Chapter 38

Twenty dead in Grivel, nine in Brimol, fifteen in Kothport.

The death counts from the Federation's Occupation came in steadily as they reestablished order across the planet.

"Less than a half-thousand dead after the planet was occupied," Padme said with an empty smile. "I suppose I should be content with that, Governor."

Bibble gave her a sympathetic smile. "None could have hoped for more, Your Highness. The situation was beyond anything we expected or planned for."

Padme nodded idly. Each lost life weighed heavy on her mind, but what uplifted her was how small it really was. With a population of over a billion humans, and so far less than five hundred deaths reported across the entire planet. Most of them were resistance fighters actively attacking the Federation. The civilian death count only started to rise towards the end, when Gunray was growing more paranoid and erratic.

The battle droids had been devoid of kindness, but also of cruelty. Only at the direction of Gunray did they act in wanton slaughter.

The Queen came back to the present as she heard a rather loud cheering outside, her smile becoming a bit more genuine.

Bibble was grateful for the raised mood as he turned to another topic. "I understand this is a hard time for you, My Queen, but there are matters we must discuss."

"The celebration, the awards, thanks to the Gungans, mourning the fallen," Padme listed off somberly. "I may need to have a stand-in for some of the public events."

Bibble didn't protest or question that. He knew perfectly well that the Queen might suddenly receive terrible news that would require her own time to grieve. "I've given the orders to seize and search all properties owned by Senator Palpatine. We are...keeping news of him a secret for now," he explained carefully.

Padme nodded. Oh, she planned to reveal everything about Palpatine to the people, of his treachery. But even with communications restored with the rest of the Galaxy, news from Coruscant was causing much confusion and bewilderment. Padme wanted to know as much as she could about Palpatine before she unleashed that barrel. Besides, Naboo deserved to enjoy its victory for a day or two.

"Your Highness," Panaka called as he entered the room, saluting her.

"Captain," Padme acknowledged with a regal nod.

"The clean-up of the droids is mostly complete. All major cities have collected the remains and removed the power cells for good meaure," Panaka elaborated. "Those at the battle with the Gungans will take more time. Along with the tanks."

That was to be expected, all things considered. "Word of the injured?"

"A handful more have perished, but the majority I've heard to be stable," Panaka elaborated.

"Good, that's good," Bibble agreed, glancing between the two curiously. "If you don't mind me asking, Your Majesty, but what should I refer to these allies you have gathered?"

"Our friends," Padme answered honestly. "But if you need a title, Anti-Federationists should suffice."

"Anti-Federationists?" Bibble repeated with an arched brow.

"They are as they sound," Padme answered idly. "Speaking of, are the repairs to the Clamator going well?"

"As well as can be expected. We have no great shipyard, and our engineers are not used to working on battleships of that nature or size," Bibble reminded. "But they should have it ready for safe hyperdrive travel within a standard week."

"Wonderful," Padme acknowledged in relief. "And Vader? Has he disappeared yet?"

"No, your highness. He's still as he has been," Panaka remarked before scowling. "Though, the Mandalorian is with Sixxa and Nym. I believe they're trading advice for taking down droids."

Padme nodded, not at all surprised as she stood from her throne. "I will be meeting with him. Carry on," she ordered, rising to leave with her handmaidens flanking her.

The Governor looked oddly at Panaka. "Will this Sith refuse to come if summoned?" he inquired.

Panaka had a knowing look about his otherwise stoic face. "Not for the queen, no."

Meanwhile

Rune found himself in a rather comfy cell. His only complaint was the lack of windows. Well, that and the food, but Neimoidians had rather unique pallets.

He wondered, was he in here just to be a prisoner, or for his own protection? It was hard to tell, truly. The Naboo were very devoted to their ideals of law and diplomacy above violence. But he wasn't foolish to believe there probably weren't a few on this planet that would take a shot at him if given the chance.

For that reason, among others, he was content to simply relax and rest in this cell. He'd worry about the Trade Federation when he had to. He just wanted a few moments without having to worry after...everything that had happened recently.

Just thinking about this mess made him stressed. Sidious, Gunray, and of course, getting shot. No, he could use this time to restore his energy. Besides, he had to figure out what had happened back on Coruscant before he could even begin to speculate on the state of the Trade Federation.

"Rune, you got a visitor."

Apparently, he was on a first-name basis with his guards. They had family amongst those he had helped escape. He believed they were chosen to watch over him as they were less likely to kill him out of revenge.

He started as the words registered, sitting up on his minimalistic bed. "A visitor? Who?"

The human said nothing, just stepping aside as another figure came in front of his cell door; said figure being a Neimoidian…an oddly dressed one at that. His wears were more of a space suit than the robes his kind usually used. "Rune Haako."

