Batman: Dark Side 2 Dark Prince

Based upon characters and situations created by George Lucas and DC Comics Inc.

By Christopher W. Blaine Mail:

Story ©2001 by Christopher W. Blaine

CHAPTER 1: DARK TIDINGS Castle of Emperor Palpatine, Imperial City, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… “Rise, Prince Xizor, so that I may address you properly,” came the withered and raspy voice of Emperor Palpatine. Prince Xizor raised slowly, the rise of his chin coinciding with that of his body as he stood to face the supreme master of the known galaxy. The Emperor was the only sentient in the entire universe that could ever have the head of Black Sun kneel before him. However, for all of his ability and power, Xizor was sure that Palpatine had no idea of what his true position in the galaxy was. To the Emperor, he was simply a member of one of the royal families of the Falleen; a family that was loyal to the Empire. “What is it that you would have of me, my lord,” Xizor said, adding sincerity to his tone. It was not a total lie, for he indeed had placed himself at the discretion of the Emperor, but for far different reasons that the old man suspected, Xizor reasoned. Political power was nothing to Xizor; like Palpatine, he ruled Black Sun, the largest criminal organization in the galaxy, with ruthless efficiency. He fancied the possibility that he may one day succeed Palpatine, but whether he did or not was of no matter. Placating the Emperor allowed him to know what was happening in the government, and then he could plan Black Sun activities just so that they escaped notice from the military. This ensured his power would remain intact. There were other reasons as well… “Tell me, Prince Xizor,” the Emperor began as they walked side-by-side down the main passageway. Two Crimson Guardsman in front and back of them, plus several hidden Noghri provided escort. “Do you believe that being a Sith makes you invincible?” The Emperor referred to the dark order that both he and the accursed Darth Vader belonged to. It was an ancient society, founded on principles relating to something called the “Dark Side of the Force”. Xizor knew that the Force was an energy field that seemed to be possessed by all sentient beings and that some beings could even harness its power. The Sith had done so for personal glory; the now-extinct Jedi had used it for more mundane reasons. Those mundane reasons had made them susceptible to the power of the Sith and it was why they had fallen. “I am sure, my lord, that one such as I, who has not the ability required or the knowledge required to even begin to debate such an issue. I only have you and Lord Vader to provide me with an example of the power of the Force.” The Emperor clapped his hands. “Spoken like a true diplomat, Prince Xizor! If only the other members of my court were so eloquent in their responses.” Xizor bowed his head at the compliment. “May I ask why such a question is being posed to me, my lord?” They stopped and the Emperor turned to the Crimson Guardsmen. “Leave us, now!” he cackled. Obedient to a fault, the Guardsman immediately marched out of the hall, closing the massive door behind them. The Emperor closed his eyes and Xizor noticed his lips moving, as if he were chanting something. Suddenly, the Emperor’s eyes popped open and he smiled a vile grin. “I had to ensure we were totally alone; even my Noghri are gone, so I must beware if you were to attack me…” Xizor bowed his head to the Emperor. “I would sooner cut the throat of my own child as raise even a finger against my sworn liege.” The Emperor nodded approval. “You’re species, though reptilian, is quite close to human, Prince, but I still cannot make out your thoughts…but I sense that there is truth in your words. You have much anger in you…” “My anger is directed at those who would try to keep order from controlling the galaxy. Though I am not old enough to remember it clearly, I do know that the Old Republic was chaotic and corrupt; roaming bands of mercenary Jedi enforcing law at will…” The Emperor shook a finger at Xizor. “Exactly as I have tried to tell the people of the Empire…to keep them from falling in with this rebel riff-raff.” There was a twinkle in the Emperor’s eye. Both men were fencing a duel of words, letting nothing slip by, but knowing full well what the intended strike by their opponent would be. It was a game that many powerful figures had played throughout history and it was a game both of these men were skilled at. “You heard, of course, about our defeat at Yavin?” “Yes, a lucky strike, my lord, a fluke…”

“Maybe so, maybe no,” the Emperor interrupted. He knew more than he was letting on and that bothered Xizor. Information concerning the destruction of the Death Star was scarce, especially since the only survivor had been Lord Vader, and he and the Dark Lord were certainly not on speaking terms. How a lone starfighter had managed to destroy a battle station 120 kilometers in diameter was beyond him. The first thought that had run its course through Black Sun was that the rebels had obtained a secret weapon, but nothing certain had been obtained. Xizor was hoping to find out the answer from the Emperor personally, but it appeared that information would have to wait. “You heard that Lord Vader survived?” “Yes, my lord; I was quite relieved,” he lied, trying to keep his anger in check. “I was saddened by the loss of Grand Moff Tarkin.” Another lie. Tarkin had been a rival for the Emperor’s favor and his demise opened many doors for the prince. The Emperor paused. “Yes. Tarkin’s loss has greatly affected the Empire, but that is not why we are talking right now. Lord Vader’s near escape from destruction has gotten me thinking. There may come a time when Vader may no longer be with us…” Xizor got the message quite clearly through the innocent statement. While stating concern for the Dark Lord of the Sith, the Emperor was also hinting that without Tarkin, the Emperor was running out of ways to keep Vader in line. Vader’s obedience to his master had always seemed absolute and obviously, Xizor deduced, something had occurred at Yavin to give the Emperor pause. “Please, tell your humble servant what he may do to alleviate your concerns.” “I once had another apprentice. Lord Maul,” the Emperor began, a sound almost like nostalgia in his voice. “He was a true Sith, not a turned Jedi like Vader. I raised him in the ways of the Dark Side, fed him the Force from my very hands. He was magnificent.” Xizor nodded, but began organizing his thoughts. Darth Maul had been responsible for effectively shutting down Black Sun just prior to the Invasion of Naboo by the Trade Federation. It was because of Darth Maul that the opportunities that led to his eventual leadership of Black Sun had been possible. Up until now, he only suspected that Maul had been the Emperor’s apprentice. “His name is familiar, but I may be thinking of someone else…” The Emperor started walking again, as he always did during these private conversations, pacing the halls of an empty castle. It reminded Xizor of fairy tale his mother had told him as a child. He stepped in with the Emperor as he began to speak again. “You see, the Sith are not invincible, as was demonstrated by Lord Maul’s death at the hands of Obi-Wan Kenobi. He was one of two individuals to ever hold their own against Maul. Do you know whom the other was, Prince Xizor?” For the first time in what seemed forever, the Dark prince actually had no clue. He was aware that Maul had killed many people in his short life, including Qui-Gon Jinn, considered by many to be a fierce Jedi warrior. “I’m afraid you have the advantage over me, my lord.” “At the time, I thought my apprentice was experiencing a dream of some sort; he spoke of another world controlled by Jedi who manifested the Force in most unusual ways. There was one, however, that had no Jedi ability and he was able to hold his own in combat with my apprentice. I know this because Lord Maul’s mind was open to me at all times and I picked the memories from his brain.” It was an intriguing idea; a human who could battle Sith to a standstill. “Surely this man must be dead by now, my lord?” “The thought had occurred to me…but what if there was another? What if this warrior had an apprentice?” Xizor began to see where the Emperor was going with this conversation. He decided to act. “If it would please you, I have access to certain…operatives that may be able to get you information concerning this…I’m sorry, what was the individual’s name?” The Emperor smiled. “He called himself Batman, the Dark Knight.” “Batman?” Xizor repeated. “Odd name to be sure, my lord.” Odd indeed for the prince had never encountered such a title. “If I could have only a few days…” The Emperor laid a cold hand on Xizor’s shoulder. He would be bathing for a week now, he lamented. “Do this for me, Xizor, and I promise you that your standing in the royal court will be elevated beyond your widest dreams.” Xizor was sure that Emperor had no idea how far his dreams went, but he accepted the blessing, bowed and excused himself. Once outside the hallway, he was met by an attractive blonde-haired human wearing a blue and gold flight suit. ‘You heard?” he asked as they walked towards the waiting air shuttle.

“I did. Incredible if you believe it. Darth Maul devastated Black Sun; he defeated every single bodyguard that was employed at the time, including a Dathomir Witch. It took two Jedi Knights to finally bring him down.” “One, actually, but we know from history that Obi-Wan Kenobi was an exceptional Jedi Knight.” They passed two men in scarlet blaster armor, who fell in behind them. “Contact all of our operatives; I want any and all information on this Batman. I also want the Emperor’s files on the subject so get a good slicer on it immediately.” Guri nodded and began punching the orders into her datapad as they entered the hanger bay. Standing there, supervising repairs on a personal fighter was a young woman with red hair. The prince stopped before her. “Good day to you, Mara Jade.” Normally, such an attractive woman would prompt Xizor to produce pheromones. The scent of a male Falleen was enough to seduce any normal human female. Mara Jade, however, was far from being normal by any standard. She was one of the Emperor’s personal assassins, trained in the ways of the Force he had heard. Mara Jade nodded to the prince. “You seem to have my master’s confidences today, Prince Xizor, I pray that his trust in you is worthwhile…” Xizor smiled and tipped his head to the woman before moving on to his private shuttle. “I’d kill her if I could,” he whispered to Guri. “Not a good idea, the Emperor fawns over her like a doting father. Be cautious; she may be on a mission to watch you…” He hadn’t considered that. The Emperor would probably be very interested in finding out how Xizor acquired his information. “We’ll resort to Plan B, I suppose. Contact Boba Fett and tell him to meet me at our usual location.” As they entered the shuttle, they failed to see Mara Jade watching their moves very carefully. 3 standard days later, Prince Xizor’s castle, Coruscant… “It’s a complex situation, one that calls for discretion…your style of discretion,” Xizor said, his back to his guest. He sniffed the beverage in his glass, a vintage of the late planet of Alderaan. The bottle it came from had gone up over 500% in value since the destruction of the planet by Grand Moff Tarkin. It mattered little to Xizor, money was a consideration for lesser beings. Xizor measured wealth, like an ancient devil, in the souls he and Black Sun possessed. His guest, the fearsome bounty hunter known as Boba Fett, was a being he knew he would never control. Fett was a force of nature at times, wild and unpredictable, and yet there was a beauty to his methods, much like a storm in the summer. “The fee is whatever you name.” The man behind the Maladorian armor betrayed no emotions at the offer, his voice mechanical as it was filtered through his helmet’s speaker. “Why don’t you put a contract through the Guild?” Xizor laughed. The Bounty Hunter’s Guild was supposed to be the resource of the best of the best; both he and Fett knew it was a lie. Boba Fett’s association with the Guild, even at times he decided to work with it, was strained. “As I said, this is a complex situation. This involves matters of the highest secrecy; I know from your reputation, Hunter Fett, that you’ll die before revealing any of the information from our conversation.” It seemed to satisfy the bounty hunter. He remained unmoving, his wookie braids, souvenirs of previous bounties, flittered in the air currents from the ventilation system. Fett scanned the room, noting the presence of the android Guri in the far corner. The mechanical being had cost over 5 million credits, according to Fett’s sources and she was the best of her kind. She was obviously here to protect the prince, though he had nothing to fear from Boba Fett. While there were several bounties on the leader of Black Sun, none were worth the loss of business that would ensue with the Falleen’s death. “What’s the bounty?” Xizor turned, his green skin taking on a warmer hue as the beverage worked its way through his system. Tonight, he was in a festive mood as his broad smile demonstrated. “Tell me, Hunter Fett, are you familiar with non-linear hyperspace physics? Specifically something called a Tarrat Nexus?” Fett nodded. “A Devronian scientist named Arlat Tarrat developed the theory about two centuries ago. It very complicated, but the heart of it is that he believed that objects don’t actually move through hyperspace, they move through time. His theory was disproved, of course, but it did open the door for other schools of thought.”

Xizor bowed his head in respect. “You are quite correct, bounty hunter. One of those schools of thought states that objects don’t actually move through hyperspace, they actually move through different dimensions, at interspatial defects in quantum fields. There have been recorded occurrences of this phenomenon occurring near black holes. Some theorize that the famed Katana Fleet actually slipped into another dimension and was unable to return.” “Interesting theories, but that doesn’t answer my question. Who do you want brought in?” Xizor moved over to his favorite couch and sat down. He held up his glass and Guri moved from the shadows, clad in a shear gown of the finest silk, carrying the bottle of wine. “A human. I don’t know his name specifically; I don’t even know if he exists.” Fett shook his head. “I don’t go on wild bantha chases.” Xizor waited for Guri to finish filling his glass and then sent her back to her corner. “Oh, this is no folly or fool’s gamble, my dear Boba Fett; it is the bounty of a lifetime. You will be sent into another dimension, you will seek out the apprentice of a Dark Knight, and bring them back to me.” “I’ll pass,” Fett said, turning around to leave. Xizor expected as much and pressed a small button on the arm of his couch. Instantly, an inhibitor field surrounded every exit from the apartment. Fett slowly turned around and drew his blaster rifle. He aimed it at Xizor. “I wouldn’t do this, prince,” Fett said. Xizor nodded to Guri, who stepped up to Fett. They stared at each other for long moments and Fett added up the odds of beating the android in hand-to-hand combat. He lowered the weapon. She smiled and stepped back. “It seems I am your prisoner,” Fett said sarcastically. He knew he could easily fire the rocket from his jet pack and put a hole through the ceiling and fly out. He was also confident that he could kill Xizor very easily, but he didn’t have the information necessary to ascertain how much damage Guri could take. “Not at all, I understand your apprehension. Many things need to be explained, but I’m afraid that I cannot allow you to refuse this. It’s that important to me.” That was as close as Prince Xizor got to begging for help and Boba Fett added up the numbers in his head. He could only benefit from helping Black Sun on this. “Okay, but I want full details on everything. Oh, and you supply the ship for the dimensional jump…I’m not putting any of your equipment on my ship.” Xizor sat back and smiled, swirling the wine in the glass. “Of course. Guri will provide you all of the background on the world you are going to. It’s called Earth.” The sound of the name reminded Fett of a Gammorean breaking wind. “Not a very imposing name.” “No, and the inhabitants, humans mostly, are for the most part weak and self-indulgent. However, reports from 30 years ago indicate a high number of Jedi Knights protecting the world.” “Jedi could be a small problem. You said thirty years ago?” Clearing his throat, Xizor took a sip before beginning. “Indeed. It seems the Emperor himself had an…operative scout the world.” “How did this operative know about the world? How do we know it’s in another dimension?” “Let’s just assume that it is for now; the truth is that all of this is theory. Maybe it’s another dimension, maybe the Emperor’s operative traveled through time? That is unimportant. What is important is that there was a great warrior on that planet protecting a place called Gotham City; he called himself Batman, the public called him the Dark Knight.” Fett paused for a moment. “Was he a Sith? That presents an even bigger problem…” “No Force-ability at all,” Xizor said, smiling. “Thirty years is a long time for humans,” Fett said, referring specifically to the prince. Though he tried to make it seem he was only 30 standard years of age, the truth was the Xizor was well past 100. “This Dark Knight is probably dead, dying or decomposed.” “The Batman had a mate, a woman of great beauty and foul tongue I am told. I believe that Batman may have had an apprentice, a Padawan Learner if you will. That is who I want.” “And I can name any price?” Fett said, eyeing Guri. The android actually took a step back. “Any.” That cinched it for Bona Fett; if Xizor were willing to part with his most precious possession for this apprentice of the Batman fro another dimension, then Fett would be a fool not to take this bounty. He had no interest in the android, but he had heard rumors of certain equipment that Xizor had access to. He

wanted that equipment. “Payment on delivery. You try anything funny, I’ll vape the apprentice and anyone else,” he nodded again to Guri, “who gets in my way.” After Fett had been let out to examine the ships in the prince’s personal hanger bay, Guri came over to sit down next to her master. Xizor was starting to take on an even warmer tone of color and her android brain began running her seduction protocols. It was not a difficult task, as that was originally what her series had been designed for: perfect mates for rich aristocrats. “Should I kill him when it’s over, to ensure his silence?” she asked, kissing the prince on the neck. “No. Boba Fett, whether he admits it or not, is one of us. He has the inner strength to fight his way to the top of the food chain. No, my dear, better to keep him as an ally then ever attempt to make him an enemy. At least not now. There is much to do if I am going to ever get my revenge on Darth Vader.” There was no reply as the two fell into a lover’s embrace. Across the wide expanse from the castle to the next building, a red-haired woman brought down the macrobinoculars she had been using to observe the meeting. Mara Jade had no interest in watching the alien prince with his toy, the thought of it making her feel unclean. She had recognized Boba Fett, but that wasn’t anything new. The rich and powerful of the galaxy were the only ones who could afford the bounty hunter. Mara Jade was sure, though, that Prince Xizor was not the political flunky that he wanted to appear to be, but her efforts to sniff out any skeletons from his closet had bore no fruit. He was as slippery as his reptilian ancestors, but Mara Jade was not about to give up. New York City, Earth, present day… Roy Harper’s head hurt and he rubbed it, hoping that the touch of his hand would make the pain go away. His favorite glasses had been broken and he had three lumps on his skull from the pounding he had received at the hands of Deathstroke, the Terminator. That was the foe the Titans were currently engaging, and he was by far the one with most history with the team. It was hard to judge Slade Wilson, the man behind the half orange/half black mask of Deathstroke. There were times when he had actually been ally of the Titans; his own son had served on the team. But then, he would always go back to his mercenary ways and even though he was not a great success at battling super-heroes, he was always able to find employers that would give him tons of money to beat up on Roy and his teammates. Roy started to try and get back up from where he had landed when Deathstroke had landed a roundhouse kick on him, when he saw a red and yellow blur pass by him. Jessie Quick, the resident speedster of the Titans, was trying to move in for the “killing blow”, by running faster that the human eye could perceive. She wasn’t feeling good today and her speed was down; Roy shouldn’t have even caught the blur. As she moved in to try and knock him out with a single super-speed punch, Deathstroke whipped his battle stave around and caught her right on the forehead. Her momentum caused her to veer to the right, where she slammed into Garth, their fellow Titan named Tempest. Garth was a big man, strong and muscular, but Jessie’s speeding form hit him like a freight train and both went tumbling over a hill and down into a construction yard. Deathstroke dodged and attack from Nightwing, the leader of the team. “You’re getting slow in your old age, Grayson,” Deathstroke laughed. Roy shook his head; this battle was getting them nowhere. The reason for it was still lost to the former partner of Green Arrow and he sighed at the futility. “Whatever happened to the good old days of master plans and world domination? Now, everybody with spandex wants to kick someone else’s ass just for kicks.” “Little help here, Roy!” Nightwing called as Deathstroke landed a solid punch to his stomach. Roy reached down and picked up a rock and tossed it. The rock, guided by his uncanny aim, smacked the super-powered mercenary in the forehead. “Arsenal!” Deathstroke roared at Roy. “You little snot! I’ve had it with you!” Nightwing took advantage of the momentary reprieve and backed up. He needed to buy a little time so that Jessie and Garth could get back to the scene of the battle. The Terminator was a powerful and highly skilled enemy. He had gone after Tempest, who was attending a local function in his role as the Atlantean Ambassador to the United Nations. A political murder-for-hire. Unfortunately for the Terminator, he seemed to forget that Tempest had quite a few friends.

