Domus Prime:


Chapter VI

Outside her room, he watched in horrid fascination as she practiced throwing her food up into the air and catching it. As she seemed to develop her talents, she managed to keep four of them in the air at once, and he could clearly see the smile on her face.

‘This isn’t what’s supposed to be happening’, he fumed. ‘She’s supposed to be angry, and ready to strike out! Instead, she’s playing her silly game as if she was completely happy.’

He brought his fist down on the bench with a bang, and brought his anger to bear on one of her toys. With a fizzle, it disintegrated, and he watched her jump back in surprise. But there was no fear on her face.

He stormed from the room then, seeking the quiet of his quarters and the guidance that the Dark Side would show him. He would find out how to make the Queen his own and then he would do so.

Devron checked his chrono as he awakened from a short nap: 2447. ‘Perfect.’

Taking five minutes to stretch and work out all the kinks, getting ready for this night’s work, he thought about what to do. 

‘Left or right? Probably left, ’cause there’s less that way, and if she’s not there, it won’t take as much time to check.’ 

That decided on, Devron ignited one blade of the lightsaber. Its blood-red glow bathed the small cell in incandescent light. Taking a few seconds to get his bearings from the side the ladder up was on, he stabbed the wall with his lightsaber and began to cut a doorway for himself.

As he cut, he could hear muffled cries of “What the-” coming from the next cell. When the door piece fell down with a reverberating clang that was absorbed by the soundproof walls (“so nobody can hear you scream”) the lightsaber glow fell upon a grizzled man of about forty, fear written all over his face.

Without a word, Devron walked over to the next wall in the man’s cell, letting his lightsaber imply what would happen if the man jumped him. Not paying attention to the man now prowling through both empty cells, Devron began to cut his way through to the next cell.

Another nondescript prisoner.

He cuts his way through to the last cell.

Nobody.

“Sithspawn!” Devron yelled into the empty cell and hacked a chunk out of his doorway in anger. That done and his temporary rage subsided, he returned to his own cell and began cutting through to the right.

Old man. 

Middle-aged man. 

Old man. 

Young punk woman. 

Young man. 

Old woman. 

Tiny cell, just a corridor wrapped around a square.

“Huh?” Curious, Devron cut through the wall of this obstacle in his path. 

Stepping through revealed… 

Squish

“Gah!” Looking at his left foot, Devron discerned a greenish-red brown meatball smashed onto his shoe. “Alright, whose food is this?”

He lit the other blade of his lightsaber and let the double glow light up the cell. In one corner, a pretty young woman stirred from sleep, awakened by the painful light. She turned her head towards him.

“Oh. Hey, Queen. Sorry to catch you at a late time. Should I let you sleep?”

“Take a wild guess and get me out of here, Devron. Do you have any other weapons?”

“Yeah, a holdout blaster.”

“Alright, give me the lightsaber and let’s get out of here.” She stood and walked toward him, and he noticed her torn clothing and dishevelled appearance.

Giving the Queen the lightsaber Devron withdrew the holdout blaster from his arm and manoeuvred it into position as best he could. With his finger around the trigger at last, he stepped through his hole and begins to look around for a doorway. 

After a little bit of searching, one was found. “Queen, over here.”

“Is it unlocked?”

He tries it. “Sithspawn, no.”

“Okay.” She came over to his spot and sliced the door into several chunks, which fell to the floor. “Let us go.”

Devron stepped over the chunks and started down the hallway. The Queen followed with an odd look of almost relief on her face, the lightsaber producing a wan glow.

On the other side of the short hall a door opened. One of the guards who had been on the transport yesterday stepped through and saw them. “What the…?”

Hurriedly, Devron levelled the holdout blaster at the man’s neck and fired his whole 4-shot clip into it. The man’s body fell, dead, the EKX-10 cryogenically-cooled repeating rifle clattering to the floor. Dashing forward, Devron snatches up the EKX-10, muttering a brief prayer that he could hold it in one hand.

Prayer answered. 

One more guard came strolling into view. Taking aim at his chest, Devron double tapped the trigger. Three blaster bolts lanced out in quick succession and caught the man in the chest. With a cry of agony, he collapsed.

Suddenly, a klaxon sounded in the base and a metallic voice proclaimed “Escaped prisoner. Escaped prisoner”, seven times before shutting itself off.

He looks back at the Queen. “This is where the fun begins, Queen.”

“Where is the ground vehicle bay?”

“Beats me. Let’s go.”

Together, they rushed out into the small room, weapons at the ready. 

Smiling with grim pleasure, Devron walked into the room, his EKX-10 levelled with his sight, searching for any movement. There was none. 

“Alright, Queen, the room’s clear. If you cover me, I’ll get some hacking done.”

“We are deep inside a Sith stronghold, with no chance of life if we are caught, and you want to play with computers?” She grinned weakly at him.

“Of course. Here”, Devron tossed the EKX-10 to her and sat down at a desk comp console. “Sithspawn! These guys have the worst operating system in the Known Galaxy.”

“What?”

“Never mind. It’ll only take me a few minutes to access a map of the facility, if they have passwords to crack on this thing.”

Two minutes later, he smiled. “That figures. There’s no passwords or anything. These guys are real cocky. Let’s see; we’re on sub-floor two. There’s a staircase behind Door Number Two that leads to sub-floor one, which is a tactical operations centre. If we go back to your cell, there are another two doors. One door, which leads directly to Cell Row. No good there either. Another door, which goes into a military portion of the base. That’s our best bet.”

“Where do we go from there?”

“These maps are only local, a symptom of these computers. They ought to belong in the Archaic Hardware section of the Coruscant Museum of History. We’ll see what we can find in the military section.”

“Do you want your rifle back?”

“Yeah.” The Queen handed it to him, and he walked over to the closed door and opened it.

“There they are!”

“Sithspawn!” Levelling his EKX-10 at one guy’s throat, Devron depressed the trigger and left it, cutting through the man and taking out the whole line of them. That done, he replaced his EKX-10 with a newer one and stepped into the hallway. The Queen followed and together they made their way without incident to the door leading to the military section.

Before they opened the door, Devron leant against the wall, self-inducing his berserker abilities. The Queen left him alone, not recognising what Devron was doing but content to let it happen.

Open eyes. Turn to door. Open it. Assess threat. Three men. Level rifle at first man. Press trigger. Cut all three men down. Breathe. No threat. Run up ramp to next door. Open it. Turn left. Assess threat. Four men. Take cover, using doorjamb. Level rifle at men. Breathe. Press and hold trigger. Cut all four men down. Hear footsteps. Two men. Level rifle at men. Press and hold trigger. Cut both men down. Breathe. Assess threat. None. Look for computer console. One. Run to it. Hand blaster rifle to Queen.

Devron shook himself out of his berserker abilities, bypassing his rage at all that the Sith have done long enough to access a map and find an armory and a ground-vehicle bay. “This way.” He took his rifle from her, ran towards the armory and entered, shutting the door behind the Queen.

“This does not look like the ground vehicle bay.”

“It’s not. I’m looking for a few weapons.”

Devron began to browse the aisles. A few seconds later, he found what he was looking for. “Hey, Queen, could I get your help for a second?”

“Of course”, she came over to assist and a few seconds later, a PLX-2M rested on Devron’s left shoulder and his EKX-10 back in his right hand. Both are armed and ready to go.

“Alright. Let’s go, Queen.”

Together they moved to the door, the Queen grasping the lightsaber nervously with both blades activated, Devron carrying his weaponry. Letting himself flow into berserker mode again, Devron opened the door.

Move out. Assess threat. Twenty men a-shooting. Move back in. Close door.

“Sithspawn. Hand me that box of grenades, would you?”

After locating the box, the Queen started to hand it to Devron, but instead set it on the floor in front of him. Getting ready, he opens the door again and shoves the box at the men with his foot, shooting it with the EKX-10.

The thermal grenades inside, reacting to the energy of the blaster bolts began to explode. A split-second before they exploded, the Queen, sensitive to the Force again now that she was away from that cell, tugged Devron back instinctively and slammed the door shut.

The resulting explosion set off even more warning klaxons and Devron was sure that in the distance, explosion teams were scrambling to handle this threat. “Come on, we have to make it to the ground vehicle bay.”

Devron opened the door again and bolted out, the Queen following right behind him. Remembering the map from memory, he charged down the halls to the ground vehicle bay.

“Are you sure you know where you are going?” The Queen’s voice was charged with slight panic.

“Yeah… Agh!” Rounding the corner to the ground-vehicle bay, Devron saw another line of twenty or thirty people guarding the entrance. “Sithspawn knows where we were going. Stay back.”

“What are you doing?”

He powered up his PLX-2M, arming one of the Arakyd 3t3 repulsorlift craft-stopping warheads inside. “Sending them an early Fete Week present.”

Devron walked out in front of the men, his right arm raised and his left arm hanging limp. “I surrender.”

“Throw down your weapons!”

“Alright.” Devron lowered his hand to set his EKX-10 down. As he brought his hand back up, he brushed his right thumb against the firing trigger of the PLX-2M.

A blue streak heralded the path of the 3t3. Its warhead shot towards the group, who could barely react before the detonation engulfed them all.

“There’ll be more coming. Let’s go.”

They entered the ground vehicle bay. Hundreds of landspeeders and speeder bikes lined the black walls. The Queen turned to Devron and asked hesitantly, “Which one?”

