[Opening crawl: Turmoil shakes the galaxy following the destruction of the planet Hosnian Prime at the hands of the FIRST ORDER. Alliances and factions spring up at every turn, on the edge of all-out war.
The RESISTANCE led by General Leia Organa grows in strength as fighters and resources from every corner of the REPUBLIC flood in to face the First Order threat. Luke Skywalker has returned with Rey, seeking a new path for the Jedi.
The First Order's power grows as well, for some planets come to its banner or try to appease the warlike fleet.]
Freshly showered and with a new undersuit - even in a holo-meeting, standards were important - Phasma made her way to the viewing chamber. Walking the familiar corridors, she noted with some satisfaction that she saw no loiterers today among the crew as all around her they tended busily to their work.
Whung The door to the viewing chamber slid open with a muted noise as Phasma entered the cavernous room. With distaste, she wondered again at the sheer size and scale of the room on a Battlecruiser where space was at a carefully planned premium. She could have fit at least a floor of barracks in that striking high ceiling, possibly two. The drama of Force users - in Admiral Sloane's day, this would not have passed for good design.
Hux was waiting for her on the catwalk halfway to the viewing station. "Ah, good, Phasma. You're here," he said, straightening his uniform jacket and adjusting the lay of his coat. "I've had word that it's to be an emergency meeting of the High Command."
"I take it Lord Ren will not be joining us?" Phasma asked dryly.
Hux shot her a darkly pleased look. "It's probably on policy - not his sort of thing at all." He gestured toward the viewing platform with a flick of his hand. "Shall we proceed?"
As they reached the end of the catwalk, life-sized blue figures flickered into life all around them. Three generals and four admirals, the rest of the High Command. Phasma was the only Captain of the Guard there, she noted. Not an unusual state of affairs, but one which probably meant that it would be her stormtroopers that would be called into action.
No one spoke, waiting for the Supreme Leader to appear. A grand entrance was one of the privileges of power, Phasma thought, as she, Hux and the entire High Command stood silently at attention in the dark for what felt like an age. Finally, the massive form of the Supreme Leader's hologram snapped into focus with a crackle of static.
Hux and his fellows fell to one knee, until Snoke waved them to rise. Phasma didn't bother - anyone Force-blind below the rank of General was beneath the Supreme Leader's notice.
"I have gathered you today on the subject of expansion," said the huge and terrible figure of their leader. "A most... interesting proposal has been made. Admiral Antilles?"
The hologram of a sturdy middle-aged man holding a data pad made a brief bow to their leader, then began.
"As we've touched upon previously, the First Order Security Bureau has been looking into appropriate venues for expansion in the wake of Hosnian Prime. We believe we have found a strong candidate to put before you: The Dubrillion System."
An electronic murmur of interest went up from the assembled High Command. "Antilles has held that one close to his chest," Hux muttered under his breath. Phasma tipped her head subtly in acknowledgment. Taking the opportunity for expansion certainly made sense, but there hadn't been a ripple of this in her intelligence network.
Antilles tapped his pad, and two planets sprang to life in the space over the pit of the viewing room. "Dubrillion and Destrillion, one highly inhabitable, the other a mining planet, both rich in resources. No native intelligent life, and a commerce-oriented culture, approximately 60-70% human or near-human." He gestured, and the planets shrank, and fell into context on a larger star map. "It may be in the Myto Sector of the Outer Rim, but don't be fooled, it is strategically located. Dubrillion lies on the Veragi Trade Route between Ord Trasi and Salin, and links directly to the Hydian Way through the Salin Corridor. There may be no better place to set a resupply port and base of operations for our activities in the Trans-Hydian Borderlands."
"And their military?" asked a thin, painfully earnest-sounding man. Phasma tried to recall his name. Xalbin, that was it. Recently promoted and desperate to impress, no doubt.
"Not much. A relatively small planetary garrison, some mining transports that run the asteroid belt which can be armed in case of emergencies: Weequay pirates, Hutts, that sort of thing. They could be worth a wing, possibly a wing and a half of fighters,” Antilles said with a shrug that caused his hologram to sputter slightly. “Worth noting, but not a significant obstacle."
He gestured again, and the star map was replaced by a hologram of a city. Small, but with soaring towers and fanciful architecture. Tiny holographic ships came and went on a repeating loop. "Dubrillion has a commerce-centered culture - apparently they are under the impression that less government is better government. They have an administrator, the current one is Lando Calrissian, and a Planetary Assembly.”
"I doubt we have much to fear from Dubrillion, they're merchants,” sneered General Virilac, a thin, hard woman Hux had once served under. “They sway with the lightest political breeze. They were Separatists in the Clone Wars, and then suddenly the most 'loyal' of Imperial outposts."
"What about the New Republic? They are a member state," asked Admiral Rostan's hologram, from the far side of the room. He had never liked Antilles – or risk, for that matter.
Antilles smiled jovially. "I think the New Republic will find that the people of Dubrillion want us to come,” he said. “Positively welcome us."
"Oh?" asked Rostan, arch and dubious.
"We'll take a vote,” said Admiral Antilles, ingenuous. “After we land, of course," he added with a wicked grin.
"And Calrissian? Some regard him as a war hero," Virilac probed.
"He is nothing, an opportunist. Calrissian knelt to the Empire on Bespin, he will bend the knee here. As long as the First Order holds power, and allows him his petty business interests, he will be an asset. Of course, were someone else to take Dubrillion, he would serve them as well, but this is not our concern."
“So are we agreed?” asked the towering figure of Snoke, as if there could be any question. As if their agreement mattered. Which, obviously, it did not. The gathered High Command nodded, muttered and shrugged their agreement. “The Dubrillion System will fall,” decreed the Supreme Leader. And so it would, thought Phasma. Here we go.
