Decoys -- Alliance short story
My client’s little cabin is filled with junk. Torn apart droids and computer systems litter the place. One bulkhead houses a bed, complete with hydrating bath. The other holds a countertop and kitchen unit. Between the two sits a table that is actually just a slab extended out from the wall. This table could be retracted to give the room a little more space, if not for the junk covering it too. Two plastiform chairs sit on either side of it.
The room’s sole occupant, a Mon Calamari with salmon and brown-mottled skin, welcomes me with a gesture indicating the chairs. “Allgré, I presume?” I ask, extending my hand towards him. He takes it and shakes once. “My name is Goob Nonood, I have been appointed as your legal counsel.”
“Good to meet you,” he says as we take our seats. “Were you in the Mon Calamari system already?”
“No, I was shuttled out to the shipyards this morning to take care of all this.” I reply.
“I apologize if this is any inconvenience to you,” he says.
“No inconvenience at all. In fact, it will be a pleasure to get to use my legal skills again.” I decide to cut the pleasantries short…it’s a straight-to-the-point trait common in all Ishi Tib, and I take advantage of the stereotype whenever I can. “So you’re the designer for the weapon systems on a new line of starfighters?”
“One of the designers, yes, though the B-Wing is more a mobile weapon platform than starfighter proper.” I can hear the pride in his voice. “The logistics of the weapon systems involved are extremely intricate.”
“And somehow you are also a reserve starfighter pilot?”
“It’s not as big a stretch as it sounds.” Allgré heaves himself out of his chair, walks across the room towards a half-torn down computer core. “We based the B-Wing’s systems on the old Y-Wing model, and to do that I had to basically learn them inside out. I take the role of gunner in any mission Egghead Squadron flies.”
“I’m sorry…Egghead Squadron?”
“It was our little name for ourselves…officially Mon Calamari Shipyards Tactical Defense Reserve Squadron…but we were all of us techs and engineers by profession, so…”
I nod and check my datapad. “You are accused of dereliction of duty and treason. Do you want to tell me what happened?”
“I’m sure you have the report,” He says acidly, and he’s right. I have read the report form the prosecutor, a Dresselian named Fortimartaan. “What happened was the deaths of my friends for no good reason.” He stares at me, eyes unblinking. “Why are you with the Alliance, Goob Nonood?”
The question catches me off guard. “Excuse me?” I ask…more as a stalling tactic than because of poor hearing.
Allgré swivels his salmon-colored head to look at me solely with his left eye. “The Ishori system was only recently put under direct Imperial stewardship. Most Ishi Tib are still fairly neutral as far as the civil war goes. So what’s your story?”
This is probably a trust issue. Fine, I can play that way. If my new client wants to hear how good a being I am, how noble my soul is, before sharing his own transgressions, I am more than willing to oblige. As a lawyer, I’ve become very good at telling stories and winning sympathies. “I was a public defender on Ishori…with a perfect record in fact. I had no interest at all in the civil war going on, right up until the day I went to work to find my office confiscated by the new Imperial Governor and his staff. It was then that I realized the Empire could only continue to subjugate us so long as the good beings of the galaxy stood by and did nothing.”
The Mon Cal blinks in appreciation. “That is…a very enlightened viewpoint.”
I shrug off his compliment uncomfortably. “It is to my shame that it took me losing everything I had before I came to such a noble epiphany. And you? How did Allgré come to the Alliance?”
“Much like you,” Allgré states flatly. “The Empire attempted a governorship here as well, but the lack of a planet-wide government unraveled their attempts. As you well know, Mon Calamari is one of the few systems still in open revolt to the Empire. But it’s no longer the days of the Clone Wars…the Emperor has for the most part left us alone. It has made my generation a little paranoid, waiting for the other paddle to strike. As a result, we have begun to prepare for the eventual battle for our rights as sentient beings.”
Okay, I’ve entertained him long enough. Time to get back to the issue at hand. “And how does this relate to your treason?”
“Because, quite simply, the Alliance has already failed us. We were sent out there needlessly, to die so that a human-piloted vessel could escape.”
“And you’re saying that you were ordered out there because the pilot was a human?”
“Yes. We are being used as pawns in a battle of wills between two warring groups of humans, neither of whom have any regard for the other races of the galaxy.”
“Surely you’re wrong. The Emperor’s xenophobia is well-documented and accepted, but I haven’t heard anything of the sort about the Alliance.”
“The devil is in the details, Goob.” He pounds his flippery fist against the wall. “Look at our supposed heroes…like Luke Skywalker. Why in the worlds is a human teenager—with even less formal training than me in a starfighter—held up as the epitome of courage and justice?”
“Don’t you think blowing up the Death Star single-handedly might have something to do with it?”
He chuckles lowly. “I don’t put much faith in the “single-shot” theory.”
“That Skywalker was able to get a single proton torpedo into a two-meter wide opening at a precise ninety-degree angle while coming towards it from a five-degree firing solution. That would require the torpedo to do an eighty-five degree turn…and even if that were possible, it would have to happen at the exact point in space that would allow it to then continue down a two meter wide, two hundred kilometer long shaft into the reactor core. Oh, and all this without his targeting system activated. And did I mention it happened a split-second before the Death Star was about to fire its primary weapon in to Yavin IV? It makes for compelling drama, but no, that’s not what happened.”
