The Photonovel Alliance
ALLIANCE INTELLIGENCEChapter 25EXTRACTION





-On a mission to recover a defecting Imperial scientist, Hank Landow was taken prisoner by the Imperial Inquisitors, not realizing that his brother Jaig has joined them and is now on the very same ship that he is being held on.


    



-Meanwhile, as part of a power struggle between Lord Tarsus, now in the believed dead Vader’s former position, and General Hochsetter, the top Imperial army commander, ledership of the Inquisitors was handed over to the Emperor’s Hand.





-When the defecting scientist betrayed the rebels, the Hand, having grounded the young team, left to take care of the enemy himself, only to be caught and killed in a trap by Cracken’s team, who realize they just may be in over their heads…





-Now, Cracken attempts to get some much-needed sleep, but his dreams are haunted by memories of the past.





-In his mind he sees himself fighting alongside Hank, his closest friend since they were children on the sidelines of the Clone Wars.





-Together they formed one of the very first rebel cells on their home planet of Conturuum. Alongside Cracken’s beloved wife Marin, they had led one of the first successful planetary insurgencies against the Empire, attracting the attention of those in the fledgling Rebel Alliance.





-But not all lived to see the dawn of hope. The team was betrayed on their last day on Conturuum. Marin never made it off-world.





-Suddenly, the painful memories turn into a terrifying nightmare as Marin’s body, dead in her husband’s arms, morphs into the brutally slain body of Hank!





-Cracken looks up in horror to see the judgmental faces of those he has lost glowering down at him, their soulless eyes ripping through his soul with an unwavering message of failure!





-With a scream, the Colonel snaps awake to the sound of an arriving shuttle. Havi rushes to his side.

———“Colonel, the extraction team is landing!”






-Following the roar of the engines, Cracken soon meets the leader of the extraction team and is surprised to see none other than Sgt. Wren O’Hara, leader of Alliance Intelligence’s Alpha Team, with her entire crew in tow.





“This is one heck of an extraction team, Sergeant”.

——“We don’t plan on leaving without Doctor Bronsky, Colonel. Our last report received said that Agent Landow and the Doctor may have been captured. We came prepared for a rescue”.






“The situation has grown more complicated than that, I’m afraid”.

———“How so?”

“Our camp was breached last night and we killed the intruder. It was the Emperor’s Hand”.






-Back on the Inquisitor’s mobile base of operations, The Dauntless Knight, Mara Jade impatiently awaits any manner of word from their newly appointed leader.





“That’s it, I’m going!” She announces.

——“Mara, you can’t…” Sgt. Kilnk protests.“

I don’t care. It’s been twelve hours, if he were reporting back, he’d have done it by now.”

——“But none of us know where he went!”

“I have a feeling I know how to solve that problem”.






-In the ship’s holding cells, Jaig stares through a one-way window at his imprisoned brother, mournfully contemplating the choices he has made these past months that led him away from the rebel cause and into the service of the Empire.





-Kara Draco approaches him silently from behind, placing a comforting hand upon his shoulder.





“It’s going to be okay, Jaig”.

——“I, I don’t know… So much has changed, I don’t even feel like I know him anymore. And what will he think of me?”

“He’ll understand, just like you have. We can make him see the truth. If he’s as good as his records say, there is a place for him here. The two of you can fight together again”.






-The tender moment is interrupted as Mara makes her way to the cells and declares:

———“Cut the romance, Jaig. I need your help if we want to get back in action”.






-A few short minutes later, Hank finds himself strapped into a chair to face interrogation. Inwardly, he steels his will, preparing himself for whatever tortures the Imperials have planned





-The door slides open and he is faced with a face he recognizes, the beautiful but temperamental Inquisitor who arrested him in the first place.

——“I hope you know you’re wasting your time, gorgeous”, he mocks. “This isn’t my first rodeo.”

“I really don’t care about your record, agent” Mara calmly proceeds. “I’m here to talk about your brother…”






-A screen slides up from the interrogation table, the display flickers to life, showing Jaig sitting alone in a room, the other two Inquisitors standing guard nearby.

