As much as I would like to say I own Disney I don't so I don't own Star Wars, either.


One month later:

" ... and the Royal Rising has just returned. Captain Faroamer reports that the raid went well, his holds were full and the supplies are being transferred to the warehouses as we speak. He wasn't happy about spacing the captives, but he understood your reasoning and followed orders."

Delmi Katana, former Admiral of the Republican Navy, now self-appointed 'Grand Admiral', grunted acknowledgement of the report from his Executive Officer, taking care to keep his relief hidden. When he had set out to build the largest pirate fleet in history around the squadron he'd brought with him when he'd 'resigned', as a prelude to carving his own empire out of the remains of the shattered Republic and Confederacy—and getting his own revenge for his dead Master, though he had been careful to hide his training in the ways of the Sith—he hadn't really considered just what such an enterprise required. Cunning, ruthlessness, brutality, all were necessary for commanding even a single pirate ship much less an entire fleet of them, but he hadn't really thought about the logistics. Keeping that many pirates in one place without blowing the place up meant keeping them fed, clothed, and entertained with free booze, games, and sex slaves of both sexes—even policed to an extent, he'd had to shut down a firefight between two feuding crews, which he had done brutally and thoroughly. He'd had some particularly useful tools that had needed to be rewarded—some from his 'seed' squadron, some from pirates that had joined him—and ships of their own formerly owned by captains that couldn't control their crews had done nicely. And everyone else had gotten the point, brawling was fine, but save the real violence for their victims.

And they'd been content enough with his plans and their fun that none of them even knew of his pet slicer slipping 'locks' into the ships' computers that only he had the codes to unlock memorized, just in case any of them had second thoughts.

But the real hassle had turned out to be feeding them all, and while the handful of Outer Rim colonies he'd conquered took care of most of his needs they didn't quite cover it all—certainly this planet didn't, not as dry and mountainous as it was. Hence the expeditions for more food disguised as slaving raids, which meant spacing everyone that was herded onto the ships. After all, the last thing they needed was more mouths to feed, even temporarily.

Though in this case it would have been very temporary, the Fleet was almost ready to strike, and he wondered if perhaps he should have ordered Captain Faroamer to bring the captives back. No, when he left you didn't know 'Admiral' Jami Fleetfire—what a pretentious thug!—would finally agree to add his rump fleet to mine. It's unfortunate, but there will be plenty of slaves where we're headed, and better ones than backwater hicks and the Coruscant detritus dumped on them. We're going to have the wealth of entire worlds pouring into our coffers, the sheep their peoples have degenerated into at our beck and call.

Realizing he'd been woolgathering, Katana straightened in his chair. "Good job, Mith, let me know when Captain Faroamer is finished unloading and the cargo is fully inventoried. We'll need to—"

The sound of his desk's communicator interrupted him. He hastily turned to check the ID, and accepted the call ... it was one of the technicians he'd assigned to Overwatch, keeping watch on the system sensors, and while she could be calling to tell him a major Republican task force had arrived to wipe them all out while they were on the ground, it was much more likely that it was the cruiser he'd sent to investigate the end point of the Youxia Bond's little trip into the Black. He'd really wanted to go himself, but he couldn't leave without the entire fleet flying apart at the seams. He'd had to be content to send one of the Darth Sidious's acolytes that had joined him, one skilled enough in the arts of the Dark Side to recognize if this was one of their dead Master's caches, not so skilled so as to get ideas of his own if it was the treasure trove Katana was dreaming of.

The disguised inertial tracker had been a long shot, Katana hadn't really expected anything to come of it, not with Jedi-trained Force users living on the ship. That was why he'd made absolutely sure the tracker couldn't be traced back to him. But the gamble had paid off, at least for the first toss of the dice. For the second toss ...

Larena Sherrol's pleasantly pretty Human face appeared on his com screen. "Admiral, the Centenary has returned—"

"Excellent, patch through the call."

"That's just it, Sir, there hasn't been a call. It's definitely Centenary's transponder, and the ship is on a straight track to the base so they know exactly where we are, but they haven't attempted to contact us or responded to any of our hails."

Katana frowned thoughtfully. "You are certain that they are the only ship?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Very well, I am headed for the landing field. Place us on Level One alert. Contact Major Nyine and instruct him to send a squad of his troopers to join me."

"Yes, Sir."

The com screen blanked, and Katana rose to his feet and straightened his uniform. "Sorry, Akeyiro, we'll have to finish this later. For now, finish processing Captain Faroamer's loot. We'll take it from there after I see what's going on with Captain Tallon."

