Imperial Interlude: Promotions All Around
It has been a little while since the last time we had a chance to played my Star Wars: End of Empire campaign, but when those stars did align, back in the before times, here's what happened! We jumped back in to everything via the villain’s point of view, as is our tradition: the Imperator meets with some of the player’s signature antagonists: Vice Moff Pandar Solt (played by Burke), Director Tol Dala (played by Joey), Commander Ulma Verbost (played by Rachel) & Lt. Commander Jerran Gauth (played by Raj). Vice Moff Solt is a pompus old mustache of a fellow; TIE fighter ace Jerran Gauth is a sneeringly smooth jarhead. Ulma Verbost is a petite tech officer with sharp ambition & bangs. Director Daala is being holoprojected by the Imperial astromech ST-R5: he is a human man who looks exactly like an old Jolit, in a white uniform with a red cape.
"The colonists on Dantooine surrendered after the first wave of Devastators," summarizes Director Dala’s flickering image. "A local political action group was instrumental in putting pressure on the aliens & anyone else foolish enough to resist. They call themselves the," he airquotes, "Sons of Vader." The Imperator orders him to send anyone who enlists voluntarily into accelerated officer or specialist training, then do a round of heavy conscription on those who didn’t, & send them to Commandant Hux’s new Stormtrooper...'Academy.' As for the Devastator fleet? Send them to Mon Cala. He preens at the order: "at last we will reveal ourselves to this New Republic. At last we will have revenge."
Furthermore, she is immediately promoting Solt to Regional Governor of the Kessel System due to the quality of his service on Ord Mantell & personal knowledge of Kessel’s...resources. He has orders to depart post-haste on one of the venerable (& vulnerable) Imperial-Is from the decommissioned Seventh Fleet: the ISD Hydra, sister ship to the fallen Gargoyle. Then she dismisses Solt & Daala… & asks Ulma & Jerran to remain. With only the two of them, the droid, & two pairs of Royal Guards at each end of the room, they are as alone with the Imperator as anyone gets. She confides in them that she believes either the Director is compromised or that their communications are being intercepted: either way, Pandar Solt is bait for the fugitive warship Insidious.
Imperator Pryl transfers Ulma from Super Star Destroyer The Eye’s mechanics bay...to captain the Interdictor Labyrinth, which will follow the Hydra at pursuit distance. The gravity projectors of the Labyrinth lay the trap, & the newly minted Commander Gauth is the blade: she’s giving his Iron Wing a squadron of newly designed TIE fighters, the Hunter. The Imperator adapts her tactics: modernization, miniaturization; state of the art war machines. Yavin & Endor revealed how badly the Empire undervalued small starfighters, & the designs from Crosh’s orbital factories address this concern. When the Insidious attacks the Hydra, as she has forseen it will, the Labyrinth will capture it & the Hunters will destroy it. She knows she can trust the two of them, because the are connected through the Force now...& a part of her will always be with them.
The Rishi Maze: Be With Me
After all the excitement escaping Corellia Prime, we’re due a beat to re-establish some of the key non-player characters who have been off-camera for a bit. We catch up to them during their downtime travelling through the Rishii maze, a dwarf galaxy of galactic detritus, cautiously navigating through a tempest formed from clouds of toxic, semi-frozen Clouzon-36 comets & rogue planetoids, littered with decaying quasars, warped by gravitic anomalies.
Theynur Kötturinn, the felinoid Force-sensitive fringer played by Burke, is learning the basic lightsaber forms & stances from the newest member of the cast, Old Zed. He’s moderately grizzled, the way none of the Fetts got a chance to grow up to be, but thanks to the rejuvenation treatments the Baron paid for, he’s still impossibly young for a clone from the Old Republic. He wears a one-piece much like the Imperator wore in the teaser, but his is black & marked by a winged sword, the same blazon as his shield. He tells the Farghul he will get on with teaching her about Form III’s benefits against blasters, or the arrogant stances of Makashi, soon enough; but as Zed is no Jedi, he wants to break with tradition & teach her the ultimate laser sword technique first: Form Zero.
