((I abruptly disappeared from the boards many years ago so I need to retcon my way back to the present. This post starts out back in the past, where I cover some old events (with some added backstory), so it might be difficult for others to join until I get back to the present. This post also contains a fair bit of character development so it might not makes sense for others to join, but feel free to ping me a message if you have an idea))
A turbolaser volley greeted the Galactic Alliance ships as they entered the system. Truth be told, both fleets were contemporaneous in their arrival. If measured they were just mere minutes apart. Battle reports from the other sectors indicated that those arenas were devoid of resistance. The Empire enjoyed a clean sweep across several systems; adding a plethora of new territories in parallel. Here was the last territory to subjugate before they would begin shoring up defences and entrenching for a counterattack. Typical retaliations were composed of fast small fleets which could make high impact strikes. Every time the Empire expanded, it had a tendency to over-stretch then receive a short sharp sting as reminder of the resistance.
Something was different here. This wasn't a counterattack but a full line of defence. Who had done the research on this system? No report had indicated any major resistance here. Assurances had been given from the intelligence arm that we'd encounter no resistance in any of our expansions. Yet here we are, this one territory now had a defence fleet. Could the Alliance have known our movements? Worse still, the next-in-line to command the Empire was due to convene with Azazel in this sector once it had been secured. This was supposed to be a routine explore and capture mission followed up by a strategy meeting of the Empire's top-ranking officers. There were big plans for this sector.
A tall darkly uniformed figure entered the bridge flanked by white-armoured stormtroopers. Imperial regulations specified the appropriate level of protection for the Grand Moff. The military uniform clung to his frame in a way that must have signalled this was the first time the Sith lord had dispensed with combat attire in favour of 'appropriate governor apparel'. To describe the feeling of lightness as a spring in his step would mischaracterize the odd feeling of not wearing armour, or carrying lightsabers. As bad luck would have it, his first time in a new garb would see a rough day of battling a strong counter-offensive. It was not worth asking the odds of such a coincidence.
The procession of boots squeaked in a chaotic unison; a wedge of troops followed their leader to the fore of the bridge that was pin-drop quiet but hosted well-illuminated incandescent screens. An army of fingers connected to swift arms enacted procedure after procedure of carefully choreographed thruster movements and blaster salvos. A decisive victory was the only acceptable outcome after such meticulous planning for the current campaign.
Yet, the Grand Moff silently stirred. His body outwardly calm while he held his face upwards to look upon the viewscreens. The presence of the Grand Moff on the bridge with an entourage of stormtroopers easily belied the otherwise serene poise of the Empire's second-in-command. No one could see the tempest of his thoughts. Memories of the past weeks came to the forefront of his mind, each memory a capsule of information labelled with a list of attendees and the time and date of each meeting. Brief reminiscences of each event flashed in and out of focus, randomly appearing and disappearing. Only encounters of greatest impact were held for further scrutiny. There was a smell of treachery. The Grand Moff shook his head, trying to overrule his instinct.
It was troubling that a sizable fleet had come to repel the Empire. The opposing fleet was large enough to cause considerable casualties. A vision of a narrow victory loomed in his mid. Who had suggested this system? Who would have known the strategy once set in motion? The top tier of officials including Grand Admirals, Grand Moffs, and Imperial Intelligence all knew. Subordinates tasked with planning and managing the execution would know enough in advance that the destination would have been revealed to hundreds of people, perhaps even thousands if we guessed at the number of potential discretionary leaks. The Empire's run of good luck lately made everyone eager to be in-the-know. It was an exciting time and one which would, by nature, encourage waggling tongues.
Azazel knew that many were chagrined by the top leadership positions falling to a Chiss and a Zabrak. His own methods were unconventional nevermind the weariness of a powerful force user being the de facto leader. No one wanted to be thrown from an airlock of vaporised where they stood. Succession was largely uncontested, but that's not to say there weren't silent tuts and other noises of exasperation. The recent downing of the Blue Star Pirate star destroyer didn't sit well with the underachieving admirals and moffs, 'that was an expensive manoeuvre. It didn't serve us well to expend so many resources.'
Expensive, but pragmatic. A lost star destroyer was an embarrassment too far. Not to mention that it had cost the Empire considerably over the years while it was left unchecked. Putting a final stop to the constant depletion of resources required decisive action. Despite that fact, political interests required the removal of the Grand Moff.