He pointed to a black landspeeder with a repeater cannon mounted on its rear end. “That one. Do you want to drive or shoot?”

“I will shoot. You know where you are going. I do not even know what planet I am on.”

“Alright, let’s go for a ride.” Devron ran toward the landspeeder. “Taxi! Taxi!” The Queen shook her head in amusement and followed him.

When they reached the landspeeder, Devron shucked his weaponry and hopped in the driver’s seat. The Queen got in the shooter’s seat, her hands resting lightly on the weapon controls. “Ready?”

“All set.”

Devron pressed the ignition button.

“ENTER CODE”

“Sithspawn!”

“CODE RECOGNIZED” 

The landspeeder started up and Devron jammed his foot down on the acceleration pedal. The well-tuned speeder responded immediately, shooting forward and out of the bay.

“Aaaahhhh…” Gaining control of the speeder, Devron increased the speed to its maximum of 800 km/h and started driving toward Death’s Head City.

“General Zal”, the Queen sounded more nervous than he had yet heard her.

“Call me Devron. Yeah?”

“We have got company.”

“I forgot to pack an extra tuxedo. Send ’em off.”

The Queen started shooting at the attackers. Risking a glimpse back, Devron saw that all four have Flare S-swoops, the same kind he had at the outdoor cafe. “Sithspawn.”

“Is that your favourite word?”

“Yeah, sort of. I’m gonna try and lose ’em. Keep shooting.”

“How are you going to try and lose them?” The Queen looked rather anxious even as a number of well-placed shots narrowly missed those that were pursuing them.

“Well, let’s see”, there was flat ground everywhere Devron looked. “Not sure yet. I think we’ll have to ram them.”

“What?” Listening to the tone of her voice, Devron hoped that the Queen would forgive him later.

“Hold on.” Twisting the control wheel, Devron spun around and started driving toward the attackers. Whether from suicide or from thinking that he was bluffing, they maintain course. “Queen”, he cried.

“What?”

“Duck!”

Never flinching, Devron looked one guy in the face as he drove towards him. The other guy’s expression turned from humoured to horrified, and he like his companions tried to swerve out of the way.

Not fast enough. Two made it away in time and the Queen began firing at them. One caught on one of the speeder engines and tore it off, exploding a few meters away. The other hit the hood and used it as an impromptu jump, landing sickeningly and also exploding. 

“We’re gonna need a new ride real soon here”, Devron muttered thoughtfully, then smiled at the Queen’s questioning look. “I said, we’re having a lot of fun here!”

“Yeah.” Her firing caught one of the men in the chest, knocking him off his bike. The swoop, set for stopping when the rider falls off, throttled down to nothing and hovered there expectantly.

“Perfect.” Devron stopped the speeder near the swoop.

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing.” Picking his PLX-2M up sort of haphazardly, Devron set it shakily on his shoulder and let the holographic targeters acquire the last swooper. A lock tone sounded from the headset, and he triggered the second 3t3 missile to chase the swoop.

As the swoop explodes, Devron hopped out of the speeder and onto the swoop. 

“Why are we changing vehicles?”

“Because that one’s right engine is gone and it’s probably gonna explode soon, what with the sparks and the leaking fuel.”

“Oh. Where do I sit?”

“Umm”, Devron scooted up as far as he could on the seat. “There.”

The Queen got out of the shooter’s seat and sat behind Devron, leaning into him to decrease wind resistance. “Alright.”

He twisted the throttle and headed toward the Death’s Head Outdoor Cafe and Bar. 

Twenty minutes later they skidded to a stop next to his other swoop. “Can I treat you to a drink, Queen?”

“Sure”, she said, trying to hide from him the fact that her hands were shaking.

Over a bottle of Abrax cognac, they discussed where to go from there. “Why Praesitlyn?”

“Because that’s where the new fleet is being built. It’ll be finished in a little more than two months.”

She made the mental leap he seemed to expect of her. “You want to oversee production. It sounds good then, with the fleet there. How are we going to get there?”

“Hetrinar assault bomber. It has a bombardier’s seat where you can be. Look, I have a pet ysalamir. Is that going to hurt you any, with the loss of the Force?”

After all she had been through, the Queen felt that she could never be hurt again. “Why do you have a ysalamir?”

“Because a Sith woman, Darth Cyani, was lurking behind my mind to try and learn what we were doing.”

“Oh”, she smiled a little, “I can protect you from that. My”, the Queen looked panicked as she realised what she had never recovered in the Sith base. “My locket! Oh no.” She had to go back, she had to get it. It was too important.

“What, you mean this?” Reaching into his pocket, Devron pulled out a silver chain with a locket attached. She snatched it almost hungrily from him, tying it around her neck with an urgency that made him wonder what was so special about the trinket.

“Where did you find this?” The Queen looked over her glass at him, her blue eyes glittering with gratitude.

“It was laying in a niche in that observation thing. I picked it up, because I wasn’t sure if it was yours or not.”

“Thank you so much.” Devron thought somewhat reluctantly that if she was not sitting down she would have embraced him. “I can shield you from the Sith. You do not need your ysalamir.”

“Oh. Alright.” Devron looked at the half-full bottle. “Ready to go?”

“You know I am.”

Devron grabbed the bottle and headed out to where the swoops were parked. Stashing the bottle under his seat, he pulled his ysalamir out. “It’s been fun, Talon.” Opening the cage, Devron let the furry creature out. “There you go. This is a nice, wooded planet, so you’re sure to find somewhere around here to hole up. Go terrorise some Sith for us.”

The creature let out a squeak and scurried off.

“There we go.” He jumped onto the swoop and powered it up. The Queen got back on the appropriated swoop and soon they reached the Hetrinar bomber. After the Domus Prime swoop was loaded in they took off and in a matter of minutes were streaking into hyperspace destined for Praesitlyn.

“We are now exiting hyperspace in the vicinity of the Praesitlyn shipyards”, Devron said over the comm to the Queen who was sitting in the bombardier’s cockpit. Quickly he pulled the hyperspace lever back and before them the half-built fleet of the Toxtenkopp Assault Fleet coalesces. “On your right, you can view the fleet’s portion of Dark Talon ground occupation capital ships and Imperator-class Star Destroyers. And, if you look on your left, you can see the shape of the newest Super-Star Destroyer addition to our fleet, being built as a gift to the Grand Admiral and as a replacement for the late Apocalypse. This single ship has taken a large chunk out of the Royal Forces’ funding, but the coordinator of the fleet, General Zal, felt it was necessary to build this majestic craft as a tribute to the strength of the Royal Forces. This concludes the tour of the Praesitlyn shipyards. Thank you for choosing Zal Tours, Incorporated, and have a nice day.” He stopped talking for a few seconds, letting what he said sink in. “So, Queen, what do you think?”

“I think it is beautiful.” Across the hull of the ship Devron watched as the Queen pressed her nose to the canopy, trying to get a better view of the half-built Super-Star Destroyer.

Grabbing the control yoke, Devron snapped the fighter into a tight roll. The Queen screamed with first surprise, then excitement, as he swooped in closer to the Super-Star Destroyer. As he skimmed only about ten metres from the surface, weaving around obstacles, they could clearly see workers suited in zero-gravity apparel looking up at them. Devron flipped the Hetrinar assault bomber over, so the starfighter was flying with its belly facing out towards space. 

As the bridge neared, Devron flipped the fighter around again and yanked the controls back, sending the fighter sharply angled upward over the bridge. After the last of the bridge cleared out from under the belly of the fighter, he shut the engines down, turned back towards the bridge and let the ship coast to a stop. Nudging the throttle forward, Devron finally came to a complete stop right where he intended to be- a mere two metres from the forward bridge window. Toggling on the comm, he called one of his good friends, General Kyte, who was assigned to oversee completion of the ship. “Hey, Kyte. Come to the front bridge viewport.”

Mumbling good-naturedly about being yanked away from flirting with a short blonde comm technician, General Kyte walked over to the front bridge viewport and nearly jumped out of his skin when he caught sight of the bomber. “What the-?”

“What’s up?” Devron waved cheerfully.

“I thought you had gone to rescue the Queen. Did you drop her on Domus Prime already? Give her my regards – she’s pretty good-looking, you know. Maybe I can get promoted to Grand Admiral soon and have a better chance with her, you think?”

The Queen laughed over the in-bomber comm, then flipped over to the outer frequency. “You never know, General, but I think you’d have better luck with your comm technician.”

“Your Majesty! Ah… Um… Well… Uh… Erm… How are you?”

The Queen laughed again, and Devron spoke up. “Now, now, Kyte. You know I’ve got first go at flirting with her. Go back to your comm tech – me and the Queen are going to go on-planet and send a message to the Grand Admiral.”

“Break a leg, or two, and maybe an arm. Have fun.”

“Alright.”

“And scratch gravel, too.”

“Alright.”

“May the Force be with you.”

“Just shut off the Sith-spawned comm channel!”

“Yeah, nice talking to you too. Later.”

“Later.” Switching frequencies back to the in-bomber comm, Devron powered up the engines again and backed away from the Super-Star Destroyer before angling towards Praesitlyn. “Well, Queen, can I treat you to another drink?”

“Only if it is non-alcoholic. It is not very Queen-like to get smashed.”

“Heh. Alright, I know of a few good cafes around here to get good stuff.”