“Bite me, Wilson! You’re nothing more than a cheap hit man!” Arsenal called back, stepping in a little closer. He knew that Deathstroke was using this time to gather his strength as well. Slade Wilson was a metahuman, his body enhanced with strength, speed and endurance. He had the skills of both Arsenal and Nightwing, but not to their degree of mastery. Sure, Roy could outshoot him, but while he was doing that, Deathstroke would just slap him down with martial arts. He would go hand-to-hand with Nightwing, and then shoot him. It was a catch-22 situation that never seemed to go away. “I am so sick of your wrinkly old butt strolling down here to New York and picking fights with us.” Deathstroke sneered behind his mask. “After I kill you here, Harper, I’m going after your girlfriend Cheshire…” Roy rolled his eyes, keeping his attention while Nightwing stepped slowly to the left. It was just like they had practiced. The problem was, they knew that Deathstroke was aware of their moves. They had to be fast to do this. “She’s the mother of my daughter…not my girlfriend…” “And then, I’m going to waste your daughter….” Roy launched himself at Deathstroke immediately, while Nightwing moved in to pull Wilson away. A primal snarl erupted from Arsenal’s throat. “Don’t you ever threaten my daughter!” he cried, landing a solid punch on Deathstroke’s jaw. Nightwing knew that if he didn’t break them up, one of them was going to get killed. Wilson had guessed their plan and had goaded Roy into messing up their timing. It was times like this that Dick Grayson, the man behind the Nightwing mask, wished he had other teammates. Roy wouldn’t last five minutes working for Batman, he thought. The two heroes and villains were so enthralled with either causing or preventing death, that they failed to notice the brief glint of sunlight of the helmet of someone watching them. On the rook of a fourstory building, Boba Fett watched with interest the battle below. He had been on this world for 5 standard days and he was sick of it already. It made no sense to him. In certain areas, there was technology that was unrivaled, yet most of the planet was in a state of poverty. They had relations with other worlds, places with names like Rann, Thanagar and Daxam, yet most of the population refused to believe in life on other planets. Fett was convinced that fools inhabited this planet for the most part. Xizor’s computers in the Virago Ultra, a custom space craft, had managed to tap into the world’s information system, called the internet, and special enhancement devices in his helmet had allowed him to learn a few of the languages of the world. He had also accessed several databases on the history of the planet, including the rise of the Jedi-like beings called metahumans. Several displayed abilities that were easily explained by mutation, Force-talent or technological enhancement; but there were others that simply baffled the mind. One in particular, called Green Lantern, especially intrigued the bounty hunter. This warrior represented a fallen army, much in the same manner that Fett did by wearing Maladorian armor. What was so fascinating was the choice of weapon, a simple ring that manifested energy in physical form. Boba Fett had seen much of the known galaxy and had never encountered such a thing. The rumors were that the ring was powered by will alone. If he were to obtain this… Not today, he thought. No, he was here to finish a job. Perhaps he would be able to come back here and pursue more personal interests, but not today. The internet had several references to the so-called Batman, even digital images of him. It occurred to Fett that perhaps this Batman was a Sith, able to use the Force to retard the aging process much like the Emperor. However, as he viewed footage of the Dark Knight, he began to notice some things. There were several persons calling themselves Batman, one even wearing armor. There was no way to be sure if the Batman that was supposedly in Gotham City was the one who had fought the Emperor’s operative, or if it was someone else entirely. “The Emperor’s operative,” Fett said silently. Were he someone else, he would have taken offense at Xizor’s arrogance; as if he would not know about the infamous Darth Maul! Boba Fett knew about anyone who might be a potential threat, and that was his main reason for finally taking this mission. He needed to size up this Batman’s apprentice, to see if Xizor was planning to use him to take down anyone he deemed a danger to his power base. Oh, he knew that the apprentice would eventually be delivered to the Emperor, and Fett could care less why, but what happened before that time was of great interest to the bounty hunter. Though the reports on the Batman were conflicting, the reports on his apprentice were not. Where the Dark Knight shunned the populace, his apprentice appeared to take delight in being out in the open. For years, he had led these “Jedi”, for lack of a better term, in a war against the so-called forces of evil. Fett had decided long ago that there was no such thing as evil, only power. When someone coveted your power, you

called them evil; when someone protected your power, you called them good. Boba Fett had little time for semantics. The warrior in the blue chain armor, with the half-black mask interested Fett. They were kindred spirits he felt. He sensed the determination of the one called Deathstroke and even possibly considered taking him in as well. Though it wasn’t something he did all of the time, Fett could see where this Deathstroke might make a good partner for a time. He finally dismissed the thought, sure that it would end up with Fett killing him. Fett brought up the stun rifle and aimed at the three combatants. It was so easy, dealing with these primitives, that he almost felt sorry. He dismissed that thought as well as he pulled the trigger. A blue light field emitted from the rifle and spread out towards the ground below. Some law enforcement people were caught in it and they immediately fell. When the field struck the combatants, they jumped apart. The red-haired one, who was fighting like Hutt over a meal, immediately fell back, moaning. Fett realized that the clothing the other two were wearing was protecting them. Activating his jet pack, Fett leapt into the air and then began his descent to the ground below. The one called Nightwing, his quarry, turned to look at his fallen teammate. Deathstroke turned to face Fett. Had he the time, Fett would have engaged him physically. He had studied Deathstroke’s moves and found him to be lacking in properly defending his upper left quadrant. As Fett landed, he pulled out his blaster pistol and shot at Deathstroke. The mercenary dodged, but just barely, and rolled to a crouch. Fett saw him moving the firing end of his battle stave; a practical weapon Fett was sure, but with a limited power supply. He had estimated that Deathstroke only had two more shots at best out of it. Deathstroke fired, yelling something that went too fast for Fett to comprehend. His jet back raised him in the air and he immediately fired his grappling line at his attacker. Deathstroke brought up the battle stave and caught the line, causing it to wrap around it. Fett hit the release on his end of the line, just as Deathstroke started to pull. With no weight on the other end, the Terminator was momentarily off balance. A knee dart, filled with a mild sedative, launched from the bounty hunter and struck the mercenary high on the left shoulder. From behind his mask, Deathstroke eye began to roll and he fell back almost immediately. Fett landed and faced Nightwing, who was standing straight and assuming a fighting stance. “I don’t know who you are, but you’re going to hurt innocent people, shooting around like that,” the hero said. Fett spoke slowly, his mouth forming the strange words. “You will come with me. Resist and you will die.” “I don’t think so, pal; look behind you,” Nightwing said, slowly crossing his arms across his chest. Fett didn’t bother. He was aware already of the apprentice’s allies to his rear. The female, quite beautiful Fett had to admit, appeared to be the greatest danger. “Final warning.” He saw a slight twitch in his adversary’s jaw and whirled. He unslung the stun rifle and shot Tempest and Jessie. Both fell immediately. He ran over to them, hearing the footsteps of his pursuer behind him. Just as he got to the female, he twisted again, firing the stun rifle at Nightwing. The hero, already shaken by the first blast, succumbed to the second. Small blue whirls of electricity danced on his body. It had been too easy, but then Fett wasn’t here to fight. That could always wait for another day. He moved slowly over to the fallen body of Nightwing and activated the slave rigging of his craft. Soon, he would be home.

CHAPTER 2: DARK REVELATIONS Imperial Super Star Destroyer Executor, secret TIE fighter training area, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, apprentice to the Emperor Palpatine, commander of the Imperial Armed Forces, studied the holovid playing before him. Behind him, two white-armored stormtroopers stood at the ready, their blaster rifles held in a manner that indicated any who approached the Sith Lord without permission would meet an untimely end. From behind his black helmet, the eyes of the former Anakin Skywalker watched with great interest as a dance played out before him. The holovid, captured by a secret satellite shrouded with a cloaking device, had come alive twelve standard hours before. Its sensors detected a rip in the fabric of space, as tachyons scattered from a specific point some two hundred thousand kilometers away from it. Immediately, from seemingly nowhere, a ship returned from hyperspace into the real world. Lord Vader watched the tactical data scroll at the bottom of the screen. The powerful passive sensors of the satellite were able to derive a plethora of information about the craft. All of it interesting; none of it useful. The Dark Lord turned away from the screen, his cape swishing as he did so and as if on command, an officer, clad in the olive drab uniform of a captain stepped across the bridge towards Vader. “My Lord,” he said with a slight bow. “Your opinion, Captain Ardel?” the Dark Lord asked. The intelligence officer cleared his throat. “Analysis of the data indicates that the power generated by the craft is equal to that of a dreadnaught, Lord Vader. The ion residue from the ship’s engines does not match any in the Imperial database. It appears that it is a unique craft. There did not appear to be any armaments, which would lead to suggest it is a scout craft of some type.” “I disagree,” Lord Vader said, turning and walking to the turbo lift. The officer fell in beside him in a hurried step to keep up with the imposing figure in black. The stormtroopers followed without pause or haste. “A scout craft generating that much power would be useless. It would be easily detected by even the most primitive of sensors. More likely, it was a smuggler’s vessel.” “With all due respect, Lord,” the officer began, contemplating his words carefully. “It simply isn’t big enough to carry a sizable cargo. The fuel required to power the engines it must have would outweigh any smuggling benefits.” As they stepped into the turbo lift, Darth Vader turned to the officer. “Unless it was smuggling a very precious cargo.” The Captain nodded slowly. “If that is true, my Lord, then we must act quickly. Prudence dictates that if this is a new type of smuggler’s craft, it very well could be used to smuggle rebel personnel or weapons.” The mention of the rebels momentarily caused the Dark Lord to pause in his thoughts. Only recently, he had escaped the destruction of the Death Star, the Empire’s most powerful weapon. The space station, armed with it’s planet-destroying laser, had been defeated by a single snub nose fighter, piloted by a young rebel warrior named Luke Skywalker. The name caused conflicting emotions in Darth Vader as he contemplated the meaning of it. He had felt the Force in Skywalker, as he pursued him through the trench of the Death Star. It had been strong, but at the time, Vader had paid it no mind. There were many beings strong in the Force. At one time, many years before, those with enough strength in the Force became Jedi Knights. He had been one as well. Until the day he allowed his anger, his frustration to overcome him and open him up to another aspect of the Force. The Dark Side. He had trained in the Sith ways under the Emperor and then betrayed his fellow Jedi, killing all of them save for one, his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. He had thought his master dead, since it had been nearly twenty years since he had last saw him and it was on the Death Star that he had discovered how wrong he was. He had sensed his former master’s presence and it had masked the presence of Luke Skywalker, who was there to rescue the Alderaanian princess, Leia Organna. In a duel of lightsabers, he had defeated Obi-Wan, killing the last Jedi, ridding the universe of their kind. Or so he thought. When he had discovered that the pilot he had pursued in the trench was his own son, something happened in Darth Vader. In that moment, he had become the lonely child again, tinkering away at his

podracer, dreaming of becoming a Jedi Knight, though he had no idea he was the so-called “One Who Will Bring Balance to the Force”. In that moment, he felt something he had not felt since the last time he had held her in his arms, his beloved Amidala. “Excuse me, my Lord?” Captain Ardel asked, a quizzical look on his face. “I’m afraid I have never heard of the planet Amidala.” Darth Vader cleared his mind, calling the Force to him. “You were saying?” he asked. The turbo lift doors opened and the group stepped out into one of the many hanger bays that filled the massive star craft. “I was saying, Lord, that it appeared from the vectors we could obtain when the ship jumped next that it was heading to Imperial City.” Darth Vader nodded and stopped. “Order my craft prepared, I will leave immediately for Imperial City and bring this matter to the attention of the Emperor.” The Captain nodded, another puzzled look on his face. Darth Vader could sense the apprehension in the man through the Force, but paid it no mind. He had to investigate this craft personally. He tried to convince himself that it was to ensure it was not a rebel plot to assassinate the Emperor, but deep inside, the truth burned into him. He was going to make sure his son had not been captured. If Luke Skywalker were to be brought before the Emperor, it would not be before he ensured that this truly was his heir. JLA Watchtower, Earth’s moon, present day… “I’m forming a Justice League Task Force,” the Batman said with certainty. Superman only nodded. “You’re sure that Darth Maul is behind this?” Batman gave him a look, indicating he was more than sure. “The video of the abduction of Nightwing clearly shows and individual that spoke with the same accent that Darth Maul had. I’ve done the research, there is no accent like that anywhere on the planet.” Superman was about to protest, saying that simple human hearing was not enough to make this assumption on. Then he considered the seriousness of the situation. An armored individual had managed to kidnap Nightwing, the former partner of the Batman, the day before. That in and of itself was impressive, as Superman knew that Richard Grayson, the man behind the Nightwing mask, was a formidable opponent, having few equals in hand-to-hand combat. The fact that the individual had also managed to take town the Titans and Deathstroke, the Terminator, at the same time, indicated that they were dealing with someone who was very professional at his job. The mention of Darth Maul’s name, however, was the exclamation point to Batman’s argument. A year before, an individual going by that name had somehow been transported to the Watchtower by accident and had managed to defeat the League members present. He had journeyed to Earth, Gotham City specifically, and had captured the Huntress, one of the many operating vigilantes of the city. He had challenged Batman to martial combat for control of the city. It had been a furious battle, with Batman barely holding his own. The Dark Knight had eventually gained the upper hand and then Darth Maul had resorted to using a telekinetic attack to choke the life out of the Batman. Had the Martian Manhunter not intervened when he did, there was no doubt that Batman would be dead now. It had taken Batman weeks to recover fully from the battle, and if he was this sure that Darth Maul had returned, and was now going after the man that Batman called son, the Superman knew that all he could do was offer whatever support he could. “Have you decided on a team?” Batman nodded from his seat at the JLA meeting table. The entire active membership, minus the Flash who was busy on a case, was present. “Yes, I’ve contacted all of them…they are waiting outside right now. I want J’onn,” he nodded to the Martian Manhunter, “to give them a briefing on what he was bale to pick up from Maul’s mind.” Superman sighed. “Alright, let’s put it to a vote. Our charter clearly indicates that a vote of the active membership is required whenever a Task Force is formed. Remember people, these individuals will be representing the JLA, so if you have any doubts about this, speak them now.” Batman spoke first. “I vote yes.” Aquaman was next to speak. “That bastard hurt Garth,” he said, indicating his former partner and current Titan’s member Tempest. “Go kick his ass!” Superman interrupted. “A simple yes would do, Authur.” Wonder Woman stood up. “If what you say is true, Batman, then it is likely that Nightwing may already be dead. Worse, this could all be a trap to lead you away from Earth. Perhaps this Darth Maul is

preparing an attack of some sort. He certainly believed that you were the so-called king of the super-heroes. However, I can’t bear the thought of leaving that noble man in the clutches of someone so…despicable. I vote yes, with reservations.” As she sat down, Green Lantern cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, Batman, but I saw the group you formed and, well…I just don’t think they are JLA material. I vote no.” The Batman stared down the young ring-slinger and Kyle Rayner knew that someday, he was going to pay for his vote. Plastic Man stretched his neck out over the table. “I vote no, too, Bats, but only because I agree with Wonder Chest over there. It smells like a trap and our first priority is to Earth. Nothing personal.” As Plastic Man’s head snapped back to his body, the Martian Manhunter removed his hands from his chin, which had been supporting it as he contemplated the issue. “Next to the Batman, I have the most knowledge of Darth Maul, perhaps more so since I invaded his mind temporarily. The thoughts still…bother me, for lack of a better term. He comes from a world of complete darkness, where our moral standards mean nothing. This is not simply a trip into Hell; this is a suicide mission as far as I am concerned. While I share the Batman’s worries, I also know what it is like to have a world destroyed. If this is a diversion, we would be leaving the people of Earth unprotected, if even only slightly. If the forces of Darth Maul were to attack, we would need every single one of us. I vote no.” Superman rubbed the bridge of his nose. It always seemed to come to him. “The arguments put forth are all good ones. I completely agree that this could be a trap, with the hope of leading the League away from the Earth. However, I would point out that the Batman has considered this as well, which is why he has asked to form a Task Force, instead of allowing the entire team to go with him.” He paused and looked into the Batman’s face and he knew that despite what his vote was, the Batman was going. He sighed a final time. “Besides, Nightwing is a friend of mine and I know he would come after me. I vote yes.” An hour later, Superman, Batman and the Martian Manhunter stood in the meeting room as Batman’s Task Force took their seats. They were all familiar faces: Arsenal, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle and the Huntress. Batman spoke first. “I want to thank the four of you for accepting this mission. Each one of you has skills that may be useful in this task. You’ll notice that none of you are metahuman types and there is a reason for that that J’onn will explain.” The Martian Manhunter looked them over. He could feel apprehension coming from Arsenal, anger from Huntress and giddiness from the others. He shook his head. “You will be traveling via a hypertime conduit; or at least we believe it is. At first, Batman believed that Darth Maul came from Apokolips, the world ruled by Darkseid. That was a mistake. I cannot tell you where Darth Maul came from, or even the time period. Even now, we have the best astronomers on Earth, Rann and Thanagar working on a star chart I drew up from memory that Darth Maul related to his home. In one year, we still have nothing, which leads us to believe that Maul may come from an alternate reality.” “If this is true, then time is of the essence. Too much time spent in an alternate reality causes that reality to merge with ours, which in turn causes another reality to merge and the entire space-time continuum begins to collapse. However, we do not believe this is the case. We have no idea how long Darth Maul’s agent was here before capturing Nightwing, but we can assume he probably spent some time observing him, which means, more than likely, you will be still in this reality. Where in the galaxy, who knows?” “What we do know is that Darth Maul represented something called the Sith, some type of religious order dedicated to gathering of power through violent means. The opponents of the Sith are called the Jedi, and seem to possess abilities far beyond those of normal men. Maul was not human, but he seemed to know what humans were, which is the reason why you were selected. We believe that the Sith can sense metahuman abilities and therefore any attempt at stealth would be futile. As normal humans, you may be able to blend into the population.” Booster Gold raised his hand. “What about me? My power suit gives me extra normal abilities.” Batman answered. “This world is technologically advanced, as was evident by the weapon that Maul employed. We believe that you power suit could be our ace in the hole. You will keep it powered down until told. Understood?”

