Domus Prime:


Chapter IX

The Riddler sat in his room, a victim of self-imposed seclusion. He had not been aware of the power struggle in his wake. He had been a victim of lies and deception. He felt as if he was paranoid but he had no proof. He toyed with the blaster he held in front of him. 

He had considered suicide a lot in the past few days. He had been sleeping well and he felt guilty and solely responsible for the Queen’s abduction. He felt miserable. He felt alone. He had fought with Jester over the most trivial of things and he felt bad about that. He had considered resigning his commission and retiring from service and even leaving Domus Prime. 

Catherine – the Queen – had been seeing Jester a lot and it began to make the Grand Admiral mad. He had truly believed that he had caught the beautiful, yet mysterious, handmaiden’s eye after the first Invasion. It angered him so much that he had refused to talk to either Catherine or Jester for some time. But then again, thought the Riddler, he had never had time for romance while he had been a military man. 

He toyed with the blaster. 

The Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Ravage, stood pacing before his mirror. Twice now, his prize had escaped his grasp, but soon the tide would turn. Soon, the Dark Side would prevail over all of the galaxy, and he would rule over the Dark Side. Then the Jedi would pay.

He sighed, depression seeping over him. 

Darth Cyani sighed. 

Ever since General Zal had escaped, she had felt a gnawing ache, as though she had lost something precious. It was her own fault, of course. If she had not been so clumsy, perhaps he would still be in her grasp. If she had not been so overconfident, then she would not now be punished. If she had not been so stupid, perhaps she would not have fallen in love. If she had been more careful, perhaps she would not now be dead. 

Rhea knew that something was wrong. Her mother had been acting strangely all day, and she had a feeling that something bad was going to happen. Everything seemed so hectic, there were people running everywhere, trying to prepare something. And though she recognised two of the girls in the blue gowns, the rest of them were silent to her, ignoring the tiny baby in the corner. 

More than anything else, she felt a need to help them, but did not understand how, or why. In her childish confusion, Rhea could do little more than cry, and though a spirit near her tried to comfort her, the sadness in her soul was not to be lifted yet. 

Samantha sighed, as Rhea started to wail once more. Ever since Melvin had come to speak with her a few days ago, her daughter just would not stop crying. Perhaps she would seek out a medical droid afterwards, and just make sure that Rhea was alright. It was almost as if the little girl knew what was going on, as the preparations around the castle continued.

Back in the cockpit, Ace increased the power output to the charging laser. “I will charge the lasers, just in case.”

He watched the commlink, waiting a message from Domus Prime. “This is strange, usually when someone is arriving in system he would be contacted right away. Emkay, do you get any readings?”

Emkay fiddled with the computers, scanning all frequencies to try and pick up a signal, any signal. “Negative, Ace. It seems that they are ignoring us or something is wrong. What should we do next?”

Ace sighed. He accelerated speed to eighty-nine MLTS, heading towards Domus Prime. “Stay sharp Emkay, I’m contacting them.”

Ace activated the commlink, took a long look out at Domus Prime deeply and then began to speak. “Domus Prime, this is Ace Azzameen, captain of the Corellian transport Otana requesting landing clearance. May we approach?”

Emkay seemed almost nervous. They both watched, as Domus Prime grew larger in the viewscreen. 

Catherine wandered the Palace, looking for the Riddler. She had to find him, she had to discuss some of their plans with him. Otherwise there would be no chance for Domus Prime to survive the coming invasion. 

But it was not like the Grand Admiral to do a disappearing act like this. Catherine began to wonder if something was wrong. She walked up the long flights of stairs to his rooms, which were located at the top of one of Fuhenteki Na Shiro. 

A loud bang stopped Catherine mid-breath. Suddenly panicking, her Force-senses telling her that something was terribly wrong, she nearly flew up three more flights of stairs until she reached the door to his rooms. She had no idea what to do when she found that the door was locked and barred to her.

Catherine screamed his name repeatedly as she threw herself at his heavy door. There was no reply. 

With a thought she pulled her commlink from the place where it was kept and found it hard to control her tone enough to be heard. “Jester, I need you! Get to the Grand Admiral’s room now!”

Not bothering to care about what reply he gave, Catherine began to seriously throw her body against the door, but it did no good. The wooden door was reinforced with therma-steel and would not be damaged by a blaster bolt, let alone moved by the slight weight of a young woman.