“What are we waiting for?”

“Nothing.” He piloted the bomber down into Praesitlyn’s atmosphere. 

The Queen sighed, and wondered when she would be able to get out of this awful dress. Now that she could see it, she was ashamed of the stains and rips that marred the shift, and she tried to figure how long she had been kidnapped. 

She knew that a large amount of time had passed, but without having any way of measuring it she was as good as lost. And she did not really think she wanted to know.

She had a dreadful headache, probably a result of combining Devron’s alcohol with her empty stomach and exhaustion.

At least Darth Ravage had failed in his plan to turn her to the Dark Side. She was free now and she allowed herself a few moments to relax, sending her thoughts out in spiralling patterns and enjoying the sense of freedom it gave her. She had never realised just how much she relied on the Force until it had been taken from her.

She remembered the old Jedi’s presence in her cell, and tried to reason out why he had been so worried. She had escaped and everything was alright now, wasn’t it? 

Perhaps he had foreseen a different outcome to her being held captive, but as the future is always in motion, she was able to avoid whatever dreadful scenario he had been warning her about. Or had she?

It was too confusing trying to understand the ways of the future. Better to accept what is happening and trying to make a new start. 

She had best contact Domus Prime too. The others were probably still worried about her. ‘Or at least they better be’, she murmured, laughing to herself. Devron flashed her a strange glance, and she smiled back at him.

“Do we have time for me to make one call?” she asked, and he nodded.

“Just make sure it’s on a secure channel. We don’t want the Sithspawn to trace us.”

“Anything you say, Resident Genius”, she muttered under her breath, then, realising how mature that sounded, she blushed, wishing that she had better control over her features. “Just wait until I get my make-up back”, she murmured to herself, finishing the sentence in her thoughts, ‘then I can go back to hiding myself from everyone.’

Leaning back in her chair, she turned on a commlink, and made the right adjustments necessary to get it to operate via the Palace on Domus Prime’s secure system. Then, it was just a matter of shorting out the visual chip, and no one could see her in this mess. Finally, the device was ready to her specifications, and she sighed once more, before making the connection to the Grand Admiral’s rooms, hoping that he was there to answer.

Tamira paced in front of the mirror, occasionally looking over at her reflection, trying to make sure that everything was correct.

“Don’t do that”, Jedi Nay told her, causing Tamira to whirl around, amazed that someone was in her rooms. Until she remembered with a guilty start that these were not her rooms, these belonged to the Queen, the Queen that she was imitating.

“Do what?” she tried to keep her voice even, but failed.

“You’re fidgeting. Stand still, or everyone will know that you are not the Queen.”

“But I’m not the Queen.”

“They don’t know that.”

Tamira sighed. They had held this argument several times over the past few days, and all it accomplished was to get Tamira agitated. Her deadline of one week had passed unnoticed since Jester had disappeared.

What was taking them so long? Surely Jester and the Grand Admiral had figured out where the Queen was being held and had mounted a rescue mission by now. They had to, they must have.

And none of them would talk to her and explain what was going on. How was she expected to be a good imitation queen if they did not treat her the same?

Tamira wished that she had never been born on this stupid mudball. Sure, here she was a Countess and had the respect and money to do with what she wanted, but it was not the same as being out there, where there was a real social circle, not just the Queen and her buddies. There hadn’t been a decent party on Domus Prime since she had come here.

And how the Queen managed to wear these dresses without being embarrassed that she was horribly behind fashion Tamira never knew. 

And her hair style. Terrible, absolutely terrible, the poor girl. Tamira resolved that when the Queen got back she would have a long talk with her about the latest in Palace hair dressing.

As if she could hear Tamira’s thoughts, Jedi Nay sighed and moved away from the girl. Tamira might look like the Queen, but she certainly did not act like one. 

She tied up the last few strands of Tamira’s hair, and decided to go see if anyone would need her help, leaving the imitation Queen in one of the other girl’s capable hands. 

“Jester, we’ve got… soon… wa-…”

“Riddler, come in Riddler.” Jester readjusted the comm station. ‘No use, they’ve blocked the communication. What now…’ With the Sith coming back, he made sure that all the doors were barred, but that would do a lot of help. 

Jester noticed suddenly that the woman was gone. ‘Where did she go?’ He noticed a trail of blood that had not been there before, it led directly into the wall and stopped. Examining the wall for a moment, Jester found a small button located at the bottom of the wall.

‘Hello, what’s this?’ He pushed the button and a portion of the wall opens.

“About time you found out where I went.” Well there she was, holding a blaster, aimed at him.

“Hi”, Jester said brightly. “You haven’t seen my lightsaber have you?” 

Jester woke up in a dark dank cell, restrained by some chains. 

“Well, that’s the last time I’m going to ask that question”, he said as he rubbed a blaster burn on his chest. “Good thing I’m not dead”. The chains were of a strange alloy and incredibly strong, “No use trying to break these.” Jester jumped as the cell door was flung open, there stood the woman with another person he did not recognise.

“The Sith have come and gone. It appears that you’re of no use to us, so my friend here will dispose of you, while I do some other work. The damage you’ve done has set us back, but new personnel will arrive in a few days… and well, nice to have, worked with you. Goodbye, Mr. Jester.” 

She walked out of the cell and back into the main room. “Too bad the cells are sound proof, I love the sound of death in the morning.” 

There was a knock on the main door into the complex. “Odd”, she walked over to the viewport beside the door, “Who’s that?” There stood a man in a heavy black cloak. “I guess one of the Sith has returned”, she mused before opening the door.

“A new vacuum cleaner?”

“What?” The man looked up and the woman fell. A lightsaber ran through her body. 

“Here’s Riddler!” He looked around and noticed a window leading into an area that seemed to be a holding cell. “Hold on Jester!” 

The cell door opened with a creak and Jester stared blankly at the soldier who stared right back at him with dark empty eyes. He raised his blaster level to Jester’s head and put his finger on the trigger, saying in a cold voice, “It’s a shame the Jedi die so easily.”

Suddenly, the soldier felt a hard object pressed hard into his upper-back. An unusually familiar voice said behind him, “I don’t think so.”

With that a bright blade of crimson light shot right through the guard’s chest. He let out a tight yelp and struggled as the life drained out of him and the blade retracted as the lightsaber deactivated. The soldier fell to the floor with a loud thumping noise.

Jester let out a huge breath. He had not realised that he had been holding it. He then heard the lightsaber snap back to life as the hooded figure strode silently into the room. Jester smiled politely at his rescuer, not having heard his earlier words. “Who are you?”

“Someone you trust with your life.”

The black-robed figure removed the cloaked hood, showing his smiling face. It was the Grand Admiral Riddler himself. He looked around for a way to remove the chains that bound Jester, then shrugged and moved towards him with his lightsaber still ignited. “I got a trace on your location, you were only three hundred miles away from the Palace so I borrowed the Queen’s speeder and rushed over here. I guess I got here just in the nick of time.”

The Riddler cut through Jester’s bonds then deactivated the saber and tossed Jester a spare cloak and lightsaber. “Put this on.”

The two then began their journey back to the Palace. They still had to find out what had happened to the Queen.

With a sigh the Queen replaced the commlink and wished for the millionth time that someone had answered her call. Was the entire Palace missing, or did she just have really bad timing?

A flash of premonition swept over her and she suddenly involuntarily, wondering what it meant.

Their escape from Toxtenkopp had been too easy, she realised. Surely if the Sith had the power to infiltrate Domus Prime and kidnap her from the Palace where security was so high, they would have been able to prevent one ship from leaving. Perhaps they had been allowed escape for a reason, but the only one she could think of would be if they wanted to trace the fugitives.

“No”, she shook her head resolutely. “They would not, or would they?”

She tried to distract herself from these alarming thoughts, hoping against hope that Darth Ravage was not as cunning as he had already proven to be. 

She thought back over the trip with Devron, and one thought seemed to revolve around in her head. She tried to place where it came from, and then remembered Devron’s conversation with his friend on the new Super Star Destroyer.

“Wait a minute”, the Queen said aloud to herself, fingering her locket thoughtfully, “Flirting?”

She resolved to speak with the Grand Admiral later, after she had known a few hours sleep in a real bed.

Try as she might, the Queen could not sleep. Every time she tried she had a recurring dream of a dark black wave coming to engulf her and her friends, putting her in that same black cell she had been rescued out of. But this time when Devron came to rescue her the Sith destroyed him and kept her in solitary confinement, bombarding her with the Dark Side of the Force.

Finally fed up with reliving the same nightmare, the Queen got out of her bed and walked into the tactical room. Devron sat on the floor there with a mug half-full of coffeine next to him, his back against a table and a datapad in his hands. A possessed look was on his face, dimly lit by the glow of the tacscreen, as he ran through a simulation. 

“How’s the strategy coming?”

Devron turned to the Queen, the possessed look replaced by one of alertness, despite staying up all night. He took a sip of his coffeine. “I think I have a good strategy going. It involves a show of inferior force, then coming in with a hammer. Want to see?”

“Yeah. Any more coffeine?”

“I think so. Check the food-prep counter in the corner.”

She does and comes back with her own mug of steaming coffeine with a slight flavour of Ithorian zanurr nut. “This is good. Run the strategy.”