I have never heard anything like this before. I accepted the story at face value and moved on. “And the truth is..?”
“The Death Star had supposedly only been successfully fired once—the Alderaan shot. We only have one eyewitness to that, and Princess Leia’s testimony is questionable since she was being interrogated under threat of using the Death Star against her people. Who knows how many Imperial Cruisers were positioned just out of her view to make sure the destruction of the planet was successful. Nevertheless, granting it did work the first time, this second time something malfunctioned and it blew itself up. Skywalker might have actually managed to get his shot off and get clear, but he didn’t cause the explosion. It’s much more likely than the official story, and easier to digest.”
“But either way the end result is the same,” I say as I mull over the evidence. It isn’t completely unlikely. “The Empire has egg on their face. So why rewrite it to give Skywalker the credit?”
“Because he’s human,” Allgré states matter-of-factly. “It plays into the humans’ campaign against us, brother. Against all nonhuman species. Same with Princess Leia. And Han Solo, Wedge Antilles…”
“But why? What’s the point?”
“Because they think they’re better than the rest of us. They give us these stories that feature a bunch of humans glorified beyond the scope of all reality and forced down our throats by Alliance leaders as the only ones of us who really matter. We are meant to rationalize throwing our lives away because they are so much better than us.”
His words stick in my head. If it’s not madness, it is a chilling reality. “Do you have any proof?”
“Look at Yavin base for a moment, and tell me why there were no nonhumans there at all. Or tell me why no nonhumans are at Echo Base now?”
“You can’t know that. Details about Echo Base are a closely-guarded secret,” I say.
Allgré slips back across the room and leans across the table conspiratorially. “Well, in the strictest of confidentiality I can tell you it is located in the Hoth system,” he says. “I know this because my engineering partner for a good many years, who happens to be human, was recruited to go there to help with their heating systems. But when he asked if I could go too he was denied. No aliens allowed.”
Aliens. His lip curls over the word, and even I cringe to hear it. The very term implies human superiority, as if any other species is somehow of a secondary class. Most enlightened humans strive to keep the word out of pleasant multispecies conversation…but we all know that is how they refer to us in a humans-only situation. The Empire makes no secret of it, either.
I flip through my notes looking for one more piece of data. “The ship your squadron was sent to free from an Imperial blockade was running out of Echo Base, wasn’t it?”
“Of course. They will do anything to protect themselves, and give no thought to the nonhuman casualties suffered.”
I find that a little hard to swallow. “I don’t know that any of that constitutes proof, but you’ve given me a lot to think about, Allgré. I thank you for your time.”
I stand to leave and Allgré moves to walk me out, laughing morbidly. “No charge. My schedule is easy to clear these days.” He gestures towards the door to his quarters and the two armed guard-droids there.
~ ~ ~
I go back to the cabin I’ve been instructed to use as an office on board the Quasar Pearl and shut the door behind me. Allgré’s comments are bothering me, and I can’t figure out why. Maybe it’s because his heart does seem to be in the right place…even if he has taken his anti-human paranoia over the edge.
I collapse behind my desk and call up the service reports of the so-called Egghead Squadron. The data comes streaming up, accompanied by a soft tootle from my R4 unit, who obviously was powered down.
“Sorry, Geeseven,” I say absently as I pour over the aptitudes of the squadron. None of these guys—twenty Mon Cals and four Quarren—scored better than average on any of their piloting tests. None of them has completed a simulator mission…they’ve all been shot down by the computer. They seem more like a volunteer fire brigade than a fighter group. The thought of sending these guys up against an Imperial blockade…
“Geeseven, play those flight logs Fortimartaan gave me.” I lean back in my chair and shut my eyes, the better to listen to the recorded transmissions from Allgré’s ill-fated final mission.
The room fills with static and the sounds of multiple whining engines. Voices shout out. “There’s another one, Egg-Nine!” “Watch it, watch it, Three!” “Wait, I’ve got him!” “Weapons malfunction, I need some help here!” Then there’s a loud explosion that cuts suddenly short—one of the Y-Wings getting blasted to atoms. It’s pure chaos; after having looked at their aptitudes I can only imagine what those poor kids were going through up there.
A voice cuts in that is instantly recognizable by way of its Correllian accent and the gallons of cockiness oozing out. “Alliance squadron, this is the Falcon. I still need time, I…what’s that, Chewie? No, no, the aft power lines are crossed…Just hold them off ‘til we can make the jump...”
“Captain Solo,” One of the Mon Cal pilots replies. Records indicate it would be Jubiim on Egg-Two, where Allgré was serving as the gunner. “I don’t know how much longer we can hold our line together. We’ve taken a lot of damage and lost four fighters so far…”
“Lissen, pal, I’ve got some priority-one intel and personnel aboard the Falcon. Orders from Rieekan say I can’t let ‘em fall into Imperial hands, and I’m not gonna let this crate get blasted out from under me. Just stall them a few more seconds…”
“Egg-Five, break to port!” That was Allgré, shouting out over Solo’s irritated response. Another loud explosion, followed by Allgré’s cry of: “No!” Checking the logs, I see that Five was lost during the battle. In total, eight of the twelve Y-Wings comprising Egghead Squadron were lost that day, and none of those crews were recovered.
