In a dimension pinned between ours and another exist worlds and beings which, while totally foreign, are also oddly familiar. Familiar people, places and objects compose, form and fill that dimension. Beings and worlds which have changed from inanimate to animate, from our fiction to their reality...
THE RETURN OF THE EMPEROR
The Empire’s strongholds had been defeated. With the added victory of Choctooine’s lost son, Oh Henry Jr., being found and rescued Hagjo was ready to return home and begin his new life with Schan. Emperor Sakarin however had other plans. Plans which did not include the end of...
Part Two THE RETURN OF THE EMPEROR
Joe Hagen – September 2011
CHAPTER 1 NEW GAME
"It's not over yet!" Sakarin growled quietly from the command chair of the Lysterine, the Empire's newest and most powerful fighting ship.
"Identification-verified Sire." the Science officer announced. From his station the helmsman added, “Our mask is working perfectly your Majesty. The Chedi has no idea that we’re following him." After several moments the Science Officer turned from his controls again, "Diet Vanilla is on board my Lord. Sensor readings indicate that he remains unconscious.” Sakarin settled back in his seat, his slitted eyes nailed to the forward view screen. The Chedi’s ship, still near the edge of their sensor range, was represented as nothing more than a computer generated dot. “What’s the ship’s coil status?” He asked. The crewman studied his console for several seconds before turning toward Sakarin again. “Cooling Sire. It’ll take several minutes to rewarm them to firing levels.” Sakarin smiled. “Excellent.” Looking toward his navigator he ordered, “Mr. Payne, power down our external lights and take us in. Notify me when our position is five hundred meters above and behind the Chedi’s ship." Resting his elbows on the arm rests of his command chair Sakarin steepled his fingers beneath his chin. As the ship thrusted toward his ordered position, the now sole ruler of the Empire allowed his mind to wander Over two decades old, the Empire had grown steadily since its inception. Policed by powerful knights it had been ruled by Sakarin, but not truly. He was led, in every decision regarding the Empire, by another. In secret Sakarin served the Empire’s true Emperor, Sweetn Low. Sweetn Low was a member of an alien race known in that part of the galaxy only as the Unknowns because almost nothing was known of them. As the memories of their attacks faded
into history and the fear they generated with it, their names had been shortened to Unks. Remembering the limited information of those years which his master had shared, Sakarin tightened his jaw. He scowled as he accepted that he would never hear Sweetn Low’s voice again. It was over a century before, in a large and powerful warship, when the Unks entered this section of the galaxy. Moving into orbit over a number of planets, the Unks opened fire without warning or explanation. They neither identified themselves nor communicated any demands. When they departed, all they left was destruction and anonymous threats of return. The Unks had abandoned their own dying Empire. They’d arrived with plans of recreating their Empire but instead they met a powerful obstacle. An obstacle of which Sakarin had only within the last two hours become aware. Four hours ago, while preparing to fight one of their deadliest enemies, Sakarin and Sweetn Low had formed a mental link with one another. During the battle that followed Sweetn Low was exposed to a deadly attack. Sweetn Low’s desperate clinging to life brought down his mental defenses and, through their link, Sakarin had gained unconscious access to his master’s thoughts and memories. In his death throes, Sweetn Low’s mind had given up long kept secrets. Secrets which had been buried within Sakarin’s mind and which, only within the last hour, Sakarin had become aware of. One memory in particular explained a great deal about Sweetn Low and the Empire’s goals. As they’d tracked the Chedi’s ship Sakarin had been shocked by what he’d realized he now knew. Shocked but fascinated. The Unks, upon their arrival, had found many of the worlds on that side of the galaxy to be saturated with a substance which they’d never before encountered. Chocolate. Formed by a fortunate collection of organic chemicals, chocolate was immensely popular with the surrounding life forms. It also proved deadly to Sweetn Low’s species. The primary symptom was a closing of the throat. Such a tight closure that asphyxiation resulted. Initially there had been no treatment. Eventually Sweetn Low created a temporary antidote although, even after decades of improvement, it remained far from perfect. The antidote could in fact leave Sweetn Low’s people even more susceptible to chocolate’s effects. That weakening had contributed to Sweetn Low’s death. Sakarin now understood the true reason for Sweetn Low’s unbending determination to remove chocolate from his Empire. Within his mind Sakarin had also discovered a full history of Sweetn Low’s life from his
arrival on this side of the galaxy to today. Settling back in his seat, Sakarin watched the Chedi ship draw nearer as he mixed his master’s memories with his own and saw the full picture for the first time. ..... Fatally allergic to the powerful and abundant chocolate on this side of the galaxy, the Unks realized that they had to focus their might on the world’s central to producing their poison. Within a year of their arrival however, after conquering numerous worlds, they’d met their match and were defeated. After making hasty repairs they’d fired their ship’s engines and retreated, accidentally abandoning Sweetn Low on a planet with no other intelligent life. Through brute determination Sweetn Low had survived. Through brutish action, he’d left that eventually colonized world and, crushing all opposition, created and, until today, ruled a thriving and seemingly undefeatable Empire. With Sakarin as his puppet Emperor, Sweetn Low secretly oversaw and commanded every aspect of his Empire’s existence. Beyond the formation and maintaining of his Empire, Sweetn Low’s plan also included avenging himself on those who’d defeated his people and sent them running. He held them responsible for his being stranded here. Choctooine, a planet located within the Wonka system, was the world which had defeated Sweetn Low’s people. The defeat and the fact that this edge of the galaxy seemed filled with chocolate sent the Unks running toward yet another edge of the galaxy. That desperate retreat resulted in Sweetn Low’s being deserted. Seared with a burning pain for revenge, Sweetn Low had focused all of his long term goals on the destruction of Choctooine. The Empire’s most devoted opponents, the Chedi, were headquartered on that focus of Sweetn Low’s revenge. Warriors for peace, justice and chocolate for all, the Chedi order had based themselves on Choctooine before the creation of Sweetn Low’s Empire. Better than seventy years before, in a small ship, two beings, M and M, launched from their home planet within the Goo Goo Clusters, a dense star field which contained many small planets. Choctooine’s solar system was located just beyond the edge of the Clusters. The location of the Ms’s world remained known only by the Ms and their Chedi despite numerous attempts by the Empire to discover it. Landing on Choctooine, M and M impressed and were immediately befriended by its people. Within the year they’d begun recruiting for their special force of defenders. Always