Resetting the tacscreen, the view reverted to a hologram of five Dark Talon ground occupation capital ships, seven Lancer frigates, twelve ISDs, four VSDs and the SSD orbiting the planet Vortex. Issuing specific orders caused one Lancer frigate, three dark Talon ships and two VSDs to travel in hyperspace all the way to Toxtenkopp, while the rest of the fleet travelled to a spot well outside sensor ranges, requiring only a two-second hop to arrive at Toxtenkopp. Devron sped up time until the task force arrived at Toxtenkopp. In a matter of sim-hours, fifteen Sith Dreadnaughts and ten Escort Cruisers appeared around the planet. He paused the simulation. 

“See, Queen, this is where the Sithspawn cockiness comes in handy. They figure that just because we only sent those ships doesn’t mean that we’re going to ambush them from behind, so they send their whole fleet to attack our meagre little task force. The small task force reports in to the SSD, which has the coordinates sent out to the rest of the fleet. The rest of the fleet waits five minutes while the Sith ships attack the mini-fleet, then the fleet launch into hyperspace for the two seconds, arrive at Toxtenkopp, and decimate the Sith fleet.” 

Devron let the simulation run again, displaying his strategy while he talked. “After we have secure orbit around the planet, we send everything we have down on the ground to attack the Sith. No point in being subtle and enigmatic. All the AT-ATs, all the AT-STs and AT-PTs, all the Juggernaut ground assault vehicles, Chariot LAVs, Combat Assault Vehicles, everything. TIE Bombers and Y-wings will be dispatched for support bombing, while X-wings, A-wings, TIE Interceptors, TIE Defenders and StarWing Assault Gunboats will be sent for air support and to take out the Toxtenkopp Air Fleet that didn’t launch when the capital ships started assault. Hopefully, we’ll be able to take over a lot of the Sith facilities, but if it’s impossible to do without losing a lot of our troops, we’ll withdraw personnel and destroy any places that resist too well. 

“This strategy, I believe, leaves a lot of room for error or bad luck, but if luck is mainly with the Sith, we might take a lot heavier losses than originally planned. Still, I think we’ll come out victorious, no matter which side Lady Luck supports.”

The Queen nodded in appreciation. “I see that you have spent a lot of time thinking this out. I like the strategy a lot. In the meantime, what are we going to do?”

“Wait. What else is there to do?”

‘Take me back to Domus Prime’, she thought, wishing to be home and in familiar surroundings. Aloud, she said, “I do not know. I just wanted to make sure you did not plan on running hit-and-run missions on the Sith in the meantime.”

“Nah. We might sustain losses, which is not good at this stage in the war. No, I think the first thing I’m going to do is go down planet-side and get something to eat. In Anvan, there’s this one restaurant that’s made like a Star Destroyer bridge. It’s authentic to the last detail, with the main bridge window, both side windows and all the computers. The restaurant’s on the top of a large skyscraper, so the windows are coveted seats reserved for ticket holders or military personnel.” He smiles.

“What do they do with the computers?”

“They monitor strategy games. A lot of betting goes on around the Imperator’s strategy games. All the best go there to play against each other, because of the setting. I think there’s even a worldwide tournament, with large cash prizes.”

“You ought to enter one.” 

“No, I’d get my butt kicked.”

She blinks. “How is the food there?”

“Top-of-the-line.”

Her stomach proclaims its agreement to the plan inwardly. “And how much is the food?” All she owned was her locket, and even if she was starving she would not part with that.

“Why are you worrying? I’m buying.”

“Oh. Well, alright. Let us go get some breakfast.”

Getting up and shutting down the tacscreen, Devron headed down to where his Hetrinar bomber was docked, the Queen following. 

As the Riddler and Jester closed in on the Palace Jester saw that two new sentry towers had been constructed around the perimeter of Fuhenteki Na Shiro. “When did those get built?”

“Well, Jester, if you’d quit running off…” The Riddler began teasingly.

“Oh shut up before I kick your….”

“You couldn’t even with one hand tide behind my back. Anyway, they were just built. Right now they’re just regular towers, but were working on modifying them with some new technology we recently acquired.” They landed in the docking bay and made their way inside. At the entrance stood a woman and a small child.

“Melvin!” She and the little girl ran up to Jester.

“I’ve told you before, I don’t like that name!”

“Well I’m your big sister and I can call you whatever I want. Anyway, Rhea and I just wanted to see you.” 

Jester picked up Rhea, hugging the small child close. “How’s my little niece?”

“Your head’s cut.”

“I’ll be fine. Go back to your mom, I’ve got to go.” Rhea got down and walked somewhat unsteadily back to Samantha.

“We’ll see you later”, Jester’s sister said, “I’m glad you’re all right.”

Jester took Samantha aside for a moment, leaving Rhea with the Riddler, and whispered into her ear. “Have you talked to her about being trained?”

“I think you should do that. You know better than I what to say.”

“She’s only a year old, do you think she’ll understand?”

“You know as well as I do that she’s extremely intelligent for her age. There has to be a reason.”

“Well, look at her genes”, Jester smirked, and his sister thwacked him gently.

“You know what I mean!”

“Alright, tonight then?”

“Agreed.” 

“Thanks, I’ll see you later.” A guard escorted Samantha and Rhea to the exit of the hangar bay.

There was a long pause before either man said anything as they walked through the Palace. In the end it was the Riddler who broke the silence. So, Melvin?”

“Oh shut up, Riddler! Just wait until I find out your first name.”

“I don’t have one.” You know that.

“Then I’ll just make one up.”

“Now listen here-” The Riddler sounded suddenly panicked, and looked almost relieved when one of the Palace Guard rushed up to him.

“Grand Admiral, Sir, we’ve been receiving a secure message on your private commlink channel. We’ve been looking all over for you.”

A slight frown crossed the Riddler’s face. “You didn’t listen to it did you?”

“No, Sir.”

“I’ll be there in a moment.” The man bowed and left, even as the Riddler started running towards his room, leaving Jester behind.

Finding a spare moment to check his messages during the rest period, Devron picked up his datapad and activated it. Accessing the message program brought up a list of messages. 

“3 Messages, 2 New

“>>URG: Assault on task force – Admiral Flirrh

“>>New Meal Selections – Imperator Bar and Grill

“Strategy Gaming Tournament – Imperator Bar and Grill” 

‘Sithspawn’, Devron thought to himself. ‘I sent Admiral Flirrh to protect our world. Sithspawn.’

After reading the message Devron checked the wall chronometer: 0217. ‘I guess I’d better tell the Queen.’ Setting the datapad down, he got up and walked over to her room. He opens her door slightly. 

“Hey, Queen! Wake up!”

There was no answer.

“Argh. You Queens always sleep in, don’t you?” Reaching a hand in, he grabbed the wall-switch and flips it up and down. The light goes on and off, strobing across the Queen’s pretty face as she sleeps.

“Ummph… Ahh!” She retracted her head under her blanket. “Devron, you idiot, it is the middle of the night!”

“No it’s not, Queen. It’s 2 hours and 18 minutes past the middle of the night. Besides, Domus Prime’s getting assaulted by some Empire faction.”

“What?” She screamed, instantly awake.

“Yep.”

“I will be there in a second, just let me get dressed.”

Devron considered making a facetious remark but decided against it and retreated away from the door, shutting it on his way.

The Queen tossed in her sleep, trying to make sense of the jumble of images in her head. Something important was happening, but she could not understand what she was being told. Dreams were sometimes gateways through which messages and warnings came, and if she could just understand it, then maybe she could find a way to solve all of her problems.

She saw a child running, embracing the Jester, and then the same child as an adult wielding a lightsaber in battle. She could see Domus Prime, only it was not the home she knew; the world had been corrupted, a dark stain tracing a pattern across the land. The Queen saw Darth Ravage, his face gleaming with a strange joy as he leaned over and kissed her, then his face turned into that of Devron and she cowered in fear before him. 

She saw a small girl of about eight years with her own face talking to another girl with yellow eyes and hair the colour of midnight. ‘Must not, can not, will not remember’, the Queen thought frantically, tossing her head and trying to block the memories that threatened to overcome her in her. ‘Please’, she sent out a frantic thought, and was suddenly awakened by a flashing of the lights in her room.

‘What?’ She thought, suddenly awake, the dream fading from thought.

The Queen was suddenly aware of someone in the doorway and pulled the covers up high to block the light. “Devron, you idiot, it is the middle of the night”, she snapped, a shadow of her dream passing over her as she wondered what could possibly make him come in here at this hour. He told her his disturbing news, then left her to get dressed.

Ten seconds later, the Queen opened the door and walked out. He showed her the message.

“Oh no”, was all she could say.

“There’s a good side to this. This whole fleet has enough fighters and ground assault vehicles to put shame to the little regiment we have left on Domus Prime. Our only top-ranking officials down there are Jester, the Grand Admiral Riddler and your handmaidens. I’m sure they can leave and be able to come here.”

“What are you saying?”

“That we should give them Domus Prime and keep Praesitlyn.”

“Well, that is interesting, and it is not going to happen. But I do have something to tell you, I think we have a spy on the Super-Star Destroyer.”

“What? Where?”

“General Ky-“

Devron was instantly defensive, Queen or no, Kyte was his friend. “Are you accusing General Kyte of supplying information? I don’t think so! He and I have been good friends for years!”

“If you have me a chance to finish, General, you would know that I was not accusing your friend. I am accusing that girl the he has been flirting with.”

