Aboard Emperor Palpatine’s Shuttle, Lambda-Class T4-a Executive Model, Outer Rim, Moddell Sector, 4 ABY…
Meera stared out of the narrow glass into the empty black void of space. Tears of sorrow flooded from her eyes. “Are we the last ones left alive?” she whispered to herself. “How could this have happened?”
In a flash, the black was replaced with brilliant blue streaks fading in the wake of the shuttle. She watched the tiny cosmic particles dance and flare between the stretches of ion trail from the shuttle’s engines. Even the mesmerizing blur of stars in a hyperspace jump could not erase what she just saw. The destructive energy burst of the Death Star mere moments ago was seared into her mind—never to be forgotten. Her head pounded; thoughts muddled with replays of the cataclysm she witnessed in the fiery halls of the battle station. And his face.
The face of the Jedi assassin would haunt her forever.
You’re in shock, she thought to herself. You survived it, Meera, just as Father used to tell you. It’s just shock. Be grateful for that.
Meera shuddered. She knew it was a lie, even if only to herself. Her malady wasn’t from simple shock. There was something more, unlike anything she had ever felt before. She couldn’t explain it. The cries of every dying soul in the battle rang in her head. She could feel tingles, like tiny pin pricks—one for each life that was snuffed out behind her. Meera closed her eyes tightly, trying to will away their screams. They remained, and she wept.
Between sobs, she glanced over to the med capsule and remembered the injured guard laying in it was only reason she stood in this cargo bay and was not burning to a cinder in the vacuum of space. The blinking beacon inset to the top indicated critical care was required. She wiped the tears from her face, careful not to press on the gash in her cheek, and punched up his triage report on her data pad. It didn’t look promising, but Meera was confident she could keep him alive until they reached a proper medical facility. She pulled back the pod’s glass shroud and gently cradled behind his neck to remove his menacing crimson helmet.
He was quite handsome; fair skinned with a muscular jaw and a salt-and-pepper goatee. His hair was black, shoulder-length with flecks of grey. He was not scarred, but his face had seen battle. Meera could tell after all the troopers she has treated in the war against the rebels. Even at rest, a warrior’s face told the stories of the horrors they have seen in war. He lay so calm and still she could easily mistake him for dead. She leaned down and looked closer into his face.
“Still breathing, I see. That’s good. At least I can save one comrade today.”
She reset the shroud and keyed the program to start a medically-induced coma. The bacta serum would handle the rest until they could get him to something better. She let out a heavy sigh. It would be many cycles before she could forget this day. A shot of pain traveled up her arm, causing her to grimace. Her own wounds were now demanding attention. The gash on her arm and on her cheek throbbed in waves, and her headache reached a full maelstrom behind her eyes. Damn, she thought. A concussion, too? The hits just keep on coming.
That was something else her father used to say. The hits just keep on coming. Meera smiled at the memory. She pulled a bacta injector from her sleeve pocket and jabbed it to her carotid artery. The life-giving liquid surged into her bloodstream when the injector pinged, bringing instant relief from the pain in her head, but not the screams. Those remained.
Wait, that wasn’t a scream—someone in the over-deck behind her was shouting.
The words were muffled through the bulkhead, but they were loud and definitely hostile. She turned to go investigate, only to find one of the red-armored Storm Troopers was right behind her blocking the way up. Startled, she jumped and shrieked.
“You’re lucky the Captain vouched for you,” came the electronic disembodied voice from inside his helmet. “Our orders were to shoot anyone who tried to board.”
Meera stared into the cold black eyes of his helmet, seeing only her reflection staring back. The salt of her tears burned in the wound on her cheek as she cried for the thousands of her Imperial brothers and sisters aboard the Death Star. All those lives… lost—and this one would have taken more on orders.
“You would have killed me just for trying to survive?” she asked through the tears and pain.
“Just following orders, ma’am,” he replied.
“Who ordered you to murder fellow Imperials?”
“Royal Adviser of the Emperor, Sim Aloo,” came the cold response. “He was very specific. Welcome aboard.” He turned and marched through the open cargo bay door. The steel blast panels swished closed behind him.
Something in his tone brought long- buried memories flooding back to the surface. Things she wanted to forget. Memories of her childhood, and of her father who worked for the Empire in the heavy weapons factories on Sullust.