The voice was not friendly, and surprisingly firm. "Yes, that is me. I was not aware any Neimoidians from the battle survived, besides myself."

"They didn't," the stranger clarified.

Rune blinked, a croaking hum in his throat. "I did not expect someone from the Trade Federation to be allowed on this planet so soon," he said in surprise.

"I'm not with your lot," he retorted with something approaching a snarl. "My name is Cifo Klatt."

Rune stared for a moment before narrowing his eyes. "You are with the Queen's allies."

"Yes, I am," he admitted. "And as much as I would like to get as much information out of you as possible, your stunt bought you some goodwill with the Queen."

"And you'd rather not alienate her, and her ally," Rune deduced with a small smirk.

"Keep smirking, and discover what happens," Cifo warned. "Now tell me, why did you kill him?"

Rune tilted his head. "Did you wish I hadn't?"

"I was rather impartial on that," Cifo answered. "But from what I hear, you weren't exactly shooting in self-defense, despite your claim."

Rune nodded in agreement. "I could say it was self-preservation. If he made it back to the Federation, I have no doubt he would throw me to the Rancors and blame me for everything, as best he could."

"Yet, you're not saying that," Cifo noted.

"I'm saying that I was tired, and had enough of Gunray's madness for two lifetimes," Rune answered. "Is that all?"

"Almost," Cifo answered. "Speak of this...Sith Lord you worked for."

"I don't know anything about his other dealings, if that's what you want to know," Rune cut off.

"No, I'm asking for my associates," Cifo said gravely. "Did this Sidious order any other worlds to be taken over?"

Rune shook his head. "No, nothing like this. Everything was small, background things. Raises taxes here, make an agreement with that group, buy out this business. There was some...pattern to it all, but not one I could see. Some plan that we were a part of, but not the whole of."

"You sound very fond of him," Cifo said neutrally.

"Oh, I hated him. But I would never claim he wasn't intelligent," Rune answered grimly. "If you want to know what he was planning, perhaps ask the actual Sith on your side."

"I'll consider that," Cifo retorted with a scowl. "Now, last question; What happened to the Lucrehulk?"

Rune rolled his eyes. "I've already been over this with the Queen."

"Go over it with me, one more time."

Meanwhile

Padme followed the path effortlessly, stepping over and around whatever debris or mess remained from the battle. There would be plenty of work to be done to repair these halls, but that was neither here nor now. Now, she found herself at a familiar set of stairs and turned to her handmaidens. "Wait here."

They obeyed with deep nods.

She climbed the steps, emerging onto the very same balcony where Gunray had met his defeat, where she had nearly killed him.

And there at the edge stood Darth Vader, his cloak adrift with the soft breeze.

"Do you just enjoy the view, Lord Vader, or are you expecting something?" Padme asked curiously.

"Indeed, I was," he answered, turning to acknowledge her. "And here you are."

She nodded at that, moving to join him; albeit, where the railing was still intact. Silence reigned over them, relaxed yet tired. After everything, it felt strange to finally have everything just...end, for there to be no more immediate crisis or enemies for either of them to deal with.

"Thank you."

Vader glanced to her, for the words had effortlessly fallen from the queen's lips.

"I'm sure there's a more official, queenly way I should be saying that," Padme admitted with a deep breath. "But thank you, for everything."

And for stopping her from killing Gunray; she wouldn't say it, couldn't utter it, because some part of her still wished she had gone through with it…the part that was begging both of her parents to survive. But still, it was there, and she believed he knew that.

"You are most welcome, Padme," he returned gently.

She nodded absently before swallowing thickly. "Naboo is in your debt," she said, looking at him meaningfully. "One can only wonder how we might repay you."

Vader didn't answer that, allowing his breathing to fill the vacuum.

It was amazing how normal that sound had become to Padme.

"I received word of the Krannut, the last of the three Lucrehulks," Padme informed neutrally. "It was destroyed."

Vader didn't acknowledge the implication.

"We originally thought Rune Haako had disabled all the droids on the entire planet, but he denied that," Padme continued. "We found only wreckage. It had been destroyed quickly, and whatever did so left just as swiftly."

Again, Vader didn't answer her.

"You could have ended this battle at any time you wanted," Padme said coldly.

Vader finally looked at her. "You have yet to state a question, Your Highness."

"Why? Why did you wait until the last possible moment to act?" Padme asked with a frown.

Vader stared at her for a moment. "You misunderstand, Amidala. I could have ended this battle, true, but I could not have stopped the invasion."

She wasn't entirely convinced, he could tell. Good, it was a positive trait to be skeptical of suspicious allies.

