The Millennium Falcon's passive sensors were warmed up and ready to go the moment Han pushed the hyperdrive levers and dropped the ship back into realspace on the outskirts of the Toskanus system. They started picking up transmissions immediately, mostly hard to decipher, but enough could be made out to reveal that the Sun Crusher's recent visit still had the entire planet on edge. Drive trails of patrolling spacecraft speckled the sky, their movement setting them apart from the backdrop of stars. Though all quite distant, Han was taking no chances, and turned his ship in the direction of a ringed gas giant.
"Luke?" he shouted in the direction of the crew area.
"No need to shout, Han," came a voice from a lot closer than he had expected. "I was on my way already."
"So, are you going to put in that call to Leia?"
"Not just yet. I think we'd better hide for a while and get a better feel for their patrol patterns before we transmit. You know, in case they somehow intercept it."
"But you said you'd call as soon as we got here."
"Don't worry, I'll call her," Han said, then looked Luke in the eyes. "Wait. Are you getting one of those Jedi premonitions or something?" His serious expression abruptly melted into a sly grin. "Or are you just anxious for news about something... or someone?"
"Uh... no, not especially. And no, I don't have any bad feelings, either."
"All right, whatever you say. I'll call you when I make the transmission. But don't get too deep into meditation in the meantime, cause I'm not gonna have the time to drag you out of Jedi-land if trouble shows up."
As usual, the council adjourned late, and Leia was left drained of energy from the day's proceedings. She was well on her way home when she remembered the private meeting she had scheduled. She contemplated skipping it, but duty finally won out, and she slowly turned around and headed for her private office. Well, she reminded herself, at least it will be a friendly face for a change.
As she entered her office, she was surprised to find General Wedge Antilles already there. Then she remembered: she had given him access earlier.
The young General rose to his feet and offered a neat military salute. "Madam Organa-Solo."
"Please, General, just call me Leia," she replied, offering her hand.
"If you wish," he said, taking her hand. "And please, call me Wedge." For a moment, he debated whether to shake the hand or kiss it, being a little unsure of what was considered proper in such circumstances.
A quick squeeze by Leia and the withdrawal of her hand prompted a momentary sense of relief, which was quickly replaced with embarrassment, as it dawned on him that she had noticed his hesitation.
"Please be seated, Wedge," Leia said, walking around her desk and pulling up her own chair.
"Thank you, Ma... er, Leia."
"Wedge, I've called you here to ask for your help."
Wedge shifted uncomfortably in his seat, but gave Leia his completely undivided attention.
"We are presently in a serious state of emergency," she continued, "and you may hold the key to ending it."
Wedge's gaze changed, coming to the borderline of anger. "And how, exactly, do I hold the key?" he replied, his words slow and deliberate, broadcasting suspicion and possibly a threat.
Leia took a deep breath. He knows what I'm going to ask, she thought. I can't blame him for feeling like this, but I've got to ask. "Wedge, I was hoping that you could talk to Qwi Xux about stopping the Sun Crusher. We've come up absolutely blank. None of our tacticians has even the slightest clue about how to proceed. We need all the qualified help we can get, and she's as qualified as they come."
"Absolutely not!" he almost shouted. "I won't allow her to be continually harassed over her part in that abomination. She made her feelings quite clear, and that's final. She's suffered enough."
"Wedge, please understand! I don't want her suffering any more than you do!"
"Then stop asking! I already told General Bel Iblis I wouldn't do it, and I'm not going to change my mind for you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to be getting back to Ithor. And if I catch anyone pestering Qwi, I'll personally send him to the bacta tank. I trust I've made myself clear."
Just as Wedge stood to leave, the door signal pinged. Leia pressed her intercom button and bid the visitor to enter. The door slid open, and Garm Bel Iblis strode in. Wedge gave him a poisonous stare, enough to make the grizzled warrior steer well around him. With a final grunt of disgust, Wedge turned and left the room.
