Date: 46:3:18 (11 years after the Battle of Yavin)
Part One: Deceptions
Nick Fel woke slowly, the soft light of the star he had been born under gently beating against his eyes. He was confused. He hadn't been woken by sunlight since he left his desk job on Coruscant. But then again, he'd never been to Coruscant. Had he?
No, he'd lived on Alderaan all his life, before he went to the Imperial Academy on Carida. No. No, that was wrong as well. He rolled out of bed and landed hard on the carpeted floor.
A subspace news channel flicked on automatically as sensors registered he'd gotten out of bed and the holographic programme was projected up into the middle of the room.
"Chancellor Amidala-Skywalker faces possibly the most difficult situation since the Senate deposed Supreme Chancellor Palpatine thirty years ago, after he was exposed as a Sith Lord by the Jedi."
"Oh, something is very wrong," he said out loud, turning to glare at the newscast to make sure it wasn't some kind of sick joke.
"Meanwhile, Viceroy Celchu..."
"Celchu! There's a name I recognise." The image of a young, fair-haired man that followed was equally familiar. "Wait... wait… why is Tycho the Viceroy of Alderaan?"
He groped around for his uniform, but found only Alderaanian casual dress. He put it on and went outside to see what was going on, why he was on Alderaan and why history had been re-written.
Intel Centre, Rogue Squadron Headquarters, Cheyenne Mountain Facility, Earth, Unknown Regions
"How did we lose him, Mike?" Cat Craig demanded, sinking into one of the room's many seats.
Commodore Mike Burn was glad he kept his hair short, otherwise he'd be tearing it out. Since General Fel, their commanding officer, had disappeared on a dangerous mission to a Goa'uld planet named Jannron, he and his Intel team had been hard at work, searching their network of satellites and the data they collected for any sign of him anywhere within the grid. Receivers filtered through every subspace channel every seventeen point six-two-three seconds, looking for a signal, recording any they found, checking it against the general's voice pattern, looking for any words that might refer to him. High-resolution cameras scoured the surface of Jannron throughout its short day and any movement detected had to be looked at by an Intel officer before it could be dismissed as an animal or a Ja'ffa.
"I don't know, boss," Mike sighed, shaking his head to clear his tired, sleep-deprived eyes. "I've personally gone through all the recordings made by the team's infra-red goggles, everything caught on the rifle-cams, but nobody was looking in his direction. Everyone was focused on the enemy."
"Could we really have missed someone grabbing him and dragging him off?" Cat asked. The acting-commanding officer wouldn't believe it was something that simple. "Could transport rings have popped up, stolen him and sunk again without anyone noticing? Those things are hardly quiet!"
"No, they're not. But neither are firefights. It could have drowned it out. Here," he said, accessing a piece of video, "this is from Amaya's recorder. Watch the left-hand side."
A few seconds later, there was a flash of light at the side of the screen, unlike that from any of the weapons in use. The image spun as Amaya turned—presumably to see what the flash was—but there was nothing there. "I think he got transported."
"Maybe he went into the forest to piss behind a bush and got lost." Colonel Anton Moore, his usual wraith-like self, had slipped into the room without anyone noticing.
"Maybe you should shut up until you have something useful to say," Cat suddenly snapped at him.
"Yes, ma'am." Moore handed her a datapad. "Useful thing number one: I have a plan."
"This is time stamped weeks ago," Mike observed, reading over her shoulder.
"I know. It's the same plan I submitted to the general for an orbital assault on the planet once we'd cleared out the ships on the ground. I don't see any reason to halt the plan, if anything that would simply mean the mission was a waste and Nick might as well have stayed in bed."
"Keep talking, Anton," Cat said. "You're starting to make sense..."
It was exactly as he remembered it. Nothing had changed. Beautiful white buildings rose into the sky, gleaming in the morning light. People he might know nodded to him, waved, said hello. One or two he recognised as people he'd grown up with. Could the past fifteen years have really been some kind of dream? And if so, where were his real memories from those years? The only ones he could dredge up were hazy. Empires, academies, rebellions, battles on planets he'd never heard of, something called the Goa'uld and people. People. He saw faces, couldn't name them. Cat... the name stirred feelings, but he couldn't place them, couldn't match the name to a face. They became trickier to grasp as the seconds flew by.
