On the bridge of the Purgatory, the realization dawned on both Mary Travis and her crew that a fatal mistake had been made.
The scanners and the display screens on the bridge, showed in perfect clarity just how grave a mistake had been made as the four star destroyers converged upon the Nubian warship like a pack of hounds about to tear their helpless prey to a thousand shreds. The Purgatory continued to surge towards the Chimaera, still motionless in space, allowing the smaller ship to be led into the masterfully crafted trap created by the Grand Admiral in command of the expedition to Siraj. As Mary clutched the armrests of her chair, staring at the digital representations of the four ships as they surrounded the Purgatory, she realized that she had underestimated her enemy and it was going to cost her dearly. He had moved his ships around in such a disorganized pattern that Mary assumed she was dealing with a commander who had no idea what he was doing. Too late did she understand that there was no doubt in any of his actions, that the ships had been sent this way and that in an elaborate effort to trick her into assuming exactly what she had.
Now that she had committed herself to attacking the Chimaera, the trap had closed with all the other ships being recalled and surrounding the Purgatory on four fronts. Mary did not look at her crew. She could not. She was too ashamed to meet them in the eye after what she had done. They were just aware as she of what had happened, that they were trapped by Imperial forces on all sides and had inadvertently placed themselves, thanks to her mistake, in a kill zone. As the Shadowstar created the last link in the barrier that would prevent anyone of them from escaping this engagement alive, Mary forced herself to think because she could not let it end this way. The enemy knew what she was going to do, had decided long before even arriving at Siraj that she was unpredictable, that she would take the fastest course to victory even at the risk of it being the most daring and dangerous. Who on earth was in the Chimaera who could predict her actions so easily?
"Commander," the com officer spoke up over the hushed silence throughout the bridge. "The Chimaera is hailing us."
Mary met Chanos gaze and they knew there could be only one reason for such a request at communication. Surrender. The Chimaera was giving the Purgatory the chance to end this before she and her ship were destroyed. However, Mary knew what that surrender would entail. They were all accused of treason and sedition and in the Empire of Palpatine, there was only one sentence for those crimes; death. She sucked in her breath, deciding what was to be done in that instant. "Lets hear it."
At the very least, she wanted to see the face of the enemy.
The display screen before her flicked momentarily and the commander of the Chimaera appeared before the crew of the Purgatory. Mary did not recognized him at first but this was only a momentary lapse because her mind was already remembering Bucks forced trip to the Maw some months back. It had been commissioned and paid for by a Grand Admiral named Thrawn with indigo colored skin, crimson eyes and a white uniform as befitting an officer of that rank. She had never met a Grand Admiral and seeing this one scared the daylights out of her because it was he who had maneuvered her into the position she and the rest of the rebels found themselves. She wondered would her actions have changed if she had known that it was a Grand Admiral she was dealing with. She supposed she would never know.
"Grand Admiral Thrawn, I take it," Mary said coolly, showing no fear. She would not give him the satisfaction.
"Commander Travis." Thrawn nodded in what appeared almost an acknowledgement of respect. He did not show any reaction to her knowledge of his identity. "It has been a good game but I think its time to end this."
"I dont know," Mary retorted. "I might surprise you."
"You have been a formidable foe," Thrawn answered coolly. "I have enjoyed our little engagement, however, the fact remains is that you are surrounded on all fronts. Your rebel base has been compromised and your fighter fleet is in tatters. You have lost even if you are not willing to admit that."
Mary showed no response to that dismal accounting of the days losses. "We will not surrender," she said icily. "If we were to surrender, I am aware that every man and woman under my command will be killed before we even reached Coruscant."
"I am not a judge or an executioner," Thrawn answered her truthfully. "However, I cannot speak for how my government will respond to their fates. The Rebel Alliance is a threat to galactic security and carries a charge of treason and sedition. Your people knew that when they took up arms against the lawful government."