"I don't suppose you had any better luck?" the general inquired.
"Not a chance. Strange, I've never known Wedge to be so hardheaded about anything."
"Strong emotions can have quite an effect on a person. But Dr. Xux is about the only chance we've got to put an end to this madness, and if he doesn't ask, someone else will have to, and I'm sure you know what that could mean. For the sake of everyone involved, though, I sincerely hope he comes around."
"I hope so too," Leia sighed, feeling the fatigue reassert itself. "Now, was there something you wanted?"
"Yes, a new lead on the Sun Crusher," he said, handing her a datapad.
She studied it for a moment. "Ord Narka? But why? There's nothing there."
"Nothing of any significant strategic value, no," he replied. "But there is some of food, and a small but fiercely pro-Imperial population. It would fit within his apparent target pattern while also providing him with supplies. We may not know how it works, but we do know that the Sun Crusher doesn't have a whole lot of storage space."
"So how old is this data? And how reliable?"
"Less than two days old, and I'd put its reliability at 65%."
"That's not good enough, Garm. We've got to be positive and ahead of him, not unsure and behind."
"I understand that, Leia. We're doing all that we can."
"I know. But it's just not enough." Leia leaned back in her chair and rubbed her eyes. "Is there anything else?"
"Not at this time. If anything else comes up, I'll let you know immediately."
"Be sure you do."
With a quick nod, the senator left. Leia remained in her seat, considering whether just falling asleep there and then would be worth risking a stiff neck in the morning. At last, her sense of dignity won out, and she slowly rose to leave for home. She had just stepped out the door when the comm on her desk beeped to declare an incoming message. Leia paused in the doorway, letting the comm beep several more times, hoping it would quit, before reluctantly turning to answer the call.
She dropped into the chair and pressed the comm button while trying to rub the sleep out of her eyes again.
Without looking up, she mumbled, "What do you want?"
"Oh, great. I've done it again, haven't I?"
Her head darted up. On her office wall comm screen she could see Han, with Luke standing behind him, in the Falcon's cockpit. "Han! What... Why..." She took a quick glance at the comm control and guessed that she must have accidentally pushed the visual button instead of the one for audio only. "Oh, never mind," she said, shaking her head. "What is it?"
"Uh, well, I was just calling to let you know that we're at Toskanus. Anything new come up in the meantime?"
"Nothing solid. Senator Bel Iblis seems to think the Sun Crusher might be at Ord Narka, but he's not really sure about it."
"We might as well give it a shot. It's not too far, and we don't have anything better to do. How are you holding up?"
"Fine. I'm fine. Why, don't I look fine to you?" she said sarcastically.
"Well, of course you do," he lied. "You always look fine to me. But you do look tired. We'll call back some other time."
"A whole lot of good that does for me. You can only reach me at night."
"Oh, yeah. Sorry."
"It's not your fault," she said, then took notice of Luke, who had been silent and somewhat distracted the whole time. "No, Luke, Mara hasn't called in yet."
"Huh? I didn't say anything," he replied, his tone clearly indicating that he thought he had missed something.
"No, but you were thinking it."
"Sweetheart, are you saying that you can read his mind way out here?" Han said, already wondering how she could possibly have advanced her skills that far without his knowing.
"No, Han. There are some things you can tell without Jedi powers. So you two really are going to check out Ord Narka?"
"Why not? Better than staying here. You take care of yourself. And I mean that. I love you."
A few hours in hyperspace, and the Millennium Falcon re-entered realspace at a cautious distance from Ord Narka, passive sensors on line, as before. But this time, there was almost nothing to pick up. Han was immediately suspicious. Sure, Ord Narka was a small and practically insignificant outpost, but there still ought to be more communications going on.
He heard footsteps in the corridor. "Han, I'm not going to discuss it any further," Luke said, entering the cockpit. He leaned over Han. "I am not going to put Leia under a trance, and you had better be only joking about using a tranquilizer that strong on your own wife," he said, shaking his finger for emphasis.