——“You know, I had a brother, too. He was one of the top pilots in the Imperial Navy. Until he was murdered in an attack by your terrorist friends. He’s the reason I’m here now. Am I correct in assuming that your brother is the reason you fight, agent?”






“You know nothing about me!” Hank shouts in reply.

——“Oh, I think I know plenty about you, agent. I’d do anything if I could change the past and save my brother. And at the end of the day, I don’t think you’re that much different from me”.






-Shortly thereafter, the entire team of Inquisitors prepares to exit the ship, only to be blocked by the Hand’s two personal guards.

——“We have orders not to allow anyone to leave the ship except under permission of Commander Thuiy”.






-Mara steps forward to the leading trooper, her steely eyes piercing the lifeless helmet.

——“And just what do you plan on doing to keep us here?”






-Back at the rebel hideout, Havi rushes to report.

——“We just got a message from Hank!”

“Are you sure?”






“It has his call sign and had all the right codes. He says he escaped with the Doctor and is on his way”.





“You know this is probably a trap”, Willix pulls Cracken.

——“Yes, I know. But it’s worth that chance”. Cracken runs off to announce the new development to Sgt. O’Hara, but Willix is far from confident in the wisdom of this course of action.






-Despite the risk, O’Hara agrees to go along with the Hank’s message and proceeds to brief the combined teams on the extraction.

——“Remember, there is a high chance this isn’t all that it seems, so we need to keep on high alert. We’ll have perimeter guards surrounding the meeting place and Nien will stay with the ship, ready to take off at any moment. We do this right, it will be a huge boost to the cause”.






-As the two squads fan out to prepare for the exchange, former Imperial Commander Shade, now assigned to Alpha Squad, approaches Cracken.

———“Are you feeling alright, Colonel?”

“I’m fine. It’s just stress. Now, about this Bronsky. When you were with the Empire, did you hear anything about what he was working on?”






“Nothing, it was above my pay grade”, Shade lies, a digression Cracken sees right through. “Some secret weapons program with Galen Erso, nothing I’d ever understand”.

———“Well, that certainly sounds important, now, doesn’t it”, Cracken murmurs half to Shade, half to himself, fulfilling a need to justify the risks he’s taking to retrieve his friend. As he grapples with his own judgement, it quickly passes his mind that the recent Imperial defector is keeping secrets from him.






-Several hours later, night has fallen, and the time of the rendezvous has arrived. Sgt. O’Hara monitors the situation. All of the rebels have been positioned in strategic positions around the meeting point, ready to withdraw at a moments notice.





“We have visual on Agent Landow”, the Alpha sniper announces over the coms.





-Sure enough, Hank steps into view in the tightly enclosed canyon he arranged to meet in. Through the faint light, Cracken, the only rebel in view, recognizes his brother in arms.

——“Where’s the doctor?” O’Harra’s voice crackles over his earpiece.






“Where’s the rest of your bloody extraction team?” Dr. Bronsky lurches into view. “Don’t tell me they just sent you!”





-Pushing the belligerent scientist aside, Cracken embraces Hank.

———“Are you alright?”

“I…I’m fine”, the supposedly liberated prisoner hesitates.

——“Stop talking and get moving!” O’Harra hisses into the earpiece, which Cracken ignores.

“We’re picking up energy signals to the north and west. Unverifiable origin”. Havi reports.

———“Damn it! We need to pull out now!”






“Hank, um, just how did you escape? They sent the Hand here…” Cracken slowly allows himself to realize that the possibility he had refused to accept has come true as Hank looks away.

——“I’m so sorry…”






-Above them, the sniper’s head is yanked back. The last sound he hears is the ominous electric buzz of an igniting lightsaber…





-Before a laser canon blast slams into the canyon, just feet away from the reunited rebels, throwing them to the ground!





-Behind the controls of the canon, Sgt. Wilhelm Klink nods approvingly.