striving for peace, the Ms taught their followers self-defense and its many applications. They also taught their new Chedi how to use the power within the sweet and powerful fudge which they’d created. The Chedi selected by M and M quickly advanced through their training. That training and their natural abilities were enhanced and multiplied through the sweet fudge’s consumption. Those enhancements brought great advantage when eventually the Chedi began their opposition to the Empire. Originally the Chedi had fought to protect Choctooine only. As their ranks grew however they first spread throughout their solar system, then to the edge of their quadrant. When the Empire began its advance the Chedi followed suit and eventually traveled to any world the Empire targeted. The Chedi’s training and efforts, boosted by their powerful fudge, allowed a strong advantage but the Chedi did not always win their battles. The Empire’s numbers and power, through claimed worlds and wealth, left them too strong to be fully overcome. The Chedi however had slowed and occasionally stopped the Empire’s otherwise steady advance. Motivated by his urge for revenge, and despite his life threatening allergy, Sweetn Low had recognized the Chedi fudge’s power. Before he’d even begun to build his Empire he had stolen and redeveloped the recipe for their sweet, chocolate rich fudge. While deadly to Sweetn Low, his bitter version of the Chedi’s fudge similarly empowered his knights as they jumped at his commands. Through a partnership with members of the Wonka Alliance, also sworn enemies of the Empire, the Chedi opposed the Empire’s efforts at every turn. The sweet, chocolate rich, Chedi fudge allowed many victories against Sakarin’s military and his knights. Empowered by the natural properties within the chocolate used to create it, the Ms’ preparations ensured both its SweetNess and its strength. The Chedi’s consumption of that sweet fudge left them superior to the Empire’s knights both mentally and physically. Superior to all but one. ..... His stony expression brightened for a moment as Sakarin thought of Diet Vanilla. It soured again however as he remembered that his most powerful knight remained a prisoner of a Chedi in the ship on his main screen. Sakarin’s eyes shifted to the status screen before him and saw that his ship was only a few minutes away from assuming the position and status he’d ordered. “I must get Vanilla back!” he hissed. “But how?” His eyes lost their focus again as he
resumed his thoughts... ..... Diet Vanilla was the son of General Oh Henry, the leader of all of Choctooine’s military and a hero to its entire people. Seven years ago, Henry Jr., had disappeared. All of Choctooine, the Chedi, and the Wonka Alliance searched in vain while Sweetn Low and Sakarin secreted him on the Empire’s home world of Cert. There, using the enhanced abilities that high levels of the unsweetened chocolate in their fudge allowed, the two of them brainwashed Henry Jr. and transformed him into their most powerful knight. Once firmly under the control of his masters, Diet Vanilla was put in command of the lesser knights of the Empire. A brilliant and invincible fighter, he had been the only one of their number able to stand alone and defeat a Chedi in battle. Through his conditioning, he was completely dedicated to both the Emperor and the Empire. ..... “My Lord,” an officer called, again breaking Sakarin’s concentration. “We will be in position in two minutes. There is no change in status on board the Chedi’s ship” “Thank you Lieutenant,” Sakarin answered as a wave of fear swept over him. He had never acted as Emperor without Sweetn Low’s guidance and Diet Vanilla’s support. Now he was far from the safety of the Empire’s home world of Cert and, despite the presence of his crew and a powerful ship, he felt vulnerable and alone. “I wish I’d stayed on Cert.” he thought but immediately remembered why he hadn’t... ..... Two weeks before, Sweetn Low ordered that Diet Vanilla and a squad of knights be sent to Crest, one of the Empire’s three most powerful space stations. Located at the edge of the Wonka system, Crest was only half a day’s hyper flight from Choctooine. Along with being the focus of Sweetn Low’s revenge, Choctooine was the backbone of the Wonka system and was one of the leaders in the distribution of chocolate for all worlds outside the Empire’s influence. Choctooine had put aside numerous attempts by the Empire to defeat her. The Empire’s latest and greatest attempt was only months away. Reports however that the Chedi and the Allies were planning some offensive action of their own had Sweetn Low concerned. He was confident that Diet Vanilla would be able to identify their enemies’ plans and thwart them from Crest.
Despite Sweetn Low’s confidence and Vanilla’s efforts, the Crest crew found themselves out matched by a Chedi, Hagjo Dastl, who had secretly boarded Crest. Once discovered, Hagjo fought valiantly. Avoiding capture, he had also disrupted the station, damaging crew and equipment in the process. Unknown to Diet Vanilla, Hagjo’s full mission was the target of his own assignment. Hagjo was on Crest to prepare for a massive Ally attack on that stronghold. Identical attacks were planned to occur simultaneously on the two other strongholds bordering the Wonka system, Pepsodent and Colgate. Those strongholds had also been secretly boarded by Chedi. After a week of Hagjo thwarting Vanilla’s efforts and reigning havoc on Crest, Emperor Sakarin left Retsyn, the Empire’s capitol city on Cert, and traveled to Crest intent on seeing to the Chedi’s capture and interrogation. Unknown to Sakarin, Sweetn Low was also en route. They arrived separately but almost simultaneously on Crest just before the Ally attack they had been intent on identifying and defeating began. While the stronghold launched its defense, Sweetn Low and Sakarin prepared to confront Hagjo by locking themselves into a powerful mental link. Their plan failed miserably however. Sweetn Low was killed by exposure to the sweet but powerful fudge of the Chedi. He and Sakarin’s fudge induced hold on Diet Vanilla was also broken through the use of that powerful substance. Sakarin avoided contamination but, during his struggle against the Chedi’s disgusting companion, a mostly liquid life form called a Phlem, he was accidentally hit by a bolt from Sweetn Low’s blazer pistol. The blast threw him off an elevated walkway. He’d thereby escaped capture and perhaps his own death as well. Sakarin realized that he had been incredibly lucky to have not been seriously injured by his fall from the walkway. The armor beneath his robe had protected him from the misfired bolt. The fall however could have easily broken bones or killed him. His eyes tightened in a mixture of pain and anger as he remembered those last moments of his master’s life...... Sakarin lay beneath the walkway merely stunned as Sweetn Low continued to fight above. Peripherally Sakarin could hear the battle. Through the mental link with his master he could visualize parts of it, but in his stunned state he paid little attention. After a few moments however Sweetn Low’s angry thoughts broke through his disorientation and ordered him to his feet.
Responding only partially Sakarin rolled onto his back as he focused on his master’s words. Their stronger than usual mental link, intended to allow them to combine their abilities against the Chedi, instead intensified Sakarin’s reception of Sweetn Low’s thoughts. It also allowed a potent link to everything that Sweetn Low was experiencing. Both horrified and excited Sakarin was submerged within the sights, sounds and feels of the battle. He saw the revolting slime creature’s unexpected attack easily dealt with as Sweetn Low blasted it off the walkway. He saw Vanilla’s attempted rebellion easily put aside as well. He felt Sweetn Low’s confidence build and hold until the Chedi’s sudden and surprisingly deadly assault. The thud of Sweetn Low hitting the same hard deck he laid upon jolted Sakarin fully back into consciousness. Rising he rushed to Sweetn Low’s side but had to stop outside the range of Sweetn Low’s thrashing tentacles. The limbs strength would easily have crushed or hurled him aside. Still mentally linked however Sakarin cringed as Sweetn Low’s struggle roared in his mind. His body ached as he felt Sweetn Low’s struggle as well. In seconds the tentacles dropped to the deck merely quivering and Sakarin hurried forward. Carefully he avoided the Chedi fudge which he believed to be lethal. He gasped as he saw that it was smeared across Sweetn Low’s face, chest and tentacles, Sakarin searched desperately in an attempt to determine how he could rescue his dying master. Unable to separate Sweetn Low from the section of railing he’d fallen with, Sakarin knelt and stared into Sweetn Low’s bulging, blind eyes. Easily as afraid of losing his master as Sweetn Low was of dying, Sakarin tried to make himself heard through their link. At first Sweetn Low seemed oblivious to Sakarin’s efforts as he continued to choke and gasp desperately for air. Realizing that he was not getting through Sweetn Low’s panic, Sakarin’s own fear rose further. Grasping one of Sweetn Low’s tentacles, Sakarin tensed as the physical contact intensified their mental link and he was fully submerged within Sweetn Low’s struggle. Sweetn Low’s desperate fear and desire to live left him unable to think beyond escaping his painful and rapidly approaching death. Battered almost senseless by that emotional torment, Sakarin found himself helpless to do anything but ride with his master into oblivion. His panic rose as he found himself unable to take a breath. Together the two of them spiraled toward death until Sweetn Low’s strength waned. As his master all but blacked out, Sakarin was partially released. Still holding Sweetn Low’s
