Introduction:

This story was originally published (and remains in progress), under the same title and user name, on the Star Destroyer . net forums. I have edited my original introduction for greater clarity, and have made some slight alterations to the story to account for the different format of and to correct any obvious errors, but have otherwise endeavored to preserve it in its original form.

Obviously I am following the footsteps of a lot of other writers, but hopefully I'll be able to bring something new to the basic premise.

Note: I am not terribly familiar with the current state of the Star Wars EU. I apologize for any continuity errors.

The obvious disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars, Star Trek, or anything originating therein. This story is not for profit. No infringement is intended.

Also, credit for the story concept/premise that this story is based on goes to FaxModem1 on the Star Destroyer . net forums. I am adapting it with his kind permission.

A New Path

Bridge, SSD Executor, Death Squadron, Outer Rim.

Lt. Jared Antilles surreptitiously stretched his stiff neck and blinked tiredly at the view screen in front of him. It had been eight hours since his shift began, and he was almost due to be relieved, but it wouldn't do to let the captain notice his unease. At least Lord Vader wasn't on the bridge- he tried to suppress that thought. It seemed impossible, like something out of the old stories of the Jedi, but it almost seemed at times like the black armoured figure that towered over the bridge, its breath wheezing like the wind howling op from one of the bottomless ventilation shafts in the heart of the ship, could sense what you were thinking.

He turned back to the view screen, noticing that the alert light had begun blinking. He checked it, frowning in puzzlement. Probe I-39-7A14, location Outer Rim, Anoat Sector, had lost contact with the fleet. He checked the coordinates. The probe was at least 30 light years short of its intended destination.

Jared took a deep breath.

Its not my fault, he told himself. I'm just reporting it, just like I'm supposed to. It was cold comfort, considering Lord Vader's legendary reputation for dealing with those who disappointed him.

"Is there a problem, Lt.?"

Jared snapped quickly to attention, looking up from the crew pit to where Captain Piet stood on the walkway overhead, looking down at him with a faintly sneering expression.

"No sir. That is... we've lost contact with one of the probe-"

He was interrupted as the doors of the bridge whooshed open, and the sound of heavy footfalls and heavy, rasping breathing filled the bridge. Captain Piet turned sharply, standing at attention.

"Lord Vader."

"What seems to be the problem, Captain?" The deep, cold voice echoed throughout the bridge, sending chills up Jared's spine. The features of the Dark Lord's black metal helmet looked directly at him, seeming to stare through him.

"We've lost contact with one of our probe droids", Captain Piet replied, shifting his gaze from Vader to Jared, in a gesture for the Lt. to elaborate. He spoke quickly, the explanation rushing out as though his life depended on it- which, he knew, it very well might.

"We've lost contact with our probe in the Anoat Sector, sir. Preliminary analysis indicates that the transmission was interrupted at the source."

"Destroyed?"

He hesitated, but only for a moment.

"Uncertain, sir. We'll have to review the sensor logs-" His mouth snapped shut as Lord Vader cut him off.

"No, Captain. This is something different. Unexpected. I sense something..." Vader starred off into space for a moment, then turned sharply to the Captain.

"Inform Admiral Ozzel that the fleet is to move to the probe's last known coordinates. Maximum speed."

The Captain blinked, then quickly nodded.

"Yes, Lord Vader."

But Lord Vader had already turned and swept from the bridge.

Jared Antilles stood beside his console, the tension slowly leaving him as Vader left the bridge. He barely noticed when his replacement arrived a moment later to relieve him. Finally snapping back to attention, he nodded to the officer (a younger Lt. he did not recognize), then exited the bridge, wanting nothing more than to go to his quarters, seal the door, and try to forget about the last half hour.

Imperial Throne Room, Imperial Palace, Coruscant.

The chamber was dark and slient, the shadows filled with an intangible menace.

A pair of Red-armoured Imperial Guards flanked the single entrance, Force Pikes held ready at their sides, faces concealed beneath smooth red masks.

In a chair, on a dais, overlooking the room, sat a small, wizened figure in a simple black robe, head bowed and hands clasped in silent meditation.

The darkness whispered to him, carrying secrets and portents from across the known universe. He followed one whisper, louder than the others, across the depths of space, to a distant, lifeless system on the edge of the Outer Rim.

