The Photonovel Alliance

Deep within the ruins, rebel Gungan Bif stumbles across Hondo Ohnaka, busy salvaging the medical droid that had been used by the Imperials.

——“Where do youssa think you goin’?” he asks, blaster drawn.


“What the wise always do when the chips are down, my friend. Grab everything worth anything and run while the others are looking away. Go find your merry friends. I have a criminal empire to rebuild”.

Bif remains unconvinced, but whirls around at the sound of advancing footsteps, allowing Hondo to make a swift exit. Upon seeing to notorious acolytes standing behind him, even the hardened rebel assassin feels a sense of panic flood in until Jaig reaches out a calming hand.

“Look, I don’t know your name. You must be new to the team. But I promise you, we won’t hurt you. Things are about to get a whole lot worse down here, though, so we need to find a way out. Now. Do you know a way?”

——Bif, still terrified, shakingly points in the direction of Hondo’s departure.

Back in the main path, however, things have indeed gotten a lot worse. The remaining Imperials find themselves pinned down by Malar’s band of killers.

“His vitals are falling fast!” Hans reports. “We have to get moving!”

“Well, none of this is any good if he gets shot in the process,” Marquand takes command of the situation. “Give me your guns. Mara and I will cover you. Let’s roll!”

Without a word of warning, Mara jumps into action, bringing her blazing purple blade down upon the unprepared bounty hunters!

Marquand follows, blasters blazing, with Hans and Ox supporting Vader in a mad dash to safety!

They break through the blockade in the passage, Mara leading the way, but Marquand soon finds himself surrounded by mercenaries on all sides!

He fights valiantly, but there are simply too many enemies…

He is hurled violently down to the ground. And stays there.

Bane Malar appears from the shadows.

——“Idiots! You let them escape!”

“The guardssss out front will make sssshort work of them,” Bossk hisses back. The large lizard hunter is growing impatient with taking orders.

——“I have my doubts. But this time, I’ll be there to finish them myself!”

Marquand, however, is not quite out of the game. With one last burst of strength, he lunges at Malar from behind!

But just as quickly as he strikes, he is gunned down!

“Pathetic,” Malar mutters, looking down at the fallen inspector. “Move out.”

As the hunters move to leave, they neglect to notice that in his final moments, Marquand managed to wrest free a single, black thermal detonator from Malar’s vest. A thermal detonator primed to go off…

Yet another explosion rocks the mountain, as if to herald the emergence of Mara Jade, gleaming purple lightsaber ablaze, as she rushes up out of the caverns and into the daylight!

She is quickly rushed by opposition, as the mercenaries leap into action!

While the Dark Side adept is highly skilled, so are her deadly opponents, and their sheer number threatens to overwhelm her as they attack from all sides!

High above the action, master sniper Bom Vimdin stares down, taking careful aim…

He struggles to get a clear shot as Mara dodges and weaves between her assailants and behind rocky barriers, locked in mortal combat!

“Take the damn shot!” Braccus yells.

Those will prove to be his last words, as the back-stabbing Klantoonian lieutenant is ironically shot in the back.

“I can’t believe I used to work with you idiots,” Boba Fett sneers from under his helmet as his former teammates turn to see him.

The other bounty hunters rush to defend themselves, but Fett has the upper hand.

A quick blast from his wrist rocket shatters Vimdin’s arm, an inglorious end to the marksman’s storied career.

Finishing off the last of the mercenaries, Mara turns to see Fett approaching.

——“You do good work, bounty hunter,” she offers a rare, suggestive smile. “I think I’d like to get to know you better.”

“I just want my money, ma’am.”

——“If you want your money, I’d better never hear you call me ma’am again.”

“It’s not going to be worth anything if we don’t get going soon!” Hans and Ox hobble forward, dragging along Darth Vadar’s limp, mechanical body

“He doesn’t have much time left,” Ox reports. “We have supplies on our ship. I’ll summon it, and we can get the hell off this rock once and for all!”

Shortly after the Imperials flee the scene, Hank Landow climbs up out from the ruins, gasping for breaths of fresh air to clear the dust and dirt from his clogged lungs. Klink follows close behind.

“It seems that Mara has flown,” the weary sergeant surveys the array of bodies.

——“So what do we do now?” Hank suddenly realizes the gravity of the situation.