Memories of a simpler time with him after her mother died; and memories of the Storm Troopers “just following orders” that killed him.
She stormed up the ramp and through the doors to investigate the shouting, hoping it would distract her from the painful reminisce. The door at the top slid open to reveal a luxurious cabin with a large black conference table in the center. Around it were two Imperial Majors—one young and handsome, and the other bulky with a strange-looking mustache. Another red-armored Storm Trooper without his helmet and a mechanical technician sat opposite each other close to the door.
At the far end, at a ramp Meera assumed led to the cockpit stood three more fully-armored Storm Troopers with blasters at the ready. Their armor was bright red, matching the color of the Royal Guard. She surmised they must be a special detachment for the Emperor. She had never seen them, nor their sleek red armor before. In all, including Meera and the two pilots she assumed were in the cockpit above, there were twelve souls aboard and one dying slowly in the med capsule below deck.
Another saying from her father crept into her mind: Thirteen. That’s an unlucky number.
The source of the argument stood at the far end of the table in front of the troopers. The female Royal Guard who brought her on board stood toe-to-toe with a tall, thin man with a bony face and wearing the finery of someone of importance in the Empire, or, at least, used to. He wagged his long, wiry finger in the face of her shroud and bellowed arrogance into her face behind it.
“—and command of this vessel is mine!” shouted the skeletal-looking man in flowing purple robes and a hat too large for his head. Meera noticed how it bobbled back and forth over his forehead as he shouted. His eyes were deep-sunk and blackened like a corpse.
“You bureaucrats disgust me,” she spat back, full of contempt. “You command nothing here, Aloo. Go back to your spice den.”
“You forget your place, Captain Krest! I am a Royal Imperial Adviser to the Emperor, himself! I will not tolera—”
Before he could finish the sentence, Krest drew a hidden vibroblade from her cloak and in one deft, lightning-fast stroke, held the razor-sharp edge to his neck, halting his words in his throat. Everyone froze, expecting a flick of her wrist to end his life at any second. The large hat Aloo wore tumbled to the floor as he jerked backward in surprise, terror filling his eyes.
“This is your one and only warning, you purple-clad buffoon…
…The Emperor is dead, and the Empire is no more. What you will not tolerate no longer concerns me, but what you will tolerate is my unquestioned command of this vessel and all aboard. Do not speak, but indicate that you understand me.” His head jiggled up and down in nervous agreement. “Good. I will not hesitate to end anyone who defies me.”
She reached up with her free hand and pulled her helmet off, tossing the red shroud to the floor with a hard thud of contempt. She had a short-cropped shock of bright red hair almost the same color as her uniform and penetrating golden eyes. A scar from a long-ago battle she won graced her forehead and cheek, almost in the same place Meera would now have one on hers.
She held the deadly blade steady at his throat; the slim steel shimmering with a bright silvered-blue edge. Krest looked around and addressed the throng in the room but never took the blade from his neck; the edge within a hair’s breadth of separating Aloo’s head from his body.
“The pretense of Imperial rule ceases now. The only orders that will be given concerning this vessel will be from me and no one else, regardless of whatever station they used to hold. Is that clear? Does anyone else wish to challenge me for command? I will accept your silence as compliance with my authority.”
The cabin was quiet as a crypt. Even the shuttle’s ion engines seemed to quiet down under her demands.
The two Majors stared blankly down at the table. The trooper and the technician looked at each other and he gave her a silent nod, as if to give approval of the new command situation and for her to go along. The helmeted troopers gave no indication of their feelings on the matter, and Aloo jiggled his head up and down in forced agreement. Krest lowered the vibroblade and hid it within her robes again.
“My blade thirsts. If she is unsheathed it again, blood will be required.” She rounded the table and took a seat at it’s head in a large, ornate chair—likely where the Emperor would sit while aboard. “You, medical officer. Join us.” She motioned Meera to the table’s only empty seat, leaving Aloo to stand against the wall where her vibroblade forced him to go. The disdain for this slight was written across his strangely-shaped face. Krest spoke up again, addressing the room.
“As I said before, the Emperor is dead. I saw him fall with my own eyes.”
“What happened? Weren’t you protecting him?” asked heavier Major with the strange mustache.
