Though initially relieved to finally have an excuse to leave the madhouse of a council chamber, Leia knew that it couldn't possibly be good news.
The medic had come to request her immediate presence at Mon Mothma's bedside in the medical wing. She decided to delegate control of the council to someone who would do the least damage while she was gone, but it took a while for her to make up her mind. She couldn't see how Mon Mothma put up with it all. And the tone of the medic gave her the ominous feeling that she wouldn't be taking over again any time soon.
Leia entered the hospital room to the disturbing sight of Mon Mothma, official head of the New Republic, laying very still in her bed. Medical monitoring equipment surrounded her, with dozens of sensors that seemed to cover half her body. Her skin looked thin; almost transparent, as if it was ready to slide off her bones. Her breaths were shallow and strained. Monitors showed a weak heartbeat. She had been wasting away slowly for several months despite the full attention and resources of the medical wing, and it was clear to anyone who saw her now that the end was near.
Seated nearby was Senator Bel Iblis, who nodded silently to Leia as she entered. So that's where he's been, she thought. She had looked for him when she had delegated control. She didn't always agree with the man, but at least he knew how to keep a legislative body in order. But at the time, she couldn't find him anywhere.
The medic walked over to the ailing woman and whispered gently in her ear. Slowly, she opened her eyes. Leia could almost feel her pain just by watching her. She didn't need the Force to know that Mon Mothma was suffering greatly.
It took a while before Leia noticed that her lips were moving. It started as tiny twitches, building up to larger motions, as if warming up. Just when it looked like she wouldn't be able to say anything, a hoarse whisper broke through Mon Mothma's lips.
She approached the bedside. "Yes, I'm here."
"Leia... keep up... good work..."
"But Mon Mothma, I..."
A slight twitch of her hand cut Leia's reply short.
"You must... You are... in charge... now."
"I can't do it alone. I need help."
"Ask... Garm. He... will... help..."
With that, the stricken leader nodded off. A heart beat still registered, and she still drew breath, but the energy to stay awake any longer had been used up in speaking to Leia.
"She won't be saying anything else today," the medic said, checking the monitoring equipment. "You'd better leave now. She needs her rest."
"Certainly," Garm Bel Iblis replied, rising to his feet. He nodded to Leia again, then exited the room.
"Keep me informed," Leia said to the medic before turning to follow the senator.
Leia almost had to run to catch up with him. Senator Bel Iblis obviously didn't want to talk to her, and his rate of travel proved it. But Leia desperately needed to talk to him.
"Senator Bel Iblis!"
He slowed and eventually stopped. Reluctantly, he turned to face her.
"Yes, Counselor?" he said with a sigh.
"I need your help. And I need it now. The council is in session, and I have to get back."
"Then go back. Leia, you're doing a fine job. You don't need me to back you up. You know how to hold your own."
"Mon Mothma designated me as her temporary replacement, a task I was not ready to assume. I told her I needed help, and she told me to ask you. You heard her yourself. She has great confidence in you."
Her observation struck him hard. For years, he had fought the Empire separately from the Rebel Alliance because of a falling out with Mon Mothma. And for the first five years of the New Republic, he kept his private army in readiness in the event that she set herself up as Empress. When he finally came back to rejoin, he decided he would only accept command of Republic forces after she herself showed her confidence in him by asking personally. And in the state of emergency at the time, with Grand Admiral Thrawn on a rampage above Coruscant itself, he asked her to let him command when she took too long to say it. Now, at last, she truly did express confidence. But this time, he knew for a fact that he no longer deserved it.
"Leia, she's very ill. Her confidence is misplaced. I'm not the right person to ask."
"Then her 'misplaced confidence' extends to me, too."
"No, Leia, you were the correct choice. You've always been a perfect symbol of what the New Republic stands for. I'm not worthy."
"What are you talking about? Of course you're worthy! How could one of the founders of the Rebel Alliance be unworthy of participating in the new government it formed?" Leia said, quite agitated.
"Because it's my fault the Sun Crusher is on the loose!"
"Not you, too!"
"Look, Leia, I am responsible for the Sun Crusher's existence. I wouldn't allow it to be properly disposed of. I actually wanted to keep the blasted thing to possibly use against the Empire. My desire for revenge took over my better judgment on the council floor itself! Now tell me if I'm a good choice for your advisor."