“I’ve got it, I’ve got it,” Solo’s voice crows over the comm. An obvious roaring sound can be heard over all channels, as the Millennium Falcon’s powerful sublight drives kick in to rocket it through the battle zone and onto its hyperdrive vector. “Thanks for the help, friends. We’ll see you on the—”
“No!” Allgré shouts again, and the sounds of his turret firing intermingle with the desperation in his voice. I have to replay it three times to make out the end of his exclamation: “You can’t just leave us—!”
“Hey!” Solo shouts. “Watch it! You got me with that one!” I check the archived data from the R5 unit onboard Egg-Two. The only ship painted by Allgré’s targeting system at the time was the Millennium Falcon—there were no TIEs or Cruisers in range. Whatever Allgré was doing, it had to have been intentional, though probably not premeditated. I mark it down in my notes.
Egg-Two says, “Alright boys, now it’s our turn to get out of here. Close up and make your jump as soon as you can.” I realize absently that Egg Leader must have been one of the casualties. Checking the data, I see that I’m right.
I turn the recording off. There’s no point listening to the rest again and hearing those last three fighters get pulverized as they scramble to escape. I run my hands over my eyestalks and try to figure out what to do. As long as this case hangs by Allgré’s actions, he’s sunk. There’s no way I can make it seem like he wasn’t trying to hit the Falcon. But now that I’ve talked to Allgré, I can almost begin to see his point. Those Eggheads should have never been out there in the first place. I’m going to have to take on the Alliance Command if I want to win this one.
Thinking about Allgré, and those pilots we lost out there, I want to win this one.
~ ~ ~
By comparison to my temporary quarters, Fortimartaan’s office on board the nearly-completed Mon Cal flagship Home One is lavish to the point of the absurd. “Thanks for meeting with me,” I say, shaking the wrinkled hand of the Dresselian. “Are these going to be your permanent offices?”
“Yes, once the Home One is fully commissioned. Do you like the wood? One hundred percent Tiiqwood, native to Dressel.” He waves behind him grandly. The sweet aroma of the wood acts on an almost primitive level of my brain—On Ishori, the meanest predators lived in the deep parts of the hardwood forest. My beach-living race has a healthy fear of such places. He gestures for me to have a seat and settles himself into the lavishly worked chair behind his desk. I notice he doesn’t have a visible computer terminal in here at all, or room in his décor to accommodate one. “Now, your message said you’ve settled on a defense..?”
I take a deep breath. “I have.” His bulbous yellow eyes narrow expectantly. “Innocent.”
“Innocent?” He repeats, incredulous.
“By means of the, ah, the countersuit of reckless endangerment I am bringing against Allgré’s superiors.”
I think I hear Fortimartaan’s knees bump the underside of his desk hard, as if he just barely stifled the impulse to jump to his feet. He says, “You can’t be serious.” His manner has gone instantly cold. I’m back on Ishori too many miles from my shoal, and he’s growling in his tree-knot. “You believe his anti-alien conspiracy theories?”
“What I believe isn’t important,” I reply. “What Allgré believes is. The court will decide how accurate his theory is. My droid will be sending you the proper documents.” If, I mentally add, you have a terminal to receive them on, that is.
“You know,” Fortimartaan grumbles, “I will be in need of good counselors for my legal team once I get this office established. I was looking over your briefs and you seem very good, Nonood. Let this all go and I’ll be more inclined to…”
It’s a trait of my race that I can’t hide my surprise. My eyes goggle like a Gungan’s at his suggestion, and my beak clicks a few times before I regain my composure. “Fortimartaan, I hope you understand I couldn’t do that. Allgré’s legal rights must be respected here.” If he’s resorting to these tactics, perhaps this beach scavenger has the drop on the predator after all. “I will see you at the trial, good sir.”
~ ~ ~
I don’t get much sleep that night on the Quasar Pearl. After I finally put the case histories away and settle down, the ship suddenly loses all artificial gravity and I wind up having to get back up to lash my things down to the deck manually. The rest of the night I jump awake at every little sound.
In the morning it is off to see Captain Ackbar, the Mon Cal ranking officer in this sector, and the one that will be overseeing the case…or at least this phase of it. I find him in the Ops center of the shipyard’s main station. There’s a huge elliptical viewport to one side of the room, and for the first time I get a real sense of the scale of what’s going on here in the Calamari system. I can see the other space station-sized processing plants, spoked wheels in the midst of steady streams of off-loading bulk cruisers. Dozens of older warships—Dreadnoughts, Corvettes, Star Galleons and the like—hang from docking structures so spindly they practically disappear around the big ships; all being refitted for service in the Alliance.
And dwarfing all of these, impressive as they are, sit eight Mon Cal Cruisers—the Quasar and Home One among them—visible in various stages of construction.
“It’s a fleet,” I mutter to myself, surprised to be realizing such a fact out here. In that instant, I suddenly understand Fortimartaan’s bravado from yesterday. I will never again be able to think of the Alliance to Restore the Republic as merely tidal foam raised by the evil currents in the Empire, tossed out of the water but ineffectual. Maybe we are a force in and of ourselves, an undertow as strong as anything the Empire can dish out.
“The same basic design our starliners have followed for a century…yet incorporating the newest advances in droid-controlled cyberbrain technology.” A gravelly voice says over my shoulder. My eyes goggle in surprise. I turn to face Ackbar, who stands behind me with his chin cupped in his flippery hand thoughtfully. “And also incorporating an advanced weaponry system.” He gestures for me to follow him and we turn from the viewport. “Impressive, aren’t they?”