Temmin Wexley stormed into the busy command center, plowing straight though a crowd of communications ensigns who were in his way as he looked for his target
"Hey, watch it, ship jockey!" snarled a large young Twilek he had elbowed aside. A new guy. There were a lot of those these days. "You can't just..."
"Sure, sorry, but don't stand in doorways," Temmin said, impatiently as he scanned the room. "Have any of you seen the general?" he asked them as they glared at him.
"No, why?" said a young human woman who managed to roll her eyes and stare insolently at the same time.
Where was she? Where was she? There was no time for this. Fine, sure, he'd do this the embarrassing way, why not. This was more important than his pride.
"Hey!" Temmin called across the room, pitching his voice to carry. Big lungs were good for something, at least. "Has anybody seen the general?" he shouted. The buzz of activity in the bunker-like room ground to a halt. Every pair of eyes or sensors in the room were on him, and most of them looked annoyed. He cleared his throat and straightened his sweaty flight suit. There had been no time to change, and now he felt it. "Uh, seriously, anyone know where she is? Like, right now?" he asked in a slightly more reasonable tone of voice.
The next few moments were incredibly awkward and he almost thought he would have to shout again that no, seriously, he meant it, this was important. Then a familiar gray head popped out from behind a suite of tactical holo-screens on the other side of the room. "It's all right, back to work everybody," General Organa said. "Snap? With me," she said, gesturing for him to come along. He did.
Once they were in the small conference room off the north wall - the one that used to be a large supply closet - the general turned to Temmin. "Well?" she asked, sounding amused and a little wary, "What do you have for me, Snap?"
"We couldn't risk it on the comms, General," he said, all in a rush. "They can't know that we know, at least not until you know that it's time for them to know that we know, but first you have to know..." Temmin caught his breath. "The fleet's converging," he said.
General Organa craned her neck to the side to catch Temmin's downcast eyes."The First Order fleet is converging? How many ships? Where? I need details, Snap," she told him, firmly, but not unkind.
Temmin swallowed. "The Reconnaissance wing, we just spotted it. Half the wing is still back there, gathering intel, but if they transmit, the Order will know we're there. They're there." He shook his head. "It's not the whole fleet, but there are four battlecruisers - four of them and all their support ships. They're on course for the Veragi Trade Route, and what chatter we could pick up sounds like Dubrillion. They could be there by early tomorrow."
Leia Organa looked pained. "Four battlecruisers and their support. That's a full planetary invasion fleet. We don't have enough forces ourselves, and we can't gather enough of our allies' warships fast enough to counter that. It's going to have to be an evacuation. Do you have the evidence with you?" she asked.
Temmin nodded, patted his pocket with the data chips, and then figured out that she meant he should hand them over. He did. "Thank you," she said, reaching up for his shoulder in a quick pat, "We don't have a minute to lose. Run down to the hangar and scare up all the pilots and flight crew you can, and get them comming every shipper and smuggler they know. If you have to send some of them out to bars, do it. We need anything with a space drive that can carry passengers. I'll get the staff on this and bring in Ackbar and Statura. Go!"
Temmin went. It would end up being a long and terrible day - no, three days - for the Resistance, let alone Dubrillion.
In the distance, they could hear the bombs. Closer, coming closer with every moment, the sounds of blaster fire as Resistance troops holding back the tide of stormtroopers, block by block through the streets. Outside the city medcenter, doctors and healers tried to handle the remaining crowd of patients and family members slated for immediate evacuation. The infants from the maternity ward had gone first, followed by the intensive care patients who might have been scheduled for “mercy”, but hundreds were left, desperate for a ride out.
All kinds of volunteered small spacecrafts clustered along the street and sidewalk. Mining craft, military shuttles, cargo shuttles, broken down old personal crafts. Dust choked the warm spring air from so many take offs and landings. Finn crouched on the edge of the deck of a hovering shuttle, helping the injured and weak in as Rey floated them up to him. A sickly-looking Rodian child whimpered as his father comforted him.
"Don't worry, you're next," Finn told the worried father over the roar of the engines, then turned and reached out for the aged Twilek woman with a cane who Rey floated gently up to him on a wave of Force. "Here you go ma'am. Good luck," he said, as he settled her into a seat toward the back of the packed shuttle.
Rey floated up the older and healthier of the two Rodian children - too large to be easily lifted by hand, too small to scramble aboard - as the father handed up his younger child, then heaved himself up to the deck to join his family. "I don't think we can fit any more," Rey said sadly, catching her breath. "That's the last of them for this ship, I think."
"Okay, you're full!" Finn called into the shuttle to the pilot. "Go!
"See you back at base," the shuttle pilot called back, "Okay everyone, we're getting out of here!"
Stormtroopers marched by, and those endless, horrible announcements played over and over. Lando Calrissian stood in the ruins of all he had built and mourned. Oh, it looked the same, minus a scorchmark here or there, easily taken care of. But the prosperity, the peace, three quarters of the people... Those were gone. They might never come back in his lifetime.
"Are you ready for another fight, old man?" asked a voice from about waist-height at Lando's side. He looked down; the voice came from a small orange alien woman.
"And you would be, old woman?" he asked, echoing her tone.
"Organa sent me," she said, and reached out for his hand. He shook it, bemused. "I'm Maz Kanata," she said, "And you didn't answer my question."
"Of course I'm ready," Lando said, "Or I would be long gone already. Wait, Chewie's Maz?" he asked.
"The very one," she said, with a conspiratorial smile, "And if you will put up with a strange old woman's folly, we'll see what we can do for this planet of yours..."