Booster Gold nodded and the Martian Manhunter resumed his speech. “The language of the human peoples is very complex, but I was able to, for lack of a better word, download it from Maul. Before you leave, I will telepathically implant the knowledge into your brains.” Superman was next to speak. “Your mission will be simple: find Nightwing and bring him home, destroying any technology you find that allows travel to here.” Batman placed his hands on the edge of the table and leaned towards the group. “There are three other things. First, I am in charge. This will not be a democracy. You will do what I say, when I tell you to without question.” He eyed the Huntress, who looked away. “Second, no killing. I don’t care what the situation is…no killing. Third, because we will be traveling out of uniform for the most part, those of you who don’t already know it will find out who I really am. That means that J’onn here will wipe that information from your minds upon completion of this mission, except for Arsenal.” The red-haired hero grinned and stuck his tongue out at Booster Gold. The reply was a middle finger in the air. The Huntress looked up. “So, why not let us know now?” she smiled like a cat. Batman stood up and pulled back his cowl, revealing the face of Bruce Wayne. “Son of a bitch!” the Huntress cried. “I don’t believe it! I don’t f---“ “Shut up!” Arsenal said. Blue Beetle shook his head. “I don’t believe this…I’m working for my biggest competitor. Your company stole that damn contract from…” “We don’t have time for this,” Superman interrupted. “Get your gear and meet in the workshop in fifteen minutes.” Imperial City, Black Sun safe house Xizor, Prince of the Falleen and absolute ruler of Black Sun, looked at the human in the interrogation couch, stroking his chin. “Impressive, for a mammal.” Guri, his bodyguard as well as attendant, nodded. “Yes, for a human, he is in top form. However, a midi-chlorian count indicates no Force potential at all. Hardly a worthy candidate for the Sith.” Xizor nodded and walked closer to the still form. It was sleeping, again. He had never encountered a human, or any other sentient, that seemed so relaxed, despite the danger the man found himself in. Boba Fett stood in a corner and shifted on his feet. Xizor caught the movement and turned to the bounty hunter. “You wish to say something?” “I wouldn’t get too close. I saw the way he moves, he could be playing like a dead womprat.” Wise advice, Xizor thought. It wasn’t that he was afraid for his own safety, it was for his prize. If the human were to somehow break the bonds and attack him, he had no doubt that Guri and Fett would cut him down immediately. That would not do, since the Emperor had been very explicit about the fate of this man. Imagine, he thought to himself, that this was the apprentice of a man, a non-Jedi, that actually fought a Sith Lord in hand-to-hand combat and lived! Xizor himself was a master of many martial disciplines, and he had studied what little there was on Darth Maul. He knew that the Sith Lord had devastated Black Sun decades before, killing most of the organization with his bare hands. Maul had been the favorite of the Emperor, someone he had raised from boyhood to follow in his footsteps. After Maul, came Vader. The name left a bad taste in his mouth. He once again swore that one day, Darth Vader would kneel before him, just before he killed him. It was Darth Vader that had ordered the orbital bombardment of Xizor’s homeworld and killed his family. The blood of many Falleen were on the Sith Lord’s hands and Xizor planned to wash it off with Vader’s own blood! He knew the hot thoughts must have started his skin to change from its normal green, for Guri stepped up and placed a hand on his shoulder. “We have almost finished here, my Prince, perhaps we should leave the rest to your subordinates.” Xizor turned to the android and could almost detect concern in her eyes. She had definitely been worth the credits! “You are right. Come Hunter Fett, and we will discuss your fee. Guri, inform the technicians that should even one hair be pulled from this man’s head, I will kill them and their families and everyone within a five kilometer radius of their homes.”

Mara Jade turned off the commlink and tucked it in her belt. She would have to report to the Emperor, inform him that Xizor had secured the package he had wanted. The young woman, barely out of her teens stood up and reached out with the Force. She sensed no one near here and she began to make her way through the maze of tunnels underneath the Black Sun safehouse. Of course, she had no idea that Xizor was connected to the organization and assumed that the small complex located in the lower parts of the Imperial City was another perk of being rich. She despised the reptilian being, but her orders from her master had been clear. She was to follow and monitor Xizor’s progress, to ensure there was no duplicity. While she could not fathom how Xizor had come to know someone like Boba Fett, she had nothing to report that would indicate that the Falleen was not obeying the commands of her master. Still… Xizor was not of the Force, like the Emperor, Lord Vader or herself. Vader frightened her on a level she couldn’t discern, but he was loyal to their master, and for that, he had her respect. But this prince, that was another story. He was a snake with legs and arms as far as she was concerned and she could feel it in her bones that he was not as loyal as he appeared. Without evidence, however, even the Emperor’s Hand, as she was called, could not bring such allegations to Palpatine. She would be reduced in status, worse yet, Xizor would probably demand retribution. She stifled a chill as she thought of what that would entail. Xizor’s reputation for desiring young women was known throughout Imperial City. With barely a sound, Mara Jade made her way towards the upper levels, stretching her senses with the Force, a hand on her lightsaber. Had she lingered a minute more, she would have seen a flash of light and five figures step into the tunnel seemingly from nowhere. “God, it stinks in here!” Ted Kord said. He was in a simple blue jumpsuit, his Blue Beetle costume back somewhere through reality. He had a stun pistol in a holster slung low on his waist. “Shut up,” Booster Gold said. Michael Jon Carter was in his battle suit, which looked oddly out of place in the dark tunnel. He pulled his mask back. “What if someone hears you?” “Who the hell is going to live in a sewer?” the Huntress asked. She, too, was in full uniform, without the mask. She scanned the tunnel for movement. “You planned this didn’t you, Brucie?” she said in a sarcastic tone. The Batman, clad in a black leather jumpsuit, complete with utility belt said nothing. He would have to bear with her remarks. Finding his son was what was important right now. Roy Harper, the hero called Arsenal, in his costume, pulled down his sunglasses. “I hear something.” Ted Kord snickered. “I think the Huntress ate chili last night!” The raven-trussed heroine turned to reply when she cried. “Holy freakin’ crap!” Batman turned to where she was looking and saw an army of moving creatures. They scurried like rats and made slight grunting noises. He could tell, from the dim light, that they appeared to be armored. As the team took defensive stances, ready to fight, Booster Gold commented. “This sucks. Why couldn’t we pop up in some intergalactic brothel?” The Huntress cocked a bolt into her crossbow and spat on the ground. “You kiss your mother with that mouth?” As the wave of rodents surged towards them, he replied with a cry. “No, I kiss yours!”

CHAPTER 3 – DARK THOUGHTS Starlight Arms, Imperial Center, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…. Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle, laid on a couch with a cool rag on his head. His previous set of clothing had been destroyed in an attack by what they had learned were called armored rats. They had materialized in a set of sewers that ran through one of the hundreds of levels of this city-world. Unlike anything any of the assembled group had seen before, they had emerged after their battle with the feral rodents, in awe of the spectacle. Bruce Wayne, the Batman, had managed to secure them a room in a nearby hotel by bartering with diamonds. Bruce had guessed correctly that the diamonds would be as valuable here as they were on their own world. In fact, he had been able to trade many more diamonds for what was called Imperial Script. It was a form of local currency, and though they all knew that Wayne was probable giving away a million dollars in diamonds for a few equivalent thousand dollars, it was what had to be done. The first thing they had to do was purchase appropriate clothing. The only people who looked as if they had been born here were Arsenal and Huntress, and they were referred to as bounty hunters. But such things did not concern Ted Kord, as he looked up at the ceiling, which was made of a material he could not identify. No, he was pondering how to get them back to their home universe. While Blue Beetle was considered something of a joke in the super-hero world, Ted Kord was considered a genius when it came to technology. Even Bruce Wayne had admitted that he was impressed with Kord’s work as an engineer. There had been no mention of his work as Blue Beetle. That was okay by him, though, since being the Blue Beetle was the only thing that kept him from going insane as he would sometimes sit for hours daydreaming of schematics, followed by hundreds of lines of computer code and finally deep thoughts about metallurgy or chemistry. He had been picked for this mission for two reasons. The first was that Ted Kord was a damn good pilot. Not some kind of jet-riding hot dog, but a really good pilot that could fly almost anything. The second reason was because next to Steel, he was probably the only person who could get the dimension hopping technology to work that was needed to get them home. Steel had to stay back in the JLA Watchtower to monitor the equipment that had sent them here (and just within inches of having them show up inside a wall), and Ted was supposed to figure out something on this end. The Batman had guessed that the man who had captured Nightwing, the person they were here to rescue, probably had a ship capable of making the jump through dimensions. Ted hoped he was right, because he really wasn’t sure if he could do this. The time for fun and games was over, and even his partner, the man from the 25th century, Booster Gold, was acting a bit more mature than usual. He was here as the heavy guns, his power suit giving him abilities far beyond normal people. The two of them were a team, and had learned to rely on each other a lot over the past few years. Now, Ted was on his own; all of the years of college and developing his own designs came down to this. If he could do it, he would be the hero of the day. If he failed, then they would all probably die very far from home. Bruce Wayne looked over at Ted Kord and then returned his attention to his utility belt. He had brought along a Batman costume, stored away in his special knapsack, just in case he needed it. This mission had been important enough for him to reveal his identity to the others, and even though it would be erased from their minds when they got back, it still bothered him. It left him vulnerable because most of them knew Bruce Wayne only by his reputation, especially the Huntress. She had already whispered in his ear that they were going to have a long talk before this was over, and he knew he couldn’t avoid it. That was unimportant right now, though, as he checked his mini-torch. He had come here to rescue Nightwing…Dick…and that was what he was going to do. He knew that Darth Maul was behind all of this; he could almost feel the stench of evil in this entire plot. Capture Nightwing, and the Batman was sure to follow. True enough, but he was hoping he had thrown enough monkey wrenches in the works to foul up Maul’s plans. Maul was the ultimate combatant, and Bruce Wayne was not looking forward to a rematch. The reason was simple; he couldn’t win. He did not have the time to analyze all of Maul’s weaknesses, to study his habits as the Batman did when he was pursuing prey. No, Darth Maul was too much like him and his ability to use the Force, as he had called it, gave him a distinct edge over Batman. Not that a challenge

wasn’t enjoyable; Bruce Wayne had spent his entire life testing his abilities, pushing his limits, but this time an innocent boy’s life was on the line. Boy? Bruce shook his head and laid down the tools. Dick was a full-grown man; did he really need him to come crashing in to save the day every time there was a problem? Son or not, didn’t he have a responsibility to let him handle things his way? Maybe, but not today, not against someone like Darth Maul. After reading Maul’s mind, the Martian Manhunter had described his thought processes to Batman. Maul represented a way of life devoted to the acquisition of power, by any means. Life was nothing to him, and that was the major difference between the two of them. Dick Grayson represented Bruce Wayne’s legacy, while Nightwing represented Batman’s. Long ago, he had resigned himself to the fact that he would never have his own children for that would require, at the very least, a woman willing to have his child. The candidates for such an “honor” were few and far between. Besides, he felt he was getting too old to begin starting a family. Finishing his check of his equipment, he set it aside and reached for the bottled water he had purchased from a type of servant robot. The water tasted overly filtered and a check of the first container with his portable chemical kit indicated it no impurities whatsoever. As he took a drink, he briefly wondered how the Huntress and Arsenal were coming along in their mission. The Mynock’s Revenge, 38th sub-level, Imperial Center… Helena Bertinelli cast a wary glance at the two furry aliens sitting in the corner booth, and then did another visual once-over of the entire bar. Roy Harper was talking to the bartender, who appeared to be a robot, but in this strange world, it could have been a man in armor. She had caught snippets of conversations as she came in, none of it in the Basic language J’onn had plugged into their brains. From the high-pitched whistles and rapping on various tables, she got the idea her appearance was causing quite a stir. The black leather and Lycra of her battle suit hugged her form, making her seem firmer than was actually possible. There were no other women in this bar, not even prostitutes. Then again, she had no idea if some of the creatures before her even had genders. Harper had suggested coming in here, stating that places like this were always full of people willing to sell information. In a secret pocket in her costume, Helena had thousands of dollars worth of precious gems. It was worth more than she would make in ten years as a high school teacher and barely a drop in the bucket for Bruce Wayne. She felt the anger rising up inside of her as she pondered the Batman’s true identity. Bad enough that the Batman had rejected the Huntress, had made her a virtual outcast in the super-hero world, but to find out he didn’t even have to work for a living! No wonder he was a control freak; money made you that way. Harper had acted like it was nothing, but then he had always known who was behind the cape and cowl of Gotham’s protector. In fact, Harper had money of his own and had even lived the rich boy’s life when he was the ward of Oliver Queen. The part that truly infuriated her was that the knowledge was going to be taken away from her when they got back. Even though she was necessary for this mission, for a variety of reasons, she still couldn’t be trusted with the knowledge of the Batman’s identity. “The bartender said that the guy in the picture is called Boba Fett,” Roy said, sliding up next to her. They were speaking English, to keep people from hearing what they were talking about. “Strange thing is that the bartender about went nuts…if a robot can do that…over the photograph. Started asking me how I got an ancient…get this…flimsy-photo of Boba Fett.” Helena wrinkled her face. “It’s never seen a photograph before?” Roy shrugged. “They probably use holograms or something. But, hey, we got a name!” “Did your little tin friend know where we could find Bubba?” “Boba…not Bubba…and no, in response to your question.” He moved a little closer so that his hand was barely touching her arm. Helena had to refrain from laughing in his face. “It seems that this guy is bad news. He’s a bounty hunter. Mercenary. Bodyguard. All-around bad-ass.” He started to stretch and flex his biceps. “Kind of like me.” Helena was about to respond when she felt a presence before them. Turning from Roy, she found herself confronted by a tall, pasty-looking humanoid, armed with two pistols slung in hip holsters. It barked at them in Basic. “You!” he said, poking a slender finger into Roy’s chest. “How much for your woman?”

“I’m not for sale, jerk!” Helena said, pushing the alien back. There were hoots and jeers from the tables. The alien smiled, showing glistening blue teeth. “Know your place or else Shugate will teach you manners.” He reached out and grabbed the crucifix that hung at Helena’s neck. “What is this? Your collar?” The joke brought a wave of laughter from the patrons. “It represents my faith, so get your slimy hands off of it!” She grabbed the alien’s hand and squeezed a pressure point. It had no effect. “Hah! Must be a weak god for such a weak symbol!” Helena squeezed harder and with her other hand, pulled out her crossbow and put a shot into the alien’s thigh. The creature roared as yellow blood gushed out. “Don’t make fun of Jesus!” she cried, pushing the alien down. It writhed in apparent agony, much more than what either Helena or Roy expected. The bartender moved in behind them. “You shot him in a sexual organ! What were you thinking? I knew better than to allow humans in here! You must leave now!” Helena realized that the bartender was probably right, as she saw several hands begin to drift towards laser pistols. Helena had hoped to get one, but she knew the Batman would never allow it. Like it or not, he was in charge right now and she agreed that rescuing Nightwing was of the most importance. As they left, they failed to notice the small, cloaked figure that began to trail them. Prince Xizor’s castle, Imperial Center… The head of Black Sun listened intently as one of his operatives detailed the report of one of their underworld spies. When it was over, Xizor dismissed the man with a wave of his long, elegant hand. He pondered the information briefly and then turned to Guri, who stood behind him as always. “Opinion?” She spoke without moving from her parade rest position. “We have no idea who these people are, though the woman does appear to be similar to the Dark Knight’s bride that Darth Maul had reported encountering.” The famed Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Maul, had traveled to a parallel world some thirty years before. In his time there, he had encountered a human called the Batman who managed to combat him to a near standstill. The remarkable thing was that this Batman did it without the benefit of the Force. “Do you believe that this is the very same woman?” Xizor said, rising from his seat. “If it is, then that could present a very interesting problem.” “Yes, it could mean that the Batman is alive and found a way here. It is not totally out of the realm of reason. From the secret files we have obtained that Lord Maul recorded before his untimely death, the doorway between our world and the Batman’s was generated from there and not here. That, therefore, indicates that the ability to travel here is more than likely easier for them.” “Meaning that they would not require a ship, like the one we supplied Hunter Fett. But it has been thirty years, my dear Guri, and it is well known that mammals,” he said the word with disgust, “do not have elongated life spans. The warm blood is what does them in. If this Batman were still alive, then he would be ancient in age…no threat at all.” “I have wondered the same thing myself, but I found that my memory banks lacked sufficient knowledge of hyperspace physics to explain such a thing. I therefore consulted with the Imperial network and accessed the Kuat Drive Yards Research and Development Group library. As builders of hyperspacecapable vehicles, many of their scientists are experts in the field. I believe the answer may be that while thirty years have passed here, a shorter length of time may have passed there.” Xizor considered telling his android assistant that he had already consulted with other scientists about the very same thing, but was waiting for a second opinion on the subject. It appeared that he had that and more. If what Guri was explaining were true, then a great opportunity was about to present itself. He decided to test her some more. “Perhaps we should turn the apprentice over to the Emperor now…” “I strongly advise against doing so, my prince. Right now, the Emperor believes you to be nothing more than a member of Falleen royalty, just another courtier. Perhaps an exceptional one that he sees great potential in, but no more than that. If he were to learn your true position, that of head of Black Sun, a thorn in his side, it would mean your death. It has only been a few weeks since the Emperor charged you with this task, and if you came through so quickly, it would raise suspicion. After all, how could an ordinary prince gain the services of Boba Fett so quickly?” Xizor nodded but said nothing. It was important that Guri be able to anticipate his motives and moves, so that she could always be ready to serve him to her fullest capability. She continued, unaware of

his thoughts. “However, if this woman does prove to be the mate, and therefore the mother-figure of the apprentice, then the so-called father cannot be far behind if he still lives. The apprentice would grant you favor; the Dark Knight will gain you influence.” Xizor smiled. “How, then, do you propose we capture this Dark Knight, the Batman. It appears he has allies with him and some of them may even be Jedi, if Maul’s reports are to believed.” Guri nodded. “There is no reason to disbelieve the reports.” She paused and cocked her head slightly, a human characteristic added to her basic programming. “Which brings up the question about those reports; how did you get them?” The Falleen thought about not telling her, but dismissed it. The android’s loyalty to him was absolute, of that there was no question. Still, he found it difficult to completely trust her. If he was going to survive with all of the games of chess he was playing, he would need her help. “Jedi knights, even those who follow the ways of the Sith, often record their thoughts to either digital file or to a Jedi holocron. Lord Maul chose the former to the latter and I was able to obtain them from the Imperial archives.” “Such things would only be available to the Emperor himself,” Guri said, a hint of astonishment in her voice. It was another unique aspect of her programming. “You would be surprised, my dear, what the right amount of credits will get you.” The Dark prince was not going to elaborate any further. “Has the other project started?” Guri referred to her datapad. “The sample has been mapped and cultivation has begun. Final product is expected to be ready in a few weeks.” Xizor looked out at the city that was a planet and smiled. His luck was definitely changing for the better. He was slowly climbing the stairs of power and when he got to the top, he would hurl Darth Vader to the bottom. Imperial Navy Spaceport, Imperial Center… “Lord Vader, this is quite a surprise,” the Officer of the Deck said, saluting. The Dark Lord of the Sith ignored him and moved from the hanger deck where he had landed his personal TIE Fighter. His wingmen were already busy going over his craft and it will have been inspected at least 3 more times before he returned to fly it off planet to the Star Destroyer Avenger in orbit above. A protectorate guard of four stormtroopers, alerted beforehand of the Dark Lord’s arrival, fell in behind him. There was no need to be in front, for few beings in the galaxy could hope to even begin to be a threat to the man who had almost single-handedly destroyed the Jedi. The stormtroopers were mainly there for show and to keep away the occasional curious onlooker. Darth Vader did not concern himself with appearances. The Force would allow him to know immediately if anyone meant him any harm and he would have plenty of time to react. Without changing his stride, he exited the spaceport and moved toward the awaiting military transport that would take him to his personal castle on Imperial Center. Waiting next to the shuttle was a man in an army colonel’s uniform. “My lord,” he said, bowing his head slightly. “Colonel Junz,” the Dark Lord said, moving past him. The army officer followed him into the transport, while the stormtroopers remained outside of it. The pilot did not wait for the order to lift-off, and soon the craft was flying into the military-only air path above the city-world. “Lord Vader, I must confess that not only is your presence here…unusual, but refusing to see the Emperor will certainly not bode well.” The Dark Lord stood at the rear viewport, looking at the air traffic. “My master understands that there are times I must attend to matters on my own. When I am done with my mission, I will explain all to the Emperor.” “Of course, my lord, it is only that you were scheduled to complete the project trials for the TIE Avenger, and your decision to come to Imperial Center has put the project behind by at least three standard weeks.” The colonel paused, and when the Dark Lord refused to speak, he continued. “As your admin liaison, I must warn you that the naval high command…” The colonel began to make a slight choking noise and soon was gasping for air. Darth Vader did not even turn around as the military officer sank to his knees. “It is foolish to try and warn a Sith, colonel; take that knowledge with you as you join the living Force.”