"Yes, Sir." Captain Akeyiro Tolorna had hastily risen to his feet with his 'Grand Admiral', and he saluted and turned to precede Katana out of his office.

/\

Katana arrived at the landing field to find trooperss rushing to the anti-spacecraft ground emplacements, thanks and the Level One alert, and the requested squad waiting for him ... along with his slicer, carryall slung over one shoulder. The Twi'lek was staring up at the sky in the direction the Centenary would be coming from, but he turned when the troopers came to attention. Katana returned their salutes. "As you were." Turning to Nejj Rethana as the squad relaxed, he asked, "What are you doing here? I thought you thrived on artificial light."

Rethana didn't even pretend that he hadn't sliced the coms and been listening in. He just shrugged with a grin. "Not much for me to do until we invade and I get to disrupt their communications networks. I've fine-tuned my programs as much as I can without access to the systems they'll be attacking and guarding against, I'm bored, it sounded like there might be a little excitement here."

Katana considered perhaps the one subordinate he couldn't do without at the moment, at least until after the locks on the ships' controls were released and the initial invasion carried out. That invasion would go a long way to sorting out which of the pirates that had joined him could be transformed into soldiers and occupiers and which would have to be discarded, but he already knew which category Rethana fell into. Success would attract more slicers happy to tie themselves to The Grand Admiral's rising star, but until then Rethana was irreplaceable and he knew it. Katana would have to wait until then to demonstrate what he thought of the slicer's lack of respect and discipline. Turning away to face the field, he pulled his personal com from its bracket on his belt and lifted it to his mouth. "Larena, where's the Centenary?"

"She's just entering atmosphere now, Admiral, still on track for the base from the east. You should see her in a few seconds."

"Very well." He turned to look in the indicated direction, along with the gather crowd—some ships' captains had their crews on a rotating watch of their own (something he'd noted, and made a list for later) and now people of all races were exiting their ships and even driving landspeeders back from the shanty-town that had formed to see what was going on. Not that there was much to see, yet, though he did see a glint of light in the rays of the setting sun, a glint that was rapidly growing ... too rapidly. He was just lifting his com to order the "port" defenses to open fire when the Centenary began to slow, hard. Whoever was piloting was in a serious hurry. The ship came to hover over an open landing berth surrounded by ships not far away (the berth essentially a circle spray-painted on ground stripped of vegetation, they'd neither been there nor intended to be there long enough to excavate proper berths). Suddenly the Centenary seemed twitch, quiver, and slid down at an angle to slam into a massive armed freighter. The freighter's landing struts snapped under the sudden impact and fell sideways as the cruiser twisted and landed on a corvette, and all three ships crashed to earth in a cloud of dust and a hideous squeal of scraping metal.

For a long moment, everyone stared, stunned speechless. Then Katana pushed through the squad and strode toward the crashed ships. The squad shook off the shock and hastily caught up with him, several troopers pushing ahead. "Come on, Rethana," the Grand Admiral called over his shoulder, "you may be needed to access the Centenary's computers." He didn't bother to ask if he had what he needed in his carryall, the slicer never went anywhere without the tools of his trade. And as pirate after pirate shook off their own shock, it was a struggle to keep his expression stern for the crowd following in his wake rather than the grin trying to break free thanks to the worried look on Rethana's face. It seemed his slicer hadn't been prepared for real excitement.

Reaching the crash site, relieved at the lack of smoke rising, he looked over the three ships. The cruiser looked mostly fine, it hadn't fallen that far, and was one of the ships he'd brought with him when he'd left the Republic's service—military ships were built tough, though if he'd been assigned to its crew he'd want to have technicians to look it over thoroughly from top to bottom before he would trust his life to it in space; hiding out in the Outer Rim, its crew would be unlikely to have any rescuers show up if anything went wrong. The freighter's hull had been stove in, but over its hold if he remembered that class correctly; but with it knocked off its struts Katana doubted it could safely take off ... not that that was going to keep him from ordering someone to try, he would have to check his list of crews that had particularly offended him to try it. And the corvette had been flattened; he wasn't sure how much could even be salvaged for spare parts. It did have increasing wisps of smoke escaping, suggesting something had caught fire, and he lifted his com again. "Larena, notify the fire brigade."

"Already done, Admiral."

"Excellent." Katana ended the call and put the com back to its holder next to the large square box on his belt. He'd have to give some thought to Sherrol later—he would never have enough people willing to take the initiative—but for now he had more important concerns. Such as why the Centenary had crashed, and why none of its crew seemed to have tried to leave the wreckage ... or even communicate. "Sergeant, we're going in."