tentacle, Sakarin gasped in a series of quick, shallow breaths and then tensed again as Sweetn Low sensed his relief and reacted. The link still holding Sakarin jerked as Sweetn Low’s life flashed before his eyes. Images flashed to quickly for him to see until Sakarin’s back snapped straight. His lungs filled with air as he eyes widened and stared across the dark bay. Seconds later his hands released Sweetn Low and flew to his face. Sakarin’s mouth opened in a silent scream before his muscles went limp and he collapsed across his master’s wide chest. He hung on to consciousness by a thread as Sweetn Low’s last exhalation slowly wheezed through his blue lips. Filling his lungs with quick, ragged gasps of air, Sakarin’s mouth hung open, as he rolled onto his back and slid down Sweetn Low’s broad chest. His mind in a jumble he sat limply on the floor aware only of the air rushing in and out of his chest. After several seconds however his eyes focused. He gasped as he swung around to look at Sweetn Low’s still form. Grabbing a tentacle Sakarin tried to reestablish their link but could find no trace of his master’s mind. In shock he dropped to his knees momentarily lost at his dead master’s side. Scanning the dark, chocolate smears on Sweetn Low’s face Sakarin’s eyes teared fearfully. His master had often stressed the power of the Chedi’s over sweet fudge. Sweetn Low had always been cautious around chocolate but Sakarin had occasionally seen his master use their own fudge. Sweetn Low’s caution had never hinted at such serious consequences. At that point, still hours before the realizations revealed through their link, Sakarin looked into his master’s dead eyes and wondered, “How could the Chedi’s fudge, so similar to our own, overpower you so completely?” Lightheaded, Sakarin leaned forward bracing himself against Sweetn Low’s side until, during a lull in the explosions from the Ally attack, he heard the Chedi moving on the walkway above. A voice shouted in his mind, “Get up! Move into the darkness!” The rumble of explosions returned as he reacted. Climbing clumsily to his feet, Sakarin hurried into the surrounding darkness. Lowering himself to the floor beyond the reach of the limited lighting he looked up and saw the Chedi reach the edge of the walkway. Sakarin’s gut tightened with anger as the Chedi squinted down at his dead master. The Chedi’s brow furrowed with Sakarin’s as he stared at the unmoving form. Still frowning, the Chedi scanned the rest of the area beneath the walkway. The tightness
in Sakarin’s gut changed to fear as he was certain the Chedi now was looking for him. Staying perfectly still he held his breath and glared back with a mixed expression of deep hatred and gut wrenching fear. Eventually the Chedi surrendered his search of the too dark deck. Frowning with doubled confusion he rubbed his face and turned away. Sakarin breathed a quiet sigh of relief as the Chedi moved beyond his sight line. Still afraid to move he jumped when the Chedi called to his vile Phlemian companion. Despite his fear Sakarin responded to another inner demand to move. Unsteadily he rose to his feet and hurried toward the nearby crates. En route he gasped smelling sweetened chocolate. Squeezing into a narrow gap between two of the large containers he realized that his collapse onto Sweetn Low had transferred much of the Chedi’s fudge onto his robe. Carefully he avoided touching the dark smears as he forced his body further into the opening. Despite his fear, he tried to breathe shallowly as he heard the Chedi moving about. Afraid to do any differently, he waited while the Chedi searched for his creature. Within his hiding spot, Sakarin’s anger slowly overcame his fear. His hand ached for the blazer pistol that he’d lost. Eventually, the Chedi leapt to the deck and walked out of the darkness without his loathsome companion. Cautiously he walked over to Sweetn Low. Within the darkness Sakarin glared angrily. Despite his anger however Sakarin realized that, even if he’d had a weapon, he would have been no match for a Chedi. Grateful for his hiding spot he kept quiet and watched. Using his ignited energy blade as a light source the Chedi verified that Sweetn Low was dead. He then glanced around again as Sakarin drew further still into his hiding place. With the bay’s deck vibrations increasing from the escalating Ally attack, the Chedi turned and leapt back up to the walkway. A moment later he returned to Sakarin’s level, this time with Diet Vanilla on his shoulders. After one more look at Sweetn Low, the Chedi reholstered his blade and hurried away. As the sound of his footsteps faded, Sakarin grabbed his Comm. Link and moved into the open. ... Happy that he’d ordered his flag ship, the Dentyne, away from the station, Sakarin contacted those members of his personnel staff he’d brought on board with him. He ordered that they see to the preparation of Diet Vanilla’s ship, for immediate departure. The Lysterine with its new weaponry and shields was more powerful than any ship the Allies had and was considered
undefeatable. Even an Empire destroyer class ship with its double thick hull, multiple blazer and atomizor cannons and three squads of fighters would not likely survive the Lysterine’s full assault. Sakarin also ordered that any of Vanilla’s staff, that wasn’t needed for his escape, make room for his own staff on board the Lysterine. As the crew area on Vanilla’s ship was quite small, those loyal but no longer useful members of the Empire would need to find their own way off of Crest.
... Being extremely cautious, Sakarin followed the Chedi to his ship. As the Chedi boarded and prepared for launch, Sakarin stood within the shadows of the powerless control room and ripped the Chedi fudge covered robe from his back. The loose fitting tunic and pants beneath were unsoiled as he wiped his hands carefully on the clean, inner portions of his robe. He looked back into the bay just as the Chedi’s thrusters fired. He watched in silence as the ship moved quickly toward the bay’s hatch. Scowling he thought, “How does he plan to get through the battle outside?” His scowl deepened as he decided that the Chedi definitely had one. Drawing his Comm. Link again, Sakarin directed his staff on the Lysterine to monitor and track the Chedi’s ship as it moved away from the stronghold. That done, Sakarin turned his efforts fully toward his own escape. With the sounds of battle having grown to a rolling roar, Sakarin ran through the empty corridors of Crest’s lower decks. Breathless he boarded the Lysterine and collapsed into the deck’s command chair as his staff stared wide eyed in response. They had never seen Sakarin out of breath or his royal robes. Gasping as he caught his breath, Sakarin gestured for reports and was told that scans confirmed that the Chedi’s ship had launched with Vanilla and the Chedi on board. ... “We’re following that ship,” Sakarin gasped. “Prepare for launch. I want full shields and weapons on standby. We’ll take out as many of the Ally and Chedi ships as we can as we leave.” The communication officer stood to give an additional report but was interrupted. “Sire...” Lieutenant Marz, Sakarin’s weapons officer spoke up,”...as the Chedi’s ship left he broadcast a coded message. He continued to transmit the signal as he passed, undisturbed and