Lost for words, Devron breathed, “Oh.”

“She has probably been pulling information, bit by bit, out of his throat.”

“So they might know you’re here?”

“Maybe.”

“So, what are you thinking of doing?”

“I do not know yet.”

Devron sat down heavily and tried to think of a plan. The Queen sat next to him on the couch, looking at him intensely and waiting for a response. Smiling, Devron began kicking her foot lightly, taking this opportunity to flirt a little. She frowned at him and kicked back in response, though lightly as well.

“I know”, he said finally.

“What?”

“Here, I’ll show you.” Devron picked up his datapad and typed in a quick message to Kyte. When he was done, he looks back up at her. “I just reassigned General Kyte to oversee production on one of the Star Destroyers that’s been having faulty work done on it. Now, with your approval, I reassign myself to oversee production of our SSD.”

“Alright”, the Queen said with a perplexed shrug, “Granted.” 

“On my first day of overseeing, which starts in about six hours, I notice this pretty little comm technician…” He trailed off with a smile at the thought of a new girl to flirt with.

“And you feed her false information?”

“Exactly.”

“Sounds good, but you better get some sleep. Not many pretty little comm technicians like flirting with guys who have not gotten any sleep.”

“Alright. See ya in the morning, Queen.”

“Goodnight Devron.”

Five minutes later Devron finally fell asleep.

Chapter 6

The Queen was afraid to go back to sleep and so she stayed where she was, pondering the choices they had just made. A brief flicker in the corner of her eye made her turn her head sharply, and she looked over to the corner in surprise. 

“You know”, she said to the dim feminine form in the corner, “I can watch over him tonight. Besides, I do not think he means what he says, he just misses you more than he realises. He is safe in my hands, Ashliye, you know that.”

The ghostly form nodded and disappeared, leaving the Queen alone once more.

Riddler rushed into his room and quickly turned on his private commlink, hoping that the caller was still waiting. Unfortunately he was too late. “Riddler, it is me.” The imaging was blocked, but he recognised the voice instantly and smiled at the thought of the Queen as she recorded the message for him. “I am safe with the guardian you sent.” 

“Devron”, the Riddler murmured, but the recording went on, stopping his musing temporarily.

“I do not want this to be traced, and I am frightened that they might find me again, but I will check back later. Out.”

It was good to hear the Queen’s voice again and to know that she was safe, but whom could he tell and trust? Jester, K, Jedi Nay, Tamira, they had to know. Was it safe to inform anyone else?

There was a knocking noise at his door. “Sir, a situation needs your attention!”

“What is it?” The Riddler snapped at being disturbed after he had only just returned to the Palace.

“I was told to give you this.” He handed the Riddler a data pad.

Printed in neat type were the words, “Imperial forces are in orbit and our Forces are defending. All communications are jammed as well as radar. All ships on planetary defence, no transports allowed to or from the battle to the planet.” 

The Riddler stopped reading and said aloud, “I arrived back just in time then.” He ran off to the War Room to see what could be done.

Jester arrived just as he said he would that night. A warm meal was prepared and he took his seat at the table with Samantha and Rhea. For a long time they ate in silence, content in each other’s company. 

Jester stopped eating and looked at Samantha, she nodded her head. 

“Rhea,” Jester looked into his niece’s innocent blue eyes, “Do you know what it means to be a Jedi?”

“Yeah.” She scooped up the last bite of food with her hands.

Curiously, Jester smiled at her. “How did you know?”

“Someone told me.”

“Who?”

“A man.”

“When?”

“For the last few nights.”

Jester looked at Samantha, who was in complete shock at this news, before turning back to the child. “What did he look like?”

Rhea shrugged. “He wore all black and I could not see his face.”

“What did he tell you?”

“He said that the Jedi are misguided.”

Jester stood up and took Samantha to the side, out of earshot. “Do you think…?” He could not finish, but Samantha nodded, she knew what he was thinking. Jester made a choice then. “I’m going to stay here for a while.” 

Samantha embraced her brother and began to cry on his shoulder. “It’s going to be ok”, he told her gently. 

The commlink began to beep in the next room, and Jester released his sister with a sigh. “You stay here, I’ll get it.” 

Jester walked into the office and answered the call to hear a mechanised voice address him. “Hello and thank you for using Domus Prime Telecom where…”

“Yeah, yeah, give me the call.” It was not terribly surprising how irritating that computer voice sounded. All across the Galaxy they were the same.

“You have an incoming call from, Grand Admiral Riddler. Do you accept….”

“Just put him on.” Jester was suddenly worried. The Riddler had never tried to contact him while at Samantha’s house before.

An image of the Riddler came on to the screen before him. “Jester, I need you back at the Palace, now.”

“Riddler, I can’t. Rhea-” The Riddler interrupted him.

“We’re being invaded by Imperials.” 

A hard decision was placed in front of Jester: his family or his duty. Reluctantly he agreed. “Alright, but I want guards to be posted at my sister’s house, we might have a Sith problem.”

“Done, now hurry.” 

The next day, Devron lived up to his word, slipping away at first light, or at least what the timepiece said was first light, to oversee the construction of the new fleet. 

When the Queen awoke, she realised that she was alone, and for a moment she shivered uncontrollably, memories of her kidnapping flashing through her mind at a terrible pace. 

She was going insane here, it was too quiet, the silence was stifling. More than anything else she wanted to be back on Domus Prime, ‘back home’, the Queen thought with sudden realisation. 

Domus Prime was her home now, it was the place where she belonged. Maybe she was not really suited to being Queen there, but there was something about that planet that she loved, she seemed to have a place where she fitted in. 

And of course there were the people. She missed them all so much, and yet none of them had tried to contact her since she had sent the Riddler that message. Maybe he had not received it. But that did not make any sense, Devron had not told her anything about the Riddler not being in the Palace. Which meant that he was not trying to get in touch for his own reasons.

The Queen walked over to one of Devron’s consoles that were scattered around the place seemingly without any reason. She looked through the device’s preset commands, and tried to initiate a session with the Palace mainframe system. But there seemed no obvious way to access it.

She sighed. Trust Devron to have no easy access to the Palace computers. He probably hacked the mainframe once a day just to keep in practice. For a brief moment, the Queen considered doing that herself, then realised that she was not really interested in seeing just how little anyone cared about her not being on the planet.

After storming away from the console and brushing her long and now neat hair for a time, she made a choice. She rummaged through Devron’s things for a while before finding a nice bundle of credit slips, taking a few (they were probably from the Royal Treasury anyway) and walking out to see what the market places of Praesitlyn had to offer.

Jester rushed into the War Room and found the Riddler bent over the tactical board. Other people were also present, all busy with tasks and tactics preparing for the incoming invasion of Imperial troops. “You need me?” Jester asked of the Grand Admiral.

The Riddler just stared at the board, typing in a few commands before looking up. “Well, there is some good news,” he stood straight and walked over to Jester before whispering into his ear, “The Queen is safe with Devron.” 

A look of relief came over Jester’s face as one of his fears was removed. “Now if we could just stop getting invaded…” 

The Riddler said thoughtfully, “you’ve never had a thirst for battle. Ever since….” He trailed off, unable to finish his sentence.

“Ever since what, the great campaign of this system? Where countless soldiers died. When we arrived on a planet, where all the troops were basically ambushed? But who survived that?” 

“I’m sorry, I-” The Riddler began, but Jester was too upset to stop now.

“Only we survived, Riddler. So, do I have a thirst for battle after seeing my closest friends die? No, I don’t!” 

“Calm down! Alright, I’m sorry.” The apology came too late, both men were upset at the memories being recounted.

“You’re used to it, you were a S-” 

The Riddler gave Jester a quick jab to his face and Jester, caught off guard, fell to the floor. “I told you to never bring that up! If you were any other man, I’d kill you where you stand”, he flared angrily. 

Jester sat on the ground and just stared at his friend, wondering what had happened between them. 

The Riddler spoke again. “Lines have been crossed and I apologise, but we must stop thinking of ourselves now. Our planet needs help.” 

Tamira was pacing restlessly in the War Room when she heard a crashing sound behind her. She turned around to see the Jester on the ground, anger in his eyes as he looked up at the Riddler, who looked equally full of rage. For a moment the air between them was static, as though the whole of Domus Prime was waiting for the outcome of this confrontation. 

Not knowing what to do, Tamira rushed over and helped Jester to his feet then faced the two of them, wondering what could have precipitated such a confrontation between lifelong friends.

“Enough of this”, Tamira nearly shouted as she lost control of her own pent-up emotions, “We cannot stand here fighting amongst ourselves. It is Domus Prime that needs our help now, and when we are done, then you can get on with your petty little argument. Now, it is up to you to find some sort of strategy that will allow us to fight off these invaders, for the Force knows I am not well enough versed in such matters. So get on with it, I want the planet to be safe again by morning.”

Passion shone clearly on Tamira’s face despite the make-up that hid it so well. She stood before them, tall and proud, a regal figure commanding power and respect with every word she uttered. 

Jester leaned over to the Riddler and whispered softly, “Are you sure she’s not the real Queen?”

And with that the last of Tamira’s anger faded, and she ran from the War Room trying to hold back tears.

When Devron returned from the Super-Star Destroyer, he met with a surprise. There, laid out in neat order, was a meal of some of the best looking food he had seen since they had arrived here.