Finally Catherine slumped to the floor, her body battered to no use and her Jedi-senses unable to detect anyone inside. Not for the first time she found herself wishing that the Riddler had never hidden himself from her, she needed to know now that he was alright. 

Jester arrived at the top of the stairs breathless and not prepared to find a distraught Catherine sitting outside the Riddler’s room, tears streaming openly down her face. “What happened?”

Catherine found herself unable to speak as she looked up at Jester. Two tears traced parallel lines down her cheeks as she whispered. “I think he is dead.”

Shock and sudden fear appeared on Jester’s face. “What? How?”

Her voice was empty of tone and Catherine stared blankly up at Jester. “I heard a blaster shot.” It seemed to echo in her mind, it frightened her to no end.

Jester pulled his lightsaber from his belt. “Catherine, how thick is this door?”

She did not answer him, still staring ahead with empty eyes. She could ill-afford to lose the Riddler, the Grand Admiral of the Royal Forces. Domus Prime would be made incredibly weak because the Queen would be devastated by the loss, and the Royal Forces might not be able to recover in time to meet the invasion under new leadership. Catherine suddenly realised that she was more terrified for herself than for her world.

“Catherine!” Jester suddenly calling her name sharply broke her from her daze. “How thick is this door?”

She thought about it for a moment, her heart sinking. “About forty five centimetres, give or take a few.” As a part of her mind started to push aside the emotions as she had been taught, Catherine found herself trying to remember the design of the tower. Were there any secret passages into the Riddler’s rooms that she could recall easily?

Jester ignited his lightsaber and plunged the laser sword into the door, which began to melt away. When he was satisfied that the door had been weakened enough for his plan to be effective, Jester pushed Catherine out of the hallway onto the stairs, where she sat with a thoughtful look on her face, then ran back and placed a thermal grenade on the door. He set the charge carefully before sprinting back down the corridor and hiding on the steps next to Catherine.

A second later there was an incredible explosion, filling the hallway and staircase with bright lights and smoke. The noise made Catherine’s ears ring as she found herself getting to her feet in desperation.

Shaking her head to remove the last effects of the explosion she ran back down the dusty, smoke-filled hallway. The door to the Riddler’s rooms was gone, and she ran inside, throwing caution to the wind, Jester not too far behind. Dashing through the outer rooms she dashed into the Riddler’s bedroom.

Catherine saw the Riddler.

Devron’s commlink spoke with a crackle of static, set in place on his belt. “Admiral, all ten Dark Talon ships have jumped in-system. They report ready to deploy, sir.”

“Good. Deployment in three minutes. Tell all troops to load onto their dropships and give the countdown and the order.”

“Yes, sir.” A moment later, the announcement came over the speaker system for all troops to load up. Setting down his half-empty coffeine cup, Devron snatched up his BlasTech A280 and walked onto the craft, taking an empty seat at the back. As the countdown timer clocked down from ten seconds, Devron strapped in and sat back, refraining from making another of his barely coherent speeches (he had run out of inspiration, anyway). 

The countdown timer hit zero and turned bright green instead of a blood red. The dropship shook slightly as the engines stirred into being. The ride, calm and peaceful, took the troops out of the hangar bay and into the fringes of the atmosphere. Finally caught by gravity’s pull, the pilots angled the nose sharply down and pushed sublights to maximum. Abruptly, the serenity of the glide through space turned into a g-force that the inertial compensators could not quite negate all the way and a violent shaking. This left the troops with their stomach’s tight and the feeling akin to being in a child’s toy when he was shaking it. 

At the back, Devron closed his eyes and leaned back in his seat, catching a few moments of silent meditation-like thinking time, to prepare for the battle.

After about forty seconds, the turbulence and the g-forces eased off, the dropship pilots disengaged sublights and turned on repulsorlifts. Overhead, Y-wings on support bombing runs and patrolling X-wings flew past, a couple of the starfighters waggling their wings in passing to the force. A whistling sound marked Y-wings dropping parts of their loads, targeting enemy AT-ATs, Juggernauts and concentrations of troops. As the troops mobilised, AT-ATs, MT-ATs, AT-STs and AT-PTs struggled out of their confinements, righting themselves and plodding forward to meet their adversaries.

