shoot that trooper and Jester seemed willing to at least give him a chance. 

‘Well I guess I finally get my chance to investigate the Riddler’s powers first hand’, K thought to himself.

As the countdown began K summoned Ettall Makt to him and did the first thing that came to him. For years he had entered others minds without them sensing it, K had learned that to many it felt as if they had just been touched by the Force; he had even entered the Riddler’s mind when he had been ill. So using his power, K entered the Riddler.

‘What a mess in here, it feels different.’ K went to work quickly to disrupt what seemed to be a psychotic rage in the Riddler who was bent on killing Ace. Almost as soon as he was inside the Riddler’s mind something felt wrong. K knew why in almost the same instant, this man’s unique gift allowed him to sense K’s presence. 

From inside the Riddler’s mind a glare came upon him, then a little smirk. ‘Don’t worry K, it will be alright. Oh, and don’t ever do this again.’ With that K felt a snapping sensation as his connection with the Riddler was severed, and pain throbbed in his head. Stars danced before his eyes, but he summoned the last of his power to throw a wall of air in front of Ace just in case. The fear in the pilot’s eyes was the last thing K saw before blackness set upon him. 

“Three!” At that moment, the Riddler jerked the blaster he held and yelled “BAM!” Spasmodically Ace jerked, his eyes squeezed closed in fear. After a moment he opened them, realising that he was still alive. Somewhat nervously he started up at the Riddler’s eyes again. 

“Jester senses that you are worthy of joining the Royal Forces and for that, I am willing to give you a chance. But mark my words… you screw up and next time the blaster will go ‘Bang’!”

Ace bowed his head, for a moment and the Riddler left the room in silence. As he passed the War Room he called one of the aides from there. “Bring K to my quarters. Then leave me alone with him.”

The aide rushed to do as the Grand Admiral commanded.

As the Riddler left the room, sending someone to pick up the strangely unconscious K, Ace looked somewhat relieved, and yet he felt chilled at what had just transpired. 

Ace sunk to the floor, still leaning against the wall where the Riddler had held him, staring at the blank wall on the other side of this room. He could not believe that any person could be so cold hearted that they could shoot a man before they even knew them, despite the fact that he was a good guy.

After a moment Ace turned his gaze to Jester and the Queen. Jester’s eyes showed Ace that something was terribly wrong with what had just transpired and the Queen’s stance indicated that she too was worried about something more than just what was happening to her people. And even Devron seemed uneasy, fingering his blaster thoughtfully.

But Ace’s thoughts were filled by the Riddler’s words, leaving him no time to contemplate the strange behaviour of the others. ‘He gave me a chance to prove my words, X-Wing here I come.’

Jester seemed to shake himself from his daze and walked over to where the Riddler had knocked Ace’s helmet aside. He looked at it curiously. “Are these marks for the missions you have run? There are a lot of them.” Jester tried to smile reassuringly, but the air was still heavy with tension.

A part of Ace wanted to lash out at this attempt at polite conversation, to demand an explanation for the way he had been treated, but he simply smiled at Jester. “Thank you, Jester”, he said gratefully. “Yes, they are completed missions.”

The Queen stepped forward, taking a cursory glance at the helmet before looking back at Ace. “If you do possess the skills I suspect you have, perhaps we might recruit you away from the Alliance into the Royal Forces.”

Ace did not want to think about this right now, he was still not sure that he truly wished to serve under someone as unstable as the Riddler seemed to be. 

The Queen sighed. “Maybe your instincts are correct, Jester.” Jester smiled warmly at her. “We should trust Ace and give him the chance to prove his words and his skills in space combat”, she added to Devron, who nodded.

Jester’s smile disappeared and he handed the helmet back to Ace. “Sounds good. Remember”, he said to the pilot, “behave well and you will live.”

He held out his hand to Ace, who took it gratefully.

Ace’s face lost the smile while he transferred his sight to the Queen. “Your Majesty, when do I start?”

She was not paying any attention to him, staring at a place just beyond him at the wall behind. There was a long pause as several emotions played across her face, then she smiled at Ace so that he almost doubted the confusion he had seen there. “When our plan is ready, don’t worry, you’ll be informed.” 