"Hey! I just called you up here to tell you that we're at Ord Narka!"
"Oh... well, all right, then," Luke said abashedly, settling into the copilot's seat. "Sorry I jumped on you. But when we get back, you have to talk with her. And I'll try to make sure she stays in one place long enough. But that's as far as I'm going in this matter."
"She'll never listen. She never does."
"All the more reason to try again. This communication problem is really souring your marriage."
"Communication problem? Is that so?" Han replied, his voice revealing his growing irritation. "Has it ever occurred to you that you are far from qualified to be criticizing anybody else's home life?"
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Luke said in a tone of controlled anger that Han found especially annoying.
"Well, at least Leia and I..." Han began before Luke grabbed his arm. He turned to look at his brother-in-law, and saw the familiar look of Jedi concentration. He had been wanting a change of subject for a while. "What is it?"
Luke was silent for a few seconds before answering with an ominous, "He's here."
Through his viewport, Kyp saw the pale blue of Ord Narka's atmosphere deepen into the star speckled black of space as the Sun Crusher departed the world. The first of many that would kneel before his presence. Of course they had initially refused, and he had been forced to kill a few objectors, but that just made it all the more exhilarating. Power was indeed intoxicating, as Exar Kun had promised. Kyp found himself almost regretting destroying Carida. Almost.
No fighters pursued him as he piloted the Sun Crusher away from the planet. He smiled, recalling how he had taught them that lesson when he arrived. Once on the planet's surface, he found that the Imperials had no idea as to the location of Admiral Daala. But then, he hadn't expected them to. After a brief but highly visible display of the Dark Side, the people succumbed to his every whim, for fear of what he might do if they disobeyed. The people had no love for him, that was clear. But then, Kyp didn't want his Imperial slaves to enjoy being under his foot.
He started the navicomputer on the calculations for the jump to lightspeed, hoping that the next world would fall into line as well as this one had. It may be somewhat bigger and better armed, but now he had some experience in world domination.
The Sun Crusher reached the edge of the planet's gravity well, and Kyp reached for the hyperspace levers. He wrapped his hand around them... and stopped.
Something wasn't right. He pulled his hand back, and reached out with his senses. There was definitely a disturbance out there. A presence, in fact. Someone radiating the Light Side of the Force like a landing beacon, obviously conducting his own Force search instead of shielding his presence.
"Skywalker?" Kyp mumbled, then shook his head. No, it couldn't be Skywalker. After all, he and Exar Kun had left him dead atop the Great Temple on Yavin 4. But then, who could it be? There were no students at the Jedi Academy with anything near the kind of power he felt.
"Sun Crusher, do you read me?" came a voice from the comm, interrupting his thoughts. "Come on, Kyp, answer me."
So he knows my name, Kyp thought. The voice seemed familiar, as did the face on the monitor. He listened carefully as the man repeated his request. Kyp reached out again, focusing on the speaker, only to find that he wasn't the Jedi he had sensed earlier. But the Jedi was nearby. Of that he was certain. He keyed to respond.
"This is the Sun Crusher," he said in a commanding voice. "What do you want?"
Han was taken aback. He sure didn't sound like Kyp. And he really didn't look much like him, either: older and much more menacing, with a hideous scar on the side of his head. But who else could it be? Han swallowed hard, wishing he had used the voice-only setting.
"Kyp, this is Han. We need to talk."
"Ah, yes. Han," he replied, the name filling in the blanks in his memory. That's right, he thought. Han is a... friend?
"Yeah, kid, it's me. Look, I know you're a little upset right now, but if you can calm down a bit and listen for a while..." he said, the words sounding far too nice when compared to the enormity of Kyp's deeds. But truthful accusations would only make him more angry and less likely to cooperate, at least, that's what Leia said.