Mary almost responded to that but held her anger in check because it would not serve any purpose to let him see that she was checkmated. Showing nothing of what she intended to do about his ultimatum, if anything, Mary stared back at Thrawn. "I will not argue ideology at this time Admiral," Mary responded. "Suffice to say why should we surrender when the consequences of dying here and now might be preferable to being taken home as your trophies?"
"Because I am not interested in the others," Thrawn returned in that cool voice that indicated that he had everything under control and was about to show her how much it was all out of her hands. "I am interested in you Commander Travis. It was not the rebel stronghold in Siraj that brought my participation in this affair. It was you. I intend to present the Emperor his prize one way or another."
Mary felt the rage bubble inside of her as she realized that all this carnage had been attributed to vanitys desire to have her as a trophy. She thought of the lives lost already, not just in the air but on the planet itself and felt the fury rise up from inside her to choke the reason from her. Raising her eyes to meet Thrawns own, desperation gave rise to something of a plan. In truth, it had more in common with a last resort than it had with an actual strategy but it was also the only chance she knew of ensuring that the Purgatory was not boarded or its crew taken prisoner.
"I need to consider the situation," Mary replied softly, feigning the mask of a commander without any alternatives. As a performance, it was not all that far from the truth. She gestured at the communications officer to sever the connection between the two ships, "please standby."
"Power our main engines," Thrawn responded as soon as Mary Travis face faded from the viewer on his bridge "Ensure that we are ready to move at a moments notice," the Admiral ordered as he returned to his command chair and sat down in it, his body language telling everyone present that their commander was anticipating trouble.
"Admiral?" Pallaeon asked, understanding the urgency in Thrawns behavior but not why.
"Shes not ready to give up," Thrawn said without hesitation. "Theres still a little more fight left in her. She wont surrender, not until we increase the stakes a little more."
"Divert all power to our front shields!" Mary barked as soon as Thrawns face disappeared from the screen.
"What are you planning?" Chano asked anxiously as the bridge crew moved to carry out their commanders latest order.
"Our last chance," Mary responded without looking at him. "Helm, take her to ramming speed!"
The bridge seemed to fall deathly silent with that one order as all eyes shifted towards Mary, hoping perhaps that they had heard her wrong that she was not demanding of them what her order seemed to indicate. Mary noted their frightened expressions and she was prepared for it. She had no wish to lead them to death or dying herself but the fact of the matter was, they could not be taken alive and if there was even the slightest chance that some of them may come out of this alive, Mary was prepared to take it.
"You heard me!" She repeated herself. "Ramming speed! Full ahead!"
The helm officer nodded and immediately acted to comply with that order. The view displayed on the screen before the bridge of the Purgatory shifted from its image of the ships converging upon it to that of the Chimaera which lay dead ahead. The Chimaera remained in position, refusing to move as the Purgatory sailed forward, sending the stars around it in streaking past the hull in its surge ahead. Marys gaze remained fixed on the ship, aware that this act of desperation could very well end up in her killing everyone on board the vessel, not to mention herself. However, she and the Purgatorys crew had nothing to lose even though they might think her actions foolhardy. If Imperial forces boarded them, none of them would survive. They would be exterminated by the handful for treason but not before each one of them were tortured for every ounce of information they could provide the Empire about the Rebel Alliance network.
As ludicrous as it seemed, this was the better of the two possibilities.
"Commander," Chano whispered softly. "Its been an honor serving with you."
Mary raised her gaze to him and tried not to let the emotion show in this critical hour. "Like wise, Commander," she answered just as quietly. "Im sorry I could not have done any better for you."
"You did us proud Sir," Tylene, her Correllian weapons officer declared with just as much pride.