Only Jester seemed to notice the changed way in which the Queen spoke. He took a long look at the Queen’s eyes before nodding. 

Not understanding what was going on, Ace started to clean his blaster once more. 

Tamira shook her head slightly, noting the markings on Ace’s helmet that everyone else seemed to find so interesting. ‘Now what?’ she asked silently.

‘Offer him a place in the Royal Forces’, the answer came. 

Seated in the adjoining room, the Queen was quickly removing the last traces of make up from her face, and hesitated for a moment, considering whether or not she should cover up the scar on her cheek. Her concentration was divided, and even as she strapped her lightsaber to her belt, she nearly missed Tamira’s next question.

‘He’s asking for orders, what do I tell him?’ Despite the many times they had traded places before, this was the first time the Queen had thought to use the Force to keep in touch with Tamira. It was much easier, and she supposed that it was only because Tamira had no natural ability with the Force that stopped her from realising it sooner.

‘Tell him that when the plan is ready, then we will notify him.’ She was ready, she thought, taking a last glance in the mirror.

‘I don’t like lying to him though.’ 

Catherine caught the barest hint of emotion following that thought and smiled. It would do well for Tamira to fall in love, even if she did not recognise the beginnings herself. 

With one last check of everything, Catherine opened the door and joined the others.

Catherine walked from the small room to rejoin the others, noting the expressions on their faces and wondering what she would say to Devron. Did he already know? Was that why he looked so angry and confused? What should she say to make things right?

Overwhelmed at her own confusion, she turned to the newcomer with a courteous nod of the head. “Hello Ace”, she said, waiting for a response from the Rebel.

“How did you know my name?” Ace said the first words that came into his mouth, aware that he was staring and feeling somewhat unnerved by her gaze. 

Fortunately, the Queen rescued him, without any silent prompting from the handmaiden.

“This is Catherine. She is my handmaiden, and a Jedi Knight. She is probably a better fighter than most of the troops here in the palace, and she is supposedly my bodyguard. Unfortunately”, the Queen continued with a wry smile, “She isn’t around much.”

“I am here now”, was all Catherine said, before taking Jester and Devron to one side to discuss their what was going on in her Palace. 

Ace glanced curiously at Catherine as she walked to the others, leaving him with the Queen. There was something odd about the way the handmaiden and the Queen behaved, almost as if Catherine were the dominant of the two. But he was too polite to say anything, and so he asked the Queen politely of something he was wondering about. 

“There are many Jedi here, Your Majesty. It’s only my second time seeing them. They are good people, but their skills are totally unknown to me.” Ace holstered his blaster finally, noticing that both Jester and Catherine were somehow watching him even though neither was looking directly at him. 

“Yes there are a lot of Jedi here on Domus Prime, of sorts, but I wonder who it is that you saw before coming here?” She raised her eyebrows a little.

“Luke Skywalker, your Majesty.” Ace was too busy remembering to notice the Queen’s eyes flicker momentarily. “We fought a mission together. I was amazed of his flying skills, he is a great pilot.”

“Oh.” She gave him a cursory nod and moved her sight away to the others, wondering what they were discussing. 

“Did I say something wrong?” Ace suddenly asked of the strangely dressed Queen, wondering at the change in her manner. 

The Queen quickly looked at him, smiling. “It’s not that… I would like to be alone few moments.” Ace noticed something in her tone that he had not recognised before. ‘Is she nervous?’

“As you wish, Your Majesty.” Ace smiled warmly at the Queen and walked away from her, suddenly realising that her eyes never really left him. Holding his helmet in one hand, the pilot found himself wondering at the strange beauty of the Queen. He had never met anyone like her before. ‘Maybe she has some thoughts for me… maybe…’ his mind whispered, not really daring to hope.  

K awoke from unconsciousness to see the Riddler glaring at him. K shook his head, which still ached throbbingly and said, “What are you doing?”

The Riddler said nothing but instead locked his eyes onto K’s. K began to get extremely nervous as he felt the Riddler enter his mind as K had entered his earlier. The Riddler stabbed out with his powers, pulling at K’s emotions and thoughts, causing him a lot of excruciating pain. 

Without realising what his body was doing, K began to scream in terror as the Riddler continued to glare ominously at K, pulling his mind apart. 