several times was protected by Ally ships, as he passed through the battle.” Sakarin turned away from Marz and leaned forward in thought. Looking toward the communications officer, he asked, “Did you record the message?” The communication officer pulled angry eyes away from Lt. Marz and answered, “Yes sir...” The officer’s eyes cut back toward Marz as he interrupted again. “Sire, we continued our surveillance as the Chedi’s ship moved away. “Once clear of the battle...” “Hold that thought Lieutenant.” Sakarin ordered with a wave as he held his attention on the communication officer. “You recorded the entire transmission?” “Yes my Lord, I...” This time the Comm. officer’s words are cut off by Sakarin who held up his hand and leaned back into his seat. “Let’s hear it.” he ordered. The officer turned back to face his control board and seconds later a rapid series of chirps, whistles and beeps flowed from the Command Deck speakers. After listening for several moments Sakarin signaled that the message be shut off. As he sat in thought Lt. Marz stood and walked quickly across the deck to Sakarin’s side. “Sire, once beyond the battle the Chedi set his course and engaged his engines. Moments later he engaged his ship’s mask, making his ship invisible to our sensors. We have only his initial course to follow. We must hurry if we hope to catch him. A course change...” Sakarin’s eyes moved to Mar’s face as he spoke, “I understand the danger Lieutenant.” Marz eagerly continued, “My emperor, I believe the Chedi’s transmission will allow us to safely pass through...” “So do I Lieutenant,” Sakarin interrupted. “So do I.” Rising from his seat, Sakarin ordered that the Lysterine launch and that the recorded transmission be broadcast on the same channels employed by the Chedi. As the ship moved toward the bay’s open hatch Sakarin also ordered that the Chedi’s progress, on his last identified course and speed, be plotted. Returning to the command chair he sat and ordered, “Maintain weapons on standby and raise standard shields.” “Majesty...” Marz immediately responded,”...the new shields are operable and
available.” “They will also attract unwanted attention Lieutenant. This ship is going to draw enough of that already, besides..” Sakarin paused and offered a smile which made the weapons officer’s skin crawl,”...we’re transmitting the Chedi’s signal. The Allys are all one big happy fleet. They won’t fire on one of their own!” Sakarin’s eyes shifted back to the main view screen as his smile slowly slid into a sneer. Moments later the Lysterine exited Crest and, as Sakarin expected, was allowed to pass through the battle safe from Ally attack. Several Ally ships dipped toward them waving their flight fins. Sakarin ordered that the gesture be returned. All members of his crew glared in silence at the Ally ships as they moved by unscathed. The navigator glanced toward Marz who, still recovering from having been rebuffed by Sakarin, ignored him. Turning toward Sakarin himself the navigator urged, “Sire, the Lysterine’s weapons can destroy every ship we target. Our shields would protect us completely. We might save Crest...” Sakarin’s head spun to glare at the officer, “Save Crest! I think you over estimate the Allies Lieutenant.” Glancing toward the deck’s rear viewer Sakarin watched the damage occurring to his stronghold. While still watching he saw two Ally fighters receive fire and explode. His eyes narrowed with struggling conviction as he looked back to his officer. “Crest is a stronghold Lieutenant. They will put this misguided offensive aside without our help. We are on a rescue mission; we are not abandoning our base! I want Vanilla back and I don’t want a squadron of Chedi piloted ships endangering his life while we’re doing it!” Sakarin’s lip curled as his gaze returned to the Deck’s forward view screen. “Maintain your course...” Looking down at his garments he added,”...and get me a uniform!”
... Once beyond the battle, Sakarin’s crew powered the Lysterine’s hyper drive engines and made the jump to hyperspace. Moments later, their course reset, they began their direct pursuit of the Chedi. Almost an hour and a half later, Sakarin, wearing an officer’s uniform, minus rank insignia, retook the command chair and stared anxiously at Lysterine’s main viewer. Worried that
they would not locate the Chedi’s ship, he turned to order his Comm. officer to contact Cert. Before he could speak however he was interrupted by his science officer. “Something on long range scanners Lord Emperor.” Turning Sakarin asked, “A ship?” After several seconds his response came, “Yes my Lord and following our exact course.” With their own mask engaged it took only moments to close in and verify that it was the Chedi’s ship. The ship was moving outside of hyperspace and with her mask down. Still anxious Sakarin was also elated to find himself following in the Chedi ship’s wake and still in the game. Before destroying the ship and purging his Empire of the Chedi however he had to retrieve Diet Vanilla. Having already lost Sweetn Low, his master and instructor, Sakarin was unsure that without Vanilla at his side, he would be able to maintain his Empire. The fate of the Chedi had, of course, already been decided. Sweetn Low must be avenged. Sakarin’e eyes narrowed suddenly as he thought, “This single Chedi has taken my greatest weapon and my master. Vanilla can be retrieved. Sweetn Low can only be avenged. What better vengeance then to proceed with my master’s plan. To turn this Chedi against his friends, family and home. To commit him to the continuance of the Empire!” Happy with his change of plan Sakarin also acknowledged, ”I can’t save the Empire alone. I will need both of them!” “We’re in position my Lord” announced his helmsman. “Weapons are armed and ready Majesty,” Lt. Marz added from the weapons’ console. “Hold your fire!” Sakarin ordered. The navigator pressed “ But my Lord, This Chedi’s almost certainly meeting an Ally ship or ships. We may find ourselves...” Sakarin silenced him with a glare. “How have I not made myself clear! Diet Vanilla is on that ship! I will have him back if it means fighting every ship the Allies and the Chedi have left. Our first, our only priority is his rescue!” Reaching into a compartment on the side of his chair, Sakarin withdrew a piece of Empire fudge. “There are no Ally ships that can challenge the Lysterine. Manage your nerves and hold our position! I’ll tell you when to take action!”
Marz and the navigator did not respond but continued to stare at Sakarin who stood and looked toward the main screen. “What we need is a plan to get Vanilla and the Chedi off that ship alive!” Turning toward Marz, Sakarin curled his upper lip and continued; “Destroying the Chedi’s ship won’t accomplish that Lieutenant.” His eyes narrowed as they shifted back to the main screen. “But how,” he hissed. “If only...” Sakarin’s brows rose as he murmured, “Possibly...” Raising his hand before him, he rolled the piece of fudge between his fingers. “Maintain our distance. Watch for other ships and for any change in the Chedi ship’s status,” Sakarin took his seat again and pulled another piece of fudge from the compartment on his chair. After squeezing the two pieces together he put the fudge into his mouth. His face tightened and his eyes pinched closed as he thought, “What we need is an ally of our own. An ally on that ship! Cupping his hands over his bald head, he reached out with his mind for Vanilla. Breathing deeply, his hands slid down to the back of his neck. Eyes still closed, Sakarin’s bent arms hung from his clasped hands as his crew stared at one another perplexed. Hagjo relaxed before the Reece’s, piloting controls. Tiredly he repositioned in his seat letting visions of Schan, family and home drift peacefully through his mind. After leaving Crest, while in hyper space, he’d prepared and transmitted a brief report of his mission. With little detail it notified the Allies of Sakarin’s presence on Crest. It related the existence of the Unk whom Sakarin referred to as master and whose body now lay growing cold in Crest’s storage bay. It also included the news of his discovery and rescue of Henry Jr. Hagjo smiled as he hit the transmit button knowing the great joy Henry Jr.’s rescue would bring to General Oh and all the people of Choctooine. Fifteen minutes ago, after dropping the Reece back into normal space, Hagjo had shut down both his hyper drive generators and his mask. He then began to discharge the Reece’s drive coils in preparation for storage of his ship in the hold of the Ally freighter with which he would shortly rendezvous. The Reece continued forward at standard speed while he awaited contact. Yawning, Hagjo rubbed his tired eyes and shifted again in his seat. Every part of his body was screaming for rest. Yawning again he grabbed the back of his neck and massaged the tight, tired muscles while thinking happily, “Just a few more minutes. Once the Reece is stored in the freighter’s hold, I’m going to sleep for a week.” He tilted his head and smiled, “Well, at least