———“All units go. Let’s show them what we can do”.






-In the confusion after the initial attack, Shade races towards the group of rebels hidden in the rocks nearby.

———“It’s a trap! Get to the ship now!”






-Col. Scarra’s pilot, Rufus, rushes to Cracken’s side. Coughing up dust, he’s winded and dazed, both from the blast and from the shock of Hank’s betrayal.





“Colonel, are you alright?” Rufus asks.

———“I…I’m fine…Where’s my blaster, where’s Hank…” Cracken mumbles

“We need to get you out of here, now!”






-Suddenly, the distinctive crackle of an igniting lightsaber splits the night. Mara Jade leaps down, her purple blade illuminating the darkness, catching Rufus off guard!





-Cracken, finding his gun, fires disoriented at the Inquisitor as she turns towards him.





-O’Hara suddenly drops down behind him, blasters drawn,

———“Run, now!”






-Elsewhere, Shade leads the other rebels through the darkness towards their hidden shuttle, a short distance away…





-Only to find their path blocked by Kara Draco!





-Though unrecognized by Kara, Shade has trained alongside countless Inquisitors in his past life as an Imperial Commando. Lunging forward, he matches his vibrostaff against her saber.

——“I’ll hold her off! Get to the ship!”






“Not alone you won’t” Willix grabs Kara from behind, pulling her away from Shade…





-But she kicks him away, athletically spiraling out of his grasp, lightsaber flashing in the night as if in a dance.





-Shade presses his own attack as Willix hits the ground. Accessing years of fighting alongside the soldiers who are now his foes, he blocks each elegant thrust with a powerful rebuke. But it becomes apparent that even he cannot keep this up forever…





-Until a jolt of electricity sears through Kara, knocking her into unconsciousness. Willix stands, holding the detonater of a stun grenade he had attached to the Inquisitor during their brief contact.





“Good work,” Shade allows himself a rare smile.

“You weren’t so bad yourself” Willix shows no such break. “Take her with us, she could be useful later”.






-Back at the rendezvous site, Sgt. O’Hara, hides in the rocks, scanning the darkness for signs of her foe, while also keeping an eye open for Hank and the Doctor, who she has no intention of leaving without. At last, she catches a glimpse of the duo, lying limp on the ground below…





-But in the moment of distraction, she is attacked from behind!





-Knocked from her perch, O’Hara feels her leg crack as she slams to the ground. As pain courses through her body, she manages still to open fire on Mara Jade, who nonetheless reflects each blast with her lightsaber…





-Before lunging forward in a final strike! A last gasp of breath escapes the Sergeant as her vision fades into darkness, her last sight being the object of her mission, lying just a few feet away.





-Cracken, his vision blurred, stumbles through the darkness towards where he thinks the ship is hidden, until he runs straight into fellow rebels Orrimarko and Arnie.

———“Where do ya’ think you’re goin’, sir?” Orrimarko asks.

“Got to get… get to the shuttle… find Hank…” Cracken slurs his speech, not even able to fully realize who it is he’s talking to. The other rebels quickly catch on to his condition.

————“Frell, he’s concussed. Running off in the opposite direction…” Arnie mutters.






-Before being ripped into the air by the hulking form of Inquisitor Gnarrl, the massive brute’s giant hands poised for attack!





-Arnie barely has time to burst into a string of expletives as Orrimarko grabs Cracken’s hand and sprints away. He struggles, but soon realizes that escape from the monstrous acolyte is futile.

———“Well, you’re a frelling ugly son of a nerf, aren’t you?” he quips, going limp.






-With that, Gnarr’l violently snaps the gunner’s neck. Breathing heavily, but unfazed by the brutal altercation, he scans the darkness to find his next prey.





-Orrimarko and Cracken, meanwhile, come crashing out of the darkness, meeting up with Shade’s group of rebels.

——“We got one of them”, the ex-commando reports.

“Well, we’ve got another one right behind us, and the Colonel’s taken a break from reality, so I ain’t inclined to slow down”. Orrimarko keeps on running.