Something flashed in the darkness, like a bolt of lightning piercing through the Force. He sat upright, hands clutching the arm rests of his throne, his teeth barred in a snarl. Then he turned to the Guards.

"Leave me."

They turned wordlessly and filed out of the chamber. A push of a button on the right arm of his chair sealed the door behind them. Only the Emperor's personal code could open it again. Another button activated the secure holo-emitter positioned in front of him.

"SSD Executor- I have a priority signal for Lord Vader."

Personal Quarters Of Lord Vader, SSD Executor.

Lord Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, the second most powerful man in the galaxy, strode through the doors of his private chambers and knelt, activating the holo-projector with a slight direction of will through the Force. The flickering blue visage of his Master filled the pace before him, looming above him. Once more, he felt deep resentment at having to bow before this man, combined with a grudging respect for his power, and a flicker of buried fear that only fuelled his resentment. The Emperor seemed to smile slightly, and he knew that his Master had sensed his hidden thoughts as feelings as easily as ever.

"What is thy bidding, my Master?"

"I have felt a great disturbance in the Force."

"As have I."

"Something is happening in the Anoat Sector. You are to investigate this disturbance. All other priorities are suspended."

For a moment, he almost wondered if he had misheard his Master's words. He had sensed it moving through the Force, like ripples that grew into great waves as they spread out through the galaxy, and he had known that it was the cause of this sudden message from his Master, but he had not expected this.

"The Rebels", he ventured.

Are of no immediate concern."

He swallowed his anger and frustration as the work of months was swept aside. The war would be left to lesser men: the war, the Rebels... his son...

He buried that thought deeply, and inclined his head in a low bow.

"As you wish, my Master."

Bridge, SSD Executor, Death Squadron, En Route To The Anoat Sector.

Admiral Ozzel watched the blue vortex of hyperspace swirling outside the bridge windows, secure in the centre of his power over the crew of the Executor. To his left, Captain Piet stood observing the crew pit. A competent, dutiful officer, but rather stiff and unimaginative, he thought. The bridge crew quietly monitored their stations as the fleet moved towards its destination. Ozzel wondered what could possibly have caused the Emperor himself to order them to break off their pursuit of the Rebels and move the most powerful fleet in the Empire to the Anoat Sector to investigate a single missing probe droid, and how Vader had seemed to divine the Emperor's intent before the message had even arrived. He dismissed the thoughts. It wasn't wise to wonder too much about the affairs of the Emperor and his inner circle.

He turned, swallowing his unease as the doors to the bridge slid open and Lord Vader himself strode onto the walkway, stopping before the Admiral.

"How long until we reach the coordinates of the probe, Admiral?"

"Approximately two minutes", he replied.

"Bring the fleet to a Level Two Alert."

"Yes sir", he replied, concealing his surprise as well as he could. Level Two Alert meant to expect hostile forces in the area, and required him to raise shields and put the crews at battle stations. It was only one step short of a full battle alert. He turned to Captain Piet.

"Captain, place the fleet on Level Two Alert immediately."

Piet blinked, then nodded.

"Yes sir." He strode over to the communications station on the other side of the bridge and relayed the order. A warning sound buzzed over the com., notifying the crew to move to battle stations. Piet strode back to stand in front of the Admiral and Lord Vader.

"We're about to exit hyperspace, My Lord", he said crisply, and a moment later, the tunnel of hyperspace gave way to streaks of white light and then the black of normal space. The five escorting Star Destroyers appeared in a V formation around them moments later.

"Report", Piet snapped to the officer at tactical sensors.

"We've arrived in the Parin system, Sir. Main sequence star, three hundred million kilometers distance. Standard density of gasses and debris. No planets or other natural bodies of significant size. No other vessels within scanner range, but I'm detecting some anomalous energy readings approximately 800 kilometers off the port bow."

"What sort of-" Captain Piet began, but Lord Vader interrupted him.

"All ships, full stop!"

"Full stop!", Piet shouted, but a moment later, the space in front of them erupted in blue and gold fire, a swirling tunnel of light in space. Alarms blared and the Executor shuddered slightly as it flew into the mouth of the vortex, along with the five escorting destroyers of Death Squadron.