until I get back to Schan.” Slick sat quietly in the co-pilots seat. He was completely healed due to his consumption of such a large amount of fudge. The chocolate powered rush of energy and mental clarity, along with the joy of being healed and away from Crest had him bubbling happily. Henry Jr. remained unconscious and was strapped into a passenger seat just outside the cockpit. Turning, Hagjo watched Henry Jr.’s slow and steady breaths. Turning forward again, Hagjo was confident that Henry would remain asleep for some time. Glancing down at his control panel, Hagjo’s eyes focused on the ship’s Comm. Link. He frowned as he considered contacting the Ally team at Crest and checking on their status, maybe even checking in with Schan. Before reaching for the Comm. controls however he sighed deciding against it. Both Schan and anyone else he could reach had better things to do than answer his questions right now. He also knew not to attempt contacting his rendezvous ship which must be somewhere nearby. The crew was on radio silence with their ship masked and would remain so until their orders allowed otherwise, which would be under half an hour now. Settling back into his seat Hagjo closed his tired eyes and relaxed. Until he heard from the Ally freighter there was nothing more for him to... His eyes snapped open as he suddenly sensed trouble. Sitting up, he turned and looked at Henry Jr. who was mumbling vaguely in his sleep but remained unconscious. Unconcerned about Vanilla, Hagjo scanned the rest of the cockpit. Slick was still bubbling quietly in his seat. Everything else looked normal as well both in the cockpit and on his control board. Looking again at his view screen he saw nothing but empty space. “Then what’s wrong?” he asked himself. Changing the angle on his view screen several times and rechecking his sensor readings he found nothing alarming but remained unable to relax as his inner sense of alarm wouldn’t fade. Turning fully to his sensor controls he began resetting his scanner. The newly discovered setting would leave his sensors blind to most of his surroundings but while set for a light scan on a very low frequency the equipment would enable him to identify the faint energy field which would be the masked freighter. He frowned as the new settings engaged and an energy field registered just above and behind his ship. Sighing with relief he thought, “Good, the freighter.” His relief was short lived however as he instantly asked himself, “Why are they following so close? Why haven’t they contacted me and why are they still masked?” “His eyes drifted over to the clock on his control board. “And they’re early.” Air
hissed through his clenched teeth as he realized, “Nerds!” He pounced on his viewer controls and changed them to match the coordinates of the energy field on his sensor. Squinting he looked at the screen and could barely make out the faint golden glow of a small ship, or a large fighter’s masking equipment. After several seconds he could make out the faint outline of the barely visible hull. Its running lights were off and the hull was a dark non-reflective grey. “That’s not my rendezvous ship,” Hagjo hissed. Turning forward he called to Slick, “Hold on!” Slick popped up in his seat and watched as Hagjo hurriedly keyed the cockpit controls. “What’s wrong,” he asked. Engaging his shields Hagjo replied, “I don’t know yet just hold on.” Both he and Slick then shifted forward in their seats as Hagjo applied full reverse thrust.
“Sire! They’re running!” shouted the Lysterine’s helmsman as he rapidly punched buttons on his console. “He’s reheating his drive coils!” Sakarin, sweat on his brow, opened his eyes looking confused. “Running? From what? I thought we were masked and undetectable?” Continuing to work the controls on his console the helmsman answered, “I don’t understand it either my Lord.” “Bring us about! Do not let him escape!” Beginning to rise from his seat, Sakarin instead held on as the Lysterine spun and accelerated after the Chedi ship. “Weapons are ready Lord Sakarin,” reported the weapons officer. “Warning shots only Mr. Marz!” Looking back at the view screen Sakarin ordered, “Drop our mask! Let his sensors show him exactly what he’s up against and then hail him.”
As Hagjo watched, the faint golden glow of the Lysterine’s mask faded and her running lights brightened. Vanilla’s new ship looked exactly as deadly as it was. Sharp, dark angles cut out from and around two large, powerful engines. Her forward proto port, now armed, glowed
like an angry red eye. “The Lysterine,” Hagjo hissed. “Vanilla’ ship! Who’s commanding her?”
On the Lysterine a crewman turned and spoke. “Ready Sire.” Sakarin nodded, took a breath and spoke. “This is Emperor Sakarin.” Immediately the view on Lysterine’s main screen changed to a view of Hagjo at the controls of the Reece. Sakarin smiled, seeing the shock in the Chedi’s eyes which narrowed in anger as Sakarin continued. “My ship is armed with a proto laser port. You can’t escape and you won’t survive if you force me to fire on you.” His smile dissolved as he finished. “Surrender your vessel and your prisoner.” Hagjo’s voice snarled from Sakarin’s Comm. Link speakers, “I’m not letting you get your filthy hands on Henry Jr. again Sakarin. I don’t know how you got away from Crest, but it’s you and your Empire that are on the verge of surrender.” Sakarin’s teeth clenched as he remembered the reports he’d received on his strongholds which it turned out weren’t as invincible as he believed. Determined not to acknowledge the truth to Hagjo, Sakarin responded with as large a lie as he could manage. “HA! You think too much of both yourself and your Ally friends Chedi. I suspect the battle has already turned back to the Crest’s favor. My...” “No doubt, that’s why you abandoned her.” Hagjo interrupted. Sakarin scowled angrily as the similarities between this and his earlier conversation with his navigator ground against his nerves. Swallowing a bellow mixed with anger and fear he responded. “My other strongholds have already defeated your forces. This hopeless revolution has already been quashed. I suggest...” “I know a lie when I hear one Sakarin. You...” “Believe what you want, Chedi,” Sakarin snarled. “Frankly, the condition of my strongholds or your friends for that matter is the least of your most pressing difficulties.” Stalling to allow his coils time to reheat, Hagjo continued taunting Sakarin, hoping to prolong their argument and delay an attack. “You’ve got a few pressing difficulties of your own Sakarin! You’re losing your three most powerful space stations, you’ve lost the true leader of
your empire, that Unk, or your master as you referred to him.” Hagjo paused for a denial but got none as Sakarin choked on his fury. “You’ve also lost your first knight and soon you’ll be on the run from a squad of Ally ships! Sakarin’s eyes shifted toward his science officer who checked his sensor screens before shaking his head. Turning back to the Comm. screen Sakarin scowled, “Diet Vanilla will be rejoining me and there aren’t any Ally ships...” “They’re on their way!” Hagjo interrupted. “Why else do you think I’ve been cooling my coils in this empty sector of space? I’ll be docking my ship on one of our battle ships and Henry Jr. and I will be carried home,” Hagjo’s eyes narrowed as he paused. “...after they’ve taken care of you.” Sakarin’s eyes also narrowed as he leaned forward, “I’ve got our proto laser locked onto your ship. You’re going nowhere...” “That proto laser is also locked onto Vanilla!” Hagjo spat back. “You destroy this ship and your most powerful knight goes with it! I don’t think you can afford to lose any more of your dying Empire, Sakarin.” Sakarin stood, his mouth open to respond when a crewman interrupted from his station. “Excuse me Lord Emperor. The Chedi is still charging his drive coils.” Sakarin’s glared angrily as he pointed his finger at the screen. “Shut down your coils Chedi.” “I don’t take orders from you, Sakarin.” “We’ll soon change that,” Sakarin snarled while making a cutting gesture across his throat. The Lysterine’s screen returned to its original view of Hagjo’s retreating ship as Sakarin turned to his weapons officer. “Mr. Marz, use the proto lasers to target his shields. Only his shields! That will slow the charging of his coils.” Sakarin then turned to the helmsman. “Don’t lose them Mr. Payne!” Settling back in his seat Sakarin put another piece of Empire fudge into his mouth and, shutting his eyes, lunged, with his mind, toward Vanilla again.