-But the entire group grinds to a halt when Jaig Landow steps out of the shadows, blocking their path!





“Isn’t that…” Shade murmurs under his breath.

——“Jaig…”, Cracken isn’t sure whether to trust his eyes as he steps forward towards his old teammate.






-Before Cracken say anymore, Jaig grabs, Orrimarko, slamming his face into the rock wall.





-The former rebel leaps into the air, his red lightsaber crackling to life as he pushes out with the force, toppling the fleeing soldiers to the ground.





-He slams Willix back against a wall, neither registering their brief encounter years ago.

——“I don’t want to hurt any of you. Give me the girl, and no one gets hurt.”






-Back at the initial meeting site, it has begun to rain. The other Landow brother is awoken by the hard droplets of water unleashed by the black sky. He looks around him, and sees only death and destruction. His last memory was of betraying his closest friend, but now Cracken is nowhere to be seen.





-But then, as Doctor Bronsky sputters awake as well, two figures walk towards him from the gloom. One is Sgt. Klink, the Imperial who supervised his capture. But the other, standing tall emanating a darkness Hank has never seen in him before, is his long-lost brother Jaig! Hank is frozen in time. The moment he has long awaited is here but… Something is wrong.





-A shot rings out, and Bronsky hits the ground dead. As Klink’s blaster moves towards Hank, Jaig remains in the shadow, staring, unblinking. His eyes pierce his brother’s soul.





—And then, he turns away, and electric pain shoots through Hank. Everything fades to black before he can even realize if he has been shot or merely stunned.





-But he hits the ground still breathing. Klink shakes his head.

——“Your brother had better not make me regret this, Master Landow”.






-Turning away, the Sergeant continues.

——“Now call back the others. We need some survivors to spread the word of what we did here”.






-As for those survivors, nearly all have boarded the shuttle, primed for takeoff. But they wait yet for one who is not ready to leave.





“I’m not… not leaving without them!” Cracken violently refuses to board.

——“We have to, sir”, Shade implores. “The Inquisitors are still out there and it appears your friend Jaig is one of them now”.

“No, no, that can’t be right. I’m not leaving!”






-With that, Willix punches his commanding officer directly in his head, plunging the colonel back into unconsciousness.





“He was already concussed!” Sila Kott protests as he drags Cracken’s limp form into the ship.

———“And do I care? He’d have done no different if he was still in his right mind. Let’s roll out. And get him to the med bay on landing. He needs a field evaluation, that concussion is the least of his worries right now”.






-With that, the rebel shuttle roars up into the blazing storm beyond to return home, leaving behind friends, some alive, some dead, and taking with them a grimly uncertain look at the future.





-As the rebels flee, Jaig and Klink watch Hank, asleep back in his cell on The Dauntless Knight.

——“Do you want to talk to him?” Klink asks.

“I don’t think I’m ready…”






-Shortly later, the cell door slides open as Hank awakes. In walks Klink, carrying a tray with a dinner for two.





“What the hell’s going on?” Hank grunts, the confusing recent events laying heavy on his mind. “Where’s my brother?”

——“Sit. Eat. Then perhaps we can discuss Master Jaig”.






-Hank takes a seat at the table, cautiously pulling food towards him.

——“I suppose right now you’re very confused” Klink calmly addresses his prisoner. “I can’t blame you, it all must be so much to take in”.

“What, you’re holding my brother prisoner, just like me. Not sure what’s so complicated about that”.

——“You know, for a terrorist, you have a shockingly black and white view of this world, Mr. Landow. You and I really aren’t that different when you take a step back and see the big picture”,






“I’m nothing like you,” Hank snarls, trying to focus only on his food.

——“We shall see, Mr. Landow,” Klink smiles and begins to eat as well. “We shall see…”

TO BE CONTINUED…




ALLIANCE INTELLIGENCE
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THE EMPEROR'S HAND
 
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SON OF FANGORN
 
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