The colonel fell dead to the floor and Lord Vader pondered the reasons for his trip to Imperial Center. An unknown ship type had come out of hyperspace in a restricted military testing ground. Imperial Intelligence believed it to be a new type of smuggler’s vessel, possibly used to transport weapons or personnel to unknown locations. The ship had returned to hyperspace before any attempts could be made to capture it. The jump point corresponded to a course leading back to Imperial Center. Normally, the appearance of a craft in military space would be turned over to the Intelligence Section, but something about the strange vessel caused a stirring in the Force. Though he had no proof of it, Lord Vader was afraid that the rebel hero, Luke Skywalker, had been captured and was being taken to the Emperor. The mere mention of the name Skywalker, even in the depths of his mind, was enough to bring up painful memories from a time long before. Luke Skywalker had been within his grasp and he had not even known it. For all of his power in the Force, he had been unable to sense the presence of his own son. In the years since Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, he had worked hard to keep the memories of the more innocent times buried far underneath the black armor he wore. Days of cleaning work shelves and racing pods through Beggar’s Canyon were far behind him, just as were the times of laying next to wife, his hand running through her dark hair. His path to the Dark Side had robbed him of many things, but he had been content with the few moments he allowed himself to bask in his memories. None of those memories involved having a son. He had never known, but then, he had to consider the possibility that maybe the dark Side had robbed him of that memory. The idea that Obi-Wan, his former master, could have hidden such a thing from him for so long was hard to contemplate. None of it mattered now anyway. When he had finally gotten the information that Luke Skywalker existed, something had stirred inside the Dark Lord and after long meditation deep in the Force; he realized that it was parental instinct. For the first time since he had surrendered the life of Anakin Skywalker in favor of Darth Vader, he felt regret. It was no secret among the upper echelon of the Imperial government that the Emperor was particularly interested in Luke Skywalker, though he had yet to speak to his apprentice about it. Instead, he had been sent to supervise testing of new star fighter designs while the Super-Star Destroyer Executor was being fitted for the search for the rebel base. That had begun to raise his suspicions about his master’s intentions for the young rebel. If he were truly the son of Lord Vader, then he had the potential to become a very powerful Jedi. In the Emperor’s plan, Lord Vader had no doubt that he would try to turn young Skywalker to the Dark Side. It only made sense, as there were no living Jedi masters to train the boy… The transport settled in on the personal landing pad at the Dark Lord’s castle and the Sith turned as the hatch began to slowly open. He stepped over the body of his former admin liaison and exited the transport. Four stormtroopers, the insignia of the personal bodyguard of Lord Vader on their chests, stood at the ready. As the Dark Lord passed them, two stepped inside to retrieve the body of the dead officer. As Darth Vader entered his castle, he detected the presence of another Force-adept nearby. It took less than a heartbeat for him to identify Mara Jade, the Emperor’s Hand, hidden approximately a quarter of a kilometer away. No doubt the dead colonel had betrayed the Dark Lord and reported his arrival to the Emperor, who in turn sent the young woman to observe him. The stripling was not a threat, but it did indicate an increase in local security. Normally, the Emperor’s “pet”, as he referred to her was reserved for more exotic duties such as assassinations. The Dark Lord made his way inside and was met by his personal protocol droid. The droid, a oneof-a-kind model designed by Vader himself, stood erect as it reported on the status of the various systems within the castles. “Report on the results of the search I ordered,” he said, interrupting the droid. “The ship design does not match any within the recorded records, though it does have similarity to one. The similarity only goes as far as the physical construction and not any of the energy signatures.” The Dark Lord continued to move through his castle, heading towards his meditation chamber. “What ship class does it have similarity to?” “Spydor Engine Works Darlutt-Class personal shuttle.” “What information have you gathered about Spydor Engine Works?” He had never heard of the company, but that was not surprising. Though he was one of the most accomplished pilots in the galaxy and familiar with many star fighter and star ship designs, he was not omniscient. There were literally thousands of small companies putting out “one-ship-wonder” designs.

The droid, keeping pace with his master, accessed the files deep in his cybernetic brain. “Spydor Engine Works was a small company that was formed two hundred standard years ago on Alderaan. The company specialized in high-speed personal craft for the rich and elite. However, the engine design they developed was found to be defective and resulted in several lawsuits. The company was then bought out by a private investor.” “Do we know who the investor was?” “Records indicate an obscure member of the Falleen royal family.” The Dark Lord pondered the meaning of the information he now had. He knew that Prince Xizor, a minor member of the Emperor’s court, coveted moving up to a position of power. He had previously detected the hatred that Xizor directed towards him, but he had always dismissed it. Many members of the court hated the Dark Lord. He often found it amusing how they would fester in their desires to remove him from power. However, if the prince had somehow managed to capture Luke Skywalker, famed hero of the rebellion, destroyer of the Death Star, then he would be elevated to an advantageous position. “I want a general order sent out to the entire Empire. Any rumors or sightings of any rebel matching Luke Skywalker’s description are to be reported to me immediately, no matter how remote.” The droid acknowledged the order and left the Dark Lord to his thoughts. Bounty Hunter’s Guild Local, Imperial Center… Bruce Wayne, the Batman, clad in a simple standard issue flight suit, stood on the street corner, trying his best to blend in. In Gotham City, his skills allowed to become one with the shadows, here he could not be sure that the shadows did not hold creatures hiding from him. Since their battle with the armored rats, he had tried to find out all he could about this city-planet, this place that someone like Lex Luthor would consider a personal Disney Land. Unfortunately, there was simply too much information to take in. The Huntress and Arsenal had found information pointing to a bounty hunter named Boba Fett as the person who had kidnapped Nightwing. An informant they had come across had indicated that while Fett remained free from the Bounty Hunter’s Guild, they would probably know how to contact him if he was on-planet. The problem was that they were considered to be pretty rough customers and the Huntress’s antic in the bar had no doubt reached their ears by now. Booster Gold and the Blue Beetle were scouting local landing bays to try and find a ship that would be adequate for the equipment they would have to install on it to get back to their universe. Steel had given the Blue Beetle exact plans on how to build a smaller version of the teleportation device that had originally brought Darth Maul to the JLA Watchtower. He took a deep breath and summoned the acting skills he had perfected over the years and stepped onto the street, heading towards the dark doors.

CHAPTER 4: DARK DEALINGS The creature examined Bruce Wayne with reptilian eyes; cold, unfeeling eyes and Bruce Wayne felt like a hamburger in front of a hungry man. “Human…you sssshow great sssstrenght in coming here and being sssssoooo bold.” Bruce nodded. “I figured that men like us should be direct. Formalities are for the weak.” The bounty hunter, of a race Bruce had yet to identify, nodded its mottled green head. They were seated at a small table inside the local Bounty Hunter’s Guild on Imperial Center. Bruce had come here based on information gathered by the Huntress and Arsenal earlier in the day. He had come here looking for information regarding a bounty hunter named Boba Fett. The bounty hunter, this Fett fellow, was something of a living legend in this universe, this reality that was so different from Bruce’s own. In a way, he and Fett we alike, for in his own universe, Bruce Wayne was the Batman, a myth of the night, a creature of darkness. He was here to rescue his son, Richard Grayson, also a super-hero called Nightwing. Days before, Boba Fett had kidnapped Nightwing from New York City and the Batman had followed, bringing with him a task force of allies to deal with anything that got in his way. “You are mossssst correct, human,” the lizard man said. It appeared that there was a smile on his face. “I have the information you ssssseek, but the cosssst is high.” Bruce reached into his pocket and pulled out the last of his precious gems that he had brought with him to this universe. “This is all that I have.” A clawed hand reached down and grasped the rubies and emeralds. “Unique cutssss; almossssst asssss unique asssssss your accent.” “I’m not from around here,” Bruce said. Before leaving his universe, he had the Martian Manhunter implant in his mind the language of this planet, a language called Basic. The original information came from a mind scan that the Manhunter had done on a being called Darth Maul. Maul had attacked the Batman and Huntress in Gotham City approximately a year before. “I will arrange a meeting for you,” the bounty hunter said, standing up. A wicked looking blaster hanging on his side. “Come back tomorrow.” Bruce nodded and stood up. A few minutes later, he was back on the walkway outside the Guild headquarters. Imperial Barracks 19TFG-12, Imperial Center… The Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader, knew his spy was approaching long before the man entered the military building. The barracks, a non-descript building used to house a small stormtrooper detachment, was the perfect out-of-the-way place to meet. The Dark Lord, known for his many surprise inspections, did not draw too much attention. He had no doubt that his master, Emperor Palpatine, was aware that he was on planet now, but he did not worry too much. Ever since the destruction of the Death Star, Lord Vader had bee working with Admiral Zaarin to develop new star fighters for the Imperial Navy. He was not expected to be on Imperial Center at this time, but Darth Vader was known for certain eccentricities. Upon arrival on-planet, he had put out the word that he was looking for any information regarding rebel agents, especially one called Skywalker. The name was quite familiar to Darth Vader, for it was a name that once belonged to him and now it labeled the man who was his son. Or, at least, he believed it was his son. When a craft of unknown design appeared in the Imperial proving area, the former Jedi Knight’s interest was piqued. Whether it was caution or paranoia, Lord Vader had decided to come to Imperial Center and investigate. The mystery of Luke Skywalker was to be solved by him and him alone. “Lord Vader,” the man said, entering. The title was voiced more with fear than with respect. The Dark Lord dipped his head slightly. “Mr. Grin. I trust that you have information that is worth my time?” Mr. Grin, a middle-aged man whose hairline was fast receding, looked around nervously. Satisfied that there were no stormtroopers hidden in the corners, he approached slowly. “Yeah…I mean, yes. The word is that Boba Fett was seen piloting a Darlutt-Class shuttle recently.”

Darth Vader nodded. That particular class of ship was what had invaded military space and caused him to travel here unannounced. “That is not his normal craft,” he mused out loud. When Mr. Grin did not answer, he continued. “Are there any high-priority bounties registered that would draw Fett’s attention?” “I don’t know…I just know what my brother told me. He has a friend who was smuggling…I mean shipping some materials on-planet when he saw the ship head to a private dock.” “Whose dock?” Vader said, extending his hand. Grin felt his throat constrict. “I don’t know…honest…” Vader sensed that Grin was lying and a subtle command into the Force began to force the atoms in his blood to move rapidly. This, in turn, began to raise the temperature of the man’s blood. “You will tell me what I want or…” Grin spat up blood. “Xizor…Prince Xizor…” Vader released the man from the grip of the Force and let him fall to the floor. Without another word, he stepped out of the room and entered the passageway. At the end, he passed two white-armored stormtroopers. No order was needed as the stormtroopers raised their rifles and went into the room the Dark Lord had just vacated and closed the door. Palace of Emperor Palpatine, Imperial Center… “How goes you mission, Prince Xizor?” the Emperor cackled from his throne. His Dark Side Adepts stood with heads bowed behind the scarlet-clad Imperial Guardsman. The Falleen prince felt like an actor on the stage. He felt fortunate that his mind was foreign enough that the Emperor could not read it. “I feel I am getting closer to the solution, my liege,” he said, his head bowed. He brought it up slowly. “My agents have found some information regarding this ‘Batman’ and it is my belief that he did have an apprentice.” “Excellent…how long until you can secure sure proof of the existence of this apprentice?” “Very soon, my lord, of this you have my personal assurances.” The Emperor stood up and walked slowly towards Xizor. The prince was uncomfortable to be so close to such a ragged specimen of mammalian evolution, but his cool reptilian nature fanned the flames of revulsion. “Were you aware that Lord Vader is here on Imperial Center?” “No, my lord, I was not aware. Of course, I am not a military person, only a humble courtier. The comings and goings of the fleet commander is certainly none of my concern.” The Emperor pointed a crooked finger at the Falleen. “In this matter, you should be very aware of the whereabouts of my apprentice. Lord Vader is unaware of what we do and I wish to keep it that way.” “Of course, my liege, I understand completely…” “No!” the Emperor shouted, cutting him off. In the universe, this was the only being with the power to subdue the head of Black Sun. “Do not be deceived, Lord Vader is powerful in the Force and far from stupid. This is the reason why I seek the apprentice of the Batman, to have in the event Lord Vader…” “My apologies…I meant no disrespect to either you or your order; I only meant that I understood how important this is to you.” Xizor began to wonder if the Emperor was planning on getting rid of Vader. While the Falleen would not weep over the Dark Lord’s demise, it would rob him of the vengeance he sought. “You have my word as your servant and…friend,” he used the word carefully, testing the waters, “that what transpires between us stays with us.” The Emperor cracked a wicked smile. “My apprentice is here, I thought you should be told. If he gets to close to any information you have, then I am sure you know what to do.” So that was it, Xizor thought. He was actually afraid…well, maybe concerned, that Darth Vader would find out that his possible replacement was being sought. Undoubtedly, that would stoke the fires of anger within the Sith Lord’s breast. This was only one of many times that Xizor found himself wondering who exactly Darth Vader really was and why hid destiny seemed tied to the galaxy. Grimmn Jackos Used Freighter Lot, Imperial Center…

“You think I am stupid, don’t you human?” the strange alien asked as he buzzed around the office on wings that seemed far too small to carry his bulk. Blue in color with a long nose, Grimmn was proving to be a problematic salesman. Ted Kord, scientific genius and super-hero, wiped his face and turned to his companion. Micheal Carter, clad in his Booster Gold uniform, stood with his arms crossed. The other hero shrugged and Ted turned back to the saleman. “Listen, friend, we are smugglers…” Grimmn laughed and hacked up something green. “Dressed like that,” he said, pointing to Carter. On a world with white-clad stormtroopers and olive-drab garbed military men, the blue and gold costume he wore did make him stick out. Huntress and Arsenal, in leather costumes of black, purple, red and brown seemed to fit in. Ted had forgone his Blue Beetle costume in favor of a simple pair of flight coveralls. He was, after all, here as a pilot on this mission. “Smugglers operate in the shadows, you look like a freak show. A human freak show.” There was apparent disgust in the alien’s voice. Ted had read up, during their brief resting period in a motel room, about the current government that ruled the galaxy. It was an empire, with an emperor and set up basically like the many empires that existed on earth, with one very unique difference. Xenophobia was rampant in this so-called New Order. A galaxy populated with hundreds of alien sentients was being dominated by the humans. It appeared, from some records Ted had read that were not totally censored, that there was once a time when the many races lived together in harmony. Something had changed, but Ted had neither the time nor the energy to find out. He needed a ship with a hyperdrive he could modify to the specifications given to him by Steel, a fellow Justice League reserve member. That ship was what was going to get them home. In his search for a vessel, Michael had commented that in his century, the twenty-fifth, that weapons smugglers usually had the fastest and toughest ships. An inquiry made by the Huntress and Arsenal pointed them towards this lot. Allegedly, this alien helped to service the booming smuggling business. “We don’t want to look at this junk…we want to see the good stuff.” “Go away! Your money is no good here!” The alien began to fly away. “We aren’t leaving!” Ted yelled at the alien’s back, but it did no good. Michael stepped up. “We could go in and beat him up.” Ted rolled his eyes and they began heading to the walkway that would take them to the lifts going up to the next level. “They already don’t like humans here…I can’t believe our beating him up will help matters any.” “How about we steal a ship?” Ted threw his arms in the air. “That’s the problem! I don’t know what to steal! This technology is beyond me. Faster-than-light travel is like nothing to these people, and we are just starting to understand it back home. It would take me weeks at least to figure out what exactly we needed. I figured big and fast would be a good place to start.” “We got to find something and soon,” Michael said as the entered the lift. “Hey, any ideas would be good, future-boy!” Ted snapped. He felt inadequate on this mission. Over the last few years, he had let himself go. He was no longer a young, idealistic man but was now becoming a bitter, middle-aged man. Michael held his tongue and then reached out to punch the lift controls. The lift, which could have been a thousand years old on the city-planet, shattered and the car was soon falling. Ted screamed, but Michael was already ahead of him, activating the force field built into his uniform. Prince Xizor’s Castle, Imperial Center… Dick Grayson woke with a start, realizing that his thoughts were clear for the first time in a great while. He was still bound and very sore, but his mind was his again. He remembered, briefly, the attack by the armored man while the Titans were battling the Terminator. The shock from the stun rifle had overwhelmed him and then his memory became a series of unconnected images. He remembered a beautiful blonde woman and a green-skinned man that reminded him of the criminal Killer Croc. His shoulder hurt the worst and he looked to see he was bare-chested and bruised. There were several telltale marks of where they had taken blood from him. He remembered that and briefly thought about an alien autopsy show he had once watched.