"Somehow, Mon Mothma found a way to forgive you. How can I do less?"
"I don't deserve this..."
"Then I'll give you an opportunity to make amends. You will be personally in charge of tracking the Sun Crusher and compiling intelligence on it. When it is destroyed or incapacitated, you can resume your regular council duties if you choose to. But until then, you stay on it, and give me whatever other assistance I require. Will that be adequate penance?"
"No, but you'd never give me what I really deserve." He paused a moment, deep in thought, then sighed. "All right, you got me," Bel Iblis conceded. "I owe the Republic considerably more, but this will be a start."
"Good. Make out a list of what you will need. We must start as soon as possible. But right now, we need to get back to the council session. Shall we?"
"Lead the way."
While walking in silence, Leia struggled with the dread that had been gnawing at her since she had first taken over Mon Mothma's position. She had kept it bottled inside, afraid that mentioning it to anyone would actually influence events, in the same way that publicly declaring something as indestructible is the best way to assure its destruction. But as she drew closer and closer to the council chamber, she couldn't keep it in any longer.
"Garm, you would know. How is Mon Mothma. Really."
"Well, she's..." he started. But a glance in her eyes told him that she was indeed serious, wanting the facts, no matter how harsh. He swallowed, then resumed.
"Leia, she's not good. The medics have made some progress, but at the rate they're moving, she won't last long enough. They're considering placing her in cryogenic freeze to slow down the decay."
"They're going to freeze her? Why wasn't I told?"
"She didn't want you to know. I only found out because the medics talk too much. If they don't have a breakthrough tonight, they're putting her under tomorrow."
The thought of anyone being frozen put Leia on edge. Certainly, it was a far cry from the carbon freeze her husband had endured, being carefully monitored and much more delicate, but the thought was still there. Placing her in cryogenic freeze ought to keep her alive long enough to find a cure, though. But until that time, she would not be available for anything, not even the most serious of emergencies. When a cure was found, she would return.
Though not as bad as Leia had feared, it was bad enough for the time being.
Sar Bordax spaceport on Kijloor was hardly a respectable watering hole for weary space travelers. Even most smugglers avoided it, leaving it to the resident swoop gangs and pirates. The few smugglers who did make regular stops were of the crudest cut, a necessity for dealing with the true scum who frequented the disreputable establishments that lined the streets.
If it were to be included in an official poll, Sar Bordax would probably have the highest concentration of bars in the entire sector and beyond. But it could also claim to have the lowest crime rate, since one can't break nonexistent laws. Treaties between groups of pirates came and went, but the only rule that everyone agreed upon was: Watch out for yourself.
Located on the border of the unknown regions, the Empire had, for the most part, left it alone, stopping by infrequently to check for pirates. Through paid informants and due to the extra long hyperspace travel to reach Kijloor from the nearest Imperial patrol zone, the pirates almost always managed to disappear from sight when the Star Destroyers came calling. Kijloor's status as a major supplier of black market goods and the wealth that could be made in dealing those goods ensured a good quantity of highly placed officials who would be more than eager to tip off the pirates to protect their own illicit incomes, and in many cases, their lives.
All in all, a thoroughly wretched place. But Moruth Doole was a thoroughly wretched being.
After days of hiding in his escape tunnels on Kessel, he opened the secret door to his personal hangar. With no Imperials in sight, he made his way to the ship Lando Calrissian had left behind on his recent "visit." Doole reasoned that the Lady Luck was probably better armored and faster than his own, both necessities for escaping the occupation force.
Once airborne, Doole engaged the main sublight drives and pointed the craft spaceward. Two patrolling TIE fighters headed in his direction, but they were too far away to stop him. Outside of Kessel's pitiful excuse for an atmosphere, he performed a quick sensor check while his hyperspace jump was being calculated. To his surprise, the fleet that had pounded the planet was gone. At least, that's what the Lady Luck's limited sensor range indicated. But he didn't intend to stay around long enough to find out if they were hiding on the other side of the planet. And the TIEs were out of the atmosphere and catching up with him. The instant he got the calculations in and cleared Kessel's gravity well, he made the jump to lightspeed.
Doole cautiously exited the Lady Luck and made sure the hatch sealed and locked tightly behind him. He scanned the rundown landing pad for signs of the "protection broker."