“Sit down and eat”, the Queen ordered from where she was leaning over a bench fiddling desperately with something in a bowl there.

Devron did not need to be told twice, the rumbling in his stomach convincing him that maybe he was not dreaming after all.

Sitting down, he picked up a mouthful of the stew-like substance on his fork and bit into it greedily. The expression on his face slowly changed as he chewed it from one of adoration to horror. Grimly, he swallowed, and tried to think of a polite way to tell his Queen that she could not cook.

He shook his head. That was not possible, especially when she was standing there by the counter looking at him with such hope shining in her eyes. Devron mustered his courage and took another bite.

And so it continued for several minutes, Devron looking up every few moments to see if the Queen was still watching him. 

Finally the Queen could bear it no longer and burst out laughing. Devron looked around, bewildered.

“Oh Devron, you are a true friend”, she cried coming around the table and throwing her arms around his neck. He shook his head, trying to understand, but content to remain in that position.

“Did you realise, you are the first person to ever last that long?” the Queen stepped back and took the plate from him, deftly switching it with one from the catering unit. “Here, eat this instead. I promise I did absolutely nothing to prepare it.”

This time, the food was just as good as it looked, if a little bland, and Devron found himself smiling back at the Queen, this time in relief.

“So, what brought on this bout of domesticity?” Devron asked, waving a fork in the direction of the other food, if it could be called that.

“I wanted to see if I was still as terrible as I used to be. And I was bored.” The Queen shrugged, then her eyes flashed with internal fire. “Devron, we have got to get me back to Domus Prime. So much is happening there, and I am stuck here doing nothing. I want to go home.”

The General nodded, trying to think his way around the problem. Nothing more was said between them until after she had cleaned up. 

Then the Queen pulled another plate of food from the cooling unit and placed it before him. “Desert”, she muttered, looking down at her feet and trying to avoid eye contact.

And it was no wonder. Within the bowl lay a pile of some sort of brown sludge. Whilst whatever she had cooked before had looked delicious, he could not even imagine what was here before him. Knowing now that this was probably another test, he lifted the spoon to his mouth as though he was not afraid of whatever might happen as a result of eating this and grimly licked its contents into his mouth.

Devron glanced down at the bowl in surprise, then filled his spoon again and continued eating the unusual confection. 

“This is great”, he mumbled through mouthfuls of the stuff. The Queen looked up, smiling knowingly, and fetched herself some, never one to let an opportunity to enjoy chocolate pass by. 

Several minutes later, Devron slumped to the table, the Queen only just having time to grab the bowl out from underneath him before he fell.

She threw it into the garbage, before turning to face the unconscious General. Her eyes flickered momentarily and she levitated Devron into the sleeping chamber. 

Once there, the Queen took up a position of meditation on the floor and started concentrating, one hand automatically resting on her locket as she called on the power within her. ‘I just hope I gave him enough of the sleep powder’, she thought, ‘Otherwise this could be painful.’ 

Three hours later she opened her eyes and looked down at her handiwork. It seemed as if she had completed it properly, for Devron’s arm was now free of any scarring or damage. 

The Queen hoped that when Devron woke up in the morning, he would not be terribly upset with her for drugging him.

Blinking his eyes sleepily, Devron used his right arm to manoeuvre himself into a sitting position on the bed. “Sithspawn,” he mumbled, reflecting on how sleepy he must have been, since he can not seem to remember what had happened after dessert. 

Spying a glass of water by the bed, Devron reflexively reached for it with his left hand, cursing himself for his stupidity a split-second later. He then gazed in astonishment as his arm responded to the command and grabbed the water.

“Um…” was all he could say

Deciding to run another test Devron withdrew his always-worn knife from its sheath. The sharpened metal glinted dimly against the barely lit panels of the ceiling. Quickly, he puts a slight cut in his thumb.

A needle of pain touches the wound momentarily then dark red blood ran out of the cut for a second before stopping.

“This,” Devron mumbled to himself, “is crazy.”

Getting out of bed, he peered into the main chamber where the Queen slept on one of the couches there. Frowning to himself for depriving her of her bed he walked out of the chamber and headed to the main bridge of the Super Star Destroyer for his overseeing job. 

“Hey, beautiful.”

Andora glances up from her comm station, blonde hair cascading over her shoulders and beautiful grey eyes turning up to his. “Hey, Dev. What’s going on?”

“Just woke up.”

She smiled warmly at the General. “Have a good sleep?”

“I don’t know. I was eating dinner, then I woke up. Maybe I was possessed. Anyway, how are you?”

“Oh, not too bad.” Reaching a hand to her neck, Andora fingered a black and red orb hanging just below the base of it.

“Well,” Devron continued, reaching over to run a few fingers idly through her lustrous straight blonde hair, “it looks like I’ll probably be staying around for a while. Her Royal Ignorance seems to like it planetside, she’s having fun down there, shopping and doing all sorts of stuff. Me, I don’t care whether or not she stays here forever.”

Dark red lips pursed with thought then curved upwards. “Well, that just means more time on your SSD.”

“Yeah, it does. At least I’m not out of the loop. With the siege on the Sith-owned planet of Morvogodine coming up, I’m running through a lot of messages trying to coordinate it.”

“We’re going to attack? When?”

“When the fleet is finished,” Devron confided, his hands moving to Andora’s shoulders to give her a massage as he watched over her head at the comm screen that was currently blank. “We think it’s their major base, and that Toxtenkopp was just an outpost. In a little under a month and a half, we strike with everything we’ve got.”

“Isn’t the fleet supposed to be finished in fifteen days, though?”

“Yeah. We have to run the troops through a few staging exercises. Mock battles over the planet and such. Of course, this is all restricted to people under the rank of Colonel.”

“So, I never heard anything about an attack?”

“Something like that, beautiful. If any leaks happen, it’s my head.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” Andora said, already preparing a report to her master on the impending attack in her head.

“Promise?”

Tilting her head back, Andora kissed Devron deeply, her arms reaching up to encircle his neck and back, drawing him closer.

“I promise.”

Devron blinked shaking off the instant lust that shot through him from the kiss, like liquid fire burning through his blood. Those beautiful red lips pressing against his, the sweet taste of her mouth, the light yet demanding grasp of her slender hands, pulling him closer seemed to ignite his soul. “Um, yeah, alright, anyway, so, the attack on Vortex in a month and a half, and the Grand Admiral coming in thirty days, and, um, that’s about it… yeah.”

She nodded her head. “Why don’t you take a few hours off? I’ll keep an eye on the bridge, and you deserve what a few hours can bring you. Take a nap maybe.”

“Yeah… I think I’ll do that… Thanks.” 

“Alright.”

As he walked towards the door leading to the residential corridor, he looked back when she called his name. “Yeah?”

Andora smiled at him. “I love you.”

Blinking again, Devron managed to squeeze a reply out. “Yeah… I love you too. See you later.” 

Andora waved at Devron as he exited the bridge, then turned, coldly businesslike as she swivelled to the comm station and began to type a report to her master. “Or, is it that I love your gullibility? Still… you kiss good,” she told the comm station in his absence.

Back in his room, Devron flipped the holoscreen to a random channel and fell to thinking. He never expected to fall victim to love, especially to her, but Sithspawn! He could not deny, no matter how hard he tried, of how much he wanted to have Andora, to be with her, when she kissed him. A fire that he thought had abandoned him forever had shot up; blazing like so much fuel had been poured on the red embers of the flame. Andora had the looks, and she certainly had the touch, but she was Sith…

Devron let his head smack against the wall behind the couch. The Queen was out shopping or doing something or other planetside. She would be fine for at least one more day here.

Her Royal Ignorance.

When Devron had said that, he was just trying to endear himself to Andora, to gain credibility and motive, to add a fleck more of truth to the false information. But now… 

‘Get out of the trance, idiot’, Devron admonished himself. ‘She is a Sith. 

S-I-T-H. She is enemy. She is bad. Do not fall for her.’

Still, with looks like that…

Utterly frustrated with himself Devron flipped off the holoscreen and crashed onto the bed, preferring to forget the whole manner and hoping to sleep it off. Five minutes later, his whole body submitted itself to unconsciousness.

When Devron woke up he heard sounds in the food-prep area. ‘Food.’ Staggering out of bed with sleepy clumsiness he made his way into the area where the Queen, wearing some outfit she got somewhere planetside, was creating a meal for herself.

“Hey.”

The Queen turned toward him, no surprise evident on her pretty face. “Hello. Are you hungry?”

“Nah”, Devron muttered.

“Is something wrong?”

“Too complicated to explain.”

“Would it have anything to do with your left arm being healed?” The Queen’s eyes were suddenly evasive, the smile on her face a little forced.

“Not completely, no.” Devron gazed at her quizzically. “Why?”

The Queen nerved herself for a half-second before going on. “I drugged your dessert with a hypno powder. It put you to sleep long enough for me to use the Force to completely heal your arm.”

Leaning against a counter top, Devron considered this, the only expression on his face one of understanding. For an eternal moment, the Queen expected a sudden outburst, the channelling of his energy into white-hot words. 

After about ten seconds of contemplation Devron finally moved. He walked toward the Queen and wrapped her in an embrace, his arms curling around her back. “Thank you, Queen,” he said softly. 

At that moment she could sense in Devron something that was disturbing him, but was not sure as to whether or not she should probe him further in order to find out what. 