“Fire at will! X-wings,” Devron said, grabbing his commlink as his platoons began firing at the hostiles, “you’re cleared to make runs also. Use proton torpedoes or laser cannons on the heavy equipment they have coming out of that base. All fighter craft, do not, I repeat do not, touch any of the bases. We need the stuff in there.”

“Yes, sir.”

Devron moved to the front line with the rest of the troops. Unhooking a frag grenade from his belt, he pushed the activation button and hurled it into a sea of Imperial stormtroopers. The troopers scattered at the sight of the grenade coming at them – too late. The resulting explosion hurled fire and fragments of sharp metal everywhere, either melting their plastoid armour or slicing through it and any uncovered body spots.

Behind Devron, the AT-series vehicles fired their cannons at the advancing enemy walkers. The AT-PTs and AT-STs moved forward, passing the front line of troops to wade into the midst of the Imperials and cut them down where they stood.

Soon, the ranks of the Imperial forces began to deplete. Behind Devron, an AT-AT targeted one of the enemy AT-ATs still standing and fired repeatedly into it, all four blaster cannons flashing with fire. The blaster bolts impacted on the hostile AT-AT’s body, and the head swivelled around to target its attacker. As Devron jumped behind a tree for cover and picked off another two stormtroopers, the AT-ATs traded fire, blaster bolts flying back and forth between the two. Two of the Royal Forces MT-ATs joined in, firing all their cannons at the AT-AT, which soon succumbed to the fire and exploded, throwing shrapnel everywhere and killing two Royal Forces troops in its wake.

“Sithspawn.” Levelling his blaster rifle at one of the last ten stormtroopers, Devron double-tapped the trigger. Both bolts impacted in the instant-incapacitation zone – one landing just above his eyes and slightly left of between them, and the other hitting a centimetre away. His troops took down the last nine, and together, they waited for another wave of stormtroopers.

None came. The burning husks of three hostile AT-ATs and a couple of friendly AT-PTs and AT-STs littered the battlefield, along with all the dead bodies, but other than that, nothing. No movement.

Frowning slightly, Devron began to order the AT-PTs to the ground vehicle bay opening, to blow the door open and stalk inside. But as he raised his commlink to speak into it, a blaster bolt lanced down from high above and stabbed into the head of a Royal Forces officer, turning his head into pieces.

“Snipers! Take cover!” As his troops dived behind AT-AT bodies and trees, Devron scampered up the tree he was using for cover. When he reached the top, he trades his A280 for his SNP-32 sniper rifle, activated the scope and looked for the sniper.

Another blaster bolt fired down from a ledge. Not watching to see the damage, Devron swung his rifle into position, closing his eye and peering through the scope with his right.

‘There he is. The little Sith-spawned trooper.’ Adjusting his aim slightly, the crosshairs fell right in the centre of the white helmet. Smiling, Devron pulled the trigger, sending a high-concentration blaster bolt to greet the trooper.

Who took it right in the face and fell off the building, toppling probably a good thirty-to-forty metres before landing on the ground. Acting on a hunch, Devron swung his rifle around to search for a sniper on the other side of the building. 

‘Figures.’ Taking his aim on the stormtrooper sniper’s head, he sent another blaster bolt out to kill the last trooper / sniper. The bolt flew straight, breaking through the helmet and killing the head inside. Devron put his sniper rifle on his back again; unholstered one of his TC/21-C carbines and finally ordered the AT-PTs inside.

The personal walkers strode forward purposefully, stopping only to blast the bay door open. As the squadron of walkers moved inside, blaster fire flashes, dissipating harmlessly on the small vehicles’ armour. The AT-PTs returned fire, blasting the stormtroopers inside into several pieces and spraying them about the vehicle bay. Giving the order to move ahead, Devron ran to the hangar bay, helping the AT-PTs pick off stray stormtroopers who happened to be hiding. His troops followed suit, reducing the trooper regiment in the vehicle bay to nothing.

“Alright, let’s move inside.”

“Yes, sir.”

After looking around for any snipers, Devron and his platoon moved for the door leading into the base complex. 

Catherine stared into the Riddler’s blank eyes. Seated on a chair, he held a blaster in his hand, which was limp by his side. She could see no blood on him anyway. Spinning around the room, she looked desperately for an answer then saw on the opposite wall a hole that could have only been caused by a blaster bolt.