In Sar Bordax, anyone visiting had free pick of any available unoccupied landing pad, regardless of how it became unoccupied. The only moderately effective way of preventing one's pad from becoming unoccupied while one was away was to pay ridiculous sums to the tough who set up shop there. And if one refused to pay, that tough would be the first in line to "remove" the ship to make room for a paying customer or ransack the ship to get some money anyway and teach the "cheapskate" owner a lesson. And sometimes, he'd do it anyway if a better deal could be had.
He found the "broker," a massive Whipid with a very large blaster rifle and a bandolier full of thermal detonators and concussion grenades, plus a few other unidentifiable but undoubtedly lethal devices. Big and armed like a one Whipid army, but clearly not on top of things in the brain department, as it lay in what was probably a drunken stupor outside a small shack on the edge of the platform. Though tempted to sneak past without paying, Doole reconsidered. The prospect of being stranded without a ship on this cesspool of a planet was enough to override even his sense of greed.
Doole nudged the Whipid with his foot, prompting the furry alien to open its eyes. The lumbering mass stood up and stretched before addressing Doole in its own language. Doole didn't understand the Whipid, but had had enough dealings with them to know that its speech was slurred, probably from the liquor that its breath and fur reeked of. Doole tried to explain to the beast that he couldn't understand, but to no avail, and the Whipid was beginning to get angry. He shuddered at the thought of what he was about to do, but proceeded to procure a pouch of large denomination credit coins from his pocket. The Whipid got the idea, and held out his hands to receive the payment.
Doole tried to keep the price down, but the Whipid settled for nothing less than the entire contents of the pouch. He walked away knowing that he now had about a fifty percent chance of having a ship when he returned, which was considerably better than the odds would have been otherwise. Though upset at the loss of so many credits, he congratulated himself on his foresight. He was in possession of considerably more credits on his person than he had let on. The complaining he had done while dealing with the Whipid had succeeded in convincing it that it now had all of his money. But now, Doole had more important business to attend to.
Being on both the Empire and the New Republic's hit list cut back sharply the number of places he could safely rally supporters to take back control of Kessel's spice mines. Besides that, most of the fringe elements that could be found in the nicer parts of the galaxy weren't crazy enough to help him, especially since the formation of the Smuggler's Alliance. Not a chance of enlisting their help, either. He needed freelancers and pirates, and this was the place to get them.
His head turned constantly, searching for any possible dangers as he made his way to the nearest primary street. When he got there, he succeeded in spotting a relatively well kept bar on the opposite side. The only way anything could remain anywhere near decent on this planet was if the owner had both the desire and the sheer brute strength to keep it that way. The owner of this place apparently had it, which was a good indication to Doole that slightly higher class scum hung out there.
He had just started his crossing when a blaster bolt from somewhere down the street hit an already malfunctioning light post beside him. Doole hit the ground immediately, the sparks and shrapnel from the post pelting his back. He carefully raised his head, but brought it down again just before a swoop buzzed over him, followed by another, and another... He thought they would never stop coming, but at long last, there was silence. A quick glance left and right, and Doole darted across the street, attracting the attention of a few bystanders, most of them disappointed that he had made it across alive.
Arriving at the bar, he found that his reading had been correct. A pair of Gamorrean bouncers stood on either side of the door, looking eager to forcibly turn away the more unsavory types. A glance at the last... thing... they had thrown out answered Doole's unspoken question as to whether anything could be less savory than a Gamorrean. He got inside with little trouble, although the thought of being considered classy by a pair of Gamorreans didn't really make him feel very good.
Inside, he saw that the bartender and his assistants were all enormously muscled brutes, quite capable of performing the bouncers' tasks if the need arose. The room itself was dimly lit and slightly smoky, but was also surprisingly clean. Painfully clean, in fact. It had the same aura of oppressively enforced cleanliness that Doole felt every time he visited the Abregado-Rae spaceport.
The clientel carried on conversations and played their various games of chance, creating a very noisy, but strangely organized atmosphere. After all, no one wanted to be singled out as a trouble maker and expelled from the bar by a pair of creatures who could probably break a starfighter apart with their bare heads. And for fun.
Casually, Moruth Doole approached the counter and ordered something appropriate for his Rybet physiology. With his fermented Kikkri juice in hand, he casually took a position between several tables to eavesdrop on the conversations and look for an opening to make his pitch. His attention was eventually drawn to one of the tables, due to the fact that it was the only one where the discussion was being carried out in Basic.
