Grand Admiral Thrawn took his leave and left the crew in the conference room within the Vigilance. A pretty, strong-faced woman stepped in shortly after. In her prim grey uniform, she introduced herself.
“Good day, gentlemen. I’m Kaylee Lorkun, the acquisitions officer for the Vigilance and Chimaera. Per Grand Admiral Thrawn, I am to grant you access to all military-grade armor, weapons, and starship components.
He recommends you use the next 24 hours to prepare for the assault on the unknown system.
To complement your Corvette and Scimitar, the Empire will also be providing up to 5 standard TIE Fighters depending on the strategy determined in tomorrow’s briefing.
Here is a datapad outlining some equipment recommended by the Grand Admiral. You can make the requisition directly and my team will deliver the equipment to your area of the Vigilance’s docking bay."
As the crew passed the datapad around, Vai inquired about his Imperial systems access. Requisition Officer Lorkun assured him his new Cadet status would allow him full access to internal functions and pointed him toward a terminal in the room. The Duros slinked over and tested that fact and she was right; he was able to log in and leverage the super-advanced infrastructure to quickly translate the entire Jedi library into Galactic Basic. His tech skills ensured he left no trace of the data itself before he handed it off to his crewmates.
The datapad in Cassidus’s pocket buzzed. It displayed a private message from the Grand Admiral requesting they meet as soon as possible. He didn’t hesitate. It was a short walk down a few busy hallways to Thrawn’s quarters. The Chiss invited him in.
Art ranging from traditional to surreal lined the walls of his dimly lit office. Thrawn offered Cassidus a drink. It prompted the doctor to think twice; it had been a dangerous journey thus far. Still, he accepted and they both sipped on the brandy.
Thrawn brought him to a realistic depiction of the Battle of Jakku. A Star Destroyer laid in the sand as stormtroopers and AT-ATs engaged a small group of New Republic soldiers.
“What do you see, Dr. Kade?” The Grand Admiral asked.
The doctor analyzed the painting. “Courage…and sacrifice.”
Thrawn smiled thinly. “I agree absolutely. The Battle of Jakku has been named the death of the Empire. I believe it was its rebirth.”
Cassidus agreed with the Imperial military legend and Thrawn was glad to hear it.
“You can be instrumental in this rebirth, Dr. Kade. Now, as a soldier of the Empire, I could order it of you. However, your loyalty inspires a confidence beyond the need for orders.” The Chiss placed a hand on the doctor’s shoulder. “The New Republic is demilitarizing. They did not support this initiative for the galaxy’s security. And now we have one of their key military leaders with us. If he is neutralized, I believe it will be their undoing.”
He took another sip of his drink.
“Such an achievement could make a Moff out of a member of our Empire. Do you understand what I am asking of you, Dr. Kade?”
“I do,” Cassidus responded with a nod. “I also have information you may find useful for the mission.” He provided the Jedi library knowledge surrounding the unknown system – Ruusan.
“Very good.” Thrawn raised his glass. “To the future of the Empire.”
Cassidus toasted. “To the future of the Empire.”
Returning to the conference room, Revain provided their requisition order and added final requests from Cassidus. They transferred their credits and adjourned for the evening to ready their weapons, armor, upgrades, and ships.
It felt like a short night as their room notification systems woke them just before 0800 hours. They returned to the same room and found Luke Skywalker present alongside Katarn with Thrawn standing at the head of the table; Sloane sat beside him.
Grifflar sized up the small man at the table. He could sense the warrior in Skywalker and welcomed him. Luke understood and responded in kind. He’d read his file and was glad the Wookiee was on their side.
The others provided him a nod as they entered, though Vai had to contain his excitement. He admired Skywalker and shook his hand with his collected calm. Vincenzo took a different approach.
Vince barely said hello before revealing the Sith holocron which Luke looked upon with horror. The end of the table burst into a frantic whisper. Thrawn took notice and asked what was wrong. They grew quiet and looked at each other until Revain broke the silence.
“Oh, it’s just a holocron,” he blurted.
Thrawn’s eyes widened. “A holocron?” He was familiar with the concept. “Jedi or Sith?”
Vince handed over the Sith artifact and Thrawn studied it with care and genuine intrigue.