A voice spoke softly and gently in the silence of the room. “I’m glad to know that you care. I once held your favour, I needed to see if I still did.”

Catherine could not stop the tears that fell as she took his hand into her own. She looked into his eyes and said, “I know that things have been bad lately, but they can get better. Things always improve in the end.”

Letting go of the blaster, the Riddler reached up one hand to brush her cheek and looked into Catherine’s tear-filled eyes. “Don’t leave”, he breathed. “Stay.”

Catherine was still filled with unease, and she realised that she was still frightened for the Riddler. She tried to smile at him as she said, “Alright”, and he smiled back at her.

Jester had not come into the Riddler’s bedroom, stopping at the doorway. Upon seeing that the Grand Admiral was unharmed, and seemed somewhat improved, he left without speaking to take care of the preparations for the invasion himself. Despite her efforts Catherine had been unable to heal the rift that had formed between them, but since they had fought while she was in the hands of the Sith they spoke only in quick questions and ignorant sentences. And somehow the tension always seemed to escalate between Jester and the Riddler. She hoped that she was not the cause.

Catherine held the Riddler’s hand tightly, sitting beside him. Together they watched the sunset over the valley beyond the Palace walls, the spectacular view from the Riddler’s tower rooms reminding her of why she had promised to always protect Domus Prime.

She looked over at the Riddler and saw the sunlight glow off his face, banishing the shadows that had once been there. He did not notice what she did, but as she stared at him, she remembered what he had once been and took joy in what he had become. Once the Riddler had been a symbol of pure evil, but now he was the bravest man on all of Domus Prime. He had been willing to throw it all away for what he had believed in, for the Queen.

Would he have done that for her?

Catherine put her fears to rest and laid her head against the Riddler’s shoulder. That was how the day ended for the two.

“There’s still no landing clearance, Ace. Where can everyone be?” Emkay shook his head slightly. The silent situation of Domus Prime filled Ace’s thoughts. Slowly he increased Otana’s speed to one hundred megalights and approached Domus Prime.

“Hold on Emkay, we are landing.” 

Otana entered the atmosphere, revealing the details of the planet. Ace stared at the beauty before him while his droid searched for a landing site. As they approached the largest city on Domus Prime, Ace sighed and the early morning sunlight filtered through a light cloud cover.

“Ace, I found a landing place.”

“Where?”

“This system has Queen as leader, so I decided we should land near her Palace.”

Ace looked almost panicked. They had already entered the Domus System without proper authorisation; landing near the Palace would definitely not be a good idea. Ace had a bad feeling about this. “How close to Palace, Emkay?” He turned his head to the droid. 

“Eh, ten kilometres, Ace.”

“Is that the only choice we have?”

“Well according to the fact that something is wrong, we should probably land near the Palace if we want to contact the Queen.” Emkay transferred the landing data to Ace’s computer, and Ace stared mutely at it for a time before making his decision. 

“Alright, here goes nothing…”

“That’s the spirit, Ace!”

Ace set the controls to manual pilot and carefully began to land the ship. Otana slowly descended to the ground. “Alright Emkay, you stay here. I’ll go outside and try to reach the Palace. I’ll contact you if I find something.”

Emkay looked about as sad as a droid could look, regretting the missed chance for some action. Ace gave the mechanoid a comforting pat, then headed outside. 

Ace carefully stepped from Otana, holding his BlasTech DL-44 Pistol in his hand, ready for anything. Taking a moment to scan the terrain for any likely places of ambush, Ace began to walk quickly towards the Palace. Emkay watched nervously from the cockpit as Ace disappeared, seeming obvious in his orange pilot jumpsuit. 

K set down the book he was reading. A feeling of uneasiness had begun to come over him in the past few days. Like that of the fog surrounding a swamp, the feeling sat there and surrounded him as it went straight through to his very inner being. 

He had been in here too long, he had forgotten to stay in touch with what was going on in the outside world. Now it seemed, he might have made a mistake. 

Reaching out with his mind, he began to connect with the Ettall Makt. 

‘What’s this?’ K began to speak in his mind as he looked out upon the surrounding space of the planet. ‘Oh no, not again. This place attracts trouble like a lone rider on Hoth.’