"You want me to return the Sun Crusher, don't you?"
"I still need it. I've got to make the Empire pay for its crimes against the galaxy. The New Republic doesn't have the courage to do it."
"Kyp, this isn't the way. Come with me now, and I promise you'll be safe."
"Oh?" Kyp asked mockingly. "And what happens if I don't come along now?"
"Look, Kyp, you've got a lot of people worried. Some even want to kill you. I came out here to help. You know you can trust me."
Kyp considered it for a moment, some more details of his memory filling in. "Yes.. yes, you're right. I can trust you."
"Good. Now think about what you're doing. Think hard. Are you doing the right thing?" Han asked, having a hard time believing that Leia's approach was actually working.
"The Empire must pay for its crimes. I'm going to make sure they get what they deserve."
"But is destroying entire star systems really necessary? I thought you hated the Empire's superweapons. I thought you considered them against everything you believe in. And now, here you are, using one."
Kyp smiled inwardly. No, he didn't intend to destroy any more star systems, except as an occasional reminder. But, of course, Han didn't know that. Furthermore, Han seemed to be as weak as the New Republic fools who wanted to throw away the Sun Crusher. Han did speak the truth, but only about the old Kyp, the ignorant boy who had no idea what justice really was. And now, he stood in the way of what must be done...
"You're right, Han," he said with a forced tear in his eye. "It's wrong to use this horrible weapon." He hung his head in mock shame, hiding the grin he could no longer suppress. "I'm sorry," he sobbed.
"It... it's all right, Kyp," Han stuttered, surprised at Kyp's sudden reversal. Surprised, and a little suspicious. But Kyp wouldn't lie to him... would he? "Come on, let's go home."
"Okay," Kyp replied with a sniffle. "Coruscant, right?" he said, then turned and pretended to enter the new destination into the navicomputer. "All right, Han. It's all set here."
"Then let's get out of here."
"Here it goes," Kyp answered, reaching for the hyperdrive levers again. But just before he pulled them, Han interrupted him.
"Hey, Kyp, one more thing before we go. There's someone else here who wants to talk with you."
Kyp pulled his hand away from the levers and leaned back in his seat. "Yeah, okay. Make it quick, I want to get back 'home'."
"Okay, Kyp. Here he is."
Han got up and moved away from the comm, and Luke slipped into his seat.
He knew it was too good to be true. "Well, Master Skywalker," he said, his voice saturated with contempt. "I see you've somehow recovered. I'm sure your students are all impressed." He looked out the Sun Crusher's viewport at the Millennium Falcon, which had pulled up alongside while he had been talking with Han.
"Kyp, I can sense the Dark Side. It's consuming you," Skywalker said in that nauseatingly earnest voice of his. "But it's not too late. You can come back to the good side."
Kyp tried hard not to laugh. "But why would I want to do that? You would have me meditate all day, or take ridiculous Force-finding hikes in the jungle. I'm beyond such pathetic games. I have more power now than you'll ever have."
"But the power you have is already eating away at you. It's destroying who you are, Kyp. You must recognize it, and end it."
"You may be right," Kyp said, putting on an act just as he had done for Han, now with a much more sinister goal in mind. "I... I don't know what's come over me," he whimpered, his hanging head concealing darting glances to the Sun Crusher's targeting controls. He knew he was a terrible actor, but Han and Luke were so ludicrously gullible that it was actually working without any help from the Dark Side.
"Kyp, I sense deceit. I think you're lying."
Maybe not so gullible after all. But still naive. Skywalker still wanted to talk. "No, I'm not," he mumbled, as he pressed the target lock-on key. On the screen, the Millennium Falcon was bracketed in red.
"Kyp, remember: anger, hatred, fear, and aggression are of the Dark Side."
"Is that so?" he replied, raising his head to face Skywalker, a gruesome smirk on his face. He pressed the solar resonance torpedo energizer key.