In the end, the squad had to provide a power source to open the hatch, the ship's internal power had failed, at least locally. But it finally lifted and the ramp dropped, still useable though canted slightly and practically flat rather than angled down ... and the ship's interior was dark as well. The squad's Sergeant stared up at that dark entryway. "Sir, I don't like this. Whatever the situation in there, should you be taking the lead?"

"Normally no, Sergeant, but considering the mission I assigned Captain Tallon, Rethana and I need to access his records as quickly as possible." Before anyone else had a chance to get to any Sith artifacts or data first, or realize what they were. "But I think we can wait long enough for a few more squads to join us, request them. And have them bring a pair of headlights for me and Rethana." Katana eyed the canted side of the wreck. "And after you call that in, have one of your men climb up to the bridge windows and take a look inside."

The Sergeant nodded to one of his men, who immediately began clambering up the side of the ship toward the bridge, then spoke into his own com requesting the back-up. Katana waited impatiently for the reinforcements to arrive. He found his hand brushing against the the square box on his belt, and nonchalantly clasped his hands behind his back. He knew that his troops gossiped about that box—it wasn't regulation gear for his uniform and he'd only started wearing it after their mass desertion—and he didn't want to draw attention to it, or the pair of shoto lightsabers it contained rather than the personal medkit the troops' speculation had mostly settled on. He was badly out of practice, what with the lack of privacy that came with being a serving fleet officer in a wartime Navy, and he couldn't afford for anyone to realize that a new Sith Empire existed for years, perhaps decades. But still, he was glad to have them with him, because something odd was going on.

Then the trooper that had climbed to the bridge clambered back down much more rapidly than he'd gone up, sliding the last bit and landing on his feet. "Sir, there is no one alive on the bridge. There are three corpses, two killed by blaster fire lying on the deck and one in the pilot's seat apparently killed by an implanted shaped micro-charge that exploded out of his stomach."

" 'Apparently'?" the Grand Admiral repeated.

"Yes, sir. It doesn't fit the normal pattern for implanted explosives, but I can't think of anything else it could have been. It's a bloody mess around him, but not enough of a bloody mess for anything else."

Katana nodded agreement, frowning thoughtfully. The trooper had a point, it didn't fit the pattern. Shaped charges were the norm, true, but on humanoid species they were usually implanted at the base of the skull or chest-high on the spine and pointed inward—seeing how such implants were normally used for controlling slaves or kidnapping victims, those around were likely to be other slaves (and so valuable) or their kidnappers. He supposed the micro-charge might have been implanted on the spine at stomach height instead, and just blown completely through the body, but it was odd.

Then there was a disturbance in the crowd of pirates that had gathered around the wreckage. Three more squads—Katana assumed the remainder of the original squad's platoon—and their commanding lieutenant pushed through into the open space between crowd and wrecked ships, and even as they hurried over to the squad already around the Admiral the ship he'd ordered modified to spray fire-suppressant foam soared overhead and circled before coming to a hover over the flattened corvette. The stench of foam contacting hot metal quickly permeated the area, and Katana made a mental note to schedule some practice for that ship's crew—their reaction time had been abysmal.

But that was for later, now that the reinforcements had arrived he had more important concerns. He removed his cap to strap on the headlight handed to him and pressed the power stud. "All right, Lieutenant, leave two men to guard the hatch, we're going in."

/oOo\

Several months later the Royal Rising, the only ship of 'Grand Admiral' Katana's armada that hadn't had its controls locked and so the only one to escape, dropped out of hyperspace over Jussul. It only stayed long enough to contact the local sheriff's office (a new title that Jenni had suggested, that was becoming popular throughout the local area of the Outer Rim) and send it the coordinates of hidden base of the 'greatest pirate fleet in history' and a recording of the slaughter of that trapped fleet's crews by 'xenomorphs' before hypering out, never to be heard of again.

The half of its original crew on board plus remnants of a handful of crews from other ships were the only survivors. The combined naval task force sent to the coordinates by the Republic and half a dozen Republican and Confederate splinter states contained no troop transports, only enough firepower to glass the planet from orbit.


Author's Note: And that's a wrap! And yes, the Force/Tao used one of Darth Sidious's Sith Alchemy creations to annihilate a major threat to the recovering Republic and splinter states. Nice of 'Grand Admiral' Katana to gather so much of the pirate threat to the fractured galaxy in one location. But of course, there's no way that even an orbital bombardment massive enough to wipe the surface of the planet clean of life is going to get all the eggs, they can survive in very hostile conditions...