K came out of his trance and stood up like he had just realised he had been sitting on a thermal detonator. “It’s time to move on, find a new centre of knowledge.” 

With that K began to walk from the library, then through a window he saw a man in an orange suit walking towards the Palace. In that sight he saw his own lonely trek through the galaxy, a path that had led him here, to the palace on Domus Prime. He realised that at that moment, the time had come. The time for searching was over. “I’ll never find a place to call home if I don’t stay somewhere longer than a few weeks. The people here, they are a kind, generous people. I like it here. Why should I leave? All I’ve known for the past ten years is running, no more!” 

K walked off through the halls of the Palace, his footsteps sending echoes bouncing off the walls as he marched with determination. It was time to help repay these people for the warm reception they had given him. It was time to defend his home. 

Ace looked around nervously, realising that this silence was a portent of something terrible. This Palace before him was immense, its gates alone were bigger than Otana, and yet there was not a person in sight. Nor was there any sign of life in the city below. It was almost as if everyone had suddenly, for no reason at all, disappeared. Then again, maybe there was a reason.  There had been an unusual number of Imperial ships in space above Domus Prime; perhaps they were not as welcome as Ace had first thought. But still, if this place was being invaded, where were the defenders? 

Ace slipped past the gates cautiously, ready for anything. But as he made his way in through the main entrance to the Palace, he found that it too seemed to be deserted.

Imperial Scout Trooper leader Owly Makkel and the other five of his team zoomed through the grasslands on their speeder bikes. “Stop here troops. I’m reading something on the sensors.” The group came to an abrupt stop at the edge of a swamp. 

They got off their bikes and walked up to Owly who was tapping buttons on his portable scanner. “I’m reading a lot of life signs up ahead, dropping rapidly. This must be the battle ground.” He tapped some more buttons. “Yep, it’s the battle ground alright. I’m reading AT-ATs and all the rest of the walkers. Gralin and Jedd, I want you two to report back to base and send out the Infiltrator Troops. Order them to capture any high ranking Royal Troops. The Sith want them alive, not dead. Got that?”

Gralin and Jedd nodded and hopped on their speeders. They fired up and screamed back through the foliage.

“How are we on water?” Owly asked the remaining three.

After a moment’s thought one answered. “Enough for a day’s work but we should pick up some more just in case.” They all agreed and got their water canteens and filters out from the survival kits on their bikes.

As they scooped up the muddy water from the swamp and ran it through the filters, one of the Troops, called Hooch, noticed a slight rumbling sound. He stood up and looked around. “Hey Owly, you feel that?”

“Feel what?”

“Like a rumble in the ground. A little tremor.” Fear was noticeable in his voice, he could not control it.

“It’s just your helmet Hooch. Sometimes the comm frequencies send you off balance.”

“Nah, its more than that”, Hooch maintained stubbornly. “We should get out of here.”

“It’s all in your head”, said Asdof, another Trooper.

Hooch felt another tremor beneath his feet. Ignoring the scorn of the others, he looked around and activated the vision enhancer on his visor. He zoomed in towards the horizon. “Oh”, he murmured, suddenly shocked.

“What? What is it?” Owly asked irritably, not expecting a real response.

Hooch stood as stiffly and pointed towards the eastern horizon. “Oh”, he murmured again. 

Sighing, Owly activated his visor and zoomed it in. “Holy fizz,” he said. “Y-Wings, three of ’em, and they’re bombing. Let’s get out of here!” They all ran to their speeders and fired them up. All except Hooch, who continued to stare in fear at the horizon. “Hooch! Come on!” Hooch just stood still and stared at the closing Y-Wings.

“Forget him”, screamed Asdof. “He’s whacked out! Come on, let’s go!” The Y-Wings got closer and continued their bombing run. The speeder bikes screamed off to the side and two Y-Wings followed them while the other headed for Hooch. They let fly with concussion bombs that depleted three Troopers but one managed to escape. 

Three minutes later, Owly stopped his speeder bike when he was clear of the bombing raid. He had seen Asdof and La’Kiow bombed by the Y-Wings only a couple of minutes ago. Owly got off his bike and sat beside it, taking his helmet off. He took a gulp from his canteen, grateful for the momentary relief its cool taste gave him.