"There's no denying she's dangerous," said a pale skinned Twi'lek.
"I agree," replied a reptilian Trandoshan in Basic so coarse it was barely understandable. "Ssshe mussst be ssstopped now, before itsss too late."
"I'm still not convinced. If we just stay on her good side, we'll do fine," a Bith offered.
"What good is that? We'd be letting her walk all over us. We've got to let her know we won't stand for it," a human retorted before picking up his drink.
"Dravis is right," another human replied. "We've got to take a stand. But we can't do it alone. I tried, and look where it got me."
"I had heard rumors," a third human said. "What really happened, Raylic?"
"Well, I had been putting in some extra time working on a deal. About four months of time, mind you!! Anyway, the deal's just about signed when here comes Rabid Red, guns blazing, and she takes the whole thing over. I tried to object, and got chased way out to this scumball of a planet for my troubles," Raylic related. "I don't mind telling you that, quite frankly, she scares me."
"There's a priority transmission!" the Twi'lek commented under his breath.
"I haven't heard about your boasts being made fact, Brel! At least I tried to object. Anyway, I'd say it's a fair assumption that we're all afraid of her."
For a moment the smugglers grumbled their reluctant agreement with Raylic's assessment.
Raylic's tale peaked Doole's interest. It sounded quite similar to his own experience on Kessel. The nickname he had given this woman confused Doole for a moment. But while thinking about what it could possibly mean, he remembered that Admiral Daala did have what, in his understanding, humans might call "red" hair. He decided to wait a few more moments before entering the discussion.
"Of course, the moral of the story is, we've all got to stand together," Dravis concluded.
"Exactly," Raylic replied before taking a sip.
"So what do we do?" the Twi'lek inquired. "Just walk up to her and ask her to ease up?"
"That would probably be the most reasonable approach," said the Bith.
"Give it up, Grithisss. The time for reassson is over. I sssay we sssend sssomeone elssse to give her the messssage."
"Like who, Kressk? Your good friend, Bossk, the bounty hunter?"
"Exactly. We place a bounty on her. Together, we have enough creditsss"
"There's no need to kill her!"
"No, I think Kressk is right," the Twi'lek interrupted. "She's beyond reason. But a bounty hunter might not be the best way to get the job done. Too easy to trace. Now, a 'random' pirate attack on the other hand..."
"Precisely what I was thinking," Moruth Doole said, approaching the table. "Oh, pardon me, but I couldn't help but overhear your conversation. And from what I heard, I'd say you could use some more help."
"Oh, really? Who are you, and why ssshould we lisssten to sssomeone who jussst admitted he'sss been eavesssdropping on usss?"
The name's Doole," he said, slipping into a vacant chair without an invitation. "And I have access to certain resources that may be useful to you."
"Doole, huh?" Dravis said. "Sounds familiar."
"The only Doole I know of is on Kessel," Grithis replied.
"Used to be on Kessel," Doole corrected. "As you can see, I'm a long way from home."
"Hey, Brel, didn't you tell me a few days ago that Kessel was completely shut down and not responding to anyone?"
"Yes, I did," the Twi'lek said, turning a suspicious eye toward Doole. "If you are indeed Moruth Doole, what happened to Kessel?"
"Imperial attack. Your friend and mine, Admiral Daala, decided to restore the 'New Order' to Kessel," Doole replied, turning to face the suspicious Brel. He deliberately opened and closed the mechanical iris on his artificial eye to unsettle the Twi'lek. It worked. "I managed to hide from her troops long enough to get to a ship and escape." He motioned to Raylic. "I'm sure you can relate. Anyway, I came here to find help in getting her off Kessel. I'm prepared to offer very attractive spice shipping contracts."
"Sounds interesting, but Red'll never let us get away with it."
"Haygn's right, Doole," Dravis said. "Once Red gets wind of this, she'll have us blacklisted faster than you can say 'Glitterstim'."
"But if we act swiftly, she won't have time to retaliate. She'll be destroyed," Doole insisted. "It's a no lose situation. I get Kessel back, and you get exclusive contracts and freedom from 'Rabid Red,' as you call her."
"Now you've lost me," Raylic replied. "As I understand it, you were asking us to help you get this rogue Admiral off of Kessel. Where does knocking off Red Jade come in?"