Catherine sat down in the Queen’s rooms near to where the others were gathered and began to think about the day’s events. She was tired and she was worried about the Riddler’s strange behaviour, which she had seen through Tamira’s eyes. She had never seen the Riddler act like this, save for the time he blew up at her during the final hours of the Sith Invasion of Domus Prime last year.

Catherine thought about what had happened the night before and how she had found being in the Riddler’s presence comforting. She was confused. What would she do now? 

Nothing seemed to make any sense anymore. She had been forced to kill another group of stormtroopers as they had neared the seventh floor of the Palace only a few moments ago, and the constant drain on her powers was tiring. Not to mention the strain on her heart. Although she knew that they would kill her without a moment’s thought, it still seemed wrong to take the lives of those soldiers who were only following orders. 

Catherine sighed as she realised that she had no idea what she was going to do next, only that she had to keep fighting to regain the whole of Domus Prime. And she would find out what had made the Riddler act the way he did with Ace earlier.

Jester was cleaning his lightsaber and chatting quietly with Devron when he heard K scream in his mind. Without thought he ran the distance to the Riddler’s quarters and looked questioningly at the Riddler who just shrugged, looking deceptively innocent. 

Jester reached out with his Jedi senses to try and determine what was happening to K and saw that it was the Riddler who was inflicting such pain on K’s mind. 

Jester immediately reached forth his powers and severed the connection between them. He moved as if to smack the Riddler in the head with his lightsaber handle. He swung, but the Riddler caught the weapon in one hand, making a gesture with the other and throwing Jester against the far wall using the Force. Smashing his head, Jester fell unconscious. 

It was at this moment that K then lost his personal battle to control the pain in his mind and succumbed to the silence of unconsciousness as well. 

Smiling, the Riddler placed his left hand on K’s forehead and murmured, “You will remember nothing of this incident.” He then dragged K’s sleeping body to a closet and locked him in it. 

He then repeated the mind trick on Jester, still smiling. 

The Riddler walked calmly from the room, not seeming to feel any emotion other than satisfaction as he found himself standing outside the Queen’s rooms. He knocked politely and smiled when Catherine opened the door for him. 

“You look tired”, she said in a concerned tone.

The Riddler squinted his eyes. “I feel tired. Can we talk like we did the other night?”

Catherine opened the door fully after a moment’s hesitation, inviting him inside. For a long moment she paused, knowing that talking would take time that they might not have and that the two of them should be fighting at this moment to save their world. But a part of her was glad of the way he looked at her, as if she was a real person. 

Catherine reached out with a large proportion of her remaining strength and made it so that no enemy soldiers would make it to the seventh floor of the Palace this night. 

She sat by the Riddler for a long time and they talked quietly until they watched the sunrise from her rooms the next morning. 

Catherine pushed the worries of Domus Prime away from her and truly felt at peace by the Riddler’s side.

K awoke the next morning with a splitting headache. He opened the closet door and suddenly realised that he was in one of the Riddler’s closets in the Riddler’s room. 

Jester lay on the floor, a tiny stream of blood trickled from his forehead.

Where had he been?

How had he gotten here? 

Suddenly the door opened and the Riddler appeared, taking in the room in a single glance. The Riddler’s voice was filled with sudden worry as he asked, “What are you two doing in my room? What are you doing in my closet?”

K was confused. 

Ace woke up tiredly in the morning, having fallen asleep on the hard floor the night before. He blinked his eyes and tried to wake up properly in the empty room. Getting stiffly to his feet Ace was surprised to find two hot cups of coffeine sitting on the table before him. But the room was empty. 

‘What is this? Am I still dreaming?’ Ace thought dazedly while reaching for one of the cups. Making his way to one of the chairs in the dimly lit room Ace sipped the coffeine and found himself wondering where everyone had disappeared to. Including the invading soldiers. ‘They could inform me if they were going somewhere. Hopefully this time I don’t have to fight to find them.’

Ace started as his commlink beeped. He had the sudden impression that this was not the first time it had done that this morning. Emkay must have been frantic. Without thinking, Ace answered. 

“Ace, do you copy?” The metallic voice of Emkay did sound concerned. Well, as concerned as any droid’s voice could be.

“Yeah, I’m here Emkay. I won’t go anywhere. Any news?”