It only took another fifteen seconds before the Y-Wings located him. No remains were found. Gralin and Jedd made it back to base and the Infiltrator Troops were successfully sent out. 

Ace stared in awe at the Throne Room. He had never seen such big and beautiful hall before, the glistening marble pillars and shining windows filled him with admiration for the architect of this place. His home had been a small space station and the Alliance never seemed to have a permanent base, constantly on the move to avoid detection by the Sith. Pacing the empty and silent Throne Room, Ace pulled the commlink from his pocket. 

“Emkay, I’m in the palace now. It looks like I’m the only one here. Can you find any life forms in the palace?”

“Hold on Ace, I’m running the search.” Emkay activated his sensors and set them to find life forms in the Palace. Ace holstered his blaster and found a chair where he sat down. There was a long pause before he got confirmation of anything, though the droid suspected that the people here must have some way of shielding themselves from his sensors. “Ace, are you still there?”

“I’m here Emkay. I won’t go anywhere.”

“Well the sensors seem to get jammed by something, but I found three other life forms plus you. I can’t locate the actual place where they are.”

Ace looked around the Throne Room and spotted a staircase just outside one of the side doors. “Thanks Emkay, I’ll contact you later.”

He switched the commlink off and began to walk up the stairs. Ace took his blaster in hand again and tightened the strap of his pilot’s helmet, so it could not move on his head. 

Panting slightly at the exertion, Ace was pleased to realise that for the first time since leaving the Otana he heard noises other than Emkay’s voice and the crackle of static. Unable to tell what the voices were saying, Ace nonetheless followed the sound, hoping desperately to find a real person in this place.

As the four Penetrator Troops entered the Royal Palace, sixteen various Troops patrolled the perimeter.

Pentrooper Modem Sever saw what looked to be a Rebel pilot walking around the Palace, on the fourth floor. This was the first sign of life they had encountered here, and it was almost a relief to discover that the Palace was not just inhabited by ghosts. 

“Stop, who are you?” Sever asked harshly and the pilot turned around and gasped as he saw the Pentrooper. Sever held his blaster out ready to fire but the pilot flicked out his pistol in a millisecond and fired a shot straight through Sever’s visor. The other Pentroops arrived some moments later to find only the dead Sever and no one else in sight. 

Angrily muttering about ghosts and feeling somewhat spooked, the Pentroops ignored their fallen comrade and went on. 

Jester was back in the War Room, trying to come up with a strategy that would help save Domus Prime. The evacuation of the Palace and the city seemed to have saved a lot of lives, but it would not be long until the Imperials and Sith were able to find them. As it was the Palace was badly defended. A soldier came up to him and asked Jester if he had valid identification to be in this room. 

“You’re kidding, right?” Jester stared blankly at the soldier. 

“No sir.” The soldier moved his hand closer to his blaster almost nervously. 

“I know I’m not in the Royal Forces”, ‘any more’, a part of Jester’s mind added, “but the Grand Admiral is busy and so is the Queen. So if you would just listen to me for one moment-” 

Suddenly a man in an orange jumpsuit came running through the door. The soldier who had been questioning Jester drew his blaster and fired a shot, missing and the other man returned fire, also missing. Jester, without a second’s hesitation, used the Force to disarm the both of them, throwing the blasters against the wall. 

Jester stood up from his console and walked over to the man in orange, moving his hand towards his lightsaber as he approached, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” 

“Hold on there”, the stranger tried to calm this odd looking man down, “my name is Ace. And I am here to help.” 

Pentrooper Conic Dismar ran outside of the Palace and called for some backup. As three other Troops came in, the others slowly moved through the corridors, following the voices they heard echoing oddly through the Palace hallways. 

“And I am here to help. I’m an X-Wing pilot in the Alliance. Some kind of trooper just attacked me few moments ago. I’m sure they are on their way here.” The strange man called Ace’s blaster over to his hand and looked at it carefully, and yet his eyes never seemed to look away from Ace, who stood unmoving. After a moment he gave the blaster back to the pilot. 

“If your words are true, we are in trouble. It’s too soon for them to be here.” The strange man did not seem to be inclined to explain this cryptic statement. 

Curiously, Ace looked at the lightsaber that was still pointed at his face, even though it was not ignited. He had never seen the weapon of the Jedi before, but he had heard enough about them to recognise one. 