He shook his head and looked at his surroundings. The material binding him was not normal rope and his gloves were gone. He was thankful that he still had on his pants, but they smelled the worse for wear. In fact, the room had the smell of death about it and that was when he noticed the brown stains on the floor and walls. There were puddle stains and flecks, indicating the villainous intentions this room represented. Instantly, his training kicked in and he knew he had to get free. Summoning all of his strength, he tried to snap either his bindings or the device he was strapped to. Both proved too strong for him and he grunted in anger. As he was about to try again, the door to the room opened. Dick immediately played possum. The door closed silently and he waited until he could sense the other person next to him. He caught the faint smell of perfume, but could not place it. He opened his eyes slowly to find a young red-haired woman staring at him, holding a flower under his nose. The flower was obviously meant to wake him up. Much better than smelling salts. “Who are you, he asked?” The woman, really a girl, who couldn’t have been more that seventeen, looked at him oddly. She spoke to him, but the language was not anything he ever heard before. He tried speaking French, Russian and even Arabic. It was no use. Mara Jade reflected on the tied up man. She had been sent by her master, Emperor Palpatine, to watch over Prince Xizor in order to see his methods of carrying out the Emperor’s request. For days, she had observed the Falleen’s personal estate on Imperial Center, but could discover nothing except that he was ravenous in his sexual conquests. The thought of his cold, reptilian hands on her made Mara’s skin chill. Finally, her master had informed her that Xizor would be leaving his estate today and that would give her time to enter and discover his plans. Using the Force, Mara had reached out to find that the many guards were mostly concerned with this one human prisoner. It was child’s play to get past the dullard guards, though the illegal assassin droid had provided her with a small challenge. Her master would be very interested in hearing that Prince Xizor collected ancient weapons. For a simple courtier, the Prince had an awful lot of security. There was more here than what she saw and as much as she would like to dig up the evidence to send the reptile scurrying, she had another task to perform. This prisoner was important to Xizor, so that made him important to the Emperor. She studied him, listening to him speak in what sounded like Jawa’s drunk. He was handsome and a part of her, that feminine part that was usually reserved for missions that required it, was urging her to pursue her desires. Mara Jade, the Emperor’s Hand, though trained in the ways of the Dark Side, was not immune to those things that made her human. In the end, her loyalty to the Emperor overrode her baser desires, and pulling out a vibroblade, she severed the ferrocord that held the prisoner. When he stood up, she noticed that he stank. That would be a problem. Smelly people did not sneak around very well. Mara remembered a refresher she had passed on the floor above. Hopefully, there was a sonic shower there for this rancor-smelling prisoner. Outside the Bounty Hunter’s Guild, Imperial Center… Boba Fett normally ignored any request from the Guild, but this particular one had piqued his interest. He stood against the ferrocrete wall of the Guild building, a structure he only entered when he wanted to taunt the lesser hunters. His active scanners picked up movement from above, but he did nothing to alter his position. The sensors brought up an eye-level display, relaying information about the figure approaching him. It was a normal human male, trying to keep to the shadows. Whomever it was had managed to get past the security systems of the Guild. Impressive to some people, but boring to Boba Fett. The figure was just above him, on the roof, when Fett felt a tap on his shoulder. His left eye fell on the display and sure enough, there was someone next to him. Fett, his cheeks red in anger, went for his rifle to bring it up. A hand reached out and yanked it from his grasp before he could pull the trigger.

He was about to go for an auxiliary weapon when he realized that had this person wanted to kill him, they could have already done it. He had managed to get past Fett’s sensors, which were augmented by the sensors of his own ship, Slave 1, which was not too far away. Now, Fett was impressed. “We need to talk, bounty hunter,” came an accented voice. Someone landed behind him, but he paid no mind to the decoy. “Go ahead…Batman,” Fett said to the man in the cape and cowl in front of him.

CHAPTER 5: DARK TRUTHS Somewhere in the bowels of Imperial Center… The smoke that filled Ted Kord’s nostrils had a taste he couldn’t quite place, but he was sure that it was million year old dung dust. He wondered how he could smell anything through Mike’s force field and realized that it must have overloaded protecting them from the fall. The physical components of the lift they were in failed, sending the car crashing down. Ted’s mind raced through the calculations, contemplating the amount of time they had fallen and multiplied it by the rate of acceleration and then dismissed it as he realized he had no idea what the rate would be on this planet. Pushing himself up, he determined that nothing was broken and began looking for his partner. Pulling out his Blue Beetle goggles, he slipped them on and activated the starlight mode, as there appeared to be no lighting down here. It was if the planet had swallowed them, and that did not set well with him. When they had first come to this place, they had materialized inside a sewer and were immediately attacked by armored rats. He was positive that some prehistoric spiders or giant mucous creatures were waiting for them to move out of the wreckage. “Mike!” he called and received a grunt from behind. Turning slowly, he made out the shape of his friend, smoke rising from where he knew were the power cells for the Booster Gold costume. “Are you okay?” “My…butt…is…asleep,” Michael said. The two checked each other over and discovered some bruises and cuts, and Mike’s costume would no longer be the secret weapon that Batman had figured it would be. The controls were completely destroyed. “That’s okay,” Mike said, examining a small flashlight he normally carried. “I think Batman brought me along just to keep an eye on me.” Ted smiled. “Let’s worry about all of that later. We need to get out of here.” “Where do you think we are?” Mike asked, shining the light into the space in front of them. They were in what appeared to be a large cavern that would have seemed natural except for the metal ceiling. There were large bay doors ahead of them. Ted examined some rubbish on the floor. “I can’t read any of this,” he said with finality. “Reminds me of an aircraft carrier.” “Huh?” They started walking towards the bay doors. “An aircraft carrier? Naval vessel…used to carry aircraft…” “Oh, yeah, I read about them in my history books,” Mike said. When they got to the doors, they began to look for some sort of panel that would open them. They did not find that, but instead found a hatch on the other end. It was not completely shut and they were able to get though without much problem. After a few minutes, Ted spoke up. “Mike, shine your light over into the corner. No! The other corner, idiot!” Michael complied and immediately there was the glint of metal. A lot of metal. “Well, smack my behind and call me Sally, Mr. Carter,” Ted said. The response was a sharp slap to his posterior. Outside the Bounty Hunter’s Guild, Imperial Center… “If you expect me to quake in fear, you’re going to be sorely disappointed,” Boba Fett said. The Batman stood before him in full costume, looking like some sort of Devronian nightmare. The bounty hunter’s helmet sensors, boosted by a microwave link from Slave 1, his personal ship, told him that another human male was standing behind him. He assumed it was the redheaded man that had been looking for information concerning the galaxy’s most famous bounty hunter. “I don’t impress or scare easily.” Batman made no expression. “You know what I want.” “Sorry, but I don’t betray my employers.” “Want me to rough him up, Batman?” Arsenal said with a grin. A swift elbow strike by Boba Fett sent him down to his knees. Fett heard faint laughter, definitely female. She wasn’t on his sensors yet, which meant she was in a location near the communications equipment for the Guild offices.

“I don’t have time for this, Fett,” Batman said, gritting his teeth. His accent made the words sound strange, but his expression made the intent crystal clear. Fett began to weigh his options. “You kidnapped my friend…” “You mean your padawan, don’t you, Jedi?” There was sarcasm in Fett’s voice. He knew that this Batman was not a Jedi Knight, but he wanted to keep the conversation going while he used his optical interface to activate the call signal for his ship. His custom ship would add a little leverage to his side of this debate. Batman showed his own quick reflexes by reaching out and snapping off the antenna on Fett’s helmet. He then pointed to his own cowl. “I’m picking up your transmissions to your ship. Let’s cut the bull…” “Bull?” Fett asked. Batman decided that enough time had been spent in discussion and leaned in close to Fett. He whispered something very slowly and Fett nodded. “Nice threat, but you can’t carry it out.” The Batman said nothing, but continued to stare the bounty hunter down. Fett considered his new options. If he gave in, it would go against everything that he believed in, such as his word. On the other hand, Xizor hadn’t actually paid Fett his normal fee and the man behind the Maaladorian helmet was still upset by it. Still, his word was his word. “How about we go a different route, then,” Batman said. “I’m interested in purchasing a ship capable of trans-dimensional travel.” Fett smiled grimly as he realized he had a way of keeping his word and getting back at Black Sun. “I’ve heard that the Falleen own a company that produces such a craft.” “Who are the Falleen? I’m new around here…” Fett explained that they were a race of reptilian humanoids. “One of their royalty, Prince Xizor, owns several estates on planet. I’m sure he would be able to point you to the appropriate ship-builder.” Arsenal stood up, holding his stomach and the Huntress landed softly beside him. “You two, find a local information terminal and see what you can come up with on this Prince Xizor.” As the two turned to walk off, Batman stared down at Fett again. He could almost sense the arrogance coming off the armored man. “Let me give you a warning…stay off of my planet.” There was a choking sound that Batman assumed was a laugh. “It’ll take more than a funny outfit and a scary look to convince me.” He held his hand out, waiting for Batman to return his rifle. “My weapon…now.” Batman waited a second, and then a second longer before handing the blaster back. “I don’t ever want to see you again.” Fett took the weapon, turned around and began walking away. “Don’t worry about it; next time you won’t.” Palace of Emperor Palpatine, Imperial Center… “Our spies report that Lord Vader is moving towards Prince Xizor’s castle,” the Crimson Guardsman said from his kneeling position. The Emperor could sense the desire to attain power and prestige in the man and smiled. “Rise, Connor Jax, and speak freely.” Jax rose slowly, but kept his eyes directed towards the floor, as if he were unworthy to gaze upon his master. “I have received a report that Lord Vader has met with a local resident at a non-descript barracks. From there, he has taken a shuttle in the direction of Prince Xizor’s southern retreat.” “Interesting,” was the only comment the Emperor would allow. This was a dangerous game he was playing, but one did not become master of the known galaxy without encountering a threat here and there. All of this had started as an attempt to not only fish out the true reach of his courtier, prince Xizor, but to also put to rest a question that had plagued the Emperor for three decades. Darth Maul, his first apprentice, was long dead, but before his untimely demise, he had described an encounter with a man possessed of single determination and raging anger. This man had fought Lord Maul to a standstill; though his apprentice had refrained from using the Force directly. Battling a Sith Lord with bare hands required grit that was nearly unheard of in this day and age of hyperspace travel and amusement holos. Such a person would be the perfect genetic blueprint for an army of clones unheard of! The problem had been the distance, for it seemed as if Maul had described a world that could not possibly exist. Luckily, Maul had been in Palpatine’s private apartment when the portal to this other world had been opened. It was amusing that the Emperor actually forgot about the sophisticated sensors and

recorders in his apartment until after Maul’s death. What at first had seemed like a flight of fancy, a daydream, had turned out to be something real. “Have Lord Vader ordered to contact me immediately,” the Emperor commanded. Jax performed the required rites of obedience and moved off. The Emperor slowly stood up and began to move towards his private quarters. He would have to reign in Vader before he found out the truth. There was very little threat of the Dark Lord turning on his master, even if it appeared that his master was seeking a new apprentice…of sorts. Vader’s loyalty had always been unquestionable, but the recent destruction of the Death Star had given the Emperor pause. When he learned that it was Luke Skywalker…a Skywalker…it dawned on him that Vader may be tempted to do something…untoward. The Emperor was no fool; for all of his supposed devotion to the Dark Side, Darth Vader still carried the feelings of a life long destroyed in his heart. No amount of training in the ways of the Sith could fully erase the emotions his apprentice had experienced as a boy and a young man. Would his protégé turn against him in favor of a son? The possibility was there, and so the Emperor began to surround himself with potentially powerful allies. Prince Xizor was one such being. Though a non-human, he was human-enough that he could be tolerated. He played the part well, but Palpatine suspected that there was more to the prince than just someone who wished to rub shoulders with the Imperial elite. He had no direct evidence, but there was always that suspicion. If he were able to produce even the most minute of results from his request, his suggestion that the man who had battled Maul had an apprentice, then Palpatine would have more circumstantial proof of Xizor’s reach. In order to gain that proof, however, he needed to keep Lord Vader away from him. It was no secret that there was a palatable tension between the two, and the Emperor held no illusions of who would be the victor in a direct confrontation. Xizor, he was sure, would be very valuable in the future, and may possibly provide the instrument of Lord Vader’s destruction. Should that prove necessary. The Emperor cackled and clapped his hands as watched the storm of destiny beginning to rage. Prince Xizor’s Castle, Imperial Center… Mara Jade regarded her prisoner coolly as he stepped from the sonic shower, smelling much better than previously. He was still continuing to try and speak with her, and she thought about lancing his speech center with a Force-spike. His saving grace was that he was very pleasant to look at. Mara spent far too much time escorting withered old Imperial politicians to Imperial parties. Her master, Emperor Palpatine, did his best to keep away eligible younger men. It wasn’t the first time she had seen a naked man, but it was the first time seeing one who seemed so well…designed. She had trained with Imperial Marine Special Forces that had only a tenth of the muscles that this man had. There was a shyness about him as well, and she found it stimulating and refreshing. He put his uniform back on, a strange, padded work of varying shades of blue and black. She had seen an impressive compartmentalized belt, though empty, that suggested that this man was adept at using and carrying weapons. Mara had no idea who he was, only that her master had wanted her to find out what the Prince was hiding in his castle. She had found it and now she had to get this man to the Emperor. Though they did not speak the same language, they were able to basically read each other and he understood that it was time to move. She opened the door leading out of the refresher and scanned the passageway. Using her limited Force abilities, she checked for any approaching guards. Satisfied that there was no danger, she stepped into the passageway. He moved with one fluid motion, seeming to melt into the shadows. His ability to conceal himself in the open was astounding and she found herself impressed more and more. She began to suspect that this was perhaps one of the Emperor’s Crimson Guard, the elite stormtrooper unit that answered only to her master. She wanted to say something but stopped when he put a finger up to his lips, a universal sign for quiet. He had heard something, but she sensed nothing. A second later, two old-model Trade Federation battle druids came marching along. Their armor gleamed, indicating that they were well serviced. At one

time, these were the premier models of mechanical military force, but a short war against the planet Naboo had ended their reign as kings. That Xizor had them indicated wealth beyond imagining. “Halt!” one of the druids called, and the stranger was up and running towards them. Nightwing had no idea what the robot was saying, but when it leveled the weapon at him, he had a pretty good idea that if he didn’t do something, he was going to end up a prisoner again. He left the young girl behind and charged at the lead droid. The girl seemed pretty sure of herself, despite her age and he was briefly reminded of another redhead in a Batgirl costume. Still, she was only a kid and probably didn’t belong here to begin with. He appreciated the fact that she had lead him to a shower, though it was a strange one, but did she have to stare at him the whole time? The first robot had quick reflexes, but Nightwing had guessed correctly that it would take it another second to get a proper lock on him, especially if he was moving. He chopped up, but the mechanical hands of the robot held the weapon fast. He saw the muzzle begin to glow and thought for sure he was dead when it seemed like lighting flashed in front of him. The girl was slashing with some sort of laser sword, sending pieces of the robot clattering down the passageway. The other robot drew down on her and she jammed the sword deep into its chest, while seemingly willing the weapon to fly into her hand. As the robot fell, smoking and crackling, the girl fell down to one knee. The laser sword disappeared as she shut it off. Obviously, the effort had been too much for her. She was a metahuman of some type, Nightwing guessed, but probably not very well trained in the use of her powers. Her attack had been blunt, lacking the finesse of a professional. Accustomed to combat, but not to using her abilities. Nightwing wondered just what kind of world he had stepped into. He offered his hand to her and she gave him an odd look and then got up on her own. She looked at him and then at the weapon she had taken from the robot. She offered it to him, but he refused. “I don’t like guns.” Again, he got another strange look. Then she got that expression people tended to get when their best-laid plans got ruined. Obviously, being seen by the sentries had not been part of the plan. “Sorry,” he offered. She put her finger up to her lips and it was his turn to be quiet. He wondered who this woman was and who had sent her. He strongly suspected that Bruce, his father, had once again recruited a young person into his dysfunctional family. If only he could place her language. Moving off into the corridor, they began to make their way towards a seemingly far-away doorway. Again, the young woman motioned for silence and she closed her eyes. Nightwing could see her visibly straining, but had no idea what it was she was attempting to do. A few moments later, she opened her eyes and appeared to be satisfied that their way was clear. Nodding to her, they each began to slink along against the walls, in pursuit of escape. Xizor, prince of the Falleen and lord of Black Sun, stared out at the common landing pad that had been constructed for use by service craft. He smiled grimly as the Imperial military shuttle settled down, repulsor coils sending loose trash and refuse scurrying away like mynocks before a turbolaser. He was aware that Lord Vader was on-planet and only the Dark Lord of the Sith would be brazen enough to land here without clearance. He considered briefly sending out a contingent of his personal bodyguard to “escort” the Dark Lord to his audience room, but decided that the Sith filth did not deserve the recognition. Xizor turned his cold reptilian eyes to Guri. “Is our contingency plan in place?” “Of course, just as you ordered at the beginning of the operation.” She paused and accessed several security files in her personal database. “It appears that you were correct in believing that Fett was not as careful as he believed. Our spies in the stormtrooper ranks have verified that a small-time nobody provided information to Lord Vader.” “Don’t be too hard on hunter Fett, Guri, he’s still the best. He’s out of his environment here…too many eyes and ears…far too many mammals scurrying about. It was, however, a bit of good fortune that the flight path we gave him allowed him to come across a secret Imperial proving ground.” “I strongly suspect there was more to it than that; Fett deviated slightly from the flight plan by coming out of hyperspace a few light years too early.”

Xizor stepped away from the window and threw a casual glance at the security board. There was a fire reported in one of the lower levels. “Yes, maybe I should have actually paid Boba Fett; this, however, allows me to come to understand him a little better. Not only did he ‘betray’ me, for lack of a better term, but he did so to the one person I hate most in the universe.” “Providing you with the knowledge that the most secret inner workings of Black Sun…” “Are apparently readily available for Boba Fett to review at will. He is a shrewd man and a worthy ally, but most of all, it tells me that we have one of his spies on our midst. Find the leak and seal it, Guri.” He moved a little closer to the status board and noted that the fire was only one floor above his personal dungeon. “This could be a problem. Guri…check the Batman’s apprentice now.” The blonde android’s head tilted slightly. “We’ve lost contact with Patrol #12.” Xizor’s green skin seemed to take on a darker shade as he absorbed the information. His plans were changing, but a true predator was always ready to alter its plans. “Lord Vader, I am C-4QR, the prince’s personal assistant, how may I be…” The protocol droid flew through the air, lifted by the Force and thrown off of the landing platform. It tumbled down out of sight and would not stop until it reached the next building, over a kilometer down. Darth Vader thought no more about the annoyance. There was a slight stirring in the Force and the dark lord searched it out with invisible tendrils. When he touched it, he could feel Mara Jade’s presence as if she were standing right next to him. He felt no emotion upon detecting her, for her life and place in the Force were nothing to him. She was to him, even with her limited training in the Dark Side, naught but an insect. If his master chose to amuse himself with her, then that was his master’s business. He would, however, have to admit that her skills as an operative were second to none. If Mara were here, then it was under the direction of his master and while he was curious about her mission, if his master chose not to inform him of it, so be it. Was he not moving around Imperial Center without at least a cursory glance towards the Emperor’s castle? Turning to the stormtrooper officer, Vader lifted a single finger. “Guard the shuttle. If any attempt is made to have the shuttle moved or to board it, you have orders to shoot to kill.” The officer acknowledged the order and turned to his small squad when the pilot stepped out of the shuttle. “Lord Vader, incoming transmission from the Emperor.” Vader stood silent for a moment, weighing his options. There was no disturbance in the Force as when he was pursuing Luke Skywalker down the Death Star trench, and he had to conclude that whatever it was that led him here, it was not his son. There was a mystery here, however, and it involved one of the Emperor’s courtier’s. It was his duty to his master to discover the duplicity. The Dark Lord knew, however, that by now the Emperor knew about Luke Skywalker and for the first time in several decades, the man in the black armor felt fear. What he feared, he wasn’t sure of, but the Force was whispering to him in subtle tones and it was telling him that something was not right. It was telling him to avoid the Emperor. Darth Vader began to respond when he felt something amiss and he turned his gaze up. A shadow seemed to move, more mist than man, and it disappeared somewhere above. It was followed by two more figures that moved with grace, but not grim purpose like the first one. Lord Vader knew he was about to learn the truth.

