Running with a speed only the Force could provide, Luke raced down the corridor past panicked officers and Stormtroopers. He made it to the hangar amid the thundering sound of warning klaxons and the sound of the mighty Death Star dying from inside. Being unfamiliar with most kinds of Imperial ship, Luke’s choices were limited.
“Hey, who are you?!” called a fleeing Stormtrooper. Luke chose not to answer, instead swiftly igniting both his lightsabers and cutting off the trooper’s hand while also shortening him at the knee. Other troopers, seeing a threat in the area, immediately forgot escape; years of training taking over the urge to flee. Luke cut them all down. In some cases he even managed to parry blaster bolts back at those who shot them.
Luke was a crimson and jade blur cutting down everything that got in his way. In a matter of minutes the deck was covered with the corpses of dead white armoured troops and grey uniformed Imperial Navy Officers while he stood unscathed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw an Imperial Shuttle, one exactly like the ship that had brought him to Endor almost a lifetime ago. Finally, a ship he could pilot. Luke leapt over the bodies and ran up the ramp.
In the superstructure of the dying Death Star things looked grim. Most of Lando’s command were destroyed, only Wedge and an A-Wing pilot called Tycho Celchu survived. All the rest had impacted on debris or where shot down by the remaining TIE Interceptors on their tail. The Falcon was in bad shape, the sensor dish had been lost, the ships armour was scored or vaporised from dozens of laser hits and the shields were failing under this new onslaught.
“We’ll make it, this is the easy part,” Lando assured his co-pilot, with more enthusiasm than he felt.
The Falcon may have been the fastest ship in any fleet, but was it faster than the growing fireball forming up behind him?
Considering this, he looked up from his instruments and then saw it: the deep black of space and the welcoming twinkle of stars like diamonds.
“YEEEHAAAA!” roared Lando with a Rebel yell of triumph as he shot out of the exhaust port like a torpedo. Behind him the Death Star exploded with the grace and destruction of a star going supernova.
Just behind him, a perusing TIE Interceptor finally got a target lock and the pilot pressed and held his triggers.
The Falcon exploded before Lando even knew he’d been hit.
Almost instantly, Wedge side slipped in and opened up on the TIE, shattering it. But Wedge could feel no triumph at killing the killer of Lando and four other good men. Neither did he have the time to dwell on his grief. He and Tycho headed towards the Rebel Cruiser Home One: two fighters out of the one hundred and thirty that had entered the attack. Costly wasn’t the word for it.
On the Command Ship Executor, Admiral Piet heard a commotion at the main turbolift.
“What the hell is going on there?” he demanded, as he looked over he saw the black clad figure of Luke Skywalker.
All commanders in Death Squadron had been made aware of Skywalker’s dossier as a Rebel Officer and especially one Lord Vader took personal interest in.
“Are you in command here?” Skywalker enquired.
“Yes, I am,” Piet told him, with a snort of derision.
Luke raised his fist and squeezed, informing him, “Wrong answer.”
Piet felt the invisible grip on his throat, a grip he’d had nightmares of feeling since he became Admiral of Vader’s Flagship over Hoth.
“Let me rephrase, Admiral. Who is in charge here?”
“You are, sir,” Piet wheezed, struggling to breathe. He was instantly aware that if Skywalker was here and the Death Star was in pieces circumstances were about to vastly change.
“That’s better. What’s the status of the Fleet?” Skywalker continued to ask, planting himself in the command chair above the crew pit.
Piet studied the latest report from fleet Intelligence on his datapad.
“Five Star Destroyers lost, two more crippled and in need of a major refit, the Communications Ship lost and ninety percent of our TIEs are gone. The Rebels are faring much better than projections allowed: four Cruisers are destroyed, their suicide ships have been destroyed or they’ve impacted, several Frigates have been disabled and the have almost no fighters left. Your orders?”
“Patch me through to the Rebel Cruiser Home One. I assume your slicers and analysis team have identified it?”
“Yes, my lord. We were just about to destroy it. Chimaera and Allegiance have it almost dead in space, and we’re about to enter firing range.”