“First, you won’t even tell me your situation and now you ask for news?!” Emkay said loudly, his voice crackling with anger.

“Emkay… the news.” Ace replied calmly, rolling his eyes at Emkay’s idiosyncrasies.

“Alright Ace. I have managed to hide the ship in the forest, and looks like those troopers you mentioned have company.”

“What do you mean?” Ace sighed while looking around in the room, noticing through the window the glorious, but terribly silent, morning.

“Before I landed and shut down Otana, the sensors indicated that something is coming from hyperspace, near Domus Prime.”

“Emkay, take care and be in safe. Others are thinking the of solution right now.”

Ace placed the commlink back in his pocket. From just outside, in the hallway, he could suddenly hear noise, stark against the previous silence.  Nervously, Ace began to walk towards the door, his blaster in hand and ready for whatever he might find. 

In the hall, the Queen looked startled at suddenly being confronted by a blaster-wielding maniac dressed in orange of all colours.  She looked as if she too had just woken up. Ace blinked in shock then embarrassedly holstered his blaster.

He bowed awkwardly. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty, I didn’t know you were still here.” The Queen got up from the floor where she had been knocked, her movements a little hampered by the heels on her boots. Ace was more than a little surprised to realise just how small the Queen must be, if she was so short even when wearing boots such as those.

The Queen smiled warmly at him. “Good morning, Ace”, she looked around the room he had been in somewhat expectantly. “I presume that we are the only ones here, according to what you just said.” 

Ace’s eyes never left her, he could not tear his gaze away. The Queen of Domus Prime was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. “I’ll return to another room, so you can be by yourself, Your Majesty”, he smiled. 

She smiled to him, and his heart leap. “Ace, you are so friendly.” Ace swallowed a little nervously. ‘By the name of X-Wing, what am I going to do?’ He thought. 

“Your Majesty, inform me if you need anything.” 

She moved to one of the consoles and sat down, pulling up a map of the Palace. Marked on it were the areas that were no longer under the control of the Royal Forces, and Ace wondered for a moment who had been able to compile such information at this time. “Don’t worry Ace, I will.”

Ace turned and began to walk to another room. As he walked through the doorway, Ace smiled at the Queen then closed the door behind him. 

Devron leant back in his padded chair, half-closing his eyes and taking a sip of his own triple-strength coffeine. Things were not going as expected. Where were those Imperial fleets that were supposed to be here, blockading the planet and letting loose ten times more troopers than were already here? When was the Grand Admiral going to authorise a response force to go out and eradicate the ground troops already here? Why did it seem like the Palace had changed since he left? Was it the mood of the people? The presence of the Imperials?

“Hey, Sir Zal-ness. Wake up and smell the victory.”

Devron fumbled for his commlink, finally digging it out of a pocket and pressing the Transmit button. “Kyte-on-a-string. Right now, all I can smell is the triple-strength caffeine I have. Second best thing to victory. What’s up?”

“‘And as thy Forces of Victory entered the region, the Forces of Darkness tooketh note of thy Forces and retreated.”

“What Forces of Darkness? They haven’t shown their squirrelly faces yet. Except for the Warcrater and that Interdictor. They gone?”

“Weren’t here when we arrived.”

“How much of the Fleet did you detail to the Toxtenkopp garrison?”

“Three ISDs, two VSDs and five Dreadnaughts.”

“Good enough. I might want to take a vacation there soon.”

“Things not going well at the Palace?”

“I don’t know. Everyone seems so withdrawn. Not like how they were three months or so ago.”

“When you first left.” On the other side of the commlink, Kyte paused to consider this. “Well, maybe a visit to your new planet would do you good.”

“Maybe. I’m thinking about it.”

“Alright. Anything else?”

“Nah, just patrol the area. Divide the fleet into two pieces and send one half to patrol the north hemisphere and the second half to the south hemisphere. Wouldn’t be proper to screw up the way the Imperials did.”

“Alright. Over and out, Zallion.”

“Later, Kyte.”

The comm channel disengaged with a soft click and Devron slumped back in his seat, preferring to sleep on the whole matter and let the cards land in a Pure. ‘While you were gone…’ he thought, smiling just briefly before settling down to sleep. 