Devron let her go and checked his wrist chrono. “About time for me to head up to the bridge,” he told her. “I’ll see you later, Queen.”

“See you,” she replied politely, deciding to drop the train of thought concerning him and just finish her lunch. 

“Hey, Dev.”

“Hi, Andora.”

“I’ve got something to show you. It’s in my room. Want to go and see?”

Devron’s thoughts instantly exploded into turmoil, his sense of duty towards ‘Her Royal Ignorance’ conflicting with his common sense which was telling him that the odds were better that he would survive driving this nearly completed SSD through the Hoth belt than not doing what Andora might be thinking of doing in her room. For about two seconds these thoughts entered a bloody war before one finally prevailed over the other.

“Sure. Let’s go.”

Smiling, Andora hopped out of her seat, grabbed his hand and dragged Devron towards her room, nearly at a run in her excitement. He shook his head, hoping his loyalty would not destroy him here and now.

When they reached her room Andora pushed him in, follows behind him and shut the door locking it behind her. That done, she unbuttoned her outer coat and shrugged it off of her shoulders, smiling at him.

Revealed was a black shirt with a skull on it. Two lightsabers were plunged through the skull in an X, the crimson red glow seeming to illuminate the skull. Under the skull were the words “Death’s Head.”

Andora reached her right hand behind her back. When she brought it out, grasped in her hand was a standard stormtrooper-issue BlasTech E-11. Levelling it at Devron’s chest she depressed the trigger. Blue circles of energy ran out of the barrel, engulfing him and throwing him to the floor.

Without a word, Darth Cyani tossed the E-11 onto her bed. Grabbing a syringe, she quickly injected a dose of Seryi-333 into his wrist vein. ‘Have a nice day long nap’. That done, she dragged him to the nearest turbolift and took it to a secondary shuttle bay. Picking out a sleek black Lambda shuttle, she dragged Devron inside, straps him in and sat down in the cockpit area. ‘Finally.’

Not bothering to ask permission Darth Cyani powered up the engines of the shuttle. The hangar bay glowed blue as the exhaust from the ion engines mingled with the dim white lights overhead. She engaged the repulsorlifts, allowing her movement. After she turned the nose of the shuttle toward the bay opening, Darth Cyani shoved the ion drives forward. Unceremoniously and without any noise save for a low whine the shuttle shot off into open space.

Her comm crackled. “Shuttle 3X-47, this is Phantom Shadows Launch Control,” a decidedly male voice (‘tragically mechanised’, she thought) said. “You have launched without permission. Return to Hangar Bay 3X immediately or be shot down.”

In response Darth Cyani warmed up her hyperdrive engines as she began plotting a course.

“Shuttle 3X-47, deactivate hyperdrive engines immediately or be shot down.”

She did not respond, instead watching the calculations run through the navcomp.

“Shuttle 3X-47, a squadron of E-wing fighters has been deployed. If you do not signal intentions to return immediately, you will be shot down.”

The coordinates appeared, glowed faint orange on the transparisteel canopy. The handle of the hyperspace drive engage turned from glowing faint red to green. Reaching over, Darth Cyani grabbed and pulled back on it.

One of the E-wings finally drew close enough to fire a shot but as he lined his sights up to do so, the blue glow signalling the presence of the shuttle enlarged then faded away to a pinprick.

“Damn.” 

Devron’s face stung. In the background he could hear a light female voice ordering him to wake up. Lethargic, he let himself drift back into the ecstatic embrace of sleep, let it carry him away.

Another impact on his face chases the lethargy away and Devron opened his eyes. Andora (‘no, that’s Darth Cyani’, he corrected himself) stood before him, her Royal Forces uniform replaced by a tight black bodysuit streaked with red and a black cloak.

“About time you’re awake, Devron,” Darth Cyani said. “Now that you are, why don’t you answer a few questions about ‘Her Royal Ignorance,’ being that you probably gave me false information before.”

A memory, faint in its seeming insignificance, came back to Devron. “Always give your name, rank and service number,” the Tuebor SpecForce instructor had told his class. “Nothing else. Just name, rank and service number.”

He looked up at Cyani, who was smiling before him. “Devron Zal, General, RN/P/S-23.”

Her eyes narrowed to slits, icy cold. “Now, now. Not about you. About your Queen, or perhaps what you’re really going to do with your Praesitlyn fleet.”

“Devron Zal, General, RN/P/S-23.”

“Your loyalty is seemingly unbreakable, huh? Wanting to impress me with your resistance?”

“Devron Zal, General, RN/P/S-23.”

“Do you say anything else?”

“Maybe.”

“Be cooperative, Dev. I haven’t restrained you… yet. Maybe because I like you.”

“Well, that’s nice. But, if you liked me, you’d let me sleep.”

“Too bad. Answer some questions.”

“Devron Zal, General, RN/P/S-23.”

Darth Cyani frowned. He smiled at her in response.

“Fine, then. Make me do it the hard way.” Showing him her sharpened fingernails for a second, she then used them in a sort of slap. Blood welled up and began to run slowly from a set of four shallow slices in his skin.

“You touch me again, Cyani, I’ll kill you.”

“Such threats. You know you wouldn’t kill me. You’re in love with me, remember?” To prove how much she was in control of him Cyani reached up to the neck of her bodysuit, grabbed the zipper there and tugged it down a couple of inches. “You can’t deny the reaction you had when I kissed you. You knew what I was, but still, you wanted me. Didn’t you?”

Devron gritted his teeth in anger. Pronouncing his words deliberately and slowly he told Cyani, “Devron Zal. General. RN/P/S-23.”

Her grey eyes turn to fire again and she raked her fingers across his previous cuts. Blood previously held back began flowing again, dripping down his cheek at the same slow pace.

Devron’s eyes wandered the room, looking for a weapon. None in reach, except for one on Cyani’s left hip, and she was a few feet out of reach. With a flash of insight, a plan materialises.

Devron sighed, trying his best to look defeated. “Fine. You’re right, Cyani. I knew what you were ever since I reassigned Kyte and put myself in his place. When you kissed me and I went back to my room and took a nap, I had so many dreams about you.” A lie, but one that could serve to convince her. “After that, I figured I was in lust with you. Maybe even in love. When you asked me to your room, my heart leapt with lust like someone poured sublight fuel on it.” A lie bigger than the Praesitlyn fleet, but she would probably fall for it. “Now, even though you’ve got me captive here, I still look upon you and desire you more than life itself.” ‘Sithspawn. My lies keep growing, and growing, and growing.’

Cyani smiled and unzipped her bodysuit another inch. “Good. Maybe I can have my fun with you before the interrogation continues, then.” She stepped toward him intending to do just that.

As soon as Cyani stepped within reach Devron lashed his left arm out and grabbed hold of her throat. With his right hand he grabbed the blaster off of her left hip. Pushing it into the bottom of Cyani’s jaw he angles it towards the middle of her head. “Told you.”

Completely surprised, Darth Cyani tried her last fallback option. Pushing her head forward, she pressed her lips against Devron’s, trying to seduce him into a few seconds of hesitation. She kissed him with as much passion as she had, enhancing the effect by slightly shifting her body provocatively. When she pulled back, she looked into his eyes, searching for any change.

None there. The same mixture of anger, hate and revenge burns in them, hotter than all the fires in the Known Galaxy.

Five seconds later, with her eyes still betraying her fear, Devron pulled the trigger with absolutely no regret. Darth Cyani’s dead body slumped against him. Disgusted with her, he shoved it off and searched the now-empty room for anything of use.

A computer sat in the corner humming. Devron sat at it and accessed a map of the facility. ‘Sithspawn.’ By the map, he was at one end of a major base, and the hangar bay was at the other end. The whole base was arranged like a giant cross and he looked at the map carefully for something he could use. His eyes fell on the ground vehicle bay. ‘Oh boy. Here we go again. And now it’s worse.’

Devron shook his head at the seeming impossibility. Between him and the ground vehicle bay stood two sets of crew barracks holding about one hundred troops between them, their mess hall, and a war room. The label on the map said “Toxtenkopp Imperial/Sith Base 2A.”

‘So, this is one of the major bases. And, it holds Imps and Sithies. Sounds like fun.’ Quickly Devron located the nearest crew barrack; down the hall, third door to right. Walking over to the door he opened it and immediately tracked his vision with the blaster.

Nobody in sight. Hurriedly, Devron ran to the third door on the left, opened it and stepped inside, closing it behind him. A hallway greeted him, stretching about twenty meters, with two doors on each side and one on the other end. Opening the nearest door on the left, Devron poked his head inside.

Five people were in the room. Three of them slept while two were struggling into their armour. Both look up. “What the… Who are you?” 

Muttering a string of curses Devron quickly levelled his blaster at one of them and pulled the trigger. The red bolt struck the man in the chest and he collapsed onto his empty bunk. The other one leapt toward his assailant hoping to disarm him. One well-placed shot to the head silences him.

Submitting a silent prayer for time to a random god, Devron killed the three sleeping men with a bolt to the head each. That done, he found a set of empty armour that did not smell too bad and began putting it on. As he does he made sure to glance at his new name, rank and operating number, helpfully stencilled above the set of armour in the closet.