CHAPTER 6: DARK RESCUE Prince Xizor’s Castle, Imperial Center… The Batman regarded his two allies as they checked themselves over and ensured that their equipment had made the trip to the top of the castle. It was only through the efforts of the Huntress, who was becoming very adept at using her female attributes to her advantage, that they had been able to secure the services of a transport. The driver, a scruffy human with one cybernetic eye, had regarded her with extreme lust and the Batman was actually proud that she had not killed the man for his thoughts. “What’s the plan, Bats?” Arsenal asked. The Batman considered using some sort of cryptic tone to put the younger hero back in line, but considered it useless at the moment. Roy Harper had been raised by Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, the world’s biggest smart-mouth. “Huntress, scout the perimeter to ensure we didn’t set off any alarms; Arsenal, verify any and all exits so that we don’t have anyone sneak up on us. I’m going to try something,” he said, pulling a small transmitter out of his utility belt. The other two heroes said nothing, but instead moved to carry out the orders of their leader. Each was, in their own way, a professional and now was not the time for arguments. They had all agreed to obey the Batman for this particular mission and they were nearing the climax. Somewhere in this massive structure, looking like something out of a science-fiction movie, was Richard Grayson, the hero called Nightwing and the Batman’s adoptive son. Arsenal was doing his best to hide his concern for his friend, for he and Grayson had known each other for well over a decade and he knew that there was no question he would give his life for the Batman’s former partner. After all, how many times in the past had the dark-haired hero put himself in the path of danger for Arsenal? The Huntress, however, had different thoughts as she checked different lights and panels. She and Nightwing had been lovers at one time, feeding off their mutual need for companionship. Their particular style of life, putting on costumes and jumping into a fight, did not leave much time for a social life and so romantic encounters, especially those that were passionate and satisfying were always a welcome distraction. Though they were no longer involved, there was a warm spot in her heart for him and besides she thought, there may always be a next time. The Batman adjusted his transmitter and looked up at the sky. He just noticed that there were no vehicles passing overhead. Boba Fett had claimed that the owner of this building, a man named Xizor, was very powerful, perhaps as powerful as the Emperor. The Batman knew about the Emperor and the size of his empire and realized that this was not some common kidnapper he was dealing with. Arsenal and the Huntress had looked into Boba Fett and likened him to Deathstroke the Terminator from their world. Fett was a high-priced hireling that only worked for those he considered worthy of his services. They would have to be very quick and so the Batman took the transmitter and began moving in a circle. It was set to the frequency of Nightwing’s Titans communicator. Just as he thought he was getting a signal, something moved through his line of sight. Batman whirled and pulled out his batarang, only to see that Arsenal had beaten him to the punch. Flinging a loose piece of roofing, Arsenal smashed the flying probe that had been watching them. Before the unit could strike the roof, it self-destructed in a muffled explosion. The Huntress ran up, cursing. “I think I set off one of the alarms.” Both Batman and Arsenal gave her a sharp look. “What? I’m a lover, not a damn electronics expert. You want that, you should have brought Booster Gold!” “Might be nice to see how you like spending all of your free time with Blue Beetle,” Arsenal said with a wry smile. “Better a night with him than a moment with you,” she replied, sticking her tongue out. “Enough,” Batman said, switching his cowl lenses to infrared. He saw a hidden hatch on the roof, indicating that bodies were collecting underneath it. “We’re about to have company. First chance you get, break away and find Nightwing. Once you have him, radio on the private frequency and we’ll meet back up here.” “Then what?” Arsenal asked, unfolding his composite bow and notching an arrow. “Then Blue Beetle and Booster Gold better damn well be here!” Huntress yelled as the hidden door opened and crimson armored troops poured out.

Arsenal let fly with a series of red-shafted arrows, hitting drawn weapons in their muzzles and rendering them useless. Many of the troopers appeared astonished, despite being masked to cover their faces, and a few of the more foolish ones tried to fire their weapons only to have them explode in their hands. Two of the attackers, armed with glowing batons, went after the Huntress, who obliged one of them with a roundhouse kick to the side of the face. The helmet cracked and the trooper spun from the force and fell back. The other one managed to get a strike in on her and she felt her left arm go numb immediately. She backhanded her adversary and stepped back. Batman saw what was happening to the Huntress and jumped over a trooper that was barreling at him headfirst. The trooper passed underneath him and slammed into an antenna. Another took a shot at the moving Batman, but only singed cape before Arsenal punched him in the stomach and then broke his bow over the trooper’s head. Seeing that Batman had things well in hand, Arsenal pulled out several small throwing knives and headed to the open secret door. With a battle cry, he jumped leg-first into the hole, landing on top of a couple of rearguard troops. His sudden appearance caught them off guard and he dispatched them with ease. He looked down at their rifles, lying unattended and inviting, but shook his head. The Batman was completely against guns, and while Arsenal was the best shot out of all of them, it wasn’t worth suffering the wraith of the Dark Knight. He started to move off a dimly lit passageway when he was stopped by a feminine voice. Turning slowly, he saw a blonde-haired woman step out of another secret door into the passage. Though he couldn’t make out her exact features, her silhouette made him drool. “Hey, honey,” he called. “This is no place for a pretty girl like you.” Guri said nothing but stomped towards Arsenal. Inside her android brain, she was recording his features for future reference as she analyzed his death to verify her efficiency rating. He was smiling as she approached, a typical male human response she noted. She reached out for his throat and he made some attempt to block her, but his weak human muscles were not match for her servomotors. He gasped as she made contact and squeezed. He punched her in the face and cried out in pain as he bruised his fist against her synthetic skin and bone. So far, he was reacting in a manner consistent with 79% of her assassinations by strangulation. That changed some 1.87 seconds later when a smile began to creep over his reddening face. Guri’s defensive protocols immediately overrode her offensive programs as her logic circuits determined that there could only be two reasons for the apparent happiness on Arsenal’s face. The first was that he was welcoming his approaching death with a cheery attitude, which simply didn’t make sense when dealing with human, unless they were insane. This person did not appear to be completely out of their mind. Instead, she had found more often than not that it meant that he had seen something that indicated to him that his rescue was imminent. Dropping a wheezing Arsenal to the passage floor, Guri turned around in time to have a crossbow bolt wedge itself into her toughened outer skin. The crossbow bolt managed to find a structural defect in her shoulder. Maintenance logs were immediately updated as she realized she had actually been wounded. Small pumps began to leak synthetic blood as part of the human disguise. Guri regarded the human female standing before her in the black and purple outfit. By any standard, the garb was ridiculous; she looked like an actor playing a bounty hunter. “You just made a serious mistake, woman,” Guri said, clenching her fist. “Bitch,” the Huntress said, barely avoiding a right cross. She countered with a backhand karate chop to Guri’s neck, but it had no effect. The Huntress pulled her hand back, feeling as if she had hit steel. Arsenal, recovered sufficiently enough to move, jumped up and landed on Guri’s back. “It’s like fighting Wonder Woman!” he cried to the Huntress. The other hero responded by firing another crossbow bolt into Guri posterior. It bounced away doing no damage. “Buns of steel!” Arsenal cried as Guri tried to reach up and dislodge him. The Huntress kicked out, aiming for Guri’s pelvis and there was a definite crack as she did so. Guri realized that the reinforced boots the other woman was wearing had somehow managed to damage her feminine stimulation gears and she snarled. Her logic circuits told her that her master would be very upset when he would have to pay to have them replaced. It would require massive payoffs to keep Guri’s nonliving status a secret and there was no way she be allowed to continue to operate without that function ability. Emotion simulation programs altered her skin color in an effort to better convey her rage towards the insignificant humans. “You will both die slowly!” she promised.

“Hopefully from old age!” Arsenal managed to jibe just prior to being slammed back into a plasteel wall. “Helena! Do something!” The Huntress limped on her sore foot, the ankle already swelling from her last attack. Guri reached out and put a vise-like grip on the Huntress’ shoulder and squeezed. There was another popping sound and she went down to her knees. Guri shrugged and pushed the Huntress to the floor. Arsenal jabbed a finger in Guri’s eye and was rewarded with a small electric shock, just before she smashed him again into the wall. He felt the wall begin to give away and he was certainly thankful that his costume was padded. Guri brought a foot up and then down on the Huntress’s back and Arsenal was afraid that it was a deathblow. Snarling, the Huntress rolled away before the android could strike again. Wincing in pain, the Huntress tried a leg sweep but found that Guri weighed far more than what she looked. “It’s like trying to trip a bull moose!” she gasped. “No kidding, babe,” Arsenal said, slapping both of Guri’s ears. There was no effect and he slid down to stand on his own two feet again. Guri elbowed him in the stomach and he head-butted her between the shoulder blades. “Damn!” he said as he split his forehead open. He moved to avoid the next elbow and let it hit the plasteel wall, which split. Arsenal felt a slight breeze blow through and he figured that whatever was behind the wall had to be better than having a long-legged blonde beat the hell out of him. Guri stepped forward and turned in order to face Arsenal. Statistics ran through her main processor as she realized that the longer she delayed in killing these two, the more likely it was that they were going to get away. There was no fear for her own destruction, as she had no emotion simulators for true fear and the odds of two humans with archaic weapons doing her any serious damage were minute. Arsenal gave her a left hook in the nose, a spot where it was actually a synthetic polymer and was not of the same strength as the rest of her face. Though it didn’t break, it did bend and automatic subroutines, programs that had not been initiated since her activation, caused her to jerk back in simulated pain. She even began to leak tears as small water pumps in her eyes were turned on. The Huntress took advantage of Guri’s confusion and kicked her in the kidneys, while also wrapping a loop of nylon line around her leg. Arsenal tried a heart punch as Guri stumbled forward and was rewarded with a sock to the jaw that sent him through the tear in the wall. Arsenal found himself tumbling down a ventilation shaft headfirst in complete darkness. His head bounced off the bottom of the shaft and immediately it seemed as if the darkness swallowed him. Prince Xizor studied the holoprojection being fed to him in real time by a hidden probe on the roof of his castle. The Batman, this Dark Knight that had bested the Emperor’s apprentice Darth Maul, impressed him. Or at least held his own against him. The rooftop was a scene of total chaos as the Batman easily dispatched Xizor’s rapid response troopers. Of course, because of their flawed performance against an unarmed opponent, they would all die, but at least they had provided Xizor with some entertainment. On another monitor, he cast a cold reptilian glance at footage of organized movement as Imperial stormtroopers moved out to surround the shuttle that had just brought Darth Vader to Xizor’s residence. The dark lord was investigating the appearance of a ship inside the Imperial starfighter proving grounds; a ship that was in the employ of Prince Xizor. Of course, the dark lord only suspected that Xizor was even remotely involved. There would be no way to tie Xizor to the ship because the ship was currently buried deep in the bowels of the city-world, hidden until such time as he would have need of it again. Lord Vader’s sudden arrival was not totally unexpected; his current zeal for pursuing the rebels responsible for the destruction of the Death Star had taken him all over the galaxy. Xizor remembered a human saying about leaving no asteroid unsearched. He saw Vader turn his head upwards towards the rooftop. The dark lord must have sensed the violence going on above him because he immediately began pointing and issuing orders to the assembled stormtroopers. Under Imperial law, this castle was essentially a place of diplomatic treaty, where Lord Vader, technically, had no authority. That, however, was only in word and not deed. Despite his hatred for the Sith and his overwhelming desire to destroy him now, Xizor was shrewd enough to know now was not the time to strike. Like a predator, he would lull Vader into a false sense of security before he struck home the killing blow.

And before he could strike, he would need the blessing of the Emperor, or at least his assurance he would not interfere. Calmly, he reached over and tapped a button on his desktop communication unit. Immediately there was a response. “Yes, my lord.” “There may be a problem with the local authorities. Have the samples delivered immediately to the Emperor with my compliments and kill the prisoner.” There was a slight pause. “My lord, the prisoner has escaped.” Xizor’s tone took on a darker shade of green. “Let me speak to Guri.” “Sire, she’s not here.” There was definite fear in the man’s voice. Xizor pulled in a cooling breath of air through his nostrils. “Send the samples anyway, or are they missing as well?” He put a sinister edge to his voice, indicating that a negative response would have fateful consequences. The man on the other end of the communication stated that he indeed did have possession of the samples and that they would be given to an official Falleen courier to take to the Imperial Palace within minutes. The man signed off and Xizor turned again to the hologram. The Batman had pulled out the small electronic device again and the prince glanced over at the security panel. There was an increase in simple radio waves being emitted from the rooftop. Xizor found that odd since radio waves were traditionally only used on the most backwater of worlds. His mind raced as he went through a list of items a small radio-wave transmitter could be used for. He pressed the button again. Without waiting for an acknowledgement he spoke. “There is a radio transmitter on the escaped prisoner, probably in his uniform, undoubtedly something that we did not find on our initial search or thought it was something else. Send a command to the battle druids to home in on any such transmissions.” He cut the transmission off and stepped away to look out the large window of his office. Lord Vader was entering the military shuttle and Xizor knew where it was he was heading. Moving with dignified grace over to his well-stocked bar, he poured himself a drink of Alderaanian gin, part of the last shipment to ever leave the doomed planet. On top of the bar was another communication module and he pressed a blue stud. “Guri?” There was no immediate response and that caused the Falleen some concern. Guri watched helplessly as the male escaped her grasp for now. Even as she turned to face the little human witch that was become increasingly annoying, a floor plan of the castle came up and she traced all of the possible locations that the male could come out. The most likely scenario was that he would take the first exit he could, unless he was unable, at which point he was dead for he would fall straight down into the huge ventilation fans. The woman stood there, smiling, flicking her head so that her dark hair would not get in her way. In her hand, she held a primitive missile weapon. “You really don’t think that something as simple as that is going to hurt me, do you?” Guri asked. The woman smiled and spoke in accented Basic. “Explosive tip.” Before Guri could reply, the woman pulled the trigger. The android leapt out of the way, narrowly missing getting struck. In that time, the other woman had run and jumped into the hole, following the same path as her companion. Trying to fathom the logic of such a move, Guri was moderately surprised when she saw the simple arrow-like projectile sticking in the ruined plasteel bulkhead. It had been a ruse and Guri had fallen for it. The only sign of her frustration was the slight clenching of her jaw as she moved off for the nearest turbolift. Nightwing ducked and spun on one foot while making a sweeping motion with his other leg. The move caught two of the gangly robots and caused them to crash down hard. They were coming out of the woodwork, except, he noted as he dodged another laser blast, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of wood around here. Having gained a few seconds of respite, he glanced over at his companion, the young and beautiful redheaded girl. Her laser sword slashed through the robots like a hot knife through butter, and molten metal slagged onto the floor, burning the strange carpet. The smell was like nothing Nightwing had ever smelled before, almost as if the material was made from recycled flesh. “How’s it going?” he asked her as the last robot fell.

Again, he could tell she didn’t understand a word he said, but she apparently got the meaning from his tone. She nodded once and extinguished the blade. The weapon itself was impressive, as were her moves, especially given her apparent age. There was a slight problem with her technique, though. To him, it seemed forced, as if she would rather have another weapon instead. Then he remembered her pistol. Whatever this world was, he immediately decided he didn’t like it. Too much killing or desire to kill. “We need to get out of here,” he said, speaking slowly and loudly. He almost smacked himself for his own stupidity. It wasn’t that she was deaf or that he spoke too fast or softly. They simply did not speak the same language. She said something and pointed at his crotch, and he shook his head, indicating his non-desire. At least that gesture seemed to be universal. She looked frustrated and marched over and reached down. He started to back away when she grabbed at his belt buckle and pulled. He was about to verbally protest when she held a small transmitter. It was his Titans communicator and the call signal was flashing. She began pointing at it and angrily explaining something to him when another door opened and three more of the robots stepped out into the passageway and immediately headed towards them. The one in the center said something that Nightwing did not understand, but the weapon it pointed at them had a clear enough meaning. To the young hero from Earth, it seemed all was lost until it seemed the All-Mighty dropped salvation before him. From above, a ventilation hatch literally exploded and the familiar form of Roy Harper, Arsenal, came tumbling down between Nightwing and his rescuer and the robots. However, he noticed that Roy was not moving and he feared the worst. He started to move towards his fallen friend when the middle robot, obviously the leader, shouted something. Nightwing stopped just as the Huntress came shooting through the ventilation duct and landed with cat-like grace. The robots were momentarily disoriented as they tried to situate on the targets. The red-haired girl once again ignited her laser sword and attacked two of the robots head on, while the Huntress kicked a weapon out of the third one’s grasp. Nightwing took advantage of the situation to attend to his friend. “C’mon, Roy, this isn’t funny!” Slowly, Arsenal opened his eyes to see his friend’s face staring down at him. Then came the Huntress and finally a young woman he did not recognize. “Hey, hey, wassup, red?” he said, giving his best woman-killer grin. “He’s okay,” Nightwing said as helped his friend up. He noted that the robots were all deactivated by dismemberment. The Huntress nodded and spoke to the red-haired girl. Nightwing’s jaw dropped and Roy looked at him. “It’s a long story, buddy,” he began as the girl started to talk. “She says that you gibber-jabber like a hyperactive Jawa. You also need to quit staring at her.” “Tell her I appreciate her help, but she needs to get out of here. This is no place for a young girl like her.” The Huntress smiled and replayed Nightwing’s message. The girl got a disgusted look on her face and walked over to Nightwing and proceeded to kick him in the groin. “You tell this son of a Hutt that the Emperor’s Hand does not take orders from the likes of him, bounty hunter scum!” Mara Jade said. She almost spit on the handsome man. It was one thing to be attracted to him, it was quite another to take orders from him. “That attitude runs in his family,” the Huntress offered. “My name is Helena.” “You can call me Talana. Now, my mission is to get him out of here and deliver him safely to my master.” Mara locked her lightsaber back on her belt and put her hands on her hips. “And tell him to turn off that radio transmitter; it’s attracting the Battle Droids!” “She says that Titans communicator is attracting the bad guys,” the Huntress said after a brief pause, she continued. “Oh, and you are officially her prisoner.” “How come there are no babes wanting to take me hostage? I’m cute, right?” Arsenal asked, putting a pitiful tone in his voice. “Like a pot-bellied pig.” Nightwing ignored their banter and looked at Mara. “Tell her I’m not going with her. She’ll have to kill me.”