"Luke, I'm picking up an energy buildup on the Sun Crusher," Han said, leaning over the copilot's seat looking at the Falcon's sensor display. "Wait a minute, you don't suppose... No, he wouldn't..."
The Sun Crusher rotated on its vertical axis, turning its torpedo launch tube toward the Falcon. "Uh oh, I've got a bad feeling about this," Han said, jumping into the seat and powering up the ship's systems. "Uh, Luke..."
"I see it." Luke said, his face a sickly white. He turned to the comm. "Kyp! What are you doing?"
Kyp let out the maniacal laughter he had been holding back, sending a chill down the spines of the Falcon's occupants. Kyp's laughter ended abruptly, and he gazed straight into the comm. "Well, Master Skywalker, I'm going to tell you a little more about those admirable qualities you just mentioned. It's time you learned a lesson from the Dark Lord of the Sith."
"Kyp, you don't know what you're saying!"
"I know perfectly well what I'm saying. Now let me explain how well your favorite quote applies to me. Anger: gee, kind of hard to think of anyone more angry than I am, isn't it? Hatred: well, let's see: I hate the Empire, I hate the weaklings who won't put an end to it, I especially hate Admiral Daala, and... Oh, yes. I hate you."
"That's it, Luke. We're getting out of here," Han said, yanking hard on the Falcon's controls and punching the throttle to maximum.
"Running, are you?" Kyp's mocking voice continued. "That brings me to the next one: fear. Now, is it having fear, or inflicting it that's the Dark Side? If it's having it, then I guess I failed on that one. But if it's inflicting it, well, I've certainly got you scared, haven't I?"
"Han, can't you go any faster? He's following us, and it looks like he's gaining," Luke said, watching the proximity monitor.
"I've got her wide open. Maybe that droid of yours can find some more power somewhere."
"Good idea. Artoo!"
"And finally," Kyp continued, "aggression. Well, why use words when actions speak so much louder." At that, he fired the resonance torpedo. "Sorry I can't stick around for the fireball, but the shockwaves give me a headache," he said, rubbing his scar. "Besides, I'm on a tight schedule. I would say 'see you later,' but since I won't, well," he chuckled, "I won't."
Artoo had indeed managed to scrounge up some more power from somewhere to boost the Falcon's speed. Han had the feeling that he wasn't going to like where that somewhere was, but he had more urgent matters to deal with, and the extra speed was gaining them some distance from the Sun Crusher. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to outrun the torpedo.
The Millennium Falcon maneuvered sluggishly at first, Han not being used to the copilot's controls and having no time to switch seats with Luke. The torpedo closed to almost a mere ship's length from the Falcon. In the nick of time, Han jerked the controls, sending the Falcon into a twisting dive that took the acceleration compensator by complete surprise. He and Luke were thrown hard against their restraints, and somewhere behind them, they heard an anguished electronic wail and then the thud of an R2 unit that hadn't strapped itself in. Though hard on the passengers and the ship, the maneuver succeeded, and the star-destroying projectile shot past them.
"Watch out, it may come around for another pass!" Luke shouted.
"I'll watch the torpedo, you watch Kyp. I don't want him popping any more little surprises at us."
"I think he went to lightspeed right after he fired," Luke replied. "I don't feel his presence, anyway."
"Then we've lost him. Right now, I don't know if that's good news or bad news," Han said, looking over his shoulder through the cockpit's transparisteel windows. "Start hyperspace jump calculations. We're getting out of here."
"What do you mean, 'No'?"
"If we leave, it might head for the star."
"But... All right," he grudgingly conceded. Luke was right, of course. But that didn't mean he had to be happy about it. "But calculate the jump anyway, just in case. Whoa, here it comes again."
Built to hit stars, not spaceships, the torpedo turned slowly, but once through its wide arc, it picked up speed again, heading straight for the Falcon.