Strapped into his seat Henry frowned and stirred. “No,” he muttered, and then again a little louder, his frown deepening, “No!” “Stupid!” Hagjo berated himself. “What?” Slick asked. “Sakarin followed us from Crest and I made it as easy as I could for him. I should have set a random course before masking and then set our true course once we were in hyperspace. I was so confident...” Hagjo snarled, “Too confident. I’m sorry Slick, I’ve really botched our escape.” “You are very tired...” Slick responded “...but you’re very smart too! You’ll get us out of this.” “I’ll try.” Hagjo answered. Preoccupied he didn’t notice Henry’s strained awakening. Gritting his teeth Hagjo put the Reece through maneuvers intended to avoid weapon fire from Sakarin’s ship. He also reset his sensors to their default setting. With Sakarin’s mask down he hoped the sensors would help him avoid the Lysterine’s attacks. There were many near misses but the ones that hit their shields threw the Reece and dropped their power readings. Hagjo cringed and hung on as a set of multiple proto pulses skimmed across the Reece’s shields pitching her from one side to the other. A direct hit would pierce them easily.
Checking a data screen Hagjo grimaced over the status of his drive coils. Much of the energy needed to warm the coils was already being diverted to maneuvering thrusters. Now even more was going to his shields, further slowing the charging process. Hagjo’s head jerked up as a direct hit with a blazer bolt flared against the rear shield. A stunned expression appeared on his face as he realized, “They’re targeting our shields only with their proto lasers. They’re goals are to slow the warming of our coils...” He smiled. “...and keep us alive!” “I don’t understand,” Slick stated from his seat. As additional blazer bolts sizzled against his shields Hagjo made additional evasive maneuvers before looking toward Slick and explaining, “Glancing blasts off our shields diverts power and slows the charging of our drive coils...” His eyes moved back to his status screens as
he finished, “...substantially.” He sighed, and steered the Reece into another hard turn. “A direct hit with the proto lasers would come straight through the shields and probably destroy our ship.” Pursing his lips Hagjo steered the ship sharply in the opposite direction. “With proto lasers, it won’t take long to collapse our shields. Then they can disable us safely with their blazers.” Slick settled quietly back into his seat as another proto pulse crackled against their shields. “We can’t engage our hyper drive but we still have standard engines.” Hagjo soothed as his eyes locked onto his view of the pursuing ship. “Their energy consumption must be huge but it won’t be enough to help us.” Frowning he paused in thought before continuing, “Sakarin accepted that I’m waiting for support ships so he believes his time is limited. I wish that was true! Our rendezvous ship would only be additional fodder for that proto port. No rescue ships could possibly get here before our shields fail and if they did the Ally’s have only got one ship that could stand against the Lysterine.” After performing another series of course changes Hagjo smiled having avoided four proto pulses. “Their weapons officer is anxious about injuring Vanilla. That helps us and it’s going to prolong Sakarin’s wait for our shields to fall.” As he turned and thrusted again, Hagjo thought, “Sakarin’s tirade was mostly bluster. He was clearly afraid but he seems to have something other than his proto laser that he’s counting on. If rescue ships did arrive, despite our guaranteed losses, I’d almost surely be able to finish warming my coils and jump to hyperspace. Sakarin can’t be willing to risk that possibility. He’s got another plan. But what?”
Marz held his breath expecting an angry retort from Sakarin over his several missed attacks. Before firing again he risked a peek toward his Emperor and gasped believing that Sakarin had passed out. Eyes closed Sakarin sat back in his seat breathing deeply. The rapidity of his breaths and his furrowed brow however indicated a considerable effort being made. Marz was at a loss to guess what that effort could be. Hagjo tensed as he solved his mystery. Eyes widening he thought, “It’s not what is his
plan! It’s who!” Turning he looked at Henry Jr. who was struggling against his restraints and murmuring incoherently. Already acquainted with links to the Ms across much larger distances, Hagjo cursed, “Nerds! Sakarin’s using whatever mental tricks that Unk taught him to link with and awaken Vanilla!” Jerking back to his controls, Hagjo engaged full thrust, this time turning the ship in a severe arc. The maneuver caused the Reece’s hull to screech as the G forces pulled at her seams. “I do that too many more times and they won’t have to hit us to cripple this ship,” he mumbled to himself. Using the few moments it took Sakarin’s ship to match his maneuver, Hagjo brought up data including the star maps for this sector. Brows clenched Hagjo cursed, “Nowhere to hide and we’re too far from anyone for help.” Reaching into his pouch he found not a crumb left of his fudge supply. He glanced at Slick who looked back and came as close to mimicking a shrug as a limbless bag of mostly water could. “I didn’t know!” Slick pled. “It’s not your fault,” Hagjo assured forcing a strained smile before turning back toward his rear view screen. Sakarin’s ship was rushing toward them again. “Sakarin doesn’t want to loose Vanilla,” he thought aloud. “That Unk was clearly very important to Sakarin. The Unk was possibly the one that really ran the Empire. After losing his master, Sakarin is going to need Vanilla to help him hold the Empire together.” Punching his thrusters again, Hagjo glanced back at Slick, and said, “We’ll have to hope that his desire to get Vanilla back will keep him from destroying our ship, and us.” Looking back toward the Lysterine, Hagjo’s eyes tightened as he declared, “They say the best defense...” he again engaged full thrust, sending the Reece lunging toward the Lysterine, her weapons firing, “...is a strong offense!”
Sakarin grabbed hold of the command chair again as the Lysterine received blazer fire. After delivering several hits and avoiding another proto pulse the Chedi ship moved past and out of range. Straightening himself in the chair Sakarin shouted, “Is he insane! That Chedi’s got to know he’s outgunned in that ship!” His hand balled into a fist on the armrest of his chair, he shouted again, “Are sensors showing any other ships approaching?” The entire crew grew still awaiting the response. After several seconds the answer came,
“Nothing yet Sire.”
Sakarin sat glaring at the view screen for several seconds before the crewman spoke again. “Sire! He’s cutting power to weapons, shields and engines. He’s boosting the charge to his coils!” Sakarin’s eyes bulged. “Can he leap?” Not yet Sire, but if we don’t do something, he’ll be able to shortly. “Then lets do something! Close distance and resume firing.” The Command Deck was quiet as the crew focused on accomplishing their orders. Sakarin glared at the screen, his back arched forward until he suddenly gasped. His eyes widened anxiously as he jumped to his feet. Clenching his hands into tight fists Sakarin shouted, “I’m trying!” He then staggered forward a step, his expression a mix of surprise and confusion.