Roy translated this time and Mara simply shrugged. If they wanted to do it the hard way, then so be it. There was no requirement that the other two live, and she was sure that despite the dark-haired man’s obvious fighting skill, he was no match for her Force ability. Mara struck first with a backhanded slap to the Huntress. It lacked the power of the Force, so exhausted she had become. She was about to strike out at the red-haired man when the Huntress clubbed her on the back of the head. The strike was not enough to knock her out, but she was stunned and disoriented. Mara examined her situation and decided that the best course of action was to run. The legions of Battle Droids that she had to take down in her battle to get out of the castle had taxed her reserves. Humiliation burned in her as she realized that she had failed her master. Summoning the last vestiges of the Force to her, she leapt up into the open ventilation duct and was gone. “You certainly have an effect on women, Dick,” Arsenal said, amazed as the leap the young woman had made. Nightwing quickly relayed the events that had brought him to this point and Arsenal rubbed his chin whiskers. “Sounds to me like this Emperor dude wants you pretty bad; probably because he thinks you’re the Batman’s apprentice.” Nightwing started them moving down the corridor, double-checking to make sure he had turned off his communicator. “In case you forgot, Speedy,” he said, referring to the name Arsenal used as a youth, “I am the Batman’s apprentice.” “No, dummy, they think you’re some kind of warrior knight,” the Huntress added as they approached a door. There appeared to be no way to open it until they stepped closer and it opened on its own. There was nothing in the passage ahead. “This entire culture revolves around some sort of perverted religion, good versus evil and all of that. Darth Maul represented the evil and Batman represented the good.” Arsenal snickered and Nightwing hushed him quickly with a gesture. He reached up and manually locked his infrared lenses in place in his mask. “Looks like a laser grid. I think I see the master controls across the room.” Arsenal nodded and pulled out a collapsible bow and arrow set. As he put it together, the Huntress continued the narrative. “Time seems to have passed a bit more quickly here than back home. It’s been a few decades since Darth Maul was around, and his boss apparently runs the galaxy. According to the guy who kidnapped you, you’re being used as a pawn in a giant game of political chess. Whoever turns you over first gets the attaboy.” “I don’t know; I think that Talana wanted me for some other reason. I’ve been kept locked up for a long time,” Nightwing replied as Arsenal launched an arrow across the room. There were sparks and a sputter and the laser grid went down. “I’m willing to bet the green guy who was studying me hasn’t told anyone about me.” “Makes sense,” Arsenal said as they hurried across the room to the next door. “That way he can keep raising the ante.” The door opened and they were welcomed with a breeze. “Smell that fresh air!” Nightwing wrinkled his nose. “Smells like the rear end of the Batmobile on a bad day!” Cautiously, they moved out to find themselves in an open hanger bay. There were several futuristic fighters sitting around, but nobody doing maintenance. Nightwing was about to say something when a large craft descended from above and settled in the bay. The door behind them suddenly shut and Huntress cursed as she looked down to see some sort of keypad. “We’re locked in here!” The ship came to a complete halt and a ramp came down. Several white-armored men came running out, all armed to the teeth. “Is there anyone around here that doesn’t carry a weapon?” Nightwing asked as they approached. From behind the armored men, who took up positions several yards away from the trio, came the sound of heavy breathing. A tall, black armored man slowly descended the ramp and approached. This figure radiated a blackness that threatened to overwhelm them, and Arsenal had to reach over and grab the Huntress’s hand. Her teeth were chattering. The figure slowly approached them, a dark cape billowing behind him. Nightwing noted the hilt of a laser sword clipped to his belt and several lights blinking on and off on the man’s chest. It was his breathing, though, amplified by the large space of the hanger that was most frightening. For a moment, Nightwing imagined the horror and terror young women must feel when they get an obscene phone call, as some pervert gets his jollies on the other end of the line.

The figure regarded them and pointed at Nightwing. He said something, his voice cold and metallic, deep as the caverns of hell itself. “He wants you, man,” Roy whispered. Nightwing nodded and stood up straight. Perhaps if he went with this person, his friends would be spared. There was no way to get around the crack troops in front of them. These were not mindless robots, but men who could react and plan and seemed very professional. “Tell him…” “Tell him that he better back away slowly,” the Batman said as he emerged from the shadows. Darth Vader turned to face the Dark Knight and behind the black breathing mask, he smiled.

CHAPTER 7: DARK DUEL Lord Darth Vader, a master of the Sith, the dark apprentice of Emperor Palpatine, successor to the title of Darth Maul, looked upon the man clad in the unusual uniform. His breathing, regulated by the controls on his chest, prevented him from taking in a deep breath so that he could relish the anger that radiated from the man who confronted him. There was no radiance of the Force from this man, but there was a deep-rooted rage that felt so familiar that in another time and place, these two men could be brothers. For a nanosecond, he wondered what hidden pain this man carried and how it would compare to his own. “You are either a very brave man or a very foolish one,” he said to the man. Batman stopped several feet from the assembled group. He saw his son, Nightwing, recently rescued by the Huntress and Arsenal and he was happy that they had carried out their part of the mission. Unfortunately, all of their battles, both on top of this structure and within it, had attracted the attention of these armored men. From the records that he had briefly scanned when they had first come here, Batman knew that the soldiers in white armor were imperial stormtroopers, elite military forces. The man in black was obviously their leader, referred to as Lord Vader. “I’ve never been accused of being the smartest man in the world, nor the most courageous.” One of the stormtroopers shifted slightly, bringing his weapon a micron in the Batman’s direction. The Caped Crusader moved like water as a batarang sailed from his hand towards the soldier. Faster than the eye could follow it flew, but Darth Vader observed it as if in slow motion as it disrupted the flow of the Force. Microbes, bacterium and insects too small for the human eye to see were forced to move as the batarang went towards the trooper. Lord Vader considered allowing the attack to continue, for it would serve as good discipline for the soldier who dared to move in ranks without being given leave. Allowing his men to be struck, however, would be a tactical error and would give the mysterious stranger the upper hand. With barely a thought, Vader used the Force to send the flying weapon sailing off into the Imperial Center sky. Somewhere up there, it embedded itself into the hull of a passing vehicle. If the Batman was surprised, he wasn’t about to show it. Vader could sense the calm that was draped over the other man and he reached out with the Force. There was absolutely no fear of him within this man. He bore a symbol on his chest that appeared to be some sort of flying creature. A mynock perhaps? “Violence will only aggravate the situation.” “Tell your men to put their weapons down before I hurt them,” Batman replied. He pulled his cape around him like a cloak and Vader was reminded of something from his childhood. Such memories had been taking his attention away from his duties many times of late, especially since his encounter with Luke Skywalker over the Death Star. “You are not in any position to be giving orders,” Lord Vader said coolly. He turned his head slightly to the officer in charge. “Take them into custody. I will interrogate them later.” As the stormtroopers moved to carry out the instructions, Nightwing stepped forward. “We don’t want to hurt you…we just want to go home.” Curious behavior being demonstrated by this one, Vader thought as his men lowered their blasters. There was something so very odd here, but he could not put his finger on it. This entire affair had started with a strange vessel in an Imperial proving ground, and now he was standing here in the hanger bay of the private estate of Prince Xizor, a Falleen courtier of the Emperor. He had expected to either come across rebel agents, such as Luke Skywalker, or possibly someone who could lead him to him. Instead, he had four oddly garbed and belligerent beings, one of which was speaking gibberish. The mental patterns he was picking up were even more confusing. Though there was no Jedi level Force ability, they were like plants in the Force; they each radiated pain in waves that were like klaxons to Vader. The tallest, obviously their leader, gave off an air of control and confusion, as if he were trying to figure out who Vader was. Then it hit him, like suddenly coming out of hyperspace, what the strange human reminded him of. With the cowl and it’s pointed ears and the cape draped around him, he looked like Darth Maul! As a young boy, he had briefly encountered the dark Jedi as he attempted to complete his mission for Darth Sideous. Maul had stood there, in a hanger bay in the capitol city of Theed, just as this man was doing now.

When two troopers moved to take the man in custody, the man went into immediate action. One of the guards brought a weapon up, setting it for stun, and was rewarded with a kick to the midsection. All around Vader, stormtroopers dropped without so much as getting one shot off as the four would-be prisoners demonstrated martial skills far beyond what the imperial troops were trained in. Prince Xizor strode with purpose down the passageway towards the hanger bay. Behind him were several armed guards of his personal bodyguard. These men were mercenary troops hired specifically for security purposes and none had any ties to Black Sun, the criminal organization that he secretly headed. There could be no obvious links between him and Black Sun, which was outlawed by order of the Emperor. His careful plans were slowly falling apart. This had started so nicely, he thought, trying to find some calm in the storm that raged in his mind. The Emperor, seeing Xizor as something more than just a simple courtier, had begun to confide in him. One of those confidences had been that Darth Vader was not the loyal dog that everyone assumed him to be. It seemed that the Emperor felt that there might come a day when the Dark Lord would outlive his usefulness to Palpatine’s New Order. Xizor’s soul burned with a deep hatred for Darth Vader, for the half-machine monstrosity had ordered the execution of hundreds of thousands of Falleen many years before, including many members of Xizor’s family. He personally wanted to bring Darth Vader to Falleen justice; justice that was cold like their reptilian nature. Emperor Palpatine had unknowingly provided an avenue for that justice. Many decades before, when he was known simply as Darth Sideous, the Emperor had trained an apprentice known as Darth Maul. Maul had been a storm of Dark Side fury, having managed to destroy not only most of the leadership of Black Sun at the time (which subsequently lead to Xizor’s rise), but he had also killed several Jedi Knights. Maul, however, had for a short time somehow been transported interdimensionally to a world devoid of both Jedi and Sith. “My Prince,” the guard captain said suddenly, gesturing with his rifle. Xizor looked to see Guri stepping out of a hidden passageway, her face a canvas of the emotion programs running in her android brain. She had been the one who had gathered all of the information on Maul’s trip outside this universe. Her information resources were almost as vast as his own. It was Guri that had secured the vessel, secretly locked away deep in the bowels of Imperial Center, that carried the bounty hunter Boba Fett to that world Darth Maul had visited so long ago. The world of the Batman. Such an unusual name for an unusual man. An ordinary man, for all intents and purposes that actually had fought Darth Maul and survived. The Emperor believed that this man would have had an apprentice and that apprentice could be used as a weapon against Darth Vader if the need arose. “Something troubling you, my dear?” Xizor asked her as she approached. He halted and waited until she was before him. “You look about as happy as I am.” Her cheeks were flushed, indicating that she had taken blows to the face and her camouflage programming was attempting to make her blend in. Her android status was not common knowledge, even to his bodyguards. “I ran into some trouble.” “Really? Seems to be everyone’s excuse today,” he said and indicated that they should step over to speak more privately. When he was sure they were out of earshot of the guards, he spoke in hushed tones. “Our prisoner has escaped and his master is destroying my security teams.” “How do you know it’s the Batman?” “Who else could it be?” the Prince answered coldly. “My best security response teams taken out in seconds? Seconds, Guri! You seemed to have had an embarrassing defeat handed to you as well.” She bit her lip, just as a real human would. “I underestimated my opponent. I have upgraded my software to ensure it doesn’t happen again.” Xizor waved it off. “We were both caught off guard; you by the humans and me by Vader.” He eyed his bodyguards and watched as the captain reviewed something on a portable datapad. The guard looked up and though the blast shield of his uniform hid his face, Xizor could tell he had something to say. The guard hurriedly approached. “My Prince, our drones indicate that all of the participants are on the hanger deck.” Xizor took the offered pad and examined it. Guri looked as well. “This is not good,” he said. “Orders, my Prince? We can try to take them all…” Xizor’s strike was quick and silent, a move with no Basic translation and coming from an ancient form of Falleen martial arts. The captain sailed across the passage and slammed into the opposite wall. “I

have no illusions about our chances of successfully carrying out such a foolhardy plan! Those hairless rodents in colorful costumes may think that they have the ability to kill a Sith, but the Falleen are a patient species.” His skin color began to change from cool green to a shade of pink. His ire was way up. He stormed off between the assembled bodyguards. “Guri, kill him and then join me in my throne room.” Arsenal, Nightwing and the Huntress stood at the ready, sprawled bodies of stormtroopers around them. Batman was also taking a position, but his was more relaxed as he examined the armored man they confronted. Unlike Darth Maul, who seemed to be unable to remain still, Lord Vader did not move even a centimeter. His breathing remained the same and he said nothing, yet Batman knew that he was responsible for his batarang sailing away into the sky. “Are you the one who kidnapped me?” Nightwing asked. “Dude, he can’t understand you, so shut up!” Arsenal said, eyeing the man in black. He couldn’t explain it, but he was scared to the point he was almost wetting himself. “Where the hell are Ted and Mike?” Nightwing slowly turned his head. “Don’t tell me we’re waiting for Booster Gold and Blue Beetle?” Huntress managed a wry grin. “It was Bruce’s plan, Dick.” Nightwing suddenly realized that Arsenal had been calling him by his real name and that the Huntress appeared to be in on the big secret as well. “We’re going to die, you know that? Those two idiots…” “Were handpicked by me,” Batman said as he stepped towards Darth Vader. “I’m taking my companions and I’m leaving. You are outnumbered. We have no desire for any more combat…” “What you desire is of no consequence. You will submit or you will die,” Vader said, growing tired of the posturing. “You might want to ask Darth Maul what I think about submission,” Batman said, throwing his cape back. Once again, he summoned his inner spirit, his Chi, and calm washed over him. For a brief second, Vader saw the Batman glow in the Force. “Darth Maul is dead. The man who killed him is dead…at my hand,” Vader said, his voice resonating in the hanger bay. “Your connection is unimportant.” “Dick, get out of here,” Batman said launching at Vader. Nightwing, however, hesitated, unable to take his eyes away from Batman. Vader regarded this warrior who barely registered in the Force and wondered what could possibly push this man to suicide? At the same time, what was his connection to Darth Maul? And how was Prince Xizor of the Falleen involved? Batman landed a punch against Vader’s armored chest and the dark Lord moved with a speed surprising for his side. Grabbing Batman’s wrist, he called the Force into his arm and his strength gradually increased. His grip was normally enough to crush the neck of any unfortunate enough to find themselves within it. Batman’s wrist, though surrounded by a thick gauntlet and tough muscle, snapped just as easily. Vader was surprised that his adversary did not cry out in pain, but instead grunted and gritted his teeth. Vader used the Force to probe the Batman’s mind, wishing to have the answers to his questions. Images, sounds and sensations flooded the Dark Lord’s mind, but still he felt resistance. This was no ordinary man; this was someone who despised any invasion of his privacy. Despite the resistance, Darth Vader began to see where he had made his mistake. In his zeal to discover the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, he had allowed himself to chase after phantom trails. Though the ship he had originally tracked was indeed an anomaly, it was not something that truly warranted his attention. He had managed to uncover nothing more than a simple kidnapping. This being, who called himself Batman, was filled with a pain that Vader knew all too well. Briefly, the Dark Lord allowed himself the luxury of feeling pity not for his adversary, but for himself. For a simple second, he remembered a face…a touch… Batman kicked out and managed to buckle the Dark Lord’s artificial leg. Vader fell and then used the Force to push himself back up before the Batman could follow-up on the attack. Vader’s hand went to his lightsaber when another memory flickered by, this one being the Batman’s. This man had actually fought Darth Maul! As incredible as it seemed, he had actually fought against a Sith Lord and survived! That explained his willingness to confront Vader on physical terms. He wasn’t suicidal; he was overconfident. Vader pulled his lightsaber free and ignited it with a snap-hiss.

The Huntress saw and opening and fired directly for the control panel on Vader’s chest, hoping to damage his breathing controls with her crossbow bolt. The projectile was cut in half without a second thought. A second shot by Arsenal did get through, as he was able to guess how Vader would react. The arrow lodged itself in Vader’s arm, but it seemed not affect him at all. Unknown to the young hero, the Dark Lord was struck in a mechanical limb. Vader, annoyed, called the Force to him and reached out to grab Arsenal with invisible tendrils. Caught in the unseen hand, Arsenal screamed as he was squeezed and picked up into the air. Deflecting another shot by the Huntress and kicking the Batman to the side, Vader used the Force to throw Arsenal out the hanger bay doors. Arsenal bounced onto the hanger floor outside and slid to a stop right at the edge. Nightwing cried out and ran to his friend, Vader letting him go as he sensed that the man did not mean to attack him as he went by. “I told you I don’t want to fight,” Batman said, spitting blood out onto the floor. Vader stood straight, waving the lightsaber in small arcs. “The Force is not with you, Batman, and without it, you cannot defeat me. I have personally killed thousands of Jedi Knights, and while I commend your bravery, it will not sway me in my efforts. You were given the opportunity to surrender yourself to my custody, you chose not to.” Batman stood up, nursing his broken wrist. The pain was now evident on his face and he was keeping his distance away from Vader’s weapon. Though not exactly like Darth Maul’s, he suspected that it could do just as much damage. Against Superman, the blade made a good club; against a human, it was a hot knife going through butter. “I know I can’t defeat you, but I’m still going to try. Maybe I’ll get lucky.” Vader gestured and Batman flew across the hanger and found himself pinned against the side of a shuttle, his body being slowly squeezed. “There is no such thing as luck, only the Force. It is a pity you must die without realizing the true meaning of that.” “Dick! Get out of here!” Batman cried, blood mixed with saliva spewing out. Nightwing saw his mentor in trouble and after making sure that Arsenal was all right, decided to go after Vader himself. The Huntress tried to break Vader’s concentration with a high kick, but he caught her leg as she performed the clumsy move and snapped it like a twig. She went down hard, a piece of bone jutting out of her costume and she cursed mightily. The swearing alternated between English and Basic and the Dark Lord actually paused as he listened. Nightwing leapt and landed his full mass into Vader’s back, but the Dark Lord, powerful in the Force, had already sensed him and was prepared. Nightwing slid down, feeling as if he had hit a brick wall and rolled onto his back. Vader turned and brought his lightsaber up for the killing blow. “No!” Batman roared, pushing against the Force-press that kept him prisoner. His will met Vader’s, as the Sith had to stop his strike and concentrate his efforts in keeping the Batman in place. “Impressive,” he said quietly. Batman gritted his teeth so hard that one of his molars chipped and he coughed loudly. “Let him go! Kill me of you want but let him go!” “I will kill all of you and the Dark Side will be served,” Vader answered. “What do you care anyway, Batman? He is only an apprentice.” There was a smug tone to his voice as he said it. “He’s my son, dammit! Wouldn’t you die for your child?” A wave of raw emotion hit the Dark Lord like a hammer and he physically staggered as the weight of Batman’s statement fell upon his shoulders. He seemed the hear voices in his head, first Qui-Gon Jinn, then Obi-Wan Kenobi. What would you do for your son, Anakin? They asked it over and over again. Was this Luke Skywalker really his son? Was this a small part of her…of Amidala…still alive? Something physical he could touch? In that moment, something happened deep within Darth Vader’s soul. A light was turned on in the darkness and Anakin Skywalker shouted. He felt a wrongness about him, an inky darkness seemed to be everywhere and he called the Force to him to push it away. He hammered it with his hate and desire for revenge. They treated me like a pariah! They feared me and because of that they treated me different! They tried to control me! Darth Vader fell to one knee and the Batman fell as well, heaving as oxygen filled his deflated lungs. What would you do for your son? What would you do for your legacy? Didn’t you love his mother?