"Running a little late aren't you, Nick?" The voice was recognisable, yet annoyingly intangible at the same time. Nick spun around to see the baby-face of someone that part of him recognised as Cal Alder, a trooper from Hoth, wherever that was. "The Guard Corps might be running a little short on pilots, but they're not going to keep you on if you turn up late every day."
"I'm... on leave," Nick told him. So he was a pilot, with the Alderaanian Guard, which—if he remembered rightly, no longer something he could depend on—had been disbanded decades ago.
"Enjoy yourself!" Alder said, waving cheerily and continuing down the street. A thought struck him and Nick turned to call after him, but he'd vanished without a trace.
"Now that's not normal." He turned back around, although he didn't know what was in that direction to head towards, but not before catching a glimpse of someone watching him from the shadows. Seeing no one there, he kept walking.
War Room, Rogue Squadron Headquarters
Captain Amaya Karrde and Major Ash Morgan stepped in through the thick sensor blocking doors, having just transferred down from the Mon Calamari Cruiser Ashleigh, which rested over the dark side of Earth's moon. It was the only member of the team that had truly rested over the past few weeks.
The room was dominated by a round central table surrounded by seats, the middle of the table housing a holoprojector that was currently displaying its stand-by image of the Rogue Squadron unit patch, spinning and becoming the red crest of the New Republic when it flipped. As Ashleigh's tall captain and the shorter, slim operations and security officer sat down, the projection changed to one of their spiral galaxy, Republic territories in green, Imperial in red, Goa'uld in gold and various neutral sectors in blues. Most of the Unknown Regions were a stark white, its very layout a mystery, never mind political allegiances.
Moore tapped something on his console and the map zoomed into the gold region, onto a planet they had seen before. The markers identified it as Jannron.
Cat was still sat in her usual seat, leaving the CO's chair empty. Ash was seated next to her. On the other side of the empty chair was Moore, followed by Mike and Amaya. The tactician stood and gestured towards the map. "Following the discovery of Imperial forces working with those of the Goa'uld on P7R-982—Jannron—we are following up with a full strike by our forces, intended to incapacitate Goa'uld defences and mining operations and, if possible, retrieve missing Rogue Squadron personnel."
Ash made an impatient noise. "Say what you mean!" she snapped. "We're going to find Nick!"
"With luck, Ash," Cat said quietly. "With luck."
This is getting annoying now, Nick thought as, for the umpteenth time in the past hour, he suddenly felt watched, caught a glimpse of a character in the shadows and turned to see it disappear. He wondered who it could be, who would want to follow him. There was more to all of this than met the eye, he was sure. People didn't just wake up one day with no knowledge of where they were and vague memories of another life.
There it was again. Nick noticed the figure, but didn't turn to face it. He simply kept on walking, hoping to lull his trail into a false sense of security. Just a little closer, c'mon.
He struck with fantastic speed and lethal efficiency. A quick blow to the stomach knocked the wind out of him, a forearm rammed against his throat pinned him against the wall, could collapse his windpipe in a split-second. "Solo?" Nick hissed at the cloaked figure he'd just turned on.
"Fel! Let go of me!" His cloak had dropped back, revealing rugged, handsome features. Nick had never seen the man before, had no idea who he was, yet somehow he had just called him by his name, and had the odd feeling that he knew him from somewhere else.
"Not until you tell me what's going on," Nick snarled. "Who are you?"
"Sithspit, I was hoping you still had your memories since you knew my name," Han Solo croaked. "You're Nick Fel, a commander in the Imperial Navy, I am too."
"That's not true," he snarled, the odd memory of Carida coming back to him again. "I've lived on Alderaan all of my life. I'm a pilot."
"No! That's what they want you to think," Han managed, gasping for breath. "The Rebels have captured you. You're being brainwashed. They want you to think the Empire destroyed Alderaan, not them."