“Indeed,” I say. “How long until they’re up and running?”
“We’re still a few months from completion of the Cruisers, but most of the smaller capital ships are nearly finished being refitted. Time is truly of the essence here, the Empire has so far let us our shipyard go unchecked, but that could change anytime.”
The Mon Cal are theoretically pacifists. It must cost them a lot of anguish to turn their artistic ships into engines of destruction. “It will be quite a shock to whichever Star Destroyer captain is the first to be fired upon by one of your beautiful creations.”
“Hmph.” Ackbar considers my joke. “I suspect we will be able to pull that stunt off more than once. I don’t plan on those captains escaping once they’ve been fired upon.”
His is a military mind, no matter how pacifistic his people are supposed to be. Very well then, I’ll just cut right to the point. “We need to talk about Egghead Squadron.”
“Yes, I suppose we do.” Ackbar guides me into his office and closes the door behind us. “Fortimartaan wants to make an example of Allgré. He wants the chain of command respected, and he is willing to make waves to see it happen.”
“Allgré is afraid the Alliance has become just as corrupt as the Empire. The lives of Egghead Squadron were put at stake to allow one freighter to escape an Imperial blockade. A freighter with loose ties to us at best.”
“I know full well.” Ackbar grumbles. “I’m the one who issued the order to get the Defense Reserve Squadron into hyperspace. Captain Solo required the assistance. Those pilots knew they might be called…”
“You say pilots, but their training barely ranks them as more than cadets.”
He waves away my interjection. “Might be called for duty to defend this station or other interests of the Alliance in the sector. Which is exactly what they did.”
“For whose benefit?”
Ackbar heaves himself in what must be an attempt to replicate a human sigh. If anything, it underscores the point I’m tying to make that our common language is filled with visual cues alien to both of us. “For the Alliance. It doesn’t matter that Captain Solo is a human, not to our cause. His ship had a priority-one classification, and more importantly it operates out of Echo Base. It could not be allowed to be followed by any Imperial ships.” Echo Base is the most important secret the Alliance has at this point, and as far as I can tell it really does have an entirely human staff. Another coincidence that just seems too handy in light of Allgré’s accusations. “If the Home One had been ready, I would have thrown it up against that Imperial blockade instead.”
I snort. “And it would have stood a better chance.”
“You seem quick to overlook the fact that your Eggheads did indeed succeed in their mission. They freed the Millennium Falcon from the blockade and diffused the situation.”
“At what cost? I’m sorry Captain, but the priority-one status of the Millennium Falcon is in question here. It is the sincere belief of my client—and quite frankly I’m becoming more convinced of it myself—that the humans of the Alliance are biased against the rest of us. If these actions are left unchecked and allowed to mature, every human in the Alliance will assume priority-one status while the rest of us are turned into mere cannon fodder.”
Ackbar swivels to stare at me with his left eye—the mark of bare honesty among the Mon Cal. It has come down to this. “Yes, yes, I’ve heard it from the source already. Is there anything other than circumstantial evidence for this alleged conspiracy? Holovids of xenophobic meetings or copies of group manifestos?”
“I’m not even alleging the bias is a conscious one.” I say. “But if it exists, for whatever reason, then it is in the best interests of us all to bring it to light as swiftly and finally as possible. Before we have to wage another rebellion against those we once considered allies. All we want is to have these concerns seriously addressed by the Alliance.”
“Then, as you say, I can not rule on this matter.” Ackbar stands and looks out the viewport. “Let’s bypass the formality of a hearing for me to pass this up the chain of command. In two days time, Mon Mothma will be arriving at this facility. Would it be acceptable to you and your client to present the case to her, and live by her ruling?”
I consider for a moment. Mon Mothma is nominally the head of Alliance Intelligence, but the truth of the matter is she is the de-facto leader of the entire rebellion. It is her gentle spirit and unswerving dedication to freedom for all that have held the Alliance together. If I wanted to take this to the top, there is no higher I could go.
She is also human.
“Of course,” I agree. “That would be ideal.”
~ ~ ~
“What do you mean, Mon Mothma is coming here?” Allgré is pacing his quarters frantically. He steps on a half taken apart MSE droid on the floor, spilling its computer chip guts everywhere.
“It’s your chance to air exactly what you need to,” I explain to him. “Relax. Listen, I thought you’d be more…enthusiastic about the news.”
“She’s not going to acknowledge what’s going on, Goob. She’s the head human.” Allgré nearly shouts.
“I came to this system dreading my luck on having to defend a cracked-up fighter gunner espousing paranoid conspiracy theories,” I tell him frankly. “What I’ve found is a clear-thinking young Mon Cal with a very scary, but well-founded, view of where the Alliance may be headed. Don’t undermine your credibility with conspiracies now, Allgré. Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, and Garm Bel Iblis—humans, all—were standing up to the Empire before it ever became so in name. Two of them have died in the service of restoring democracy. I find Mon Mothma above reproach.”
“You’re my legal counsel. You work for me, and you’ll do as I instruct!”