Throughout the halls of the Finalizer and the other Dubrillion Force battlecruisers, in hastily converted barracks in the cities of Dubrillion, view screens came on of their own accord with a fervent and memorable chime. It was time, again, for a message from the High Command. The familiar voice of General Hux was accompanied with vid footage of their Acquisition of Dubrillion.
“We, the First Order salute you troops of the Dubrillion Expeditionary Force! With your victory we have liberated the oppressed natives of this planet. Free and fair elections will be held under our supervision and we are confident that the beings of Dubrillion will seek the stewardship and protection of the First Order.”
“And from this victory comes the seeds of even greater triumph. We will use this planet, this strong foundation built upon your victory not only to spread order through systems long under the sway of the crumbling Republic, but also to strike first and stop the corrupt Syndien Alliance where they stand before they spread their vile tentacles further...”
Ah, I see, thought Phasma as she went back to work numbly. A war on two fronts, perfect. The possibilities, no, the probabilities, spun out before her. “We're pfassked,” she whispered.
[Opening crawl: A race for conquest! The FIRST ORDER are invading and intimidating small Republic and non-aligned worlds from their new base on Dubrillion. They will stop at nothing to seize the planets of the New Territories and Trans-Hydian Borderlands and enforce their rule.
Meanwhile the RESISTANCE gains supporters with every day as survivors of fallen planets stream in, determined to join the fight. They and the remaining worlds of the REPUBLIC stand strong against the First Order threat.
These two forces are not alone in their struggle for the galaxy. From the Outer Rim on the edge of Wild Space comes the SYNDIEN ALLIANCE. They offer their protection to citizen and criminal alike, but at a price...]
The sun was shining and the branches of the flowering lirra trees blew in the wind on both sides of the street. DE-4975 was on patrol in Sector Green Six of Brillionta, just like yesterday. Just like every day since last week when he was assigned to duty on Dubrillion. If he was really lucky, maybe he'd get to keep this rotation for a while. He'd heard the veteran troopers say that long rotations on occupation patrol were encouraged in order to get to know the terrain. DE-4975 hoped so. Brillionta was really pretty and this sector was so convenient.
"Hey, stop dreaming," said his patrol partner, DE-2482. His patrol partner! On real, actual ground duty, and not sanitation or supply patrol. "Eyes forward DE-4975," said DE-2482, thumping his gauntlet gently on DE-4975's shoulder armor. "We need to stay alert in case one of these nice, boring civilians decides to blow us all up." His voice made it clear exactly how likely he thought that was. Not much, obviously!
The streets of Sector Green Six, and probably most of Brillionta, were so nice and clean. The locals had even managed to sand off most of the blaster scorches on all the buildings and the pavement already. The streets were empty enough to make them easy to patrol - no crowds here - with all the people who had left for the countryside or gone with the Resistance, but with enough people left to run the bars and sell them caff and those cold fruity things in the market.
"They wouldn't blow us up!" DE-4975 protested. "There's been almost no explosions since the Resistance ran away and they voted for us. They even let us use First Order service chits in the market!" Nobody took First Order service chits if they could help it. The veterans all said it. That was just a rule.
DE-2482 rolled his head in annoyance. "Right. This is a good racket. Good food, regular schedule, no one shooting at us. So don't ruin it by... Stop that!" he said sharply to DE-4975. DE-4975 had been waving back at a local who had waved to him from a doorway as they passed by.
"What?" said DE-4975, "That was 'civilian outreach'"
DE-2482 shook his head. "Not very intimidating is what I call it," he said. "Keep your mind on the job."
They trudged along quietly for a while as civilians - real, actual civilians - passed them on either side. Chatting, talking on comms, hurrying off to do civilian things. They were so colorful! Some of them even smiled sometimes.
"So, Lando's?" DE-4975 finally asked, breaking the silence.
"Of course Lando's," said DE-2482. "What other officer bar would let us in, even in off hours?”
It was early evening at Lando's. The firewater was flowing, the waiters and waitresses were smiling oh-so-brightly, the expensive brass and chromium furnishings gleamed under the lights, and the music was even passable for once. The usual mix of fixers, flimsi-pushers, opportunists, the stubborn, the willing, and the trapped. There were even some stormtroopers left, since it hadn't hit Officer's Hours quite yet.
"How's my best girl?" asked Lando Calrissian as he swept off his gleaming raincloak in one dramatic gesture.
"I assume you mean this club of yours," said Maz Kanata with a laugh, clambering down off her high stool near the bar. "It's no castle, but it does its job, as you can see. Come with me to the back."
Once they were safely behind the sound-proofed sliding doors in the empty back room behind the back room - you always needed an official back room so that people stopped looking for the real one - Lando sat down with a heavy sigh. He was tired, and the chair was comfortable. One of the blue plush ones that he had salvaged from his Adminstrator office.
"Your absence was noticed," said Maz, as she poured him a tall glass of something cold and fruity before pouring one for herself. He really needed to get the recipe for that. "The boys in uniform and armor have missed their favorite host who was always so welcoming."
"I hope you told them that I was off seeing to my other investments out of town," Lando said, taking a sip.
"Oh, I did, I did," Maz said, "What do you take me for? It is even true from an angle. Meanwhile, the First Order service chits have kept flowing, though much good they will do us. But more importantly, the information has been flowing as well."
"First Order intel for the Resistance?" Lando asked.
"Oh, that as well," said Maz, "But also, more importantly, information flowing out. Such a pity, such a shame, if the First Order blockade on knowledge they find... less than useful to them should break, yes? Then where would their pawns and subjects - forgive me - brave troops and new citizens be?"