An unfamiliar human male approached the Grand Moff, he marched in time to a silent metronome. From the corner of his eye, Azazel noted a single pair of hands had stopped moving. An attractive human female of low rank had traced the man's movement across the bridge. A lover perhaps. The officer saluted and stood at attention waiting for a formal acknowledgement. Captain's insignia decorated the area above his left breast.
"Grand Moff, we have encountered resistance, as you have no doubt seen. My lord, our ships have already begun to engage the enemy to see that they cannot prevent our strategy for this sector."
Had the outcome looked more certain Azazel might have replied with 'excellent, captain, keep up the good work', but a positive outcome was not obvious here. At least two layers of strategy fugued here: the war outside and the coming internal war that was being set up by a yet to be revealed puppeteer. "Very well Captain, proceed."
Azazel's mind departed from the present. His thoughts were of the coming internal conflict. A heavy loss of resources here would bear a deep political cost, not because of one perceived failure but it would be viewed as a part of a series of events. They were being conflated as a repeated failure to adequately strategize before executing. Moffs rarely got to control ships in the way that an admiral did, and admirals rarely controlled sectors as the moffs did. Grand Moffs had been an exception, but greater power incurred greater cost.
Many of the subordinates were waiting for a failure too far, something that could be a trigger to unite them. A unanimous failure for all to see. Hitherto, intimidation had been effective on individuals, but together they would be harder to scare. Their appetite for failure spoke loudly of their lack of ambition. These unknown leaders were not present at Centerpoint. They didn't find it, nor use it. They wouldn't know how, yet with the station in our hands we had caused great harm to the Empire's enemies. Despite impressive victories and a vast expansion of the Empire's borders, the council of moffs were weak in mind. A loss of spirit and direction pervaded the Empire in the wake of Palpatine. Naturally distrustful of outsiders, the moffs and admiralty had become outspoken against force users.
Alliance fighters spewed forth, they lined up as a higgledy-piggledy patchwork-curtain of defence between the two fleets of capital ships. No doubt several X Wings would be distinguishable had they been closer for inspection. Imperial officers had already dispatched a prompt response. Neat rows of fighters slid from the bellies of the Empire's larger vessels.
Just then a request came from a docking vessel. It was a detachment of moffs and their security escorts. This was a scheduled visit. Nothing suspicious was detected. We had arranged to discuss our big plans for this sector, which also happened to coincide with the end of the current campaign of expanding the Empire's territory. Everything has been neatly put into order. Azazel dismissed the stormtroopers with a wave. The entourage relaxed and then dispersed.
He stood, a lone figure, in the middle of the bridge starting at the viewscreens watching the action unfold outside. Fighters chased fighters, both sides struggling to hold neat patterns while swaying left and right as they tried to outmanoeuvre once another. Rows of ships, of all sizes, exchanged fire in the hope of gunning their enemies to pieces. 'We might actually be winning this,' Azazel pondered.
A tiny sharp pain dug into Azazel's neck. At first it felt like a muscle twitch and nothing to think twice about. He kept his gaze fixed upon the screens with an attention so intense that the edges of his vision began to blur. It was natural. A constant hum of drumming figures resonated across the top of the creaking and squeaking sounds of the officers shifting their bodies as they worked to keep this ship engaged in combat. Azazel's vision began to glaze entirely grey and it was then that he realised the unnaturalness of the situation. He couldn't articulate his feelings. Words failed to materialise, only vague images shimmered in his mind in a feeling more disorientating than being drunk. Another tiny sharp pain dug at his neck, then twice more. The Grand Moff stumbled down to one knee and tried to grab a hold of something, anything. He failed. His face planted against the cold hard plasteel floor.
Now was the time for grit. Azazel gathered his might and pulled himself onto one knee. He forgot about the pain in his face. Still, he could not see. With the Force he tried to reach out and find something to hold on to. His arm outstretched, his hand grasping at the air desperately searching to grab a hold of something stable. With greater effort he tensed the muscles in his arm and squeezed the stretch as far he could. Blinded and unable to think clearly he did not realise that he was using the force to pull the bridge apart from the inside. The metal was tearing itself from the wall in all directions. Computer screens shattered and blasted towards him at high velocity. The glass cut his skin like knives, and the metal shrapnel peppered his skin like bullets.
The bridge personnel evacuated as quickly as they could. Panic had already set in.
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