"I did not lie to you. I was marooned on your planet by chance," he informed. "I only regained contact with my allies at Tatooine. Their situation isn't...ideal."

Padme's brow furrowed until surprise overtook her. "That's why you collected those items. You were getting a communicator, but didn't want the Jedi to discover it."

Vader nodded curtly. That wasn't the only reason, but the details didn't really matter.

Padme's scowl returned. "That still doesn't explain why you waited."

"I am not so eager to reveal all the cards I possess, Amidala," Vader answered. "For reasons you know very well."

Padme understood that. Vader had enemies and potential enemies that she knew nothing about. Palpatine had been one, the Jedi another. Still, he had tipped his hand when they needed him most. She should be grateful, and she was, but-

"You have acquired distaste for being uninformed."

As always, he hit the womp-rat right between the eyes. But this time, it was the Queen who refused to respond.

"This is a matter I am keeping secret. Just not from you, Your Highness," he said meaningfully.

Padme's look darkened. "You believe your enemies still have eyes and ears on my planet?"

Vader nodded. "This is not something I am able to keep concealed forever, Amidala, nor do I plan to. But for now," he paused to consider his words. "As I told the Jedi, both they and the Sith need to clean house."

Padme blinked. There were implications there that, if true, explained a lot of Vader's actions.

Whoever Vader's allies were, he suspected treachery among them.

"Was that how you ended up on Naboo?" she speculated.

Vader nodded slowly, even if he was lying through his visor.

Padme looked grimly as she looked out over the horizon. "I suppose matters aren't finished for you."

"They never are," Vader agreed.

"I don't suppose you will be staying for the award ceremony?" Padme predicted knowingly.

"You have already thanked me. That is enough, Amidala," Vader said dismissively. "Keep close with your new allies."

Padme raised a regal brow at that before understanding came forth. "You truly believe civil war is coming for the republic?"

Vader nodded wordlessly.

"...And where do you stand in such a conflict, Lord Vader?" Padme inquired.

"Against my enemies," he answered ominously. "And yours."

Padme smiled as she leaned on the stone railing. "I see. So that's your official motivation here, Lord Vader? Building up allies and relations for the coming storm you foresee?" Padme asked.

"From a certain point of view," Vader accepted.

"How very Jedi of you," Padme remarked, resisting every urge to snort, maybe even chuckle.

A beeping prompted Vader to hold up his communicator, the voice of Boba Fett coming through. "Lord Vader, I'm ready to depart at your word."

"I will arrive shortly, Fett," Vader answered as he deactivated the device. "A Jedi might have vanished without a word."

"Yes, well, thank you for sparring me that at least," Padme returned before up at the sky. "Do you think Anakin is doing well, with the Jedi?" Padme asked absently.

How did he answer that? Could he answer that without it sounding like a lie? What even was the truth here? "He will make the best of it, I am sure," he answered idly.

Padme nodding in agreement as a comfortable silence overcame them.

Silent, even of Vader's breathing, she realized.

Likely sensing her realization, Vader spoke up. "Does your Handmaiden regularly listen in on your conversations, Amidala?" he asked, turning to look to the stairs.

Sabe started but quickly stepped forth with a deep bow. "I'm sorry, Your Majesty," she said to Padme. "I didn't want to interrupt, but..."

Padme felt something in her freeze as she turned to her friend and body-double. "Sabe, what is it? Are they?"

Sabe smiled tentatively. "They're both stable, and your mother's awake."

Padme's shoulders slumped in relief. "And my father?"

Sabe hesitated before pressing on. "He's in a coma. They're not sure why or how long it might be."

Padme's good mood only dampened minutely. Her parents were alive, and she would allow herself to be optimistic about her father for now. "Thank you, Sabe. I will be down shortly."

The handmaiden bowed, giving a wary nod of respect to Vader.

"It appears we both are needed elsewhere, your highness," Vader said as he looked down at her. Down at, not down on, he hoped she knew. "Until we meet again, Queen of Naboo."

She smiled as he left. "I hope your travels are safe, Hero of Naboo."

Vader almost paused that before he vanished from her sights. Padme pretended she only imagined it before looking out over Naboo's beauty once more. She had more to do. A planet, and much else to look after, but she'd savor a few moments more for herself.

This had begun with him sneaking into the Theed. Vader was all too aware of the irony that it ended with his sneaking out of the same city.

Though, perhaps sneaking wasn't the right word. After all, he was just making his way to the hangar, and it wasn't like any would try to stop him.

He paused as he stepped into the hangar of starfighters.

This had been where he had last seen his Qui-Gon alive as a child. Now this timeline's Qui-Gon was well and alive on Coruscant. Standing here had a sense of finality to it, of meaning. He had changed things. For better or worse, the future was off course from his past.