“My duty is to defend you on the charges brought against you, but my first duty is to maintain the principles of this Alliance we have all worked so hard for. In your anger and frustration, you did open fire on a friendly ship. You ought to be ready to face the consequences for that action. I will do what I can to explain the mitigating circumstances, and you will never find a more compassionate judge than Mon Mothma.”
Allgré sags back into his chair. My rebuff about his actions obviously did its job. “I’m sorry. You’re right.” He looks up at me dejectedly. “Do you think anything will change?”
“My sincerest hope is that we are seeing shadows, that there’s nothing to change.” I pat him on the shoulder in the human gesture of support. “But I know what you’ve realized—and brought me to believe—seems too pervasive to be a mere illusion…and I fear Mon Mothma has not been able to see it with her own eyes. She will listen to us, and see the danger.” I want to add I hope to that, but Allgré doesn’t need to hear any level of uncertainty.
“What now, then?”
“According to Ackbar she arrives in two days,” I explain. “I need to figure out how deep this goes, and put a case together so that she sees the danger clearly.”
“Thank you, Goob,” Allgré says as I stand to leave. “I am ready to take my punishment, if it means the playing field will be leveled again. I accept it as a part of my duty to the freedom of all, now.”
“You are very courageous,” I say. “I’ll do what I can for you, too. Trust me.”
~ ~ ~
I spend the next two days accessing records aboard Home One. It’s not as easy as it sounds…as a clandestine organization there really is no good reason to have a central database of Alliance operations. But it’s not exactly exciting enough to describe at length, either. Suffice it to say, after a lot of searching I came away with much too much that pointed towards this conspiracy of Allgré’s being much wider spread than he could know about…which makes it even more unlikely to be something only he and I have noticed. With more time, I may have even been able to ascertain who was pulling the strings to earn humans favor while the rest of us became so subordinate, but I simply didn’t have it.
And Fortimartaan wasn’t exactly helpful, either. As big a ship as it is, Home One is still under construction, and most of the foot traffic has to travel along one central corridor to access the completed sections. I ran into the Dresselian there three times; the first two elicited only an angry scowl as we passed in opposite directions, while the third found us heading the same way for five hundred meters or so.
“You are setting a dangerous precedent, Nonood. You do realize the can of space slugs you’re unleashing here?”
I shrug. “There is a grand Republic history of validating the powers of the military, lest it be abused. I am just following in those lines.”
Fortimartaan [censored] up his fists in barely-controlled rage. “You are threatening the integrity of the laws of the Alliance. When your client went against the chain of command, he undermined any ability this organization might hope to hold.”
“You know, you’re right,” I say. “At this stage of the game, the Alliance is nothing more than a loosely confederated military…a group of intersystem militias and pirate gangs dressed up by higher ideals and parading themselves around as an alternative government to the Empire.”
I turn as if to walk away, then just as quickly turn back to face the Dresselian and continue. This speech has been a long time coming, I might as well give him all of it. “But we have no real government here. In fact, as I’ve researched my case I’ve come to realize one of the best defenses we have against the Empire is to remain as loosely assembled as we can. Which brings me to you.”
“What about me?” He asks, moving right up into my personal space.
“The office you hope to set up is pure fraud. The Alliance has no need for any sort of state prosecutor…at its most innocent it is utter vanity on your part. At its worst, it is a connecting pin that could be used against us by the Empire.”
A handful of techs have begun watching the confrontation. Fortimartaan scowls at them, then lowers his voice into a low growl. “As an alternative to the Empire, we need to showcase our ideals. Show the common man how we are different. We do that through the just rule of law. And here we stand in the midst of a legal dispute. Why, your current occupation contradicts your claim.”
I click my beak. “I am serving in a purely military-advocate capacity. I am serving this paramilitary to the best of my abilities, even as Allgré and Egghead Squadron do in their double duty as ad-hoc fighter pilots. But what you plan is wholly different, and quite frankly against the very grain of the Alliance’s ideals.”
My hearts are beating faster with the pure form of argument here, so like what I used to get to do for a living. Such a visceral feeling, I am surprised how much I am enjoying this. “You are not here because you believe in the ideals of the Alliance, you are here because you wish to place yourself above your peers. You aren’t seeking equality for all, you are seeking your own aggrandizement. I intend to destroy you in the courtroom, and ruin your chance to continue to profit off the Alliance.”
“Do your worst, Starfish,” he uses the slang term for my species as an insult, but it’s effect is diminished. I have beaten him here, I will do so again in two days.
~ ~ ~
The morning of the trial, Geeseven and I collect Allgré from his confinement in quarters and—along with two Quarren guards—we make our way to the Home One stateroom serving as our court. Already there we find Captain Ackbar, a couple of his aides, Mon Mothma and her attendants, and Fortimartaan and his lackey. Allgré keeps his eyes down, but I meet each one’s gaze cordially.
“I apologize if I was holding anything up,” I say, trying not to come from a place of inferiority but rather respect. “I thought the appointed time—”
“I asked Mon Mothma and Captain Ackbar to meet with me prior to the hearing, Nonood,” Fortimartaan interrupts brusquely. “To discuss my questions of your competence.”
Allgré shoots me a look of sudden concern and even Geeseven bleeps in surprise. I raise my hand to them as a sign of calm. It’s a common enough tactic among desperate litigators. “I see. And the conclusion reached was..?”
Mon Mothma turns a steely gaze in the Dresselian’s direction “I informed Fortimartaan that I was well aware of your charges and had come to hear them out. Indeed, let’s get started shall we?”