They shared a chuckle, two old schemers at their craft.
"And you?" Maz asked, "How have you prospered while you were not industriously flattering and 'collaborating' all day and slumming it in your own club every night? How are your, as we say, other investments?"
Lando shrugged. "It's a good thing the First Order doesn't pay attention to rural areas as long as the food and grain shipments keep coming in. They don't even suspect the baby farms at all," Lando said with a wince. "No, our 'recruitment age' babies and toddlers appear to still be safe. Can you imagine that? Recruitment age infants." He shook his head.
"And the miners?" Maz asked.
"Oh, they're old hands, they're fine," said Lando. "No one knows exactly how much inefficiency, bad luck and dumb insolence you can get away with with a hated and inexperienced supervisor like an angry free labor contractor. Our boys and girls on Destrillion will give the Order as much ore as they absolutely have to, and not one bit more."
He took another sip of the juice concoction. It really was good. He sloshed it around the glass, inspecting it. "What did you say you called this?" he asked.
"I didn't," said Maz with a sly smile, "But with enough ambrostine added, it's a Mustafar Sunset. Delicious fire, but a little too ambitious."
"They get drunk on it easily?" Lando asked with a smirk.
"Always," said Maz. "And of course, they usually regret it. For us, however, I leave the ambrostine out. We outlived the very worst of our ambitions long ago."
It was always good dealing with another professional. “Any word from your people off planet?" Lando asked.
If Maz looked self-satisfied before, she practically beamed with it now. "Oh yes, I have heard very interesting things..." she began, and they talked on late into the night.
Squad seven crouched behind the overturned landspeeder. Flames shot toward the sky all around them. One by one, the troopers of squad seven fell, their lives ending meaninglessly, no goal accomplished.
The holo froze, then clicked off. The light in the parade hall came up. "Can any of you tell me where these troopers went wrong?" Captain Phasma asked, from the dais at the front of the hall.
Several hands went up in the audience of stormtroopers standing at attention. Good, some of them were brave enough to say something, anything. Phasma found herself once again missing trooper FN-2187. He was a traitor, yes, but not an idiot or a coward.
"You there," she said, pointing to a slightly shorter than average trooper in the third row. "Your thoughts?"
The short trooper looked around as if to see whether or not Phasma was addressing the right person. "They... trusted the locals?" she asked more than said.
"Yes, FN-5269," Captain Phasma prompted, "And what else?"
"They didn't exercise proper fire control?" FN-5269 guessed.
"No," said Phasma. "Next?"
Slightly fewer hands went up, and she pointed to one. "They needed remedial defensive driving," ventured DE-2482, a lanky trooper in the eleventh row. Phasma made note of him for later.
"True," said Phasma acidly, "But unrelated, since they never should have been drawn into that chase to begin with. Which I should hope you would all know, since you are not cadets. Anyone?" Phasma asked, but no hands were left in the air. She sighed.
"The mistake that these utter wastes of training made was to mistake the task for the goal," Phasma said with frozen precision. She looked out at the sea of helmets and wondered how many of them even began to understand the concept. "Their task was to patrol that street. The goal of this action was to secure the sector and detect possible insurgent action. Four troopers chasing after six rebels in a commandeered, unarmored civilian landspeeder, careening down the street and predictably dying accomplished what?"
There was silence in the hall. They knew, at least, that this was a question she did not need or want an answer to. "Did they comm for backup and shelter in place with covering fire? Question why the insurgents appeared? They did not. And therefore, they detracted from the state of order rather than contributing to it," she told them. "Do you understand?"
"Yes, Captain," the troopers chorused.
"Dismissed," Phasma ordered, and they disbursed back to their assigned duties. As they left, Phasma spotted a familiar red haired figure toward the back of the hall, conversing with several lower ranking officers who had been watching the postmortem. General Hux beckoned her over, and she went.
Up close, General Hux wasn't the officer Phasma had known months ago. The person who had come back from the Syndien front was a shadow of that man. "We need to talk privately," said Hux, so she followed him back to the ready room of his visiting officers suite.
He sank into the cushioned desk chair as soon as the door slid shut. "We can't let this get out or it will hurt morale," Hux said, his voice as exhausted as his tired eyes, "But the Trilon system is a death trap. We've lost a battlecruiser and thousands of men already. It's madness."
Phasma waited. Eventually, he would tell her why he had called her there.
"I need men," said Hux, "But no one we can't afford to lose. More blaster fodder until we can get out of this cursed, stupid campaign." He scrubbed his hands over his eyes and sighed heavily. Phasma felt curiously touched to see it. "You know the troops," General Hux said, finally. "Draw up a roster for the Finalizer, and keep everyone we can't lose here."
"So what are we celebrating, gentlemen?" Lando asked the two tipsy stormtroopers. The perkier of the two troopers, a regular if Lando recalled correctly, blinked up at him blearily.
"DE-2482's being sent to the front," the trooper said.
"I'm gonna die," his friend moaned, with his head resting on the bar. It looked like they had already had a bottle or two.
"Off to save more planets from the Republic?" Lando asked sympathetically.
"I wish," DE-2482 mourned. "But no. No, I'm gonna die."
"He's off to the front near Zaddja," the other trooper confided.
"DE-4975, no," DE-2482 groaned, "You're not supposed to tell anyone. We're gonna strike first!"
Lando turned to DE-4975, one eyebrow raised. "Is this true?" he asked.
DE-4975 rolled his eyes. It was so much easier to read troopers when they had their helmets off to drink. "I guess. But come on, it's not like you're working for the Syndiens. I mean, they're from the other side of the galaxy!" the garrulous young trooper said.