Seven minutes later, Stormtrooper Second Lieutenant Zelin Tralo, 3452 stepped out of his shared room, a BlasTech T-21 Light Repeating Rifle held in both hands. Inside the armour, Devron marched towards the war room, never looking any way but forward, never breaking his stride, his shoulders squared, his weapon at a 25-30 degree angle pointing upwards, his boots smartly clicking with each step, never uttering a word.

When he reached the war room, he walked inside to find five men no lower than Colonel clustered around a strategy table. Surreptitiously activating the built-in recorder that comes as a standard on all trooper helmets, Devron marched up to the men and snapped off a quick salute, standing his rifle on its butt and holding its barrel. The five men saluted back in standard Imperial protocol. One of them asked, “Purpose of presence?”

“I have been sent to review the mission strategy and relay it to my superior officer, sir.”

“I wasn’t notified of this, stormtrooper.”

“Comm failure, sir. We were not aware of it when we sent out the message, and we assumed it reached you.”

“All right, stormtrooper.” The officer then began to describe his plan for defending Toxtenkopp telling of the tampered intelligence sent by one of their best spies, what was and was not being taken seriously and other points. Devron listened with only half an ear, letting the in-helmet recorders store it for analysis later.

Fifteen minutes later the officer finished. “Now, stormtrooper, go report that to your superior officer. You have no more business here. That was our full strategy.”

“Yes, sir.” Another exchange of salutes and Devron marches out of the war room. Then, stopping the recorder and activating his commlink, he sets it to the war room comm channel. “This is Darth Ravage. All officers in the war room are to come to my quarters immediately to tell me of their strategy.”

Thirty seconds later all five officers marched out of the war room at a brisk pace. Devron went back in the war room, shutting and locking the door behind him. He sat down at a computer console, downloading all the information he could onto a datadisk for future reference. ‘Oh, Your Royal Prettiness, once you see what I have here, you’ll love me forever’, Devron thought to himself, smiling. 

Alarms blared suddenly. “Alert. Security breach in the East Compound War Room. All perpetrators are to be arrested. Alert. Security breach…”

“Sithspawn!” Devron mumbled to himself. Stashing his datadisk in his boot, he ran out of the War Room with his weapon at the ready.

A squad of stormtroopers round the corner. “Report, 3452.”

Devron furrowed his eyebrows for a moment then realised that they thought he was trying to get at the hacker, instead of him being the hacker. “The perpetrator is in there. He’s locked the door and is probably trying to hide or escape.”

“Stand back.” Devron complied and the stormtrooper at the head of the squad placed breaching charges around the door. Stepping back with Devron and the rest of his squad, he triggered the charges.

Even before the smoke cleared, Devron and the squad ran into the room, weapons at the ready. “He’s gone.”

One of the other stormtroopers made the comment. “No, there’s no holes he could have escaped to.” 

The stormtrooper leader turned to Devron. “3452, go for a scanning crew.”

“Yes, sir.” He saluted, got one in return and ran out of the war room. But instead of going to get a scanning crew he headed to the ground vehicle bay.

Entering the bay he found one of the newer versions of S-swoops. Climbing onto the tan seat, Devron triggered the repulsordrives. After he strapped himself into the seat, he twisted the throttle and shot out of the bay towards the setting sun of Toxtenkopp.

After about five minutes of riding in relative peace and comfort towards the nearest major city indicated on the swoop’s global positioning system, Devron heard a faint whine behind him. Looking back he saw three small dots. The dots coalesced into TIE bombes and, judging by their wobbly manoeuvring, they were carrying a full load.

“Sithspawn.” Devron looked down at his global positioning system. It showed flat ground for most of the way, except…

A path consisting of large stone outcroppings and tricky canyons marked the distance ten kilometres ahead. The GPS labels it as “Death’s Visage Swoop / Airspeeder Racing Track.” 

‘Perfect.’

But ten kilometres would come in about a minute and the TIE Bombers were over his head now. One of them dropped a shimmering blue ball and Devron swerved hard to the right to avoid it. It exploded ten metres to his left, the resulting blast missing him by about three metres. 

Another Bomber dropped one directly in front of him. Devron smashed his throttle to full stop, skidded to a halt and let the explosion waste itself. He then twisted his throttle all the way forward and continued toward the course, swerving to make sure they did not feel secure wasting any more bombs.

The Death’s Visage course announced itself by a jump directly in Devron’s path. Despite his situation, Devron started to enjoy himself, and yelled with an adrenalin rush of joy as he hit the jump and flew into the air at about six hundred kilometres per hour. The Bombers followed, heedless of the danger and flying lower, hoping to get a clear shot at him.

Landing his swoop perfectly, Devron took a left turn around a rock wall. All three Bombers followed his turn, swerving left then keeping straight instead of taking a right turn. One of the Bombers let loose a bomb, but it exploded harmlessly well behind him.

Up ahead, a 90-degree left turn required some braking and some skidding to make it. Devron throttled down to about four hundred kilometres per hour and slid around the corner before pushing the throttle back to six hundred kilometres per hour and firing forward. Two of the Bombers followed perfectly but one underestimated the turn and slammed into it head-on.

Up ahead, a 45-degree right branch was almost immediate. Using instincts alone, Devron took the turn and continued towards an angled T-junction at the end of it. One Bomber overshot the turn and did not make it, instead getting lost. The other one made the turn effortlessly and followed the stormtrooper on the swoop.

Devron realised immediately that this last Bomber was probably a squadron leader and would be harder to lose than the other two. This in mind, he continued along the course, skidding around a left turn and shooting down a relatively straight portion of track, swerving around large stone pillars. The Bomber followed, easily making it everywhere he did. 

Near the end of the straightway, Devron feinted going left around a pillar, then made a hard right and flew past it, a mere point-eight metres away. The Bomber pilot, only partially fooled, began to turn left then realised his error and made the right turn, managing only to scrape a solar panel against it. The Bomber wobbled in the air now, his altitude slowly declining and his manoeuvring affected.

Devron skidded his swoop around another hard left turn. The Bomber followed but could not turn well enough and rubs the same solar panel against the wall. When the pilot could regain control, the Bomber’s solar panel was mangled on the front end, and the Bomber could barely turn.

Noticing a three-way fork up ahead, Devron decided to use this to his maximum advantage. Aiming his swoop towards the right-side wall of the middle fork, he decreased speed and stayed perfectly still, virtually wrapping himself up and lying prominently on the Fete Week present table.

Inside the Bomber, the pilot smiled as he looks through his scope, adjusting for the swoop’s speed and calculating how to land the bomb exactly on the false stormtrooper’s head. If that trooper would stay put for a few seconds longer he could make this easily.

The pilot never saw it coming. Devron skidded to a stop as the rock wall sheared off the damaged solar panel. The doomed Bomber started barrel rolling, plunging to the ground fifty metres away. The bomb payload fed into the explosion, creating a ball of fire that ranged to about four metres away from Devron’s face. Silently and with a smile, he watches the explosion dwindle down to nothingness in the night.

Thirty minutes later he reached Death’s Head City. Devron parked his swoop in front of the Death’s Head Outdoor Cafe and Bar before treating himself to a bottle of Zanthraa Heavy before finding a starship retailer.

The meeting with an employee at the starship retailer did not take long.

“I’ll buy your newest Corellian Action VI Transport.”

“That will be 990,000 credits, sir.”

“Charge it to the Toxtenkopp Imperial/Sith Base 2A.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll take you to the docking bay.”

Fifteen minutes later Devron launched into hyperspace en route to Praesitlyn. Nine days remained before the major assault.

Raith Sienar sat at his huge wooden desk, shuffling about papers and typing in figures on his data-pad. He tried to concentrate on his work but something was tapping at him from the deep recesses of his mind. He decided to let the work rest for a while and sat back in his chair as he cradled his throbbing head. His droideka ‘Charlie’ trundled up slowly from one corner of the room up to Raith.

“Sir, are you feeling alright? I can get you something for your headache if you wish.”

“No, no. That’s not what I programmed you for is it? You’re not a medical droid. Besides, it’s just a slight headache, nothing more.”

“As you wish, sir.”

“Chuck, what’s our position?”

“We are in,” the droid paused as it downloaded the Skye Ravager’s position from the ship’s navcomp. “Vector 99.13.AWE sir. We will be within communications range of Domus Prime in approximately three hours.”

“Good, good.” 

‘That should give me some time to rest’, he thought. 

He tried never to let anyone know his weaknesses, not even his faithful Charlie. He told the droid to maintain a watch over the Command Bridge and Charlie trundled off out of the room and down the corridors. Raith stood up and stretched and then walked over to his quarters in the next room. 

He lay down on his bed and closed his eyes. Images flashed into his head of the Great War. He saw his own TIE Fighters and Interceptors slamming into Rebel craft and being gunned down by various turrets on the great Mon Calamari cruiser. 

“Those damned Rebels”, he said out loud, “They ruined the only good thing in this galaxy. They destroyed so many lives to obtain what they call peace. Bah! If they wanted peace why did they start a damned war in the first place?” 

These thoughts troubled Raith constantly, and it was why he wanted to bring alive a new Empire. A strong Empire. Not ruled by an old cripple, but by someone worthy of the term “Emperor”. This new Empire was going to thrive on the lost lives of so many, and be rejoice on the lost lives to come. 

“Onwards!” Raith shouted. His thoughts fumbled about his mind and he released his anger as suddenly the picture frames and computer consoles exploded displaying frightening fireworks of anger. “To the new Empire!”

On to Chapter VII!

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