With that it begins. Ackbar, Mon Mothma and I link the systems of our droids and various recording devices in the room, as well as providing a feed to the Home One’s central computer core to store the proceedings holographically. The whole affair is very high-tech, which I relish all the more today because I can tell it makes Fortimartaan more than a bit uncomfortable.
Ackbar surveys everyone, and then clears his gravelly throat. “On the first count from the offense, charging Lieutenant Allgré with dereliction of duty in the first degree, how does the defendant plea.”
Allgré looks at me and nods. This was the hardest part for the young man, I know. “My client pleads guilty to the first charge.” I say. After our talk the other night, I hadn’t broached the subject. It had been Allgré, hours later, who came to me with the change of plea.
Fortimartaan is taken by surprise. Clearly he wasn’t expecting that. He begins to shuffle his notes—hardcopies on flimsy, all—and taps his foot angrily. “The prosecution recommends sentencing on the first count after all charges are handled.”
“Noted. And the second charge of treason?” Ackbar growls the last word.
“Not guilty, by reason of the countersuit of reckless endangerment against the Alliance in general and, ah, Captain Ackbar in specific.”
“Very well,” Ackbar blinks slowly, as if steadying himself. “Then it is my duty to turn this hearing over to Intelligence Chief Mon Mothma.” He gestures to the human woman.
“Yes, then Mr. Nonood, if you would please—”
Just then, Ackbar’s R3 droid tootles a polite interruption. Our judges at their bench look down to their viewscreens in unison. I can see the color suddenly draining from Ackbar’s face, but Mon Mothma is impossible to read.
“Oh dear,” she says, but not as if she has been bothered by anything. Ackbar’s fins are busy gathering up his various datapads and effects from the bench. “I am sorry, but it appears we will have to postpone this hearing indefinitely. A crisis has come up.”
Ackbar is already on his feet and moving towards the doors. I can’t help but take the look he throws towards Fortimartaan, Allgré and I as an accusation of wasting his time at a critical point. Could the system be under attack? He turns back towards Mon Mothma and says, “The Tactical Command Center is four levels up…”
“I’ll find it, I’m sure,” she responds kindly. “I know you need to hurry, Captain.” Ackbar nods gruffly and darts out of the door, his R3 beeping a constant stream of data behind him. Once he’s gone, Mon Mothma gives the three of us an evaluating look.
“What’s happening?” Fortimartaan blurts out. “Is the system—?”
“No, not here,” Mon Mothma reassures us. “The Empire has launched a major offensive, though, I think we are finally being forced to pay for our successes in the Yavin system.”
Allgré and I share a look at that. It was, after all, the glamorizing of the Battle of Yavin that led us all here.
“Mr. Allgré, Mr. Fortimartaan, would you be so kind as to take me to the Tactical station Captain Ackbar referred to?”
“Of course,” Allgré says.
“And you should come as well, Mr. Nonood,” Mon Mothma adds. “I think each of you might benefit from accompanying me to the command center and seeing how the events of the day play out.”
~ ~ ~
The four of us—five if you count Geeseven—make for a pretty uncomfortable group as Allgré leads us to through the corridors and lifts to Home One’s Tactical Command Center. The circular room is a gleaming white, with an almost amphitheater arrangement of concentric risers. The upper half of the back wall opens into the ship’s forward bridge, and I can just see the heads of the Mon Cal crewers going about their business up there. In the room’s center is a large circular pit with several umbilicals and cable after cable of bundled wire spewing out. Obviously there will be a tactical display there eventually, but for now it almost looks like a technological sarlacc pit.
Geeseven plugs into a handy computer port at the base of the risers, while Ackbar motions for the rest of us to join him at a data terminal on the second riser up. “Sorry the place is not exactly up-and-running yet, but I ought to be able to get a good enough feed from here to—“ Abruptly a hologram spits out of a projector on the terminal’s front to hover in the space at the center of the room, a schematic of a planetary system with an oblong chunk of the bottom missing. Fortimartaan ducks his head out of the projected cone of light as if in disgust. “Ah,” Ackbar says, “there we are.”
The hologram shows a series of largish orbs painted in muted greens and blues. The space between them is filled with triangular shapes flashing in an angry red. “What system is that?” I ask. Star charts are not exactly my forte.
“Hoth. The Hoth system,” Allgré replies, his voice coming rather breathlessly. At last I understand Mon Mothma’s comments from the courtroom—it looks like a battle is about to unfold over what had been the Alliance’s best-kept secret base.
“Hmph.” Fortimartaan is busy analyzing the display as well. He points towards the flashing triangles. “Would you look at that blockade…there must be a dozen Star Destroyers, plus the picket line…”
“And more on the way,” Ackbar intones, more to Mon Mothma than the rest of us. “Preliminary reports from Josuta indicate fifty capital ships have all but disappeared from their normal patrols. The Hydian Way is practically deserted of an Imperial presence. We are looking at a major offensive.”
Mon Mothma nods her head gravely. “Then it is time to put our plans into motion. Put out the call to all of our capital ships. Alert our friends in the Sullust system to begin their operations.”
