Commander Flynt crouched in the hold of the TIE Shuttle, the roar of the twin engines that made the deck plates vibrate beneath his feet muted by the white armor that coated him from head to toe. Through the eyes of his helmet he could see the rest of the squad, clutching blasters to their chests as they crossed the empty space between the Devastator's hanger bay and the Station.

If some fool had told me a week ago that I'd be on the far side of the blazing universe, following Lord Vader as we breached an alien station powerful enough to toss a dreadnought and escorts between star systems, I'd have thought they were bleeding high on spice, he thought to himself. He glanced briefly at Lord Vader without moving his head, wondering if the Dark Lord had read his thoughts. Lord Vader stood silent and implacable, facing toward the front of the shuttle, his head raised slightly, gaze seemingly locked on the approaching station through the walls of the shuttle. He gripped his lightsaber, still unlit, in his hand.

The roar of the engines faded to a dull hum, and Flynt checked his blaster, making sure that it was fully charged, the tibanna gas reserves full, and the safety off. He looked up at his men, standing at attention.

"Blasters ready."

A chorus of clicks greeted the command. A moment later, there was a slight jolt, which he knew must be the shuttle docking with the outside of the station. He turned to face the hatch, taking up his station behind and just to the right of Lord Vader. It was an honour, he knew, to be standing in this place, one accorded only to the best Imperial stormtroopers, and he meant to acquit himself well.

The price for failure, he knew, would be death.

The Dark Lord tilted his head slightly, as if listening to something. Then he turned to face the hatch. It swung inward, and in the red glare of the shuttle's interior lighting, Flynt saw a smooth, greyish stretch of hull. So, they hadn't been able to dock with an airlock. They'd have to breach the hull. He reached for one of the charges on his belt, but stopped as the red blade of Lord Vader's lightsaber extended with a deep, menacing hum, its ruby-red light accentuating that of the shuttle's hold. The blade plunged nearly to its hilt in the hull, Vader rotating it in a smooth, steady oval as he cut a hole, nearly as large as the hatch, in the side of the Station. The blade retracted, leaving a glowing orange molten outline around the section of hull. Then the Dark Lord extended his hand, and a chunk of metal that must have weighed hundreds of pounds tore loose from the wall and shot into the dark interior of the Station, striking something metallic-sounding with a resounding clang before it fell to the deck with a heavy thud. A gust of wind blew into the shuttle's interior as the pressures equalized, making the Dark Lord's cape billow behind him.

Without a word, Darth Vader lifted himself through the gape he had cut in the Station's hull, the still-glowing edges of the hole somehow not singing the fabric of his cloak. Commander Flynt gathered himself and stepped through after him, gesturing for his squad to follow.

"Come on."

Trooper AR-137, known to his squad mates as Domino, clutched his blaster rifle to his chest as the squad advanced down the dimly-lit halls of the alien station, the dark, bluish wall-plating lit red by the glow of Lord Vader's lightsaber. He'd never been in a boarding action before, but he'd heard plenty of stories- one of his buddies from the Academy had died in a hall like this, shot through the head by a Rebel trooper. And that had been an ordinary hall, in an ordinary ship, in a familiar freaking galaxy. Not like this. The officers had tried to keep quiet what had happened to the fleet, probably didn't want to cause a panic or demoralize the men, but rumours spread quickly on a starship, even on the Executor.

I could die here, he thought. Shot or cut to pieces or sucked out into space or-or dematerialized-like the bridge crew.

Stow that thinking, soldier, he told himself, glancing to the head of the column, and the red-tinted shadow of Lord Vader's cloak. We have Lord Vader. He isn't afraid, and he'll have your hide if he thinks you are.

He strode down the hallways of the alien Station, his footfalls echoing off the metallic deck plates, the only sound beside the rasp of his respirator, the hum of his light saber, and the clanking of the squad of stormtroopers following dutifully behind their lord. He strode through the corridors with single-minded purpose, turning once right, once left, then right again, always moving towards the presence, the great alien mind, that he sensed at the heart of this station. Its presence felt weaker now, somehow... sicker.

Its dying, he realized, with a flicker of irritation. Had their assault somehow injured it? Or was its condition due to other causes? It did not matter.

Death itself will not cheat me of my vengeance.