Nick wasn't buying it; he forced his arm tighter against Han's throat. "Then how are you here?"
"They're trying to turn me too! They got all our… our best pilots!" Han's face was beginning to turn slightly blue, still he forced out the words. "They're trying to send all our pilots rogue…"
"Rogue," Nick repeated quietly, the rest of what Han was saying falling on deaf ears.
The memories flooded back. His training. The destruction of his planet—this planet. His defection. Isard, Zsinj, Thrawn, Palpatine. The Goa'uld. Earth. Cat, Mike, Moore, Ash, Amaya.
He slammed Solo hard against the wall. To his surprise, the man shattered into a million pieces, tiny shards of coloured glass falling to the ground. A crack crept up the wall where he'd hit, and that too shattered. Nick twisted round and watched with horror as the entire city began to shatter and collapse around him.
Part Two: Assault
Goa'uld Bastion, Jannron
"We noticed, thank you," the Imperial commander said icily, watching grimly as the captured Rebel's body thrashed against the restraints, his screams alternating between Alderaanian curses and something totally incomprehensible. "Why?"
"Most likely he's too strong willed, sir." The technician noticed the look on his superior's face and quickly added, "Due to his Imperial training, no doubt." He looked back at the struggling human. "If he keeps this up he'll die."
"There are faster and cheaper ways to do that," the commander snorted. "Unhook him immead—"
"Sir!" The golden, hieroglyphed doors rolled open and another officer walked in, noticeably stressed, flanked by a stormtrooper and a tall Ja'ffa. "A Rebel cruiser has dropped out of hyperspace in the outer system."
There was a moment of silence as the commander digested this. "Open a transmission to High Admiral Steele at once!" He barked, then turned back to the technician. "Throw the rebel back in his cell."
* * * * *
"So who is this guy?" Stormtrooper A457327 asked, his voice filtered till it became harsh and inhuman.
"Some rebel scum," Stormtrooper A457328 replied, shifting the prisoner's weight around on his armoured shoulder a bit. "I think he used to be a TIE ace."
"How the mighty have fallen."
"Yeah, those re…" Stormtrooper A457328 became suddenly aware that the weight on his shoulder was gone, but the restricting view of his helmet prevented him from catching anything but a flicker of movement. By the time he raised his blaster and looked around, it was too late.
* * * * *
"Yes, My Lord."
The flickering blue hologram paused for a moment, then nodded. "I am on my way with all the ships we can spare. If your parasite friends can manage to defend themselves till we arrive, we'll pull you out."
Colonel Malphus noticed the Goa'uld standing just inside the door stir slightly and tried his best to ignore him. His feelings for the Goa'uld are going to get me killed.
"Thank you, High Admiral." Malphus saluted as the transmission ended. He turned and glared ion bolts at the Goa'uld. "You heard him, get your defences ready!"
Hangar Bays, Cruiser Ashleigh, Jannron System
Colonel Moore looked out over the hundred-fifty assembled troops, dressed in the black armoured combat suits Rogue Squadron teams were all equipped with and allowed himself a smile. These troops were the best. "Okay sentients!" he shouted. "Get you your assigned transports!"
"Hey!" A voice carrying the accent of the Earth nation Rogue Squadron had been stationed in shouted across the busy, cold hangar. "Which one do we get on?"
Moore turned and grinned as Colonel Jack O'Neill stormed across the bay towards him, flanked by SG-1 and what looked like two other Earth teams. "We saved your asses down there last time, we're gonna finish the job."
"Glad to have you with us, Jack," Moore said. "I'll shuffle the teams about to make room for you…"
"No need." Another group of humans pushed their way through the Earth teams, dressed not in green fatigues, but the same black armour as the New Republic squads. Cat Craig stood at the front of them, Mike Burn to the left of her, Ash Morgan and Amaya Karrde behind them, all carrying blaster rifles, apart from Ash, who held the staff weapon she'd appropriated on their escape from Jannron. "They'll fit in Twilight."
Moore sighed. "I should've known you wouldn't stay put up here."