Darth Vader roared in anger, sending out a Force shockwave that blew several of the smaller craft off of their moorings and sent them skidding across the hanger deck. Arsenal just missed being clipped by an X-Wing fighter as he tried to get to the Huntress who had finally passed out from the pain of her injuries. A great wind seemed to roar through the open space and Batman grabbed hold of the landing strut of the shuttle. Nightwing, exhausted and beaten allowed the wind to push him to the same strut, which he grabbed. “Are you okay?” he asked the Batman. The Caped Crusader nodded slowly and tried to speak over the gathering Force storm. “I think we made him mad.” Arsenal ran and caught the sliding body of the Huntress just as she was about to hit the wall and absorbed the impact with his own body. As the winds picked up, it took all he had to stop them from being carried away with the tempest. The suddenly it stopped and Darth Vader alone was standing. His men were scattered even farther in the hanger bay, some in little piles of three or four. His lightsaber suddenly winked out and for a moment all that could be heard was the sound of his own breathing. He then turned to the Batman. “Consider yourself fortunate, Batman; I am in a merciful mood today.” Without another word, he turned and moved up the ramp to the shuttle. As the engines started to come to life, both Nightwing and Batman could feel the vibrations through the strut and a wordless agreement was made to get the hell out of there. They had just crawled out of the way when the shuttle lifted, turned and exited the hanger bay. Arsenal spoke first. “We have to get her some medical attention quick!” Nightwing helped the Batman up. “What just happened? Did we win?” Batman shook his head. “No. I think he had something better to do.” Prince Xizor gazed at the viewscreen with a disgusted look. His entire hanger bay was destroyed, all of the craft having been tossed around like toys by the Dark Lord’s fit of rage. All of the craft had been first editions or prototypes, worth millions of credits and not to mention of sentimental value to the Falleen prince. “Again, he takes away from me and then leaves without another thought.” He spoke out loud, but to no one in particular. Guri stood at the door, unable to bring herself to her normal advisory position just behind Xizor. His mood and manner indicated that he simply wanted to rage. She double-checked the temperature setting to ensure that there was enough heat to allow her reptilian master to vent with as much energy as he wished. “Not to mention all of the guards I have to execute and replace now! And equipment!” He threw his glass across the room and then kicked the protocol droid that tried to offer him another full glass. “Get the hell out of here!” he cried in his native tongue. “Guri!” he cried and then turned to her. “Tell me that our little package made it to the Emperor! Tell me that something good came out of all of this.” He stumbled towards her as he stepped on broken glass. He had already thrown his shoes at some guards. She did a check of the communications logs. “That package was delivered.” He smiled wide. “Excellent. Have the courier promoted! I have at least one good employee.” “Unfortunately, given the sensitive nature of the delivery, the Emperor had the courier executed to ensure there would be no leaks.” She avoided his gaze. Xizor looked at her then started laughing. “Of course,” he said as he clapped his hands. He then reached up and pulled the band out his ponytail to allow his hair to hang loose. “Guri, dear, kill every mammal in this building and then hire me an entire new force, would you dear?” “Even the women?” Xizor considered that. It was obvious that the Emperor wanted absolute assurances of the secrecy of this event. He had so many fine specimens in his personal harem. Reluctantly, he sighed. “Yes, we can always get some more. Call Jabba, I’m sure he has a few choice specimens to sell.” Guri made a note to do so and turned to leave her master to his anger. “Lord Vader, I have Prince Xizor for you,” the communications officer said. The man was on the viewscreen, transmitting from an army communications station somewhere on the city-planet.

Darth Vader said nothing but waited patiently as the transmission was put through. He reached up slowly and removed the arrow that was still lodged in his arm. Were he capable of vanity, he would not transmit visually as the dents on his helmet indicated that even his formidable defenses could be breached. The image on the screen shifted to that of the Falleen prince. Vader of course recognized him from the Emperor’s court, but was not acquainted enough with him to make a judgment about his mood. He knew that the Falleen would sometimes change color as their emotions changed, despite having a near-Jedi like ability to control them. He noted that Xizor seemed flush, but because he was an alien, it was simply too difficult to read him. “Prince Xizor, you are undoubtedly aware that imperial military forces were engaged in combat with terrorists within your castle.” Xizor tried to gain control of his emotions, but it was simply too difficult and he dug his long black nails into his wrists which were hidden beneath his cloak. “My security chief has just finished giving me a detailed report. I am certainly relieved that you and your forces were available to provide us with aid.” “You own forces seemed lacking.” Xizor dug deeper, feeling the blood beginning to flow. “Yes, well I intend to remedy that. Do you know why these terrorists chose to invade my home?” He put on his best smile. “Perhaps an assassination attempt, though I find it unlikely given your political status within the court,” Vader replied, his tone one of boredom at having to explain every detail. He failed to notice Xizor beginning to shake with rage. “In the process of attempting to capture the terrorists, some of your personal craft were damaged.” “Yes, so it seems,” Xizor said, showing his teeth in a feral grimace. “I have arranged the transfer of 100,000 credits to your personal account to cover your losses. I’m sure it will be more than adequate. Wouldn’t you agree?” “Of course, Lord Vader; your generosity knows no bounds,” Xizor replied as he tore bits of flesh from his arms. He would regenerate the missing meat in a few weeks. The idea that a mere hundred thousand credits would cover his losses was absurd, but he understood that the Dark Lord was baiting him. Darth Vader was the best pilot in the Empire, of that there was no doubt, and he would have immediately recognized that many of the craft that had been damaged or destroyed were one-of-a-kind. It would take more than simply political pull to gain ownership of some of them. “I will inform the Emperor of how well you have handled the situation. Tell me, Lord Vader, were you able to capture the terrorists?” Vader thought he noted some sarcasm in the Prince’s manner of addressing him. “That is a military matter, Prince Xizor, and none of your concern.” “Of course; far be it from me to even think that someone as strong in the Force as yourself would ever fail to complete his mission.” Darth Vader cut off the transmission, the final image being that of a grimly smiling Prince Xizor. “Pilot,” he called to the front of the shuttle, “I will attend my master now.” “You know what, Mr. Fett, you’re a helluva guy,” Booster Gold said, slapping the bounty hunter on the back. Fett did not look back, but instead gritted his teeth from behind his mask. He had installed a personal alarm system on this vessel right after using it, since he knew now that Prince Xizor would only trust him to pilot it. When it had been activated, it had not taken any time at all for him to use his own means of getting down to the secluded hanger bay to check on it. Upon arriving, he found two of the Earthlings pulling at various wires and trying to reconfigure the hyperdrive. In most cases, he would eliminate the problem with his blaster, but he understood that by helping these nerf-herders, he could possibly set himself up for something better in the future. He could sense the one called Ted poking lightly at his jet pack, but his internal monitors told him he was not doing anything to damage it. It was obvious that this man was a technician, not a warrior. Still, the galaxy’s most dangerous man had to practically sit on his trigger finger. “If you touch me again, I’ll cut your hand off.” Booster Gold held up his hands in mock defense. “Hey, sorry, man. I thought that since you’ve had a change of heart…” “I don’t change my heart, I change my mind. Now go sit down.” He then turned his head slightly. “That goes for you as well, tubby.” Blue Beetle dropped his jaw. “Tubby? Hey, pal…”

Booster laid a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder and guided him back to the passenger compartment. “Look, this is the best thing that could have happened to us! Let’s try to not make the guy mad, okay?” Blue Beetle secured himself in his seat just as the craft began to lift off and he turned his attention to the small window. The hanger bay began to drift away, to be replaced by an access shaft that hadn’t seen the light of day since cavemen walked on Earth. “I would have gotten it…eventually.” “Ted, this ship is already wired to go! You were un-wiring it!” Booster looked up at the cabin ceiling. “Did you at least get a good look at the machinery?” The other hero smiled, though Booster could not see him do it. “Oh, yeah, buddy. I could rebuild that hyperdrive with my eyes closed once we get back.”

CHAPTER 8: DARK FINALE Gotham City, United States of America, Present Day… Boba Fett said nothing as the Batman was led down the loading ramp. His internal scanners were now running through the local radio waves for any sign that they had been detected, but he doubted that the primitives of this planet would have anything that could penatrate his cloaking field. Nightwing paused as he exited the ship and looked at the bounty hunter. “Tell him I’ll kick his ass the next time I see him,” he said to Arsenal. The red-haired hero laughed. “He speaks the lingo, Bat Boy. Tell him yourself.” “Don’t make threats you can’t carry out, kid,” Fett said, his hand brushing against the butt of his slung rifle. Not even the threats of the Batman could make him leave it on the ship. “You’re only back now because it keeps the peace.” “I’m sorry I didn’t just lay down and die for you,” Nightwing said with sarcasm. He turned to the Batman, who was being supported by Booster Gold. “Kidnapping is still a crime here, Bruce.” “As if any of you are in any condition to take me on,” Fett said, contempt heavy in his tone. He pointed to each of them. “All of you have had your hides skinned and then put back on with all of the delicacy of an enraged Wookie! I don’t care about your primitive laws and customs.” Batman stepped closer, shrugging off Booster Gold’s aid. “Tell me something, Fett; have you ever fought two Sith and won?” “You didn’t win…you survived,” Fett retorted. “I’m no expert, I’d say that anyone who can do that is a winner. I’m beaten up, not taken out. I don’t like you, you’re mercenary garbage and I want you out of my galaxy…now.” Boba Fett considered his options and realized that this discussion held no purpose or profit. He needed to get his ship back to the owner and see about collecting a fee for cleaning up the mess. Without another word, he turned and headed back into his ship. As he sat down, his internal monitor told him that his jet pack’s override was slightly out of alignment. He cursed, remembering how the one called Blue Beetle had been playing around with it. He knew it would have to be fixed, but he did not have the parts handy. Mandalorian armor, after all, wasn’t something you found in just any junk shop. Still, if it were to get struck, it could fire off his pack unexpectantly. He fired up the images and choked back a laugh. As if anyone could ever get close enough to hit the override! He was Boba Fett. Nobody ever got that close to Boba Fett. The Martian Manhunter floated down to the ground next to Batman. “I trust all is well now?” Batman nodded his head. “I wish you could have gotten here a little sooner so you could have wiped Boba Fett’s memories as well.” The large Martian shook his head. “I do not believe that would be advisable. Without further study of the mind of the individual from this other universe, such an attempt may prove catastrophic, perhaps even fatal. When I originally made contact with Darth Maul’s mind, I was overwhelmed by the complexity of it.” “I don’t think I quite understand, but it’s unimportant right now.” Batman sat down on a rock and took a deep breath. “We need to wipe mine and Dick’s identity from the minds of Huntress, Booster Gold and Blue Beetle.” “I am still against this on a moral level. You revealed your identity to these people and they put their lives on the line for you, Bruce. Doesn’t that entitle them to something?” The Martian saw that his argument was not going to work. A few feet away, the Blue Beetle was putting the final touches on a drawing when the Manhunter approached him. “Oh, hi J’onn,” the hero said, putting the drawing into his pocket. “Shopping list for Mike’s Booster Gold suit… it got pretty beat up.” The alien scowled, detecting a hint of deception from the Blue Beetle, but that wasn’t unusual. The man was always hiding some scheme or another. J’onn opened his mind up and sent out the probing tendrils that searched through the Blue Beetle’s conciseness. There was no way even for he to comb through the lies, half-truths and exaggerations that filled the human’s mind. “Can you make sure I remember to do this list? Otherwise, I know I’ll forget.”

“Yeah, J’onn! Don’t let him forget; it took him six months to fix it last time. How can I be a superhero without a costume?” Booster Gold added. J’onn thought for a moment and crossed his arms over his barrel chest. “What a concept to consider…a world without Booster Gold.” Booster shrugged and the matter was dropped. The Huntress walked over to Batman and gave him a large wet kiss full on the lips. “You know, you could trust me.” Nightwing stepped over. “You know, maybe we can’t.” It was obvious that he was not at all happy about her knowing his secret identity, despite the fact that she had seen him fully out of costume. Batman looked over at the Martian Manhunter. “John, do it.” It was over in less than a second and the alien immediately excused himself. The request to alter someone’s mind left a bad taste in the Martian’s mouth. Batman turned to the assembled heroes. “How do you all feel?” “Just fine, Steve,” the Huntress said, obviously fishing for a response. “David? Mike?” “What?” Booster Gold responded. He immediately ran over to where the Huntress was. “You called my pet?” Batman shook his head as the Huntress punched Booster in the stomach. Arsenal came over and helped the Caped Crusader stand up. “Donna is coming with transportation back to Gotham City, Bats.” “Don’t call me that,” Batman responded. He looked over at Nightwing, who was smiling. “Is something funny, young man?” “No, it’s just nice to see someone cares about me.” “Don’t get any ideas. You’ll be washing the Batmobile for months for this one,” Batman joked. Then he got serious. “Welcome home…son.” Imperial Center, a long time ago… “What is thy bidding, my master?” Darth Vader asked as he knelt before the Emperor. “Rise Lord Vader and tell me of your quest for the Kaiburr Crystal?” the Emperor commanded, stepping down slowly from his dais. His Dark Side Adepts bowed and moved away to a respectful distance. “I have failed to aquire the Crystal,” Vader said, standing. It was now that the Emperor noted that his pupil was missing an arm. Live wires occasionally sparked when the Sith Lord moved in a certain direction. He had sent his apprentice to the planet Mimban to investigate a sighting of the fabled artifact. “You should have that fixed, Lord Vader. How is it that a Sith Lord approaches his master missing a limb?” If the Dark Lord was embarrassed, he did not show it in his response. “I confronted the rebel Luke Skywalker. I lost my arm in a duel with him.” “Really? Against an untrained Padawan of a dead Jedi Master? You seem to be having a run of bad luck Lord Vader,” the Emperor said in a soothing voice. Through the Force, Darth Vader could feel the sarcasm. A moment later, the door to the throne room opened and Prince Xizor stepped in. Vader’s lightsaber ignited immediately and he leapt in front of the Emperor. Xizor stumbled back slightly, not expecting such a response. The Emperor laughed and put a hand on Vader’s shoulder. “Put your lightsaber away before you cut off your other arm.” Vader burned at the rebuke. “As you wish,” he said, deactivating his weapon and replacing it on his belt. The Emperor bade Xizor to enter. “You remember Prince Xizor of the Falleen?” “Lord Vader,” Xizor said, bowing his head slightly. Vader reached out in the Force to try and get the measure of the alien, but found the thought processes and emotional responses too foreign to discern. Xizor eyed the sparks from the severed arm. “My, that must…hurt.” “Pain is nothing to a Sith Lord,” Vader commented. He was now curious as to why this minor courtier was in the throne room at this time. In response the Emperor explained. “Prince Xizor has become an indispensable advisor in recent months. I expect you to afford him every courtesy.” Vader nearly choked. “My lord, are you certain that is wise?” “You dare to question me?” the Emperor asked, suddenly his voice filled with wraith. His eyes grew wide in anger. “Don’t presume to instruct your master, Lord Vader! I will keep counsel with whomever I wish!”

Vader immediately kneeled again, willingly accepting his punishment. Blue lightning sparked around the Emperor’s fingertips. “Don’t think I don’t know about your little side excursions to Imperial Center or your conflicting emotions! I can smell the betrayal on you, so foul is its stench!” “My emotions are clear, my master,” Vader said. “There is no conflict.” Xirzor fought to keep his color a serene green and his face impassive. He was enjoying the show almost as much as the Emperor. They had already discussed this confrontation, as Xizor had commented that Vader would not be happy with the Falleen’s newfound importance. The Emperor hesitated and then the lightning dissipated. He took in a deep breath, savoring the contrition of his pupil. “Attend to your damage, Lord Vader, and then return to the Executor to seek out the Rebel base. We will discuss all other…matters at a future time.” The Dark Lord stood and looked from the Emperor to the Falleen. He understood that this had only been a demonstration and that his position of power was in jeapordy. He started to say something, anything that would reaffirm his devotion to the Emperor and then he remembered the Dark Knight who had risked everything to save his child. He could still feel the burning pain of the Batman’s soul and the torment he had experienced as he started to see himself through eyes that had been blinded for decades. Without another word, he left the throne room. He exited not as the pupil of the Emperor, but as a fallen Jedi who needed redemption. Was it possible that he and his son could reshape the galaxy? Through Luke Skywalker could Anakin Skywalker regain his lost honor? One thing was certain he mused as he made his way through the passageways. His life had been changed by the chance encounter with the mysterious Dark Knight. What he did with that life now was up to him. “I trust he will not hold a grudge against me?” Xizor asked as they began their daily walk. “Lord Vader holds grudges forever, I’m afraid. You have made a deadly enemy by aiding me in this venture,” the Emperor cackled. He clapped his hands together and rubbed him. “Oh, the intrigue does remind me of the days when the Old Republic was falling. All I need is a whining twit of a royal to be a pain in my posterior.” “There is the rebel princess,” Xizor offered. “Ah, yes…sovereign of a dead world; former senator Leia Organna, interstellar harlot! I’d forgotten about her. She does remind me so of someone else…” Xizor decided to change the subject. The Emperor’s taste for young women was notorious and yet the most guarded secret in the Empire. “I was wondering if I might inquire about the blood sample I sent to you of the apprentice to the Batman?” The Emperor stopped and regarded the Prince. “Curious one, aren’t you? Very well, since you asked…the cloning has gone well. The original donor must have been an exceptional specimen. My scientists tell me that we can expect 98% copy of the original DNA.” “That is impressive,” Xizor said. His own people had only been able to get 87% copy. Cloning, while commonplace, was not an exact science. It required substantial equipment and qualified staff. Xizor could get the machinery, but the Emperor seemed to have a monopoly on the personnel. “Again, I am sorry I was unable to deliver the actual specimen.” The Emperor noted the hint of anger in Xizor’s voice. Mara Jade had already explained that it was she that had freed the apprentice from Xizor’s castle. The Emperor already had other agents looking into why a minor Falleen prince had such facilities. “The samples are more than enough. With the right manipulation, I hope to use a cloned body for something…special.” “If there is anything I can help with…” “You have done enough, Prince Xizor. Now,” the Emperor said, laying a cold hand on Xizor’s shoulder, “let me ask you opinion about an ambitious construction project I have undertaken…” End