“I… don’t know.” Klink responds without looking back at his companion. The aging trooper stumbles away, walking towards an undefined destination.

High above the two men lie the watchful eyes of Commander Willix, ready at last to eliminate the traitor he was sent to stop. He takes aim with his blaster…

But is tackled from behind by Airen Cracken, in a desperate final bid to save his friend!

The momentum carries both rebels over the ledge. They crash to the ground in front of Hank and Klink.

Impulsively, Klink draws his blaster and opens fire! He misses…

But Cracken’s reply hits true.

Stumbling backwards, Klink collapses at Hank’s feet.

“Hank, listen to me,” the dying Stormtrooper groans, reaching out towards his prisoner’s ankle bracelet, the explosive device tying their lives together. Hank kneels down. “Please… protect my family. I couldn’t… I couldn’t bear to…” With his final ounce of strength, he types out the last digits of the disarmament code and slips away from the mortal world.

With a whirr and a clunk, the deadly bracelet falls off Hank’s leg. He picks it up, staring into it with glazed eyes, as if looking for an answer.

——“Thank you, sir.”

“Hank!” A shout from Cracken breaks the silence as the two friends see each face to face for what seems like the first time in an eternity.

“I thought I’d never see you again, old friend!” the Colonel smiles, reaching out for an embrace. “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through…”

“I know you can’t,” Hank remorsefully replies.

——“What do you mean?”

“I can’t go back. I can’t do this anymore,” Hank begins to turn away. In their decades of friendship, Cracken has never seen the bald bomber cry. But now he fights back tears. “I promise I’ll find you again, one day. Look after the rest of them. Don’t let them get hurt.”

Cracken struggles to find the words to reply. Instead, he stands frozen in silence. He reaches out a hand in vain, as if trying to grasp a fleeing spirit and hold it tight. But he can do nothing but watch through fogging eyes as his friend, his longest companion, his brother and arms disappears beyond a rocky outcropping, forever out of reach. He stands alone for what feels like an eternity, and then turns to begin the long walk home.

Above it all, Commander Shade looks down at the distraught rebels and the fleeing Imperials. And for the first time in the clone’s short but eventful life, he makes a decision for himself.

Hank races away through the fields surrounding the ruins, cutting a course of his own as he tramples the grass beneath his feet. He knows not where he is going, just Away. Away from the Empire and the Alliance. Away from sides and rivalries and deceptions. He is blinded by the sun.

Barreling ahead, he collides with Shade, fleeing in the same direction, with the same lack of destination.

“Who are you?” the rebel asks, having never seen his old foe outside of his trademark stealth armor, but recognizing the face of a clone. “And who are you with?”

——“You can call me Shade. And I’m not with anyone anymore.”

“Excellent!” A voice calls out from behind the duo, they whirl around, blasters drawn…

“You have no one to follow and I have no one to follow me!” Hondo Ohnaka steps forward, arms raised in a disarming stance. “I’m afraid we’ve never been formally introduce. My name is Hondo and you could say I work in… talent management. You are men who want to help people. And the way this galaxy is going, help will soon be a hot commodity.”

“Come with me,” the old Weequay smiles. “I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.”

Lightyears away on Coruscant, in the Imperial Throne Room, Lord Tarsus’ screams echo down the chamber halls as force lightening courses through his veins.

“Did you think I didn’t know?” Emperor Palpatine chortles. “Of course I knew. And I was impressed. But you failed to finish. And instead of doing it yourself, you sent lackeys. Fools who you clearly failed to prepare for such a task!”

“You have no place here, anymore Tarsus,” the emperor leaves the dark lord within an inch of his life. “But do not think I am finished with you. The time may yet come when you are truly fit to take Lord Vader’s place. But that time is not today.”

Burnt and scarred, Tarsus limps away from the palace, furtively hobbling towards his personal shuttle, his mind crowded with thoughts of where to go, what to do next, and how his masterful plan possibly could have failed.

These thoughts distract him until the sound of a blazing laser blast breaks the silence and tears through his left shoulder.

Tarsus drops to the ground. He hears the sound of boots crisply stepping across the floor towards him. He looks up to see the solemn approach of General Hochsetter, Commander of Imperial Ground Forces and the dark lord’s long time rival.