Zed, back when he was ZD-066, served with General Majus Null, a Aqualish Shi-Cho knight. General Null said his own teacher, Master Ahn, taught him: avoid, rather than check. Check, rather than hurt. Hurt, rather than maim. Maim, rather than kill. The future is always in motion, but when you ignite your lightsaber, the paths open to you start closing. It is a powerful weapon, but it cuts short your own future, too. Sometimes futures close themselves to you, unavoidably. It is the role of the Jedi Knight to walk that line. Sometimes you will fail. Just don’t fall.
Our heroes are out trying to pull up vital intelligence related to something called STARKILLER in order to trade it to the New Republic to gain their support for the Droid Uprising that’s been spreading across the Outer Rim, & the protocol droid 4-DOX is their liaison from Ord Mantell. She & the astroprobe droid AK-88 are chattering away in binary in the cockpit of the stolen spaceyacht The False Profit. They are monitoring the organics: both the Purrgil, vast space whales harassed by superstitious organic spacers that old but reliable data banks improbably suggest are naturally capable of faster than light travel...as well as gossiping about their own biological crew members.
Speaking of biology: the amazing regenerative powers of the reptilian Trandoshan species has allowed Sshushath the Zode to regrow his severed hand, & it is ready to molt now, as the gunslinger & gadabout Jax Cadderly helps with the gross & painful task of peeling away the scales & bandages. They talk about his days back in the Pits, with Eris & how she earned her name Berserk, & Zed, who is "Jedi crazy." A few painful hisses & a sardonically snarled self-reminder that the Trandoshan tradition of a Life Debt is a curse from the Scorekeeper due to a loss of Jagannath points & his claws are free, good as new.
The flesh & blood types aren’t the only ones up to hijinks: Para Totool, former Imperial officer & ace mechanic, has realized that small parts & batteries are going missing from redundant systems: the power converter from the industrial hydrospanner, the backups from the sulfur scrubbers, that sort of thing. Exasperated, she figures it out quickly: just as she thought, it is their friendly ID-9 droid, "Wrench", stealing them to feed Para’s new pet mynock, dubbed "Maria," a gift from the Baron before fleeing the hordes of berserkers on Corellia Prime.
& Jolit, the battered Human Replica Droid? Well, just like before, he’s somehow managed to find himself hot-wired into the ship’s navcomputer, dreaming about the rising Darkness, a swarming black mass, visions of cyborgs & droids & zombies dancing in his memory banks. A few emergency system re-routes & quick navcoordinate buffer resets saves them from jumping through a star or bouncing too close to a supernova, leaving them muttering that the really need to take a look at whatever malfunctioning cobwebs there are glitching in Jolit’s memory banks.
The party’s destination is just 12 parsecs out from where they emerge from hyperspace; usually pilots plot a route that slingshot ships across the dwarf galaxy the long way, but...they aren’t taking that route. Zed’s got another lesson in mind: trust the Force. The old clone trooper tells Theynaur to get in her X-wing & fly out in front of them, having AK-88 transmit the nav data back to lead the False Profit through the Maelstrom that is the core of the Rishii Maze. At first, when she opens herself up, all the frustration & anger she's been feeling begins to creep in at the margins of her self of self. The Purrgil spacewhales become aggressive, responding to the dense negative knot in the Force, ramming the sides of her X-wing, but then over the comm, Zed tells her to repeat to herself, & to them: be with me. Calmed by the mantra, Theynaur realizes that following the pod of cosmic cetaceans will take them on the organically calculated best route through the swirling soup of galactic singularities, & she lets the creatures guide them, following the massive Purgill onward & upward— & out! as she pulls the manual hyperspace throttle & makes a jump to lightspeed with the pod.
Imperial Interlude: The Insidious Attacks
We shift perspectives, back to the antagonists of our tale. The newly appointed "Regional Governor" Pandar Solt is played by Burke, you’ll recall; he is is aboard the ISD Hydra with Joey playing the Imperial astromech, ST-R5. The story joins them in media res: the Star Destroyer sits in realspace, engines dead, hull breached, tilted & pitching along its diagonal axis, with a dark, gap-toothed wedge casting a shadow over its wounded frame, the both of them silhouetting the enormous overlapping stars around them, in an obscure quadrant dotted with clumps of rotting red supergiants. It is the Insidious, somehow...ancient looking and brand new at the same time, a split triangle with huge, hungry bays.