Ace’s pensive thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the sight of the object of them, as the Queen entered the room he was sitting in. But it seemed as if she did not have anything to do with him for she merely passed through the room without speaking, not seeing Ace. His eyes never left her, and found himself staring as she glided through the other door. 

Alone once more, Ace stood and walked to the window. Down below in the Palace courtyard Ace saw movement, the street filled with troopers, probably planning some form of attack or waiting for something to happen. The mood was almost electric. 

‘What are they doing? Planning something or waiting…’ He remembered what Emkay said. Something was coming from hyperspace soon.

‘Reinforcements…’ Ace’s thoughts were suddenly filled with emotions for his brother. He closed his eyes, remembering what his brother had done, what he had become. “Emon…why? Why… Boba Fett” Ace whispered. 

Lost in his thoughts Ace did not hear the door opening and did not realise that the Queen had returned and stood just behind him. 

K stared at the wall, his memories a blur. He popped open another pain reliever bottle and poured out a few more tablets for his headache. He lay on his bed… confused. 

Jester awoke about an hour later in sickbay. He too was recovering from a nasty headache and severe memory loss as to what had caused it. Jester remembered hearing K scream but nothing of what had happened after. A surgical droid appeared next to him, giving Jester a little shock.

“Are your pyjamas comfortable enough, Jester Sir?”

Jester smiled through broken, chapped lips, wondering at the ache the movement caused. “Yes, thank you.”

“Will you require anything else, Sir?”

“No thanks.”

The droid disappeared as Jester snuggled back down into the bed and clutched Harold, his faithful rubber chicken, closer to his chest.

Catherine awoke from a sleep that felt really good. For the first time since she had been kidnapped she felt truly rested. And although a part of her felt guilty at having put aside her responsibilities for one night, the rest of her was so glad for what she had done. 

Catherine still did not understand the Riddler’s strange mood last night and she could not remember what they talked about the night before. In fact, she could not remember anything about what she had done much. She remembered talking to the Riddler for a long time, but not what they had talked about or what had happened afterwards.  

She got out of bed and changed and then went to the War Room where she saw Devron Zal and The Riddler discussing tactical options to deal with the Imperial Blockade. Catherine did not interrupt them, preferring to stand silently and listen. 

“Devron, we must divert their troops away from this Palace. I want you to set ‘controlled’ fires around the palace at 11 hundred hours. Make sure you bring plenty of food and provisions inside the Palace.”

Devron was unsure about this course of action. “But, Grand Admiral, the fires will scorch millions of acres of forest and fields. The damage would be colossal! I don’t think we could recover from something like that. We’d kill our own people.”

“But we’ll kill theirs as well. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.”

Catherine was unsure as Devron, her thoughts full of sudden fear and worry. But the Grand Admiral was hell-bent on his decision. “Make it so.”

Catherine was confused. She shook her head, trying to figure out what was missing. She had a strange feeling that she was forgetting something important, but she could not place its source. 

And something was definitely wrong with the Riddler. He seemed so determined to see this battle over and done with that he would be willing to sacrifice her own troops for it. 

She looked over at Tamira again, who was smiling dazzlingly at Ace.

‘I thought I told you to stop throwing yourself at him’, Catherine threw the thought lazily, not bothering to shield it, hoping to hurt Tamira with her anger.

‘And I told you already, I’m not flirting with Ace. We are merely making conversation. It’s not my fault that he’s an absolute darling’

At this, Catherine nearly stood and started screaming at her. It was only the presence of Ace and Devron that made her reconsider. She took a deep breath, and closed her eyes.

‘Please, I ask you to just leave him alone. Can you not wait until you’re yourself again before you go throwing yourself at every boy you meet?’

Tamira’s voice made her sound so sure of herself; she was too calm. ‘But I am the Queen now, aren’t I? And I might not live out the day, which is why I’m the Queen. So, why don’t you just go away for a while? Besides’, Tamira laughed, ‘It’ll do the others some good to see their precious Queen paying attention to someone new. Jealousy’s good for the soul, you know.’

Although Catherine did not quite understand that last remark, she still wanted to throttle the Queen. Angrily, she moved to retort, when a third voice interjected itself into the conversation.

‘Let her be, Catherine.’