"Come to think of it, that's what he said he was here to help us with in the first place," Grithis pointed out.
Doole was taken aback. "You mean, you weren't talking about Admiral Daala? I thought..."
"Well, you thought wrong. Quite frankly, we don't care about this Admiral Daala. I'd be perfectly happy to let the New Republic handle her. Unless, of course, you're still going to offer us spice contracts and help us to get rid of Jade. Otherwise, shove off."
"Uh... Well, why not? Eliminating Mara Jade shouldn't be too difficult. This is Mara Jade, the representative of the Smuggler's Alliance, we're talking about here, isn't it?"
"Well, what do you know? He's finally figured it out."
"But why do you want her dead? Personally, I never liked her, but why are you so angry with her?"
"Look, Doole, we're smugglers. This 'Smugglers Alliance' is cramping our style. We can't negotiate our own deals without her unionizing them. Besides that, for all intents and purposes, the 'Alliance' is just a branch of New Republic shipping. If we wanted nice, safe, legit jobs, we wouldn't have become smugglers, now would we? You getting this?" Dravis explained, leaning toward Doole for emphasis.
"So become freelancers. If enough of you left, the alliance will fall apart."
"You don't get it, Doole," Brel said. "To go freelance is to be blacklisted. Dealing with blacklisted smugglers is a felony in the New Republic, and the law is strictly enforced. They won't execute you like the Empire did, but they're less likely to accept bribes and grant favors. The Alliance is politics, and smugglers are supposed to go around politics, not be involved with them."
"The only way the alliance will crumble is if the head is cut off. And if there's any indication of an inside job, even that won't work. But we've got to act soon, or we won't get another chance," Raylic concluded. "Once the Smuggler's Alliance is dissolved, we can do something about this 'Daala' of yours. But not until then. Jade goes first."
The other smugglers nodded their heads and grumbled in at least partial agreement. Doole could clearly see they were serious.
"All right, then, we'll do it your way. Where is she now?"
"Don't know, actually. Last we knew for sure, she was at Skywalker's Jedi Academy on Yavin 4," Haygn said.
"There's a good one! Never thought I'd see the day that a Jedi-in-training became the leader of a galaxy wide smuggling ring! There's reason enough to get rid of her!" Brel interrupted.
"Yeah, and the more training she gets, the more dangerous she is. That's why we've got to act now!" Raylic said firmly, clenching his fist.
After a few seconds of silence, Haygn continued. "Anyway, that was a couple weeks ago. Now, I heard that Aves sent out a message on her behalf to Billey and Mazzic not too long ago."
"I can confirm that," Dravis pitched in. "I overheard that message when it came in. Something about wanting Billey's group to send any information about the 'Star Smasher' to the New Republic. Or something like that. I wasn't paying much attention."
After another brief pause, Haygn started again. "But after that, nothing. In fact, nobody's heard anything from Aves or Jade since."
Suddenly, a loud howl broke through the noise in the bar. The patrons turned almost in unison to see the two Gamorrean bouncers roughing up an enraged Wookie. The snorting guards somehow managed to get solid grips on the creature and drag him to the door, where they threw him out into the street. The Gamorreans then resumed their positions beside the door. Soon, the interrupted conversations resumed.
"I think we'd best leave now," Brel suggested as he turned back to face the others. "But we must resume this discussion soon."
"Sounds good to me," Doole said. "How about in a week? I can probably line up some help by then."
"I'm up for it," Brel replied.
"Here again in a week. That'll work for me, too," Dravis said. "What about the rest of you? Raylic?"
"Sooner we off Jade, the sooner I get off the blacklist and outta here. You bet I'm in."
The Bith thought for a moment before replying. "I don't agree with your method, but something must be done. I'll be here."
"Kressk, I know you've got a busy schedule. Can you make it back here in a week?"
"Yesss. I wouldn't missss thisss for anything. But I ssstill think a bounty hunter would be bessst."
"That leaves you, Haygn."
Haygn let out a deep breath he didn't know he had been holding. "Well, I suppose I could make it. Wasn't really looking forward to seeing this planet again, though."
"You learn to live with it. Or so I've heard," Raylic commented. "Can't convince me, though. Okay, in a week, then."