"When you're a starfighter ace with multiple campaigns, dozens of missions and hundreds of kills to your name, you can fly." Mike turned around to look at his co-pilot and stuck his tongue out.
"It's my ship." Cat returned the gesture.
Mike turned back to the controls and cut in the repulsorlifts, bringing the Corellian freighter to a halt just above the treetops. Slowly dialling the power down, he drifted down into the small clearing they'd targeting to land in. He grinned at the startled yelp Cat let out as he suddenly pulled the nose up, pointing the main engines down at the ground. He spun the ship round in a few circles, the output of the engines blasting away shrubs and small trees, and illuminating everything. He tapped the comlink on his headset. "Ash, check out the ground, shoot anything that moves."
"Few Ja'ffa on the ground. Looks like they were waiting for us," Ash replied from the lower gun turret, then began blasting away with quad laser cannons. "That's got 'em."
"Very clever," Cat said. "That's why you're Intelligence then?"
"No, that's why I was a pilot," Mike laughed. "I transferred to Intel to bring a bit of common sense to the lot."
"You? Common sense?" Moore laughed from the comm station just behind the cockpit. "Good one." He flicked the comm on. "All teams disembark, we're going in!"
Forests of Jannron
Trees exploded into flaming splinters all around them, bullets, blaster bolts and energy blasts tearing them apart, causing the air to glow a faint red in their goggles. Major Conwy lay low against the dirt, his blaster rifle propped up against a rotting log, firing continuously into the rapidly advancing Ja'ffa and stormtroopers. Next to him, Earth's Colonel O'Neill fired surgically with his primitive projectile weapon, drilling into body armour with metal bullets.
"They're bringing a cannon out!" O'Neill shouted as the Ja'ffa rolled out what appeared to be a far larger version of a staff weapon.
"I'm on it." A furred Gotal commando, his natural infrared sensing abilities removing the need for goggles, dropped down beside them and rolled a proton grenade across the ground, landing it at the foot of the cannon. The explosive promptly detonated, the heat temporarily overloading their goggles.
Suddenly, something crashed through the forest towards them, spitting blaster bolts across the terrain. Though only visible as a blurred green patch against the fainter trees, the outline was instantly recognisable to Republic troops.
"Scout walkers!" Conwy screamed. "Fall back! Fall back!"
Three AT-STs chased the Republic and Earth soldiers as they scrambled through the dark, trying desperately to stay ahead of the walker's cannons. Conwy glanced back just it time to see something swoop down from the sky, firing a few quad blasts into the lead walker's head and reducing it to slag. A further three swooped down, blasting away at the last two, leaving behind three wreckages and the distinctive drive-trails of X-wings.
"Gentlemen, the cavalry has arrived."
Led by Moore, Cat, Mike, Ash and Amaya charged down the same slope they had weeks ago, towards the towering ziggurat at the bottom, surrounded by the ruined landing fields that mission had destroyed. The main assault through the forests had distracted the Goa'uld and remaining Imperial troops away from the bastion itself, allowing this small team to sneak in undetected.
"Here," Mike said, consulting the computer wrapped around his wrist and drawing a rough circle in the dirt with his foot. "That's where the transporter will be if it exists."
"What if it's not?"
"Our analysts and simulators get stationed on Hoth," Mike said, stepping into the circle. The rest of the team followed him, forming a ring around the edge of the circle, facing outwards, weapons ready.
As it happened, the transport rings were there.
* * * * *
As the transport rings retreated back into the roof, without the normal deafening noise, and the flash of light receded, it was Moore who opened fire first. The others spun quickly, seeing no targets in the direction they faced, and they too opened fire on the half dozen stormtroopers gathered in the area in front of them.
The Imperial troops, trained to walk straight into danger, did just that. They charged forward recklessly, trying to swarm the five sudden invaders, most of them being cut down in the process.
"We've got to get through them!" Moore shouted.
Commander Glantry Fett, leader of Nova Squadron, swooped his B-wing down towards the towering bastion, arming his torpedoes and pulling up the building's profile on his targeting computer.
"Okay people, the aim here is to distract, not flatten," he reminded. "We need to get our people in and out before we blow the place."