DE-2482 sat up just straight enough to rest his drunken head in his hands. "Yeah, and they're going to kill us all. Probably me first," he said.
Lando shook his head. "That sounds like it calls for a drink. Or three!" he said, and signaled the waitress to bring a round of free drinks. Zaddja, Lando thought, making a mental note. Interesting.
"They want a what?" the hologram of Admiral Statura asked them.
"I was perfectly clear," said General Leia Organa, blinking at him from the darkness of the communications room of her latest secret Resistance base. "They say they want a truce."
"Not that we believe them!" Finn chipped in from beside her, present in his capacity as their expert on First Order operations. "But we have to give it a try."
"We can provide cover to all diplomatic and consular vessels meeting in defensible territory," Statura said dubiously, "But are you sure?"
"Oh yes," said Leia, with the air of someone who had something, possibly a trick blaster, up her sleeve. "It should be educational, or at least interesting."
She neglected to say who it would be educational for.
The meeting was on the Syrillian King, a passenger pleasure cruiser of no small amenities, deep in the Republic's Mid-Rim territories, but far from any inhabited systems. Around them lay nothing but stars and stonewalling bureaucrats. Or, rather, august representatives of the First Order military. Since the head negotiator on their side was Admiral Antilles, Captain Phasma saw those two things as one and the same.
The food was luxurious and the berths were comfortable even for members of the honor guard such as Phasma, but negotiations were going nowhere. They were in a war on two fronts, with a truce close to possible, and Antilles and his insufferable aides were going on about the value of planet-killer weapons to a survivor of Alderaan.
Planet-killer weapons that they did not have anymore, that were a ridiculous waste of resources which they could never truly afford, let alone now.
"But surely you can see our position," Antilles said, in a voice filled with so much cheer that a part of Phasma buried deep within her mind wished for nothing but his death, bloody and now. "We simply must have a fully free hand with our own defense at any cost."
It was as if Phasma could feel the meeting spinning out of their grasp with every word, as he went on and on, oblivious to the flat stare his words occasioned in the joint Republic/Resistance negotiating team.
General Organa tapped the arm of her aide, the former FN-2187, and said something to him quietly. He nodded and left the room at a fast clip.
"...We would be more than happy to come to some sort of congenial accommodation, however, to face the shared threat of the Syndien Alliance," Antilles finished, with an oily little smirk. Phasma found herself wishing deeply that General Hux were in his chair instead. It had been agreed that with his history with on the Starkiller Project and his position as a First Order spokesman made Hux a bad choice. But could he be worse than this? This sneaking, preening fool, throwing away a chance to save everything, when if the Republic and the Syndiens ever struck at once, they could destroy it all?
"No." General Organa said it firmly, as Phasma knew that she would. The Republic/Resistance negotiating team stood up as one. "We're not going to waste any more of your time. Or, for that matter, any more of our lives when you inevitably turn and try to kill us all again. We do remember Hosnian Prime, you know. We could never work with the First Order," Organa said.
And then a strange thing happened. Captain Phasma was a reasonable person who did not believe that blood could chill outside of hypothermia or carbon freezing. But General Organa met Phasma's eyes through her helmet, and Phasma's eyes alone, she could swear to it, as she finished that sentence with the words "... as it currently is," and Phasma's blood seemed to freeze. The words seemed to echo in her head as if from an external voice: We could never work with the First Order as it currently is.
From the outside, Phasma performed her honor guard duties just as before, but inside an idea she couldn't even bear to face at first grew in her mind.
The First Order as it currently is. The First Order as it currently is. A war on two fronts. Mindlessly grabbing for too much, too fast, more than they could hold. Dramatic fools who put their pride and glory before all, too stupid to know they endangered even their own survival.
The First Order as it currently is. Antilles. Snoke.
After a sleepless night, Captain Phasma placed a discreet personal comm call to General Hux. There was something very important that they needed to discuss in person.
In barracks on a dozen conquered and acquired worlds, on all the fleet's six remaining capitol ships and their escorts and stations, view screens came on of their own accord with a fervent and memorable chime. It was time, again, for a message from the High Command. The familiar voice of General Hux was accompanied with a glowing starmap, blinking relevant stars and trade routes as he spoke.
“Officers and troops of the First Order, proud soldiers all, we stand triumphant! We have beat back the recalcitrant Syndien forces from the Trilon sector! It is a proud, proud day for us all. While the brave forces of the Decider strike force suffered losses at the hands of the honorless deception and trickery of the Syndien menace, we succeeded.
“I exhort you, fight. Fight on, and fight bravely. This, this is a great day, and there shall be more like it! Do not cease to oppose the corrupting Syndien Alliance or the depraved, weakened so-called Republic. Fight on to a final victory!”
The announcement blinked off. Phasma would have rubbed the bridge of her nose and massaged her temples if she weren't as well-trained as she was. No images, final victory... That sounded very bad; they would have to move up the timeline.
"Admiral Antilles is a dead man walking," said Hux, drawn and thin, over a very large, very hot cup of sapir tea in Phasma's quarters. "Any man of his nature was bound to have a lieutenant or two ready to take the first chance they got. Antilles has three."
"And General Virilac?" Phasma prompted, as she brewed her own cup.
"She's onboard if we can take care of Snoke," Hux said. They shared a wry glance. It was almost, Phasma thought, like having a friend.
"Same for Admiral Rostan?" she asked. It always came back to taking out Snoke.
General Hux cast his eyes toward the ceiling. "Of course, the cunning old coward." Phasma thought of Snoke and Antilles, and even Kylo Ren for that matter, and took a moment to consider that a certain kind of bravery was overrated.