Nearly too weak to move, he reaches out with the Dark Side of the Force, attempting to collapse the throat of his assailant. But Hochsetter only leers.

“I had surgery to replace my trachea with an apparatus years ago. I know all your tricks, wizard. And I’ve spent my life training to fight your kind. Millennium under the Jedi and the Sith, it makes no difference. Boys playing with your special little tricks and the rest of our galaxy turns to chaos.”

“You’re a cancer. I’m the cure.” And so a single shot ends the life and aspirations of Chief Inquisitor Lylen Tarsus, Dark Lord of the Sith.

A day later, across the galaxy, a battered frigate lands in a hidden Rebel base on Dantooine. As alarms sound, a crowd begins to gather in the hanger. The first two figures to exit are Airen Cracken and Sila Kott. Both rebels look significantly worse for wear.

It is not long before General George Naht arrives on the scene, sternly surveying the crowd for a glimpse of his wayward colonel or the double agent, Hank Landow.

On his way to confront Cracken, he first runs into Willix, as nurses carry away the battered soldier. He turns to the Alpha Team Med Officer.

——“What the hell happened to him?”

“It seems Commander Willix took a bit of a fall, sir.”

The next sight he sees shocks him even more: Two Imperial Inquisitors departing the shuttle!

“Just what is…” he angrily pulls Cracken aside.

——“Don’t worry, sir,” Cracken cuts off the general. “They’re with us.”

“Well, he already was with us, and then he wasn’t. And then he took his brother with him. And then you went AWOL. And now you’re back with him and not the other one. And who is she?”

——“I’ll explain it all later, sir.”

“You’d better!” Naht shouts as Cracken walks away through the crowd. “This is all very confusing!”

As all the hubbub dies down, Cracken is left to walk alone in the cold, sterile halls of the rebel base. Jaig silently approaches from behind.

“Air… I don’t know where to begin,” words stumble out of the young Jedi’s mouth.

——“Then don’t. There’s nothing you need to say. Unless you can tell me what happened to your brother.” Cracken harshly turns away from his former teammate.

“I’m sorry, I just don’t know. He saw so much. So much bloodshed. And with Klink, I just… I think… I’m sorry. There’s not an answer I can give that will change this. I just came to say good-bye. Kara and I will leave tomorrow. We’re done fighting.”

Slowly, Cracken turns back around, his eyes staring into Jaig’s soul. Slowly, the glimmer of life begins to return to them.

——“You love her, don’t you?”

“Very much so, sir.”

——“If that’s not what we’re fighting for Jaig, than what is? Go.”

“Thank you.”

——“You don’t need to ask my permission anymore,” Cracken smiles for the first time in what seems like years. “Now get out of here.”

The aging soldier turns and walks away down the hall, as Kara steps out to embrace Jaig.

——“Just like that,” she smiles. “We’re free.”

“Where do you want to go?” Jaig asks.

——“That’s a stupid question. Anywhere you are.” The two share a kiss under the glaring lights of the rebellion, then grasp each other’s hands and walk off, the future in front of them, open wide.

Outside, Cracken finds his trusted mechanic, Havi, sitting on top of a dormant generator.

——“Helluva sunset, isn’t it, boss?” the diminuative Aleen laughs.

“It’s just you and me, now, Havi,” Cracken takes a seat next to him, reflecting on all of the friends who started this journey with them, now gone. Some dead on the field of battle, some left for places and lives unknown. “Was it all worth it?”

“We joined a war, Air,” Havi replies. “You and I, we believed in something. And Jaas, Saigorr, Hank and Jaig, they all believed in it too. Mistakes have been made. We’ve lost… we’ve lost a lot, so much gone. And what has really changed? I don’t think we can ever know if it’s worth it, not until the war is over and we see what sort of world we’ve made for our children. That ain’t a nice answer, I know. But for now it’s what we’ve got. What we believe, and who we love and what we can envision. For now, we can just enjoy the sunset.”

“You know what?” Cracken thinks after a moment of silence. “You’re right. It is a helluva a sunset”. And so the day ends. Another journey comes to a close. Tomorrow, new ones will begin. But for now, in all the galaxy there is naught but one generator, where two friends sit and watch a brilliant sunset, awaiting the cool embrace of the night air.


<<  Chapter 30
Chapter 31  
Brought to you by Choi

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