Scanning the Command Deck Sakarin saw his crew quickly turn back to their consoles. His mouth twitched as his eyes hardened again. Turning to the weapons officer he ordered in a voice which could have broken bone, “Mr. Marz. Listen carefully. You’ve got permission to target the Chedi’s ship but understand me, I want survivors. You are to cripple the ship only. Do you understand?” Marz, uncomfortably looked into his Emperor’s angry eyes and answered, “Understood Sire,” before turning back to his control board. Payne announced, “We’ll be in firing range in six seconds.” Marz looked anxiously down at his console. He didn’t know what to make of the changes in his Emperor. Sakarin’s behavior had been odd ever since he boarded the Lysterine. Marz had never seen him so decisive and forceful. His order to use the proto lasers against the Chedi’s shields was brilliant but showed more understanding of their ship, and military tactics than any order he’d received from his Emperor in the past. Also there were Sakarin’s moments of even odder behavior, speaking aloud to himself or to someone no one else could see and his odd confusion which followed. Totaled up, it all deepened Marz’ puzzlement and magnified his concerns. Worried of Sakarin’s reaction if his shots missed their mark or worse destroyed the Chedi ship, Marz steeled himself for his attempt. Looking down on his console’s controls he saw
the Chedi ship’s image move within the small red circle of his targeting screen. It held there for just a moment before starting evasive maneuvers again. Mumbling a quiet plea to whichever god might be listening, Marz targeted just inside the Chedi’s shields and prepared to fire. After firing on the Lysterine, Hagjo turned back to Henry who was resting peacefully again. Relieved, Hagjo reached across his console and triggered a toggle which prepared his Comm. system to transmit an SOS. The coded signal would also include ship identification and their present location. Using a special frequency reserved for this purpose by the Allies, the signal was not likely to be intercepted or even noticed by Sakarin’s crew. When a green lite brightened on his Comm. board Hagjo spoke, “Mayday! Mayday! This is Chedi Dastl Hagjo to any Chedi or Ally ships. I, ...” Glancing toward Slick he revised his words, “...my crew and Oh Henry Jr. are under attack by an Empire ship, the Lysterine, which is under the command of Emperor Sakarin.” Slick had reacted slightly at Hagjo’s mention of his crew, but as the Lysterine was mentioned Slick settled still and silent in his seat. Not a bubble swirled within his internal fluids. “The Lysterine is armed with a proto laser and proto shields. We need immediate assistance. Our coordinates are attached.” Shutting off the recorder Hagjo merged his message with their coordinates and punched the transmit button. The Reece suddenly pitched toward its starboard side as a proto pulse flared violently through her shields and hull. Struggling with his controls Hagjo turned his head from additional flares from his Comm. board. The flashes were of short duration but decisive as the board went completely dark. “Nerds!” Hagjo spat. “Did I use up all of my luck on Crest!” Clinging tightly to his harness Slick asked, “What now?” Hagjo sighed before answering. “More of what we’re already doing and pray that at least some of our message was transmitted before the board burned out.” Turning to Slick, he continued, “Make sure Henry’s strapped in tight, we’re going to have a rough ride.” Looking at his control board he growled, “Sakarin’s tactics are working. The coil’s reheating is taking too long, and having to divert power to thrusters, shields and weapons is just making it worse!” Hagjo’s eyes shifted back to his view screens where he saw the Lysterine steering through a wide turn. Leaning his head forward Hagjo closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. His fatigue was dulling both his senses and his reflexes. “I wish I had some more fudge,” he
whispered through his teeth before attempting to mentally contact his Chedi leaders, M and M. With the Comm. equipment damaged, they were his only resource for requesting help. After several seconds however he stopped as a wave of dizziness broke his concentration. Reopening his eyes he took several breaths and checked on the Lysterine again. He was surprised to see her still completing her turn. Immediately he cut power to all his systems and sent another boost to his coils. His eyes returned to Sakarin’s ship and saw her sharpen her turn as they fired thrusters. Sakarin stood beside Marz. “No more excuses. That ship must be disabled so we can retrieve Vanilla. There must be sections of that ship that can take a proto hit without destroying the ship or killing its crew. Identify that spot and lock the proto laser on to it!” As they closed again on their target, Sakarin returned to his command chair. ARemember Lieutenant; do not target the shields again. I want that ship disabled!” Marz nodded and felt his nerves calm as data came up on his sensor screen and a plan formed in his mind. His breathed was suddenly easy and slow as he waited for the Chedi ship to enter his range. When it cut off to starboard he called out, “Hold our course!” “What are we going to do?” Slick asked as he pulled Henry’s straps taut. “We’ll leap to hyperspace as soon as we’re able,” Hagjo explained as he prepared to resume evasive maneuvers. “Once we’ve leapt we’ll also have power to mask. Once the mask’s up we’re home free.” Rechecking their coils Hagjo saw that their last boost had improved their status considerably. Reaching for his controls he returned power to their engines. Eyes on Sakarin’s rapidly approaching ship he rechanneled power to the shields and weapons as well. “Stay cautious with your targeting for just a few more minutes,” Hagjo murmured hopefully as he applied thrusters and turned away. Jerking his head around he saw that Slick had finished securing Henry. “Hurry and get back here so you can secure yourself too.” Rushing back to the co-pilots seat Slick hopped in and announced, “I’m ready.” The harness was already buckled. Slick simply engulfed the buckle with his body and held on. Hagjo turned back to his screen just as the Lysterine opened fire. “Firing now Sire,” Marz announced as he began his attack. First a burst of blazer shots,
aimed at forcing the Reece into a harder turn to starboard, worked perfectly. As the Chedi ship made the expected turn, Marz targeted and fired proto laser pulses from both ports. Each hit just forward of the Chedi’s engine section. The Lysterine’s Command Deck was immediately silent as the proto pulses erupted from the cannon and rushed toward the Chedi’s ship. Sakarin’s eyes bulged as though they might leave their sockets when the pulses hit and passed through both the Chedi’s shields and his ship. Marz was quiet too as the realization occurred to him that the destructive pulses could be off their mark by mere centimeters and destroy the ship rather than disable it. His fists were clenched on his board as he wondered, “What was I thinking!” A second ago, as he’d fired the laser, he was fearless and certain of his plan. As the proto port launched its pulses however, his certainty disappeared. He realized instantly that he had selected impossible targets. He and Sakarin both flinched as the two proto pulses flashed away on the other side of the small Chedi ship. The lasers had no more difficulty with the shields or hull than a sweet tooth would with warm chocolate. Lysterine’s Command Deck was stone silent as the Chedi ship flared and began to tumble. Marz looked back at his board. His eyes widened with disbelief at what he saw. Without the benefit of Marz’s view of his data screen, Sakarin believed that he had just seen Diet Vanilla’s destruction. “What have you done!” He shouted staggering forward from his chair. “I ordered a single pulse to disable! Scan the ship! Are they alive? Is it going to explode?” “Lord Emperor!” Marz called out, his expression full of both relief and amazement. He flinched as he saw Sakarin’s expression. “Shut up!” Sakarin screamed, unable to tear his eyes from the forward screen. As the Chedi ship’s tumble increased he growled, “Mr. Payne. Give me your weapon.” Payne looks up wild-eyed from his console, “Sire, the...” “Your weapon!” Sakarin repeated his hand extended. Hagjo had seen the Lysterine’s first attack coming and had time for only the most basic defensive maneuver. The impact of the second attack’s direct hits threw him hard against his harness. Slick barely managed to hold on through the assault, however, when the Reece’s hull