A door barred their path. Two of the troopers moved forward at an order from their commander, no doubt to place blasting charges, but he held up a hand and they halted a few feet behind him. Reaching out with the Force to grasp the sides of the heavy metal blast door, he called on the Dark Side: on his frustration, his anger at the alien who had abducted them, at being stranded in a strange galaxy, at the Emperor for sending them on this fool's errand that kept him from finding his son, at Obi-wan for hiding Luke from him all these years, at Pad-

With a thunderous roar and a screech of tearing metal, the door ripped loose from its frame. A slight effort, and its various pieces were pushed back through the doorway to crash to the floor on the other side, making the walls and deck around him tremble.

Beneath his mask, he smiled. Then he strode through the door, his saber held at guard in front of him.

He found himself in a familiar, broad chamber. If it was indeed the same one where the Executor's bridge crew had been deposited upon their arrival, then the damage he had done to the walls had already been repaired. No matter. He could disable the holograms as easily once again, if they had not already been disabled by the ion cannons.

They crossed the chamber without incident. He used his lightsaber to cut through the blast doors on the opposite side. Before him stretched another long, empty hall, but at its end, perhaps a hundred paces distant, he could sense the presence that he was seeking. They were close now. He quickened his step.

At the end of the hall was yet another door. Vader ripped it from its frame and dropped it to the floor with a resounding clang. He paused for a moment in the entry, considering. The creature within was weakened, but it still possessed a mind of vast depth and cunning. It reminded him a little of standing in the presence of his Master, although there was a... warmth, a spark to this consciousness that the Emperor utterly lacked. He reached out, probing with his thoughts, but he sensed no great power in the Force.

Come on in. Don't be shy. Its not as though I can stop you, now.

He froze as the thoughts echoed inside his head. He drew on the Dark Side, preparing to hurl it at his mental assailant, but he felt no aggression, no attempt to penetrate or control his mind. And still not hint that this creature was using the Force. Just weary pain and wry bemusement, resignation and regret.

He strode into the chamber, his lightsaber casting flickering red-lined shadows on its walls. It looked, he thought with a trace of grim amusement, as though the walls themselves ran with blood. He moved forward, and as he did he became aware of a shape sitting in the centre of the chamber. It was large, roughly man-sized, but ill-formed, a pulsing blob of semi-translucent matter, lit red by the light from his blade. One or two of the troopers muttered to themselves behind him as they fanned out, covering it with their blasters.

"So you have found me", the creature said. Not with its mind now, but in ordinary speech, though it had no mouth with which to speak. "I suppose I miscalculated, eh? I probably... ought to have thrown you into the sun, or to the far side of the galaxy. Now... I will not be able to finish my work."

Despite his anger, Vader was intrigued.

"Your work?"

Obligations", the creature said. "A debt that can never be repaid."


The creature hesitated.

"I don't suppose it matters now", it said finally. "Without my protection, they are lost."

"I grow tired of your riddles. Answer me now, and I will grant you a speedy death."

"I... suppose... I have no choice... do I", it replied. "My kind are... are travelers from another galaxy."

Vader tensed, wanting to rip the answers from this alien's dying mind. Had it brought them here? Did it have the power to return them?"

The creature chuckled.

"No, I did not bring you here. You were brought here by a wormhole, not by my power. Strange. I've never seen one that large, just... appear out of nothing like that. Curious."

"Why did you abduct my men?"

"I needed to find a compatible specimen. Someone to... to carry on the work, when I am gone."

"You... for a moment, Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, was speechless. "You were trying to procreate?"

"Please, you must... help them. Protect them, when I am gone."

Vader still had no idea what the creature was talking about, but he found that he no longer cared.

"Your work is no concern of mine", he hissed. "And this conversation is at an end. Now, you will feel the full power of the Dark Side." He reached out with the Force once more, wrapping the creature in invisible power. He felt its sudden fear, sharp and panicked, and he suddenly realized that it had been stalling, drawing out the conversation while it bypassed the damage to the Station's internal systems to... to access the self-destruct mechanism.

With a snarl, he tightened his grip, lifting the pulsating mass higher into the air as he slowly crushed the life from it. He felt a spike of pain, even as its mind began to weaken and die. It shrank, the power of the Dark Side crushing it into a smaller and smaller ball of matter, its colour darkening and its texture hardening. He felt its presence fade and disappear, becoming one with the Force.

A small lump of dry, greyish matter fell to the deck, breaking into smaller pieces as it landed.

"Transport that to the Executor's medical bay for examination", he said, "and return to the shuttles immediately." He wasn't certain if the creature had successfully activated the self-destruct, and if it had, then there was no time to bring an engineering team over from the Executor to try to shut it off. He didn't sense any immediate danger, now, but they could afford to be cautious.

Without another word, Lord Vader turned and swept from the chamber, the storm troopers hurrying in his wake.