Ackbar motions to a nearby crewer, a blue-skinned Mon Cal wearing a comm headset. “Lieutenant, send a message to Shipyard Central: begin Operation Typhoon. Have the main docks disassembled and begin stowing them aboard the Cruisers. Scuttle the rest. All ships are to be fully powered and lightspeed capable within the day.” He looks confidently at Mon Mothma. “We’ll have Home One moving in two hours.”
“Let me guess,” Allgré puts in, “you’re going to scramble to the aid of the Hoth base. You’ll throw an incomplete fleet up against the might of the Empire…”
“We are doing no such thing,” Mon Mothma replies. “Echo Base will have to make it on its own.”
“But we have no capital ships in the Hoth System.” Allgré sputters. He is, of course, the resident expert on the system and its human population. “They’re down to one squadron of starfighters…”
“And the Millennium Falcon, of course, “ I interject dryly.
Allgré waves my comment away. “They can’t fight a battle with a handful of personnel Transports and one tramp freighter. And they certainly can’t hold the planet against that kind of firepower…”
“And no one expects them to,” Mon Mothma says. “But what would you have us do, Allgré? As you say, our ships here are still far from ready for the kind of battle it would take to win Hoth.”
“If you don’t expect them to hold off the Empire, then you are planning to lose the base,” I say, adding the pieces up in my head. Intergalactic warfare shares more than a few strategies with courtroom battles. Even if I don’t get the tacticals, I can still understand the tactics themselves.
“Indeed,” Mon Mothma says, and not without emotion. Her eyes linger on the hologram before she finally turns to Ackbar. “Captain, can you get me a channel to Echo Base?”
Ackbar shakes his head. “Not with all the jamming in their system. They are truly on their own, the most we can do is monitor the situation. Rieekan knows the plan, he’ll do his part.”
The plan. It’s the second time they’ve referred to a plan for the invasion of Hoth. “You knew this was coming, didn’t you?” I ask.
“Of course, it was only a matter of time before the Empire discovered Echo Base’s location.” Mon Mothma turns her attention back to the three of us, her captive audience. “I had hoped we would have another couple of months, but two days ago an Imperial Probe Droid was roaming Hoth before our agents discovered and destroyed it.”
“How the Fleet made the leap in logic from one shield generator in a meteor-heavy system to the conclusion that it was indeed Echo Base is anyone’s guess,” Ackbar says, obviously bitter about what was either brilliant deductive work or sheer blind luck. A data stream flashes across the data terminal’s small viewscreen. “Unless it was Vader who used his black arts to figure it out—it looks like the blockade is being headed by Executor.”
Vader’s Super Star Destroyer has become the image of Imperial dominance since the destruction of the Death Star. “Then the Empire is truly striking back against our win at Yavin.” Mon Mothma says, her voice nearly breaking. She is taking this all really personally. “Of course the Emperor would do that on purpose. He has always paid very close attention to the symbolic.”
From the bridge overlook, the blue-skinned Communication Officer leans down to get Ackbar’s attention. “We have word from Sullust, sir,” he reports. “Captain Nunb has set off the volcano ridge. He expects the SoroSuub secured storage facility will begin to move its stock within the hour.”
“Excellent.” Ackbar and Mon Mothma share a nod. “Tell Captain Nunb to wait for our signal to liberate the ships…if he moves before the Fleet is far enough down the Ison Corridor, they may be able to splinter their forces and stop him.” The Lieutenant gives him a clipped nod of acknowledgment and disappears back onto the bridge.
We watch for a while as what will become known as the Battle of Hoth unfolds on the holo. While the shields hold, a couple of transports manage to slip through the planet’s siege, accompanied by a flurry of ion blasts and a pair of X-Wings each. There is no fight at all as far as we can see, it’s a straight-on evacuation. What little defense is given goes to the shield generators, and pretty quickly the Empire’s ground forces have overcome that to disable them completely.
From there it is worse than a rout; it’s a slaughter. The ion cannon is the first orbital target to be decimated, followed by the ice cavern hangar bays. Fortunately most of the transports had moved to outdoor landing stations but; on the other hand, without the ion fire to protect them, the remainder of the evacuating ships are captured, disabled, or obliterated by the Imperial fleet still massing in the outer system.
Very few ships get by the first ring of Imperial Cruisers, and we watch with great interest as the drama of the Millennium Falcon’s escape plays out. The freighter is incredibly nimble, Solo an exceptionally agile pilot, and with a half-dozen Star Destroyers in pursuit it manages to make its way to the edge of the system and into the asteroid field beyond. Impossibly, the Star Destroyers continue their pursuit in the death trap.
“They’ll never survive,” Allgré says.
“Who, the Cruisers, or the Falcon?” I ask.
“None of them.” Fortimartaan answers before Allgré gets a chance to. “It’s impossible to navigate in that kind of an unpredictable environment for very long.” As if to punctuate his statement, the blip that had been the Millennium Falcon abruptly disappears.
“Destroyed?” Allgré asks, but Geeseven blats in the negative—just too hard for the computers to track. Still, its destruction seems inevitable. I wonder if my client is feeling sorry for giving Solo such rough treatment now.