The group split up and scattered around the bar before trickling out the door in ones and twos. Brel kept an eye on Doole, and approached Raylic when he was sure the Rybet was out of earshot.
"I don't trust him."
"Neither do I."
"Then why are we allowing him into our scheme?"
"For two very good reasons. First, we could make a fortune running spice. Second, well, we've found someone crazy enough to go after Red on his own. Together, we could do it ourselves, but who knows how many of us will still be standing. She's no Skywalker, but she's dangerous enough. No, we're all too smart to go after her alone. Lucky for us, Doole isn't."
"Well, Kressk might."
"Okay, he might," Raylic conceded. "But he's a friend of mine. However, if Doole gets himself killed in the process, well, there's a great loss to the galaxy."
Brel chuckled softly. "Now that you put it that way..."
Doole left the bar after three of the smugglers had departed. He strode through the door nonchalantly, with no trouble from the bouncers, who were busy subduing a scuzzy-looking Talz that insisted on going in. Doole cautiously crossed the street and headed back to the Lady Luck.
Neither Doole nor the smugglers had noticed the nondescript man sitting at a nearby table during their conversation. And even now, they didn't notice him follow Doole out after a few minutes.
Moruth Doole had a thankfully uneventful return to the landing pad. He looked behind him constantly, expecting an attack to come at any second. A safe assumption in this place. Once, he thought he saw someone hide from his view, but the vast amount of vermin and various other pests, both sentient and nonsentient, made it impossible to be certain without going back to check. Instead, he just increased his pace to as close to a jog as he could get without looking like he was running away.
When he reached the pad, he was greatly relieved to find the Lady Luck still there and her hull intact. At first glance, that is. As he got closer, he noticed the boarding hatch was open. Blasted Whipid probably left to get himself another bottle...
Doole drew his blaster, and slowly crept around the platform, trying as best he could to stay out of the light. He approached the shack, but could see no sign of the Whipid. A pity. One of his grenades could have come in handy. Unless the Whipid itself was the intruder, in which case, it would be Doole at the receiving end.
He considered just leaving the area for a while, but quickly reconsidered after seeing a series of bright flashes silhouette the buildings to the east, and then hearing the distance-delayed sound of multiple thermal detonator explosions. He swallowed hard, and continued on his way, advancing toward the ship.
He paused for a while under the ramp to listen for sounds inside the Lady Luck. He heard none, but that didn't mean there was nothing there. He took a deep breath, and ascended the ramp, blaster raised and gripped with both hands.
Inside, he found everything to be exactly how he left it, with the exception of a datapad resting on top of a game table. He studied it from a distance, and decided that it probably wasn't rigged. But he wasn't going to touch it anyway. He walked closer, and saw that it was already displaying something. A little closer, and he could read it.
On the datapad were the words: "IF YOU THOUGHT YOUR ESCAPE WAS TOO EASY, YOU WERE RIGHT."
Doole bolted erect, and jerked his head to the left to look for whoever was responsible. Seeing nothing, he jerked it to the right...
Where a blaster was positioned a scant few centimeters from his face. Holding it was a human wearing a uniform of some kind.
"That's right, Doole. We let you escape. Did you seriously think you could evade the Empire that easily unless we allowed you to? Now drop the blaster."
Seeing no alternative, Doole complied.
"If you tell me the truth, I'll let you go. Did you mention Admiral Daala's takeover of Kessel to anyone?"
"No! Not a word! I didn't tell..."
"You're lying," the Imperial interrupted. He pressed the blaster against Doole's skin.
"All right! Yes, I told some smugglers."
"Good. That's just what I wanted to hear."
"You mean, you wanted me to expose Daala?"
"Of course. With the word out that 'Admiral Daala' is in command, our true identity is safe," he said, lowering his blaster.
Doole carefully shuffled his feet, moving bit by bit away from the man. "Well, in that case, I guess I can go now, right?"
"No, I don't think so. You've served your purpose, and your usefulness is at an end."
"But you said you'd let me go!" Doole shouted.
The Imperial raised his blaster again, placing the muzzle between Doole's eyes. "I lied." He paused for a moment before adding, "Oh, and one more thing. Grand Admiral Thrawn sends his regards."
Doole repeated the name in bewilderment. "Grand... Admiral..." Recognition struck him at last. "Thrawn?!"
A red flash and the sound of a blaster discharge came through the still open hatch of the Lady Luck.