“Lord Vader brought the Jedi before him in the throne room. The Royal Guard was dismissed. It was not unusual for the Emperor to request privacy, especially in Lord Vader’s company. He orders, we obey.”
“So the Jedi killed him?” asked the technician with a twinge of apprehension.
“No,” replied Krest. “Lord Vader did.”
“Lies!” Aloo shouted. A collective gasp went through the room. “Lord Vader is the right hand of the Emperor! He would never—”
“Silence, fool!” she snapped back. “It is the truth. Lord Vader has betrayed us all and brought this destruction upon us. He was in league with the Jedi.”
The room erupted again into shouting. She didn’t know how or why, but Meera could sense their fear, anger; their frustration and disbelief. For a moment, her eyes locked with Krest’s and Meera could see her thoughts. As the bickering continued around her, she tuned it out and focused on the piercing yellow eyes of Captain Krest. She was not telling them all she knew. It was difficult to discern, but something was still hidden. What was Krest up to?
Meera didn’t want to believe Lord Vader was a traitor. She tried to dismiss the notion, but something in the Captain’s eyes laid bare the truth.
Lord Vader truly had betrayed the Empire. He had betrayed them all.
“Stop… STOP!” Meera shouted. “ALL OF YOU! STOP!” Meera shouted. Everyone went silent and all eyes rested on her. “The Captain speaks the truth. I saw the Jedi bring Lord Vader into the hangar where I was rescued. He was injured and couldn’t walk. As the Jedi dragged him, he called out to me for help but I could not hear him. He removed Lord Vader’s helmet and took him away in a cargo shuttle. Lord Vader is dead, too. I saw it all, and I can’t believe it either, but… it’s true. Lord Vader has betrayed us all.”
“You would accept the word of this girl over mine?” Aloo said to the room with a gesture of frustration. Again, everyone looked down at the table as if it were suddenly the most interesting thing in the room. His protest was met with silence. A wicked smile curved across Krest’s face. She nodded in approval to Meera and faced Aloo. Her smirk angered him, but he acquiesced.
“Very well, Captain. If Lord Vader betrayed us and the Emperor is truly dead, we must now think to ourselves and our safety. The rebels will be emboldened to pursue us after such a victory. No doubt they detected our escape. This shuttle is equipped with the most advanced cloaking technology ever developed. I suggest we use it and maintain radio silence. Set course for Coruscant and the safety of the senate. They will protect us now.”
Meera couldn’t believe a member of the Emperor’s highest council could be so craven. “There are still Imperials dying out there. Our brothers and sisters need us, and you want to run away like some coward?”
Captain Krest sneered. “Oh Lieutenant, you couldn’t begin to comprehend the depth of his cowardice—”
“How dare you!?” Aloo shouted in disgust.
Krest leaned forward on the table, placing her palms down. “I dare a lot of things, Counselor. Such as I dare to inform this crew of you falling out of favor with the Emperor. Or how about that he stripped you of your title and station just before Lord Vader arrived with the Jedi? Even better, how about I tell them that the Emperor ordered your arrest for crimes against the Empire?”
“Preposterous allegations! Vicious lies!”
“Major Andalor,” she called out. “What was your job under the Empire?”
The younger Major, who had been silent through the whole ordeal sat forward; his eyes darting from face to face around the table. A cut to his forehead was accompanied by a bruise around his eye and cheek. Though he militarily out-ranked Krest, he obliged her with a timid answer.
“I… I was the second-in-command of the Emperor’s Archival and Antiquities Corps under Colonel Varon Seeda.”
“Major, tell us how you came to be on board this shuttle instead of going to your escape pod?”
He swallowed hard. “I was about my business, cataloging a rare artifact recovered from the Endor moon before the rebels attacked. I was packing it for safe keeping when I was stopped by Counselor Aloo. He… he told me the Emperor planned to leave immediately after his conference with Lord Vader and wanted to inspect the device we found personally. Counselor Aloo insisted I accompany him to wait aboard the shuttle for further instruction from the Emperor.”
Krest chided him while Aloo scowled. “Go on, Major. Finish your story.”
“I told him this order was most irregular, as I never travel with the Emperor… at least, not aboard his shuttle. I was with the advance intelligence team. We had our own transportation and always arrived ahead of him. This shuttle is only meant of the Emperor and his personal attendants. Not the likes of me.”