Catherine looked up to see the Riddler smiling at her in that infuriating way of his. She let go of Tamira’s mind, bowing her acquiescence. Catherine soon was calm again, and wondered anew what role she would play in the coming events. Her hand strayed unconsciously to finger at her hair, thinking of a memory that she had long wished to lose.

Now if only she could remember what it was that she had forgotten. 

The Riddler smiled at Catherine. He knew that she had fallen for him. He sensed it. All was going to plan. 

The Riddler got onto the commlink and summoned Devron Zal. 

“Yes, Grand Admiral?”

“Are our forces ready to move out?”

Devron took a hard breath. “Yes, Sir, but I must object to this-“

The Riddler shut the commlink off. He did not want to listen to Devron moan about his tactics. Sighing, the Grand Admiral went off to brood.

A few hours after falling asleep again over a few diagrams of the battlefields, Devron woke up uneventfully, and rolled over as best he can in the chair, snatching up his triple-strength coffeine and gulping the rest of it down. In the grey haze between alertness and lethargy, an idea floated up, tempted him with it. And before it could sink, he grabbed hold of it and sunk his teeth into it. Becoming fully alert, the last piece of the puzzle falls into place.

The Queen – Catherine – was acting so strange because she did not trust him. She did not trust him because as far as she knew, he was a traitor to her and her Forces. She would not believe him because everything he did or said was held in check. Somehow, through intuitiveness he did not know he possessed, Devron knew this. And through that intuitiveness, he knew what he has to do.

Locating Catherine, he made his way towards her and beckoned her into a different room, to be alone. After a few minutes of her frowning and shaking her head, he finally persuaded her to go in. Closing the door and locking it, Devron began. “Queen, look. Do you trust me?”

“Ah… well, of course I do,” she mumbled, her voice subtly betraying to him her emotions.

“You’re lying. I can tell. Why don’t you trust me?”

“I do trust you. Why should I not?”

“First of all, no, you don’t trust me. Call this insubordination if you want to, but I’ve handled interrogations for a couple years back at Tuebor. I can hear when someone’s lying. And you are. You’re probably lying because you think I’m a traitor.”

“No,” Catherine protested. 

“And you think I’m a traitor because of that Sith girl.”

“What does she have to do with it?” she asked him, slightly emotional and becoming panicked by the presence of that emotion. “What evidence do you have? Why are you accusing me of not trusting my General? You won several important battles-“

“I don’t know. My bet is, you thought my act was good. Too good, in fact. Maybe, it wasn’t an act.”

Before Catherine could protest, Devron held a hand up to silence her. “No protesting. Tell me the truth now. Do you trust me?”

After a few moments Catherine murmured. “Maybe.”

“Is it because of that Darth girl?”

“Maybe.”

“You don’t know what went on between us. I blew her away. Twice. You don’t understand. You weren’t there. And you think I’m a traitor, because somehow, I escaped unscathed from the Sith base. You don’t understand. And there’s only one way you can understand. To know. Because, if you hook me up to a neurotin lie detector, you’ll think my training allows me to know how to bypass the lie detector and make it believe anything. Which I do. If I tell you right now, you’ll suspect it. Which I know. There’s only one thing that doesn’t lie. Memories.”

“What are you saying?” Catherine shook her head confusedly. There was too much happening, she did had to speak with the Riddler and find out what was going on. But Devron continued, commanding her attention.

“Jump into my head with your Force powers. Find out the truth. Relive what I went through. You know as well as I do that memory overlays and partial washes haven’t yet achieved the level of technology necessary to create emotions related to the situation. Or bypassing parts of certain memories that lead up to an event. You’re smart enough, anyway, to tell the difference between a real memory and a faked one.”

“I am not going to go through your memo-“

Devron snatched her hand and pressed it to his forehead. “Just do it, Queen. Please.” At the same time, he closed his eyes and concentrated, forcing his interrogation session with Cyani to the surface of his memories; trying to push it through his skull through Catherine’s fingers, her arm, up to her eyes, her head.

…Suddenly, Catherine’s vision blurred, and she closed her eyes to try and correct it. 

When she closed her eyes, though, a vision pops to her head, and she realised after a second she was seeing Devron’s memories, whether she liked it or not, whether he was to be punished or not…

On to Chapter XII

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