Han was ready to send the Falcon into a hard climb. Impatiently, he waited, wanting the projectile to get so close that it couldn't possibly follow. He mentally shut out the blaring of the Falcon's alarms, focusing on the task at hand.
"Now, Han, now!" Luke shouted.
"Not yet. A little closer. Just a little closer... NOW!"
He yanked the controls, pulling the Falcon's nose up to evade...
But it didn't work. The ship nosed up properly at first, but suddenly stopped. At the same time, a thud came from the back of the ship, more felt than heard. Han tugged at the controls again, but nothing happened.
"Han, what is it?"
"I don't know what happened, but I can't maneuver."
"It's worse than that," Luke gasped, checking the flashing red emergency lights. "The engine's dead! We must've burned out a power coupling or something."
"Brace for impact! Shields up!" Han hit the shield activator, hoping against hope that perhaps it could deflect the torpedo away from them. But the shields didn't raise. Frantically, he pounded on the button with his fist, remembering belatedly the power boost Artoo had given the engines, and that the usual place that kind of power came from was either weapons or shields. And the weapons weren't charged at the time...
All he or Luke could do was hatch in horror as the torpedo loomed closer, and closer... and then... impact.
The Sun Crusher streaked through the mottled sky of hyperspace, on its way to another Imperial world. Inside, Kyp Durron's laughter was finally fading. That look on Skywalker's face had been priceless. He keyed the comm replay to get another look at it.
There he was again, that look of shock on his face. Kyp started chuckling again, until he noticed a hand reaching across from the copilot's side, working the Millennium Falcon's controls. He listened closely, hearing the other person's panic stricken voice. He rubbed the side of his head, trying to remember who that other person was. Finally, he had the replay go back farther to see who it had been.
"Han!" he gasped. "I forgot!" He leaned back, his face pale. "What have I done!"
"You have done what had to be done," said a voice from somewhere.
"Exar Kun! I've made a terrible mistake! I've killed a friend by destroying an enemy!"
"Then what concerns you?" whispered the long-dead Sith Lord. "When friends impede your goals, they are nothing more than obstacles. And if an obstacle can not be avoided, it must be eliminated. Besides, how could he be a friend to both you and your enemy?"
"But I forgot all about him! I fired at Skywalker without thinking that Han was there, too! My hatred blinded me!"
"As it should. Once you give yourself over to anger and hatred, they allow you to concentrate only on what you need to do. They make you forget the unimportant things, such as so-called friends who are too weak to help you accomplish your goals, and instead try to stop you."
"Kyp, listen to me. Solo would have wanted you to give up your power, just as Skywalker did. They would have taken you back to the New Republic, and made you a servant of those cowards who are unwilling to do what you yourself know must be done to the Empire... what you have already begun to do."
"You... You're right."
"What's more, the New Republic is as much to blame for the Empire's actions as the Empire itself. After all, if someone refuses to stop something, doesn't it also mean they support its continued existence?"
A new wave of anger and hatred began washing over Kyp. "Yes. Yes, the New Republic must also be punished. I will conquer them as well, so that the entire galaxy can know justice." Kyp paused briefly, his newfound anger giving way to his older, deeper ingrained ones. "But the Empire falls first, with Admiral Daala dying somewhere along the way."
"Of course," the spirit of Exar Kun said in a soothing voice. "First those who struck you directly, then those who struck you indirectly. But eventually, all will pay. You have learned much, Kyp. I am pleased."
"Thank you, Exar Kun."
"And now a new lesson. It is time you constructed your own lightsaber."
"But why? I can kill people well enough with the Force."
"Ordinary people, yes, but what of other Jedi?"
"I hadn't thought of that," Kyp said thoughtfully.
"You must think of all possibilities. Already there are others with the ability to face you. Though much weaker, they are still a threat."
"Teach me, Master!"
"Very well, Kyp. Soon, you shall have a weapon finer than any other in the history of the Jedi. After all, I've had 4,000 years to design it."