"It will have to be the Knights of Ren," said Hux forcefully. "We've looked into every other path, and there's no other way. And it will have to be you, they hate me."
Of course they do, thought Phasma. They're psychic and you hate them right back. "So now it's my job to convince the murderous Force barbarians because I only mildly despise them," said Phasma.
"You can do it," said Hux, blithely.
"As you command," Phasma said, shrugging ever so slightly.
"Oh, I like the sound of that," said Hux. He would enjoy being Supreme Leader when the time came, Phasma thought.
It was the early hours of the morning at Lando's, long after the last customers had been bundled home or off to their barracks. "Go on, go home," said Maz Kanata to the last lingering waitress. "We'll clean up."
"We?" Lando asked, amused. "Perhaps you have the time, but I..."
"We," said Maz, her voice suddenly iron. "You and I are going to have a talk, Calrissian, and you will not walk away until we do."
"Really, Maz," said Lando, in a tone of voice aiming for suave. "I have no idea what this is about."
Maz hopped up onto a chair next to Lando, and looked deep into his eyes. "Really, Lando," she said, dangerously gentle. "The Syndien Alliance?" The lenses on her goggles flicked back and the small orange woman stared even deeper.
Lando looked away, laughing nervously. "Really, I don't know where you're getting this," he said.
"Zaddja," Maz said. "I mean Zaddja, Bakura, Gannaria. You are selling intelligence collected here with our network to the Syndiens, and it has won them battles. Maybe more."
Lando sighed. "That's a bit rich," he said. "Our network? Your network? Not that you haven't been a help, you have, but this is my world. This is what is left of my business empire. I used to be Administrator of this whole damn planet long before you ever set up shop here. I don't need your permission to do what's best for Dubrillion, Maz."
"What's best for Dubrillion?" Maz said, incredulous. "If you knew what was best for Dubrillion, perhaps. That is what I agreed to, that is what we bargained for. That's what I will give you insofar as it is in my power. But do you know what is best for Dubrillion?" she asked, clearly rhetorically. "No, I am not convinced that you do. Because what I know, what I add to your little empire-that-was, is a larger galaxy beyond this system. A larger fight, a larger picture of which Dubrillion is inextricably a part. And when you forget that larger world, Lando, it is your world that will suffer."
"I can't believe it. Are you honestly threatening Dubrillion?" Lando growled and began to rise. "After all we've built here? After what we've done?"
Maz wrinkled her nose and pushed Lando back down by his shoulders. "Sit down, young man," she said, shaking her head. "I wasn't threatening a thing, let alone Dubrillion, which I would not. I was trying to explain that there are plans at work and that none of us fight alone - something you would be advised to remember before you get too-clever ideas about selling us all out to a cartel of gangsters and patronage machine politics."
"Now wait just a minute," Lando shot back, "I didn't sell 'us' out to anything. I sold the First Order, our enemies, out for a consideration of better treatment for this place if they ever do take over. Let them fight, let them bleed each other out. What does it matter if the Syndiens do end up taking Dubrillion? What's the difference?"
"What does it matter?" repeated Maz, "Every battle on Dubrillion kills people of Dubrillion. Your people, oh once-and-would-be Administrator. And when those battles takes them not a step closer to their freedom, their blood is shed for what? Vicarious revenge? You know better," she said, poking him in the chest. "You and I, we know the hard choice and the long game. Don't let it get you sloppy clever now, none of us can afford that. What's the difference? Nothing much, yet, but one day soon? Who knows, if we stop getting in each other's way."
The Knights of Ren. The Knights of Ren. What did they want? What did they need? Everyone had a handle, somewhere, but what? What did one offer a roiling sea of emotion and alien power? What made them discontent with the world as it was? They disdained power or position outside their own strange hierarchy. No Knight of Ren would ever want a governorship or a palace. What made them hunger? Not enough easily slain Jedi? Not enough praise for their ludicrous swordsmanship? Did Knights of Ren even want praise, or did they think themselves beyond such things?
Phasma swirled the liquid in her glass, looking into its red amber depths. The fire worm lanterns of the club glowed, mocking her. She heard a dry chuckle behind her and controlled the impulse to startle. She was stronger than that.
"You look downcast. Surely things cannot be so bad for the great conqueror?" said Calrissian's little alien hanger on. Maz, an absurd creature.
"Assuredly, old woman, they can," Phasma said.
She squinted up at Phasma through enormous glasses, measuring and somehow mocking. "Come then, tell an old woman your troubles," she said. "I have been the wise, old host for longer than you can possibly imagine. Perhaps I could help."
"Not unless you could give me the Knights of Ren," Phasma said off-handedly. No one would ever believe her.
The little orange old being jumped up onto the edge of the booth, grabbed Phasma's cape and tugged her near. Suddenly the goggled eyes were much closer and somehow far from absurd. The lights seemed to dim. "What if I could, Phasma, Captain of the Guard, conqueror?" said the small, ancient woman, in a voice that somehow reverberated in Phasma's armor and bones. "What if I could, what would you pay?"
At sea and somehow out of her depth Phasma thought: What do I have to lose? A freeing thought. "Almost anything," she said, as if in a dream.
"Almost?" she was asked, and the stare and the voice felt somehow even doubled in intensity.
"Not my life or my people," Phasma answered, willing her eyes to break the stare.
"That will do," said Maz, suddenly her right size again, and ridiculous. And she left, calling over her shoulder, "Bartender, bring this fine conqueror, a second Mustafar Sunset. She will need it."
Luke Skywalker was not accustomed to unexpected visitors. He had been communing with the Force for over thirty years, he habitually lived on backwater planets where the only guests were invited, and legends aside, he was not so interesting that anyone would want to visit him at three o'clock in the morning.