The rest of the successfully evacuated Echo Base forces scatter on different vectors, peeling away Star Destroyers by the twos and threes in pursuit—sometimes pursuing no more than a couple of fighters making a lucky break to hyperspace. Pretty soon—as far as naval engagements go; in actuality we sit and stand transfixed for hours, long after Home One’s pilots announce our successful entry into hyperspace—the Battle for Hoth is all but over. Some forces remain on the planet itself; with their transports destroyed in the bombardment, they choose to wage a ground war rather than surrender. The transports too damaged to make lightspeed gather into a ragtag formation and take on a flotilla of Imperial ships before being rendered totally inoperable. Then, boarding begins. It’s all pretty depressing: only a handful of ships made a clean getaway. Most of the force is destroyed or captured, and I really can’t decide which option is worse.
“Is there a way to pull up the whereabouts of one of the techs stationed at Echo Base?” Allgré asks out of the blue, his voice quiet, pensive. “I had a friend, Lieutenant Phineas Reslo, back in basic training who got stationed there…”
“I’m sorry,” Ackbar says, clapping a flippered hand on the tech’s shoulder. “We won’t know who survived until we get to the rendezvous point.”
“So pointless,” Fortimartaan says. “Why bother now? The Empire has crushed us, I’d say its much wiser to dissolve the Alliance here and now and make a break for the Corporate Sector, or Hapan Space—or Wild Space, even.”
“Don’t be too hasty, Councilor,” Mon Mothma says. “We surely lost a lot of brave souls today, but our movement is hardly crippled by the loss of one base.”
“But it’s not just any base…” The Dresselian retorts, his voice rising a notch. The implication is clear—Echo Base was the heart and soul of the Alliance, the stronghold of the best and bravest…
…a bunch of humans glorified beyond the scope of all reality and forced down our throats by Alliance leaders as the only ones of us who really matter…
“This was all by design,” I mutter, the words surprising me as much as everyone else. Suddenly the point of everything has come crystal clear to me.
“What do you mean? “Allgré asks. Mon Mothma raises her eyebrows expectantly.
“Echo Base…the whole human bias, it was a ploy,” I say. “One that Allgré and I fell for just as completely as the Empire.”
Allgré’s head turns from me to Mon Mothma, then back again as a his jaw flaps wordlessly for a few moments. “Echo Base was…was a diversionary tactic?”
“The Empire would fall for nothing less,” Mon Mothma says. It’s as close to an admission as we’re likely to get. “After all, the Emperor’s anti-alien bias is legendary.”
“But what do we gain by the sacrifice?” Fortimartaan asks dumbly.
“Plenty,” I say. “First, Captain Ackbar used the time to get his entire shipyard packed up and moved…I assume we’re currently en route to some secret and secure spot to finish building the fleet without the threat of the Empire accidently stumbling across us like we faced in the Calamari system.” I look to Ackbar for acknowledgement, and he bobs his head in agreement. “Secondly, there was that business with SoroSuub…”
“The Sullust system will be facing a revolution over the next couple of days, and we wholly expect to liberate the production yards—and the extensive stock of freighters, fighters, and midsize ships produced there.” Ackbar reveals, almost proudly. “And nearly the same thing is happening on Bothawui and Kothlis, and a handful of other worlds. Mr. Nonood is correct…the fleet we will be assembling will be several hundreds of ships strong.”
“The Empire never looked closely at any of it,” Allgré says, the truth of the situation dawning more and more on him with each passing revelation. “Their eyes were too focused on the humans, on revenge for the Death Star…which is why the Yavin cell had to stay together, and be kept at the forefront of our activities. To act as decoys.”
“Correct,” Mon Mothma says. “The enemy will always give you the means to his defeat, if you are cunning enough to use his weaknesses against him.”
“That is cold,” Fortimartaan exclaims, his eyes bulging as he comes to understanding. “You used the humans, sent them to their deaths without a chance.”
“Riekaan, Senator Organa and the others were well aware of their vulnerability…even as all of us are. They made their sacrifice willingly, for the benefit of all.” Ackbar states. “And those lost today will be remembered with the highest of honor.”
“I feel so sorry for them,” Allgré says. “It’s one thing to jump out into a dangerous situation and then jump back home. It’s quite another to have a target permanently painted on your back. I don’t know if I’d be able to do it. We owe them a debt of gratitude.”
“Which reminds me,” I say, giving Allgré and Mon Mothma each a quick look. “I think I need to speak to my client about the possibility of dropping his countersuit. In light of recently revealed information, that is.”
“Of course,” Allgré says.
“Forget about it,” Ackbar puts in gruffly. “I’m throwing the whole case out anyway. We have bigger issues to deal with right now.”
“But…” Fortimartaan begin to object, but Mon Mothma puts up a hand to cut him off. Quite sternly, in fact.
Ackbar turns to the Dresselian with a look I would almost mistake as amusement if the situation were any different. “Mr. Fortimartaan, I believe you are past due for reassignment.”
The prosecutor’s wrinkled brow became nearly smooth in surprise. “Reassignment?”
“Yes. Your expertise will be so much more beneficial in the Corporate Sector…”
“Or Hapan Space…” Mon Mothma adds.
“Or Wild Space, even,” Allgré mutters in spite of himself.
Fortimartaan’s eyes go to slits, his lip curled in disgust. “I see.” He turns and practically storms out of the command center.
Mon Mothma and Ackbar exchange another look, and the human turns to me to say, “And as for you, Mr. Nonood, I believe the head prosecutor’s office just opened up, if you’re interested.”
“No thanks,” I say, my beak clicking in appreciation. “We have a war to win first.”