Within five minutes, only a single stormtrooper stood before them, arms held up in surrender. Moore kept his weapon trained on the Imperial regardless. "Stormtroopers don't surrender," he said.
"And here I thought you'd be pleased to see me." The voice, though filtered through the helmet, was familiar. Then the trooper reached up and slowly pulled off his white helmet, revealing even more familiar features.
Nick Fel. Beaten, bruised and unkempt, but otherwise alive and—judging from the fact that he was wearing stormtrooper armour that certainly wasn't his—kicking. "I'm Luke Skywalker, I'm here to rescue you!"
"Shut up, Nick."
Glantry pulled his trigger and sent a single proton torpedo blasting away from his fighter on a trail of blue energy, and watched it smash against the side of the castle, vaporising cubic-meter chunks of dense black rock.
"This is Moore to all units, we are out of the bastion and heading up the perimeter," a familiar voice crackled through his comm. "Level it. Repeat, level the bastion."
"You heard the Colonel," Glantry said, arming two torpedoes. "Let's do this!"
Forests of Jannron
The team dashed through shrubs and between trees, diving over the wreckage of Imperial and Goa'uld vehicles and soldiers, and plenty of Republic and Earth troops too. Burning debris smouldered, dull patches of colour in their goggles.
"Hold it!" The team froze on hearing the snapped command and dropped into defensive positions. All around them, beings rose up out of hiding places, surrounding them with a ring of armed blasters. "Conwy here. That you boss?"
"That it is," Nick said, smiling slightly.
"Nice to see you, sir." Conwy moved forward, snapping off a salute to his commander. Jack O'Neill approached from behind, giving him a quick slap on the back.
"Told you he'd be alive, didn't I, Teal'c?"
"You said no such thing, O'Neill," the Ja'ffa goliath said, deadpan as always.
A Wookiee commando roared something and pointed frantically to his sensor pack. "Ja'ffa incoming," his Mon Calamari colleague translated.
"Back to the ships!" Moore shouted, sending the teams rushing off back towards their landing sites.
Nick, his rescuers and SG-1 reached Twilight first, their landing site being a little closer than that of the other teams. Nick had stripped off his armour down to the black body-suit, followed Mike into the cockpit, and charged up the repulsors before the boarding ramp had even been closed. He lifted the ship up and engaging the engines, blasting them up towards space as fast as the ship could manage.
"I've got a course for Ashleigh locked in."
"Nick, an Impstar Deuce and support vessels have just dropped out of hyperspace above us!"
Nick looked up and swore, "Sithspit." An Imperial-II-class Star Destroyer was the most powerful vessel in common use, the largest and most heavily armed the Empire had short of the Super-class.
"I'm reading a Dreadnaught, two Carracks, a Lancer and a Strike."
In other words, Nick thought, enough to turn Ashleigh into scrap. "We need to get everyone back to the cruiser and get the hell out of here."
"Agreed," Mike said. "TIEs incoming. Eyeballs and Squints. Ash, Amaya? Get into the turrets."
As TIE Fighters and Interceptors swarmed around them, Nick blasted towards Ashleigh like a maniac, diving and twisting between fighters, dodging green laser bolts as their own turrets decimated the Imperial fighters.
"Nick! This isn't an X-wing!" Cat screamed, holding on for dear life as Nick twisted the freighter through dizzying manoeuvres that had the inertial compensators screaming.
"X-wing? You couldn't pull these moves in an X-wing," Mike said, "An A-wing jock'd be proud of these stunts! Have you been talking to Han Solo?"
Mike ducked automatically as a fighter almost smashed into the canopy, twisting away at the last moment. "That was a Bright!"
"I saw it," Nick said worriedly. Bright was pilot slang for an Advanced model TIE, such as the 'Avenger' that just buzzed them, which combined the best features of an Interceptor and an X-wing. They got Republic pilots quite worried.
"Something for Intel to do when I get back, I suppose…"
Bridge, Star Destroyer Amalgam
A harsh, regal man, High Admiral Steele stood straight and proud on the bridge of his flagship, hands clasped behind his back, frowning intently up at a holographic battle map, deep in concentration.