Therefore, he was more than a little startled to wake up to the sight of Maz Kanata staring deep into his eyes, looking deeply impatient.
“Good,” she said, “You're awake. We have work to do, Jedi.”
Luke took a deep breath and released it into the Living Force. She would have a reason for this. “What brings you here, Mistress Kanata? What work do we have to do?”
Maz smiled. “Do you think I do not know the things that you've found? Excavating the eldest Jedi Temple indeed. Do you think that I, I, think it is all as harmless, sensible and open-hearted as your new... curriculum?”
“No,” said Luke, drawing on the Force's serenity, as he got out of bed and went to his clothing chest, so that he wouldn't have to face whatever this was in his sleep clothes, “I don't suppose you do.”
“There is a time for everything, as well you know, Skywalker,” she said, still perched on the edge of his bunk, “And some things were never meant to hide forever, even if they weren't meant for us.”
Ah, that. Luke finished pulling the fresh shirt on and knelt before her. “Are you very sure, Maz? Be sure.”
“Not all fire can be fought with water,” she said. “Some things were never meant to be lost. It is time, and past time.”
“All right,” Luke acknowledged. “I'll bring you there.”
Phasma sighed, taking off her helmet after the door of her quarters closed securely behind her, and ran an armored hand through her hair. Another long night of reading badly written action reports and explaining to stormtroopers why ideally one did not frag annoying civilians just to keep order. Being the victor was supposed to be the easy part, wasn't it?
She went to trigger the lights, when they came on of their own accord. A little old woman, tiny and orange, sat on the edge of Phasma's bunk. Maz Kanata.
"Still need the Knights of Ren? I wouldn't want to waste the dread conqueror's time," she asked, with an infuriating twinkle behind her goggles that said she knew perfectly well that Phasma still needed her help as much, if not more, than the day she asked for it.
There was no point in being coy. Phasma didn't have a reputation as a capricious eccentric to build. It seemed to come with age... and possibly being Force sensitive. "You know I need it, old woman, because you would not dare to waste my time," Phasma said, trying very hard not to be disturbed by the naked feeling one got when unmasked before strangers. The way the tiny old being was intently peering up into her eyes didn't help matters.
"Here," said Kanata, placing a small carpetbag the size of a nutriloaf onto the bunk beside her. "Here is all you will need to sway the Master of the Knights of Ren, and with him his order. With a little tact and cunning, of course."
"What could possibly be so valuable?" Phasma found herself asking, staring at the battered little bag. Damn her, she felt like a fool.
"What else?" asked Kanata, infuriatingly patronizing and gentle, "Knowledge and lies."
There was nothing to be said to that. Force sensitives and superior officers were alike that way. Just wait for them to enjoy their own cleverness. Kanata dipped her head in acknowledgment and smiled irritatingly. Not at her, Phasma was sure, but at something sly and secret, and began to produce objects from her bag. A cluster of battered ancient metal cubes, a small worn statuette broken off at mid-waist with writing on the base in some unknown script, and several Imperial-era data drives.
"And these are" Phasma asked, holding tight to civility, although frost cut through her voice nevertheless.
"Secrets and knowledge," said Kanata. "Things that would be of very great interest to the Knights of Ren... if only their Supreme Leader ever told them that they exist. Ahch-To, Jedha, Bar'leth, so many places, so much evidence of ways beyond Jedi or Sith. What do you think they would do if they knew how Snoke was limiting them, hmm?"
Phasma's breath caught in her chest and she willed her face to remain still. Damn the old woman for catching her unmasked.
"Oh yes, you see it, don't you?" Kanata said, staring up at her with an awful, insinuating pleasure. 'We share a secret,' it implied, 'You and I see the same thing.' "What would they not do for the one who offered them freedom and power?"
It should have been three months later, give or take a week. It should have been, yet planning and waiting and calculation are often pushed aside by circumstance. In this case, the circumstance was one of Hux's communications techs finding a Syndien spy drone ship lurking in Dubrillion's asteroid field.
"An invasion here, now, would ruin everything," Hux said, once he had summoned Phasma up from the surface into the ready room of his personal quarters, "But 'rescue' from the wrong part of the fleet?"
Phasma found herself nodding. "We can't risk this planet," she said, finally. "Too much of our power base is here."
"Too much evidence," said Hux, darkly.
They stared out the window, down at the planet for a while. "We're as prepared as we could be," Phasma admitted.
Hux nodded decisively. "So be it, then," he said. "Call the Knights of Ren."
When Phasma had offered Kylo Ren and his knights a bag full of ancient Force knowledge as proof that their Supreme Leader had been lying to them and holding them back, getting them to agree to kill Snoke was not the problem. Especially when she had promised not to leash them or limit them in any way. The hard part had been convincing them to wait.
"It was so easy!" laughed Hux, leaning back in his chair in his ready room. "How was it so easy?" he wondered.
Because I and the Knights of Ren and Maz Kanata and all those dead, brave lieutenants of Antilles's did all the work, thought Phasma.
"It was so easy," gloated Hux. "Like it was destiny, like it was meant to be. And now, everything we ever wanted, everything we ever dreamed of. First the Syndiens, then after we finish them off, the Republic. Who knows, maybe in time, we'll have another Starkiller. Then, under my reign we will truly bring order to the galaxy!"
Everything we ever wanted, thought Phasma dully, her stomach churning. Everything we ever wanted. Oh, Hux.
And she shot him then and there. In the head, from behind, in his moment of greatest joy and triumph.
He never felt a thing.