He had half expected to perish against Sidious or even Plagueis by now. Yet here he stood, alive with a vast unknown before him.

Planning for defeat was always easier than planning for victory.

"Lord Vader."

He turned his attention fully to Boba Fett, standing in front of his Slave II. Masked eyes met masked eyes as Vader narrowed his gaze. "What is it, Fett?"

"There's been an incident. You're needed," Boba answered simply.

His rest would have to wait, it seemed, boarding the Slave II without a word. Much like when Boba had taken him off of Coruscant, he soon found himself conversing with the bounty hunter, as the ship flew itself on autopilot.

"They proved competent, these Anti-Federationists," Boba stated. "More than I expected, given this era."

"The same I would say of Gunray," Vader remarked with a frown. "He did not surrender until he was staring death in the eye."

"Strangely brave of him, desperate or not," Boba agreed. "But he's dead now. Was that in your plans?"

"Gunray's life was unimportant beyond his defeat," Vader answered. "It is neither convenient or inconvenient."

Boba nodded idly. "We should be arriving soon."

"I will join you."

It wasn't a request, but Boba still found it odd. Vader trusted his flying, no doubt, but he couldn't argue if the Dark Lord desired to be in the cockpit.

They were well beyond Naboo, passing the orbit of the gas giant called Storm; Far enough away to not be tracked by anything on Naboo. Boba knew very well that they had to be careful, in case they were followed.

Sure that they weren't, he set a speeding course for Behpour, the outermost planet in the Naboo system. It was a horrible rock, acidic and filled with lava lakes. Nothing lived there, nothing was stationed here.

They circled around to the dark side of the planet until their target came into view.

A large bridge with an imposing hull, the cold metal a knife against the blackness of space, massive cannons ready to do battle and set space ablaze.

"This is the Slave II," Boba said over the comms. "Requesting permission to land."

"Acknowledged, Slave II. Permission granted."

With that, they took a course to the hangar.

The hanger of a Star Destroyer.

They docked in the belly of the warship, and Vader could feel Boba welcoming being back on the ship; The Stormtroopers, the tie fighters, the officers, the imperial vehicles. While he had never officially been a part of the empire, it was more familiar than trying to adjust to the past era they were displaced into.

"If you have nothing else for me, I'll be here," Boba said idly.

Vader glanced at the armored figure. "You continue to sleep in your ship?"

Boba nodded without a word.

Deciding there was nothing else to say, Vader disembarked from the ship.

Two lines of Stormtroopers awaited to greet him, as did an officer.

"Lord Vader," she greeted with a stiff salute. "Welcome back to the Thunderflare."

"Captain Pryl," he returned, his voice making her wary and tense. "Report."

"The operation was a success, Sir, as you know," Pryl stated. "The Lucrehulk-"

"Was destroyed in swift order. I am aware," Vader stated pointedly. "There was an incident, Captain. What has happened in my absence?"

She glanced to the side, her gaze pointed at the other side of the hanger. "One of the crew tried to flee in a TIE fighter."

That wasn't a surprise unto itself, but Vader knew there was more. "You believe he had assistance?"

"He was an engineer, stationed in the engines. He shouldn't have been able to get inside a TIE before he was caught," she explained grimly.

He'd have to deal with that soon. The last thing he needed was entire crews' worth of temporally displayed imperials flooding the galaxy and trying to convince everyone they were from the future.

"And what is the status of things at large?" he pressed on.

Tanda Pryl became notably less tense, realizing she wasn't about to be punished for one of her crew nearly deserting. "No changes, Sir. Counting the Thunderflare, five ships of the Death Squadron are accounted for."

That was displeasing to be sure. Missing crewmembers would be one thing, but missing ships were another; made worse by the fact that they had no idea if the rest of the Death Squadron had even been brought back as well.

But one was definitely here and still missing.

His tone turned ominous. "Then the Executor is still at large."

End of Chapter

...Yeah, that just happened. And yes, this entire story, this ENTIRE time, the what came back with Vader was NOT just Boba Fett, it was the entire Death Squadron. Oh, you have no idea how happy I am to get here! I've been waiting years for this!

Still, yes, I'm glad I kept that in the dak until now, ifonly so I can reveal it with the revelation that while Vader had a fleet of Star destroyers, they are still in fact crewed by displaced imperials and all the problems that can bring.

Still, yes, this is the endo f the story proper. The next and last two chapters are both basically epilogues.

I hope this has been a wonderful ride for you all and that you enjoyed this final twist.

Hope you have a happy and safe time this winter!

Early viewing of chapters 39-40 avaliable on my pat-reon:

p a treon . com (slash) akumakami64