“And your face, Major. How did you get your injuries?”
Aloo interrupted. “What are you playing at, Krest? This is not some Senate trial!” The Captain leapt from her chair and shoved Aloo back against the wall again holding her forearm over his throat, pinning him there.
“Do not speak again, Counselor, or I will gut you where you stand! Major, …please continue,” she said through gritted teeth as she slowly restricted Aloo’s airway with her elbow.
“I told him no; that I would need to verify the order and finish my duties with the artifact. Then a Royal Guard attacked me… on his order.” Krest never took her eyes from Aloo. His were widening with anger or terror; Meera could not tell which.
“Major, the Royal Guard are loyal only to the Emperor. Yet you say Aloo had one following his command?” Krest asked.
“I couldn’t believe it either,” Andalor said, feeling a little more emboldened that Krest has Aloo by the throat. He stood and walked closer to them. Aloo’s eyes grew wide. “But there he was. The guard held me by my throat while Counselor Aloo attempted to take the artifact from the case I locked it in. It has a bio-lock on it only two people could open: the Emperor… and me. The guard knocked me out. When I came to, I was in the cargo hold below. I woke in time to see Aloo pull a blaster and shoot the guard multiple times. He got away, but was hurt. Well, I guess he didn’t get away from the explosion in the end.”
“This is preposterous! I never shot anyone,” Aloo shouted toward the Major. “I saved your life!”
“I warned you,” was all she said.
The vibroblade flashed a brilliant blue streak from beneath her tunic. It was so fast; Aloo never stood a chance. Krest stabbed him just below his belt and ripped upward to his neck. The last thing he saw was her golden eyes in focused contempt for his existence. He fell to the floor in a gushing pool of blood. Krest stood over him; her right arm from the elbow down drenched in a darker crimson than her uniform.
“Why did you do that?” shouted the mustached Major.
“There were multiple reasons, dear Major Deshkin, but primarily because he did not follow my instruction not to speak. Major Andalor?”
“Ma’am?” the timid Major replied.
“Is the artifact this Bantha fodder wanted from you still secure?” she asked, never taking her eyes from Aloo’s corpse.
“Yes, it’s here.” Andalor put a small durasteel box onto the table. The flashing red pad on top beckoned for a fingerprint to open it.
“Indulge our curious passengers, Major. Open it for us, if you please.” Krest wiped her blade off on the chunky purple hat Aloo wore and tossed it aside his gutted body on the floor. Major Andalor pressed his index finger to the pad and the light flashed from red to green. The latch popped, and the mechanical lid opened slowly. Nestled into a soft lining was a metal pyramid covered in archaic markings. A pulsing red glow showed through the edges of its metal casing.
“What is that?” asked the Maintenance Technician. “I’ve seen a lot of mechanical devices in my time, but nothing like that.”
“No, I should think not,” snarked Krest. “It is far older than you or I. To answer your question, however, it is a key. All we need are the instructions how to use it.”
“A key to what?” asked Major Deshkin. He picked it up from the case and held it aloft in both hands.
“You’ll find out soon enough. Sergeant Marillion,” Krest said to the Trooper at the table. “Tell the pilot to change our course for the Core. We’re going to Velusia. The next puzzle piece awaits us there.”
They were now down to twelve souls aboard. Her dad would have liked that number better. Meera looked down at Aloo’s corpse and could not help thinking to herself her luck may be changing after all.
Part III coming soon!
In part III, we’ll go back 5 years and meet then-Lieutenant Varon Seeda as he travels to Fortress Vader on Mustafar with a secret message that will send Darth Vader down a treasonous path. Stay tuned!
The preceding is a work of fan fiction based upon and utilizing locations, characters, and/or plot points from the Star Wars universe, originally created by George Lucas and trademarked to Lucasfilm, Ltd. The author makes no claim whatsoever of ownership of the Star Wars name, characters represented, or the Star Wars universe generally. This work is created of the author’s own imagination and is intended for entertainment purposes only. It does not purport to be an “official” Star Wars story or part of existing Star Wars canon in any way. The author is not profiting financially in any way as the result of the creation or publication of this piece of fan fiction.