Colonel Malphus, having just been escorted up from the surface in a shuttle with half a wing of TIE Fighters following to defend it, stepped quietly and carefully onto the bridge, strolling down the command deck, his boots making a rhythmic clicking on the metal floor.
"Thank you for your assistance, My Lord," he said, dropping to one knee.
Steele didn't look round, or even take his eyes off the map. "You're welcome. Next time, don't let your palace get bombed to the ground," he said icily.
"Of course, My Lord."
"If you do, then I'm sure there are plenty of Goa'uld in need of a host."
Malphus gulped, trying his hardest not to scratch the side of his neck. "Are we not engaging the rebel cruiser, sir?"
"No, we won't catch it before it escapes," Steele observed. "The B-wing squadron is home already and the X-wings and A-wings are escorting the landing craft… they'll be home momentarily."
"Shall I send bomber squadrons after the cruiser?"
"No, but have the TIEs try to take out those Sentinels."
"It shall be done."
"Helm," Steele ordered, "set a course for Arrow Base. I want to review the progress of Project Executor."
Bridge, Cruiser Ashleigh
From the ring of command seats around a tactical map, Nick, Cat, Mike, Moore and Ash watched the progress of the battle going on towards the planet, while Amaya snapped out orders to her crew from the captain's chair.
The three landing craft drifted slowly across the monitor, as smaller symbols representing starfighters whirled around them, red Imperial icons disappearing as the hardier green Republic icons blasted them down. Without warning, one of the tiny landing craft winked out, vanishing from the screen as an Imperial symbol flew through the space it had previously occupied, only to be blasted away by an A-wing moments later.
Moore growled and lashed out, punching a metal panel so hard he left a fist-shaped dent in it. "Some fifty troops dead."
"And two pilots, and three gunners," Nick added.
"The last two landing craft are in the bay," someone announced. "Starfighters are entering hangars."
Amaya stood up and looked down into the crew pit. "Helm, do we have our escape vector?"
The cruiser accelerated and vanished into the swirling mysteries of hyperspace, leaving behind a smoking ruin of a bastion illuminated by the first feeble rays of a dawn that would melt into dusk too quickly, and an Imperial flotilla, drifting silently through the vacuum.
Communications Room, Rogue Squadron Headquarters, Cheyenne Mountain Facility
"All tests came out negative, sir," Nick said to the blue holographic form of Admiral Hiram Drayson. "No signs of neural damage, no remaining toxins, no symbiotes or Zartarc programming."
"Good, I trust you'll be back on your feet in no time."
"Of course. Pass on my best wishes to Admiral Ackbar, sir."
Drayson nodded. "Will do, Fel. May the Force be with you."
The hologram flicked away, leaving Nick alone in the darkened room.
As Nick entered the spacious lounge, the entire command team was there, all out of uniform, wearing Earth clothing, as was SG-1—Teal'c looking thoroughly ridiculous with a bandanna covering the branding on his head.
"Word on our Imperial friends, Nick," Mike said, lying on a couch practically asleep. "A search on readings from the Impstar identified her as Amalgam."
"There's a name I recognise."
"Last seen in the possession of one Vice-Admiral Gar Steele when he went rogue with the Eighth Fleet after Endor." Nobody needed telling that was the very same fleet Nick and Mike had defected from after Alderaan's destruction.
"A warlord with an entire fleet… so there's a lot more than a single Impstar."
"Afraid so, Nick," Cat said.
"I'll talk to Drayson about reinforcements right—"
"Oh no you don't!" O'Neill interrupted. "We're treating you all to a meal at O'Malley's."
Nick grinned. "Okay, so maybe later. I'll go get changed."
"Don't step on any transporters on the way!" Cat called.
Moore laughed. "Only you could accidentally step on a new silent transport ring system and get taken underground and captured."
"That's not true!" Nick protested. "Mike could've…"
The group laughed the day's tension away, spending a precious few hours as friends, not soldiers, the war against the Empire and the Goa'uld, at least momentarily, forgotten.