opened, the powerful draw of the air being sucked from the ship pulled him free of his weakened grip. Hagjo, struggling too, could only watch as Slick disappeared into the rear of the ship. Unable to help his small friend, Hagjo reached for his controls. Punching a button on his life support panel, he sighed as a constant jet of air was directed at his chin. Gasping at the thin air he attempted everything he could think of to save Henry Jr. and the ship. With Payne’s blazer pointed at Marz’s head, Sakarin shouted, “Tell me!” His confidence recovered, as Sakarin held his fire. Quickly scanning his console again Marz verified that his attacks had struck the Chedi’s ship precisely and had done the exact damage he’d intended. Pulling his eyes away from the readings he looked past the site of the Sakarin’s blazer and into his Emperor’s angry eyes. Marz’s pulse slowed a bit more when he saw Sakarin’s eyes react in surprise to the expression on his officer’s face. Marz wasted no time giving his report in as steady a voice as he could manage. “The Chedi ship’s power and control connections have been severed Sire. It is without power and helpless. Both Diet Vanilla and the Chedi are alive.” Sakarin lowered the weapon and turned back to the view screen, his eyes bulging in disbelief. “The hull has been breached however...” Marz continued, “...the ship is losing oxygen. We must get them off as soon as possible.” Revived with new hope and a desperate sense of urgency, Sakarin looked toward Payne who nodded, confirming Marz’ report. “Get Vanilla and the Chedi off that ship!” Sakarin shouted at the crew. Pointing to Payne he ordered, “Move us to docking position!” Selecting another officer at random he directed, “Prepare to fire tow lines and stabilize that ship.” Turning Sakarin hurried back to his command chair as he pointed at two other crewmen. “Get to the docking port and into vacuum suits. Be prepared with rescue equipment once we’re ready to dock.” Beside his chair again Sakarin switched Payne’s blazer pistol into his left hand and grabbed another piece of fudge. Dropping back into the command seat he shoved the fudge into his mouth and looked toward the deck’s main view screen. Frowning as the bitter fudge raked his taste buds Sakarin closed his eyes and, trying to regain his calm, took several deep breaths. Ignoring the activity around him, he reached again for Vanilla’s mind. -
Struggling uselessly with the ship’s controls, Hagjo finally lost consciousness when the pilot’s emergency air tank emptied. He slumped forward over his station as the air thinned to almost nothing. Seconds later the Reece’s automated backup systems activated. Vacuum doors shut, and the life support system increased output, replacing the lost air. Hagjo hung limp and unconscious in his chair as Henry Jr. again tensed in his restraints. As the Lysterine drew closer to the damaged Chedi ship Marz turned to Sakarin. AMy Emperor, the ship’s main crew sections are no longer losing oxygen.” Surprised and confused Sakarin opened his eyes as he sat forward in his seat. “What! How? Are they repairing the ship?” “No Sire...” Marz answered, “...it’s the ship’s emergency life support systems working off their own batteries. Both Diet Vanilla and the Chedi remain unconscious but there is no longer a concern of suffocation.” Still puzzled Sakarin asked, “Why did the system take so long to engage?” With a shrug Marz answered, “Unclear sir. Possibly due to the damage to the power system.” “Whatever,” Sakarin responded dismissively as he turned back to the main screen. “Excellent!” The screen displayed a view of the crippled ship which had already been grappled with tow lines and was no longer tumbling. Raising a brow, Sakarin turned to the weapons officer. “Well, Lieutenant Marz...” His eyes locked on the crewman’s face. “...that was very impressive.” Lifting the blazer which he still held in his hand Sakarin raised an eyebrow. “It almost cost you your life.” Engaging the weapon’s safety, he tossed it back to Payne. “I’ll see that you’re properly rewarded for that splendid piece of shooting.” Looking at the forward view screen Sakarin saw the extending docking tube closing on and preparing to dock with the Chedi’s dead ship. His eyes narrowed as he directed his crew. “When Diet Vanilla and the Chedi are on board, destroy that ship.” Turning and walking toward the rear of the Lysterine, he spoke over his shoulder. “We will immediately rendezvous with my flagship. I, Diet Vanilla and our Chedi prisoner will transfer on board the Dentyne and the Lysterine will escort us on the journey home. Do it!” He turned and looked toward the main screen one more time. His mouth pulled into a
crooked grin before he turned again and walked toward the back of the ship. His crew watched in silence as he moved down the corridor. As Sakarin turned and entered one of the rear cabins, they all jumped to their duties. Marz breathed a shuddering sigh of relief as he looked back at his console. The miracle of his targeting still had him numb. “How did I manage that!” He mumbled to himself. Glancing up from his console, he saw many of the Command Deck crew looking at him. Several still had looks of incredulity on their faces and stared back at him blankly before turning toward their consoles. Payne’s expression was one of disgust before he too turned back to his station. Others smiled and nodded in congratulations. After returning several nods, Marz looked back down at his controls. Life support had been fully restored in much of the Chedi’s ship. Relaxing further, he smiled as he wondered, “What Areward” will the Emperor give me?” His smile grew wider as he allowed his imagination to wander through the possibilities. Slick shivered behind a small access panel in the damaged mid-section of the Reece. He’d barely managed to grab hold to a power conduit as he flew toward the punctures in the hull. He quickly worked his way into a small corner of the Reece’s machinery before the cold of space could do him harm. Fortunately he’d caught himself in a section of the ship in which life support had been restored. Safe but at a loss as to what he should do he began to panic. With his panic growing, he was surprised to hear a voice urging him to relax. Now, doubly frightened by the disembodied voice, he clutched tighter to the inner surface of the Reece’s hull. Although partially drawn to the comforting tone of the mysterious voice, he continued to compress himself into an ever tightening ball. Despite himself, his fear turned toward curiosity when he noticed light appear and then increase in intensity around him. He began to relax as the restored life support warmed him and made breathing easier. His body too slowly relaxed as the voice continued to encourage and the light continued to brighten. Under the voice’s spell he did not think to panic as he looked around and suddenly found himself in a much larger space. He appeared to be huddled on a cloud. The fluffy whiteness of the clouds surrounded him. The mysterious voice increased in volume as a short distance away Slick saw a green, roly-poly being wearing a plain, brown robe. His breathing increased again as the figure continued forward and through the surrounding blankness. “Relax,” the green figure called to Slick again as he continued his approach. Seeing the figure’s
smile, Slick felt his calm deepen further. Sakarin didn’t try the entrance to Vanilla’s quarters when he left the Command Deck. He was aware of the security protocol Vanilla used to secure the small room. It would take several minutes to breech and he had no intention of standing within view of his staff while he struggled with it. Also, he was aware how tiny the cubicle was. He and Sweetn Low’s conditioning of Vanilla left him indifferent to anything approaching luxury. That trait fit well with his role as Empire enforcer. It also negated any need for Sakarin to provide Vanilla with a share of the Empire’s ever increasing bounty. Sakarin was content to ignore Vanilla’s private quarters for the moment. Instead he entered a compartment on the opposite side of the short corridor. This compartment served as sleeping quarters for those members of the crew on rest shift. All the crew were now on duty so the compartment was empty. Until he was able to transfer back on board his flag ship he would settle for this cramped space. Sitting on a low cot, he put his hands over his eyes and breathed deeply. Confused, Sakarin could make little sense of the memories of people and places which were flashing through his mind except to recognize them as belonging to his dead master. “What did my master do while he wasn’t with from me? What other secrets has he kept from me?” Strangers, places, memories which were not at all familiar but which now belonged to him. Another puzzle was his handling of the crew during their pursuit of the Chedi ship. He had never taken command of any of his ships and to do so while in battle would never have occurred to him before. His mind had swung from crystal clarity to numbing confusion as they pursued the Chedi’s ship. At times he was almost choking with fear and then suddenly he, something, took control of his emotions and directed him into calm, focused, action. “I feel more myself now than I have since leaving Crest.” Sakarin frowned as he thought. “No. Since leaning over Master as he died in that bay.” Sakarin’s breath hitched in his chest as his old fears returned. “How much of my master did I retain? How much have I already lost?” Dropping his face into his hands he wondered, “Can I learn to control and use whatever is left?” He jumped as he suddenly heard Sweetn Low’s voice, “Calm down Sakarin. We’re going to be fine. We will learn how to deal with this together.”
Quickly, Sakarin scanned the small room. “Master?” his voice squeaked. Seeing no one, Sakarin’s eyes rolled up and he collapsed onto the cot behind him. Immediately his eyes reopened and he calmly sat back up. His eyes narrowed into tight slits and an evil grin stretched across his face as he took a deep breath. Extending his single set of arms Sweetn Low stretched and then rolled his fingers into a fist. Another breath and he stood for the first time on only two legs.
Within moments the Lysterine’s crew broke through the hull of the Reece and boarded the ship. They found Vanilla strapped in his seat. Leaving two guards watching the still unconscious Chedi, Vanilla was quickly unstrapped and carried on board the Lysterine. Moments later another team returned, secured the Chedi onto a stretcher and carried him off as well. They then disengaged their docking equipment, moved a short distance from the Reece and destroyed the ship with proto laser fire.