“Cease fire Admiral, and order all ships to do the same. Patch me through to them open channel. Let everyone hear.”
“Affirmative sir, we’re broadcasting on all channels.”
“Rebel Fleet, this is Luke Skywalker in Command of the Executor and the Imperial Fleet.”
“Luke?” Admiral Ackbar replied, almost instantly. “How in the name of the Force did you get there? What happened to General Solo and the Princess?”
“I was separated and taken prisoner by Vader and the Emperor. I killed them in the Death Stars throne room.”
At hearing this pronouncement, two Stormtroopers reached for their weapons and fired at Luke. Luke snatched his Lightsabers of his belt and parried the bolts back at the Stormtroopers burning deep scorches into their white chest plates.
“Luke? Are you okay?!” yelled Ackbar
“Fine, Admiral. I have a deal for you: take your fleet and leave.”
“But what about the Imperials?”
“They’re mine now. I’ve stepped on to Palpatine throne, and things will change. The Force demands it, but we can’t have the chaos of rebellion. The Galaxy needs Order and a common united purpose or it won’t survive.
“You have five minutes to recover your fighters and leave, too much blood has been shed this day. Don’t add to it, and don’t make me add to it,” pleaded Luke. He was well beyond weary.
Trusting Luke, Ackbar gave the order: “All ships, this is Admiral Ackbar. All surviving fighters are ordered to return to their carriers, we’re done here.”
Suddenly a new Imperial Fleet dropped out of hyperspace, ships from every corner of the galaxy appeared. Fleet tenders, gigantic battle cruisers, which dwarfed even Executor. An impressive show of Imperial might.
“Ah, Lord Skywalker,” ventured a comm officer from the crew pit. “We’re receiving a signal from the largest ship of the new fleet, they are demanding to speak to The Emperor or Lord Vader.”
“Delay them, if you can,” requested Luke, calmly, as he reached out with the Force and searched for the commander of the new Imperial Fleet.
Shock filled Luke as he discovered that Palpatine had a deadman switch with a built in hypercomm. Palpatine had set it up that if he died in sudden circumstances a Vengeance Fleet would be immediately called to that section of the Galaxy to destroy whatever remained of his enemies and allies.
Once more, the Living Force came to Luke’s aid. With deep concentration, Luke flooded the commanders of the Vengeance Fleet with confusion.
Deeply ingrained training was ignored as gunners targeting Imperial and Rebel ships alike suddenly found themselves unable to fire.
“Admiral,” called Luke to Piett, his face beaded with perspiration from the effort of clouding so many minds at once. “Can you reform our fleet to protect the Rebels? This Vengeance Fleet has but one purpose. Its sole job is to destroy any evidence that Palpatine has died, and that evidence includes this ship and its accompanying Star Destroyers. I think enough men have died this day, don’t you?”
Piett was not used to being spoken to so politely on the bridge of Vader’s personal ship and, despite himself, he felt himself warming to Skywalker. Imperial scuttlebutt had it that Luke was Vader’s own son, and he certainly had the same man management techniques, however he got the distinct impression that if Skywalker crushed his throat he might actually regret it.
“Imperial Fleet, this is Admiral Piett. We are in danger here. Reform to screen the Rebel Star Cruisers. Do not fire on them. Prepare to receive orders.”
Luke never took his eyes of Vengeance Fleet as it slowly faded while his own fleet reformed to protect his rebel friends.
One Star Destroyer, however, was not moving. It brought its mighty guns to bear on Executor and let lose a volley across its bow.
Luke narrowed his eyes as the heavy turbolaser bolts shot past the nose of his Star Destroyer.
“Piett you can’t be suggesting with work with this Rebel scum!” came a voice over the Bridge Comm.
“Vikko, follow your orders. This other fleet is here to destroy us. Palpatine is dead. The New Order is dead.” cried out Piett.Vikko’s Star Destroyer did not reply any further. Dipping its bow, it brought all it heavy guns to bare on Executor and let lose a new barrage of fire.