It was curiously easy to pass unknown in the crowd when your true face was your armor, and your flesh was irrelevant. Phasma arrived in the twilight, before the happy hour and dinner rush, wearing a First Order weapons officer's uniform. The soon to be Supreme Leader, utterly invisible.
"So you've come to ask what you owe," said the little orange worman in the curiously unchanged bar. "Good."
"And what do I owe, old woman," asked Phasma, arguably already ruler of all she surveyed. "Riches? Power?" Though of course it would be nothing so simple. Force users.
Maz Kanata said, simply, "The planet."
The planet. "You, Maz Kanata, would like all of Dubrillion," Phasma said, testing that thought out. No, that wasn't it.
"I, Maz Kanata, would like you to give all of Dubrillion to Dubrillion," said the tiny ancient being, as if it were obvious and always had been. Perhaps it was.
These terms have been agreed upon on the second day of the Conference of Dubrillion between the party of the first part - "The New Republic" and the party of the second part - "The First Order" and shall be established in a treaty, the wording and further clauses of which shall be established later in this same conference.
The party of the first part, "The New Republic" resolves to:
- Cease hostilities upon the party of the second part, "The First Order" until and unless they shall violate the terms of this treaty or otherwise the established rules of war as set forth in the Galactic Concordance.
- Acknowledge that the party of the second part is not the banned organization known as "The Galactic Empire", but a new and distinct organization.
- Cease attempts at extradition or extraordinary rendition of members of that group known as "The Knights of Ren" for so long as they remain within the borders of the party of the second part, "The First Order", as they are a vital part of this territory's defense.
- Said protection of "The Knights of Ren" or any member shall not extend outside the borders of the "The First Order", nor shall they ever operate in the territory of "The New Republic" save by direct invitation for reasons of urgent defense.
- Not collude or conspire with that enemy force known as "The Syndien Alliance" against the party of the second part for any reason.
The party of the second part, "The First Order" resolves to:
- Likewise cease hostilities upon the same terms, and henceforth obey the rules of war as set forth in the Galactic Concordance.
- Restrict further expansion to those polities that vote for annexation in the absence of First Order forces or agents, and in the presence of neutral independent observers.
- Resume territorial borders as of directly before the Acquisition of Dubrillion.
- End forcible early enlistment of troops. All minors within the cadet program, and any adults who so choose, will be entered into a reunification program administered by the party of the first part, "The New Republic".
- Begin a charitable program in which repurposed clone tanks captured during hostilities shall be used to provide offspring to any worthy officer or trooper who so desires.
- Establish free universal childcare, education, and a military and support personnel apprenticeship program to care for said offspring and any former cadets who cannot be repatriated.
- Not collude or conspire with that enemy force known as "The Syndien Alliance" against the party of the first part for any reason.
Both parties resolve that:
- The planetary system of Dubrillion shall become a neutral freeholding territory for a period of no less than fifty Galactic Standard years, at which point the citizens of said system might elect to ally themselves, or not, in any way they so choose.
- Until that time, the party of the first part and the party of the second part agree to protect the Dubrillion system from all violent incursion, including, but not limited to, invasion by that force known as "The Syndien Alliance".
- Aside from this requirement of neutrality, the beings of the system of Dubrillion may immediately return to self-government in any manner they best see fit.
Phasma stood alone by the window, sipping tea and looking at the stars in the Republic Diplomatic Service ship, following a long day at the peace conference table. It somehow seemed wrong to disturb her. Finn wasn't sure how he felt about that. He wasn't sure how he felt about a lot of this, actually. For example, that free education clause sounded an awful lot like a slightly kinder, gentler cadet indoctrination program. Although, he guessed most of them would have families, sort of, which was something. Not much, but something.
"Is that it? Is that all?" Finn asked. After everything, after basically his entire life, it just seemed like there should be more. It felt like he was missing something.
"No," said Leia Organa, with a vicious and rueful sort of relish, "Now the game begins."
In the forests of Kashyakk, Dewlanna looks up at the faint sound of a familiar engine in the distance. The Millennium Falcon - her husband has returned.
In a resort on Yavin IV, Poe Dameron lays on a lounge chair, sipping a Woolamander Slam. It is extremely cold, and extremely fruity. He could be visiting his father. In fact, he will be visiting his father. But for right now, Poe Dameron is going to lay in the sun, catch up on his sleep, and do absolutely nothing daring or heroic. Maybe he should order another Woolamander Slam.
And Lando? Lando is back in business, and business is good.
Somewhere, out in the galaxy, Rey and Luke Skywalker are leading a group through their morning katas, potential Jedi and borderline Force-sensitives alike. Rey finds herself wondering what Finn is doing right at that moment and when she'll see him next, catches herself, and turns her mind back to the exercises at hand.
"So," says a voice from behind Destla's elbow, "I hear you're having Guavian problems." She turns and looks down to see a tiny orange woman wearing enormous goggles. The woman pats her hand briskly. "Come with me and tell Maz Kanata all about it. I'm sure we can come to some kind of arrangement."
DE-4975 whistles as he walks his beat, down a street still scatted with torn decorations and forgotten alcohol bottles. He's allowed to do that now, whistle. As long as he isn't too obvious.
He's got half a shift left, and the streets are quiet, sleeping off the night before. Half a shift then he's off to Lando's for farewell drinks before they're off to Dagobah. DE-4975 thinks Lando may even miss him. It's nice to get along with the natives. Restful. Almost as restful as letting them take care of themselves and promise not to shoot you anymore.
Dagobah. He's always wanted to see a nature world with something other than sand or ice. Maybe XJ-3508 will be interested in the indigenous lifeforms - it seems like something she'd do.
Chapter 4: Art by M-Oarts
After the successful peace conference.
Maz offers Phasma a holocron.