This is the first time the audience has laid eyes on the Insidious, but the party first learned of the vessel from the datatapes they stole from the ISD Rubicon. The Emperor’s yacht Imperialis was made by Raith Sienar, but the Insidious is a battleship, a flagship; dagger-like, Kuat-esque, calling on a hybrid of ancient Sith design techniques & state of the art experimental weapons. It waits silently for the moment...then, with grotesque, weedwhackery sounds, long blue beams shoot forth from the ghost ship. Where the viscous, concussive tongues of light touch, the ship begins to disintegrate & explode simultaneously, as the hull’s molecular bonds are torn apart by flickering metal-crystal phase shifters.
Then, the cavalry arrives. The Interdictor Labyrinth is commanded by Captain Ulma Verbost (again played by Rachel) & (Raj’s) Commander Jerran Gauth pilots the lead ship in a wing of the newly developed TIE Hunters; both of them in scarlet versions of the Imperial uniform, marked with their new ranks. Dropping out of hyperspace with a percussive thud & a popcorn swarm of Iron Wing fighters, the Labyrinth snares the two dreadnaughts in a massive artificial gravity well, trapping the Insidious as the snub-fighters begin their attack run on the prototype capital ship, the vastness of a red giant the whole of the sky behind them, pockmarked with sunspots.
Verboost orders all turbolaser batteries to fire, their attack corridor clear as Iron Wing executes a classic pincer maneuver. The agile TIE Hunters, S-foils in attack position, are dominating the stars; the Insidious has no support craft to fend them off, & though there are batteries of anti-aircraft proton canons for them to evade, the nible fighters easily duck in & out of the heavy disruptor beams. They Praetorian fleet pounds the stolen ship’s shields punishingly, but when the foppish Pandar Solt orders his ship’s remaining weapons to fire...a little Droid Uprising inspired sabotage by the former-Imperial astromech ST-R5 shuts down bridge communications. "01000100 01110010 01101111 01101001 01100100 00100000 01010010 01101001 01100111 01101000 01110100 01110011!" it beeps in defiance, venting its extinguisher canister everywhere.
"I’ve got a bad feeling about this…" mutters an ensign on the bridge of the Labyrinth, just as communications ops announced "Ma’am, we have a communication incoming...it’s bypassing our encryption locks…" as somewhere elsewhere in the pit shouts "I've got a command code corruption…" & weapons control joins the chorus, a woman in armor's crisp bark of "shields offline!" cutting through the cacophony as the targeting computers on the bridge begin to go on the fritz & blink out one by one.
Then, with a brain-wrenching ripple, & the Insidious is just gone, completely off whatever remaining scanners are still functioning with no discernible visual as the stygian gems of the ship’s stealth drive align into place & its cloaking device actives. & after a moment of eerie silence, while still invisible, the Insidious begins to fire again.
The Labyrinth burns, the horrible sapphire light leaving scars that spread, entire decks annihilated as Ulma Verboost screams for damage reports & triage repairs; as Jeran Gauth frantically jukes & dodges randomly, ship already beeping & trailing smoke & sparks…but then, through the power of the Force & the bond that ties them forever together, the Imperator sees through their same eyes, with their same vision…&, from the main deck of the Super Star Destroyer The Tooth in orbit around Ord Mantell, gives the order to come to the rescue!
Kamino: the Phantom Planet
We outro with a return to our heroes, Theynur’s X-wing sliding back out of hyperspace first, followed by Para’s TIE Interceptor & the rest of the gang in the luxury ship the False Profit. They are over a water world, dense with cloud cover…& beyond the three moons but still uncomfortably nearby, a small fleet of lurking red Star Destroyers that Para recognizes as Royal Guard ships, equipped with experimental, high-frequency shield modulators. The party has scrambled their transponder signals & come complete with an introduction from Zed, who seems to be on a first name basis with whomever he speaks to down on the planet...Kamino? A little fast-talking from the rest of them, & they are told that the science-city they are looking for is at one of the polar regions, & so, escorted by Alpha-3 V-wings flown by four-armed Xextos with cueball Q7 astromech co-pilots, that is where they land, coming in through the angled beams & foggy rainbows of a sunshower to a small cluster of pods on stilts, shrouded with a feeling of loneliness: a shamrock shaped trio of half-abandoned arcologies, with one delicate lilypad of a landing platform haloed by with a ring of luminescent guide lights.