“Are you crazy carrying that thing around?” Luke asked, covering his eyes with a stressed hand. He sighed and asked a cautious question. “Does it speak to you?”
“It does.” Vince responded. Luke sighed again.
Thrawn returned the holocron to Vince’s hands. “Of what I know of these…be very careful with it. I’m afraid we don’t have time to discuss it further.” He brought up a holographic map of the system in the middle of the table. “The assault on Ruusan is paramount.”
Luke’s eyes could barely get wider. “Ruusan? Are you sure? I’ve only read about that planet in the sacred texts. I didn’t know it still existed.”
The crew confirmed and Luke sat back in his chair to allow the strategic conversations to continue. It would be a three-pronged attack on the planetary defense forces surrounding Ruusan. The left flank would be alongside the Vigilance and Admiral Rae Sloane. The center would include the Chimaera and Thrawn. The right would be a smaller solo group that will attack the ship yard. The crew chose to go it alone.
Thrawn triggered the simulation on the glowing display between them.
“Dr. Kade, your team’s objective is to break through the defense forces and enter the atmosphere of Ruusan. Once there, the Vespira is to scan the surface and relay that information to the Chimaera. We will establish a landing position and the next objectives.” He stood and folded his hands behind his back. “Our absolute priority is the elimination of Vextan Karr III. Long live the Empire.”
The system was ablaze with blaster fire as they emerged from their hyperspace jump. In the distance to their left, they watched the two Star Destroyers and their complement take on the planetary defense forces. The crew had a chunk of their own to navigate: several Dynamic fighters, two satellite weapons, a Surronian Conqueror, and a colossal mysterious ship inside of an orbital shipyard.
The fighters made their advance immediately and fired on the crew. Sy and Vai flew TIE fighters alongside Luke in his X-Wing. The others, along with two Stormtrooper squads, manned the helm and weapons in the newly repaired Vespira.
Volleys of turbolaser fire from the Corvette turned most of the fighters into space dust. The TIEs swooped in and made quick work of the satellites and remaining fighters as well. Things got hairy when they approached the large ship, however. As it slowly bellowed out of its dock, it projected a large gravity well, halting Vai and Luke to a stop. Sy flew through the orbital platform and pulled a sharp turn as he flew through the other side.
He found himself right in front of Luke’s stationary X-Wing as he heard Cassidus’s voice pop in through a private channel.
“Sy,” he whispered, “we’ve done a lot of good work together. I need you to trust me.” After a momentary pause, he made the order. “Take the shot.”
Sy listened to the boss…and fired a huge blast at the X-Wing; nearly disabling it. The whole crew could hear Luke’s enraged response over the comms. His fragile trust for the Empire had been shattered. No one but Cassidus and Sy knew why.
Cassidus fired on the X-Wing from the Vespira and destroyed it, shaking Sy’s TIE fighter. As the bright auburn blast cleared, he could see Luke’s body floating lifeless…until the Jedi’s eyes shot open. Reaching out with the Force, he slammed Sy’s vessel into the docking platform, inflicting damage to the small bit of structural integrity it still had.
Luke tried to slam it a second time, but Sy kept it in control and minimized the damage to the ship. Warning klaxons rang in the cockpit of the TIE fighter. It was about to fall apart. Again, Skywalker reached out, digging into Sy’s mind. For a moment, Sy had the passing thought of ramming his ship into the Vespira. He resisted the Jedi’s mind trick and flew full speed out of the area and away from his allies.
Luke struggled in the vacuum and pulled himself toward the Vespira. Meanwhile, it traded turbolaser volleys with the experimental ship. Back and forth, they destroyed each other’s shields and hulls. Grifflar was out of his element, groaning that he hated space, but still fired lob after lob, causing damage to the enemy capital ship. After a few more well-placed shots, it was destroyed, rocking all nearby vessels in a light-bending explosion.
Luke released the latches holding the spare TIE fighter on the Vespira’s docking area; leaving it to float away unmanned as he was sucked into the airlock. It sealed behind him and he breathed desperate breaths. Burned and tattered, he kneeled in a wide stance. Black veins trailing from his neck to his temples. His skin a pale blue hue. Anger in his eyes.
The dark airlock was illuminated by his green lightsaber.