“I’m sorry I’m arriving like this, but I tried to contact you, without result. It is hard to accept, but you must trust me.” Ace put his blaster in its holster and held his hands out in a gesture of peace.

“Very well”, the strange man said, activating his lightsaber and holding the blade close enough to Ace for him to feel the heat from its laser. “I warn you, if you do anything we don’t like, you won’t leave here alive. And by the way, my name is Jester.” Ace tried to smile reassuringly at Jester, but the other man’s expression did not change, still icy cold. It was clear that he would not show any trust for the pilot.  “Well how can you help us?”

“If you are being outnumbered against those troopers, I can call from my Alliance. They are sure to help. Unless you have a better plan?” Jester shook his head, and Ace was not certain whether he was refusing the Alliance’s help or admitting his lack of a plan. 

Jester seemed to hear a sudden noise, perhaps through the Force, for he twirled his lightsaber in one hand and looked expectantly towards the door of the War Room. He gave a small shrug and turned back to Ace. 

“I’m no tactical military expert, our Grand Admiral does that. I just help out when I can.” Jester’s head suddenly swung around to the door again, and he made a gesture to the soldiers in the room who were suddenly looking to him for direction. “First, we had better deal with these troopers, then if the Queen finds you trustworthy you’ll be filled in on the situation.” 

Ace and Jester looked once more at each other, and Ace had the sudden thought that Jester was searching in him for something. They both nodded in recognition; then all present walked out of the War Room, prepared to go kick some trooper ass.

The Riddler awoke in the same chair in which he had fallen asleep while watching the sunset with Catherine. As he tried to get up he smiled as he noticed Catherine’s leaning against his shoulder, still fast asleep. 

The Riddler was incredibly happy to have regained the Queen’s favour again. He nudged her gently and felt her stir against him. As she woke up she looked into his deep brown eyes and said softly, “Good morning.”

He stroked her gorgeous long brown hair and said, “I knew that you would come.”

A strange feeling of deja vu struck Catherine suddenly, frightening her more than the sudden sense of intense danger in the Palace. Surely no one could have reached here this quickly. As she stood up, Catherine noticed that the Riddler was unmoving, but she had to find out what was happening around her, even if he would not join her. 

She started to leave the room quickly, unsure as to if she should leave his side, but knowing that her duty to her planet was more important than one person, even if he was the Grand Admiral.

“When can I see you again?” He called to her and she turned around for an instant, even as she mentally checked that she still had her weapons with her.

“A little later”, she murmured distractedly before leaving.

The Riddler changed his clothes from the uniform he had been wearing the previous day to the pure-white Grand Admiral’s uniform. Reaching out, he pulled his lightsaber to him and smiled at his reflection in the mirror. Being Grand Admiral here on Domus Prime certainly had its perks. The Riddler started to walk from his room.

Suddenly the Riddler was struck with a piercing pain in his mind that made him sink to the floor in agony. He had a sudden vision of Lord Ravage, the Riddler’s former self, and then he saw another Sith, also an apprentice of Darth Blade.

Pushing the vision aside the Riddler took a deep breath and stood up again. Domus Prime was in trouble again. Brushing off the momentary pain, he squeezed his fists, calling on his reserves of strength to help him through this day.

“I’m going to save the goddamn day.”

“It’s them!”

“Kill ’em!”

“Sithspawn!” Acting on reflexes he did not realise he had, Devron ripped a frag grenade off his belt, punched the activation button and lobbed it at the troopers. Instantly, they dispersed and began running, but too late. The grenade hit right behind them and exploded on contact. A split second later, Devron pushed the door open and stormed in, blasting every white shell in his path. His troops followed right behind him, running into the grey metal corridors. 

“Alert. Alert. Enemy troopers in Hallway 15-BC. All stormtroopers are detailed to neutralise threat. Alert. Alert. Enemy troopers in Hallway 15-BC…”

“Here’s where the fun begins.”

Rapid clicking coming from a squad’s worth of armoured feet echoed around the corner ahead. Unhooking another grenade off his belt, Devron pressed the button and rolled it around the corner. Three seconds later, metal fragments smacked against the unharmed metal walls, the sound indistinguishable from the rest of the explosion. After the fiery explosive charge quit the Admiral and his troops stepped around the corner, weapons at the ready. 

Blaster fire greeted them as they clear the corner, sent by several stormtroopers. Devron sped up, hitting the left wall with his shoulder and firing repeatedly into the swarm of troopers there. His troops followed suit, dropping the stormtroopers.

One of the stormtroopers, Relin Alur, was armed with an EKX-10, characteristic of SpecForce troopers. As he fired bursts of three into the enemy squad, he watched as his own troopers fell from around him. Relin swivelled his aim around to the man in black stormtrooper armour who seemed to be leading the assault. He started to fire his burst of three into the man.

Lieutenant Kilirn Serol noticed the trooper levelling his weapon at Admiral Zal. With a curse he swung his compact Merr-Sonn Flash-5 up level with the trooper’s eyeplates and depressed the trigger three, four, five times.

As Relin fired his first two shots at the leader, five blaster bolts broke through the left side of his helmet and carved a large hole in his face. Two of the shots passed through the back of his head and impacted on the wall behind him. A reflex in his system snapped his trigger finger tight; spraying blaster bolts everywhere as he fell, instantly dead.

The first blaster bolt hit Devron in the right leg, just above the knee. The second one, which was better aimed, hit his left shoulder. He hit the floor as the trooper’s glove tightened on the trigger in death, spraying blaster bolts everywhere.

“Anyone injured?”

“Lieutenant Sehnp is dead, sir. Two blaster bolts to the heart.”

“Anyone else?”

“Besides you, sir?”

“I’m not dead yet. Let’s go.” Devron stood from his prone position, walking over to grab the dead trooper’s EKX-10 repeater. As he snapped a fresh clip into the weapon, his troops stood also and they ran down the metal corridor, their soft-soled combat shoes hardly making a sound. The pain in Devron’s leg flared up, making him grimace. 

“Sir, do you need to rest?”

Devron turned to the medic who spoke. “You got any painkillers in there?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Stormtroopers!”

“Sithspawn!” Devron snatched the proffered short-needle syringe from the medic, stabbing it into his right leg near the blaster wound and pushing the button to send the painkillers in. Two seconds later, the flaming feeling faded to nothing. “Thanks.”

“Yes, sir.” As the medic pulled out his own weapon and began to take out stormtroopers, Devron levelled his appropriated EKX-10 at the trooper cluster and began to fire three-shot bursts. One stormtrooper fell, a triangle of black holes evident in his armour.

Stormtrooper 7866, who was standing next to Stormtrooper 4506 when he died, turned his aim toward the source of the fire. ‘The man in black stormtrooper armour.’ 7866 brought his E-11 rifle up at the man’s head and fired off two bolts, which sprayed wide as enemy fire caught him in the chest, instantly deflating his right lung and tearing the area below his heart up. Just another corpse, 7866 collapsed.

As the blaster bolts flew by Devron’s head, his berserker abilities shifted into being again, possessing him and assisting him, a symbiotic relationship. An instant later, Devron held the trigger on his EKX-10 down, spraying controlled fire over his troops’ heads to pierce the white armour of the stormtroopers in multiple places, mowing them down where they stood.

Ten seconds later the corridor was stormtrooper-free. Nearly all the stormtrooper corpses had four or more holes in their armour, as a result of the controlled strafing. Devron switched out power packs and tossed the dead one on the ground as his troops stood up. They parted, letting him back to the front. Once there, Devron broke into a run, his troops following him. 

At the end of the corridor, a solitary door stood apart from the metal walls. The wood (‘probably imported from Tenda’s forests at a high cost’, Devron thought) was a sharp contrast to the blank walls of the corridor. A sign hanging on the door proclaimed boldly: “Ravage.”

“Sithspawn”, Devron said. “Let’s move.”

Devron reached out for the access panel, pressing “Open door.” A keypad emerged from its hidden state in the wall. The screen proclaimed, “enter six-digit entry code.”

“Um”, Devron reached out to the keypad, randomly touching six numbers.

“Access denied.”

“Aargh”, he exclaimed in disgust. “Anyone have any detonators?”

“Right here, sir.” Lieutenant H’mpil reached into his explosives case and handed Devron a single Merr-Sonn K-54 remote detonator. “Should work on the wood.”

But before Devron had a chance to place the charge the door slid quietly open.

On to Chapter X!

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