As the seconds hurried by and the Chimaera loomed closer in the screen, the bridge officers saluted her one after the other, showing their solidarity with her decision to end their service on board the Purgatory with an act of final defiance against Imperial tyranny. Mary had never felt prouder of her or sadder for them. The ship began to shudder as the velocity increased and despite their affirmation to hold their ground with her, she could see the fear in their eyes as the Chimaera remained lock in position as if testing her determination to stay on her suicidal course. She wondered if Thrawn could predict that she was desperate enough not to care whether or not they made it out alive.
She doubted it.
The Purgatory continued at is juggernaut pace, now hastily being bombarded from all other ships as they tried to halt the crafts progress to the Chimaera. The Nubian warship sustained a tremendous beating that could be felt throughout its superstructure as the ship heaved in protest, bleeding from a thousand wounds as it closed in on the enemy for its final moment. Across the bridge, circuitry was overloading, panels were flaring up with heat, terminals were going critical, forcing crew to abandon their stations as fires broke out across the deck. Marys own console exploded, sending sparks and glass towards her, she leapt from her seat to avoid being sprayed with a face full of shrapnel. Chano hurried to her and helped her off the floor as the antigrav's in the ship started to give way, making their steps lighter. Not that it mattered much since everyone's attention was more or less occupied on the approaching ship that was growing larger and larger on the scanner. Mary stared at the screen as Chano helped to her feet once more, wondering how long the Chimaera would hold firm and knowing without doubt that she was not moving.
Unlike the Imperials, she and the Purgatory had nothing to lose.
Thrawn watched the approaching Purgatory and felt a little curl tug at the corner of his lips. The Nubian showed no signs of slowing down and Thrawn was certain that she would not either. Mary Travis was too proud and too desperate at this time to back down. The beauty of her unpredictability is that it was also damned predictable in its own way. One just had to know the woman to be able to outmaneuver her. Thrawn made it a habit to study his opponents as closely as possible before he engaged them and Mary Travis had been one of the lengthiest that had undergone scrutiny. Had she known what she was facing in him, there was every likelihood that she would have avoided the trap he had her ensnared. Her actions were that he might have gambled upon himself if he was facing anyone else in the Imperial fleet but a Grand Admiral who was a quick study.
"Move the ship," Thrawn ordered sharply.
"Move?" The helm officer looked over his shoulder, unable to believe that Thrawn had given an order to withdraw.
"You heard the Admiral!" Pallaeon snapped aware that time was of the essence and that the lieutenant of the con was wasting it by asking unnecessary question. "MOVE THE SHIP!"
The delay came to late as the officer struggled to comply with the order, unable to regain the lost time when there was almost a million tonnes of warship coming towards them. Thrawn cursed under his breath, making a note to ensure that if they survived this the lieutenant's most important task would be ensuring his heating coils were still effective when he was assigned to an ice world like Hoth. His fingers dug into the arms rest as the ship started to bank hard but the lapse would cost them.
"ALL HANDS BRACE FOR IMPACT!" Chano shouted into the still functioning com system when he saw the Chimaera's bulk take up the entire view screen.
His warning came less than a split second before the ship slammed into the side of the Chimaera whom at the last minute had banked hard in an effort to avoid the collision. The sound sheared through their eyes as the impact shuddered violently through the ship. Everything that was not bolted down on the bridge when flying as the Purgatory screeched past the Chimaera. Emergency klaxons began screaming all across the ship as the Purgatory took the brunt of the collision since it was smaller in size to the massive star destroyer and less armored. Consoles that had been short-circuiting and erupting sporadically had now started exploding with greater force.
Mary was thrown to her feet as the sound of explosions burst around her like blasts of artillery. For a moment, she could do nothing but keep her head down as the violence shook the bridge around her and she heard screaming. Fires ignited from damaged control panels, were kept fed with flammable cabling and any other material that provided sustenance. The unnerving noise of metal tearing and the steel framework of the ship ripping itself asunder sent waves of fear into Mary as she envisioned what the collision had done to her ship. The forward momentum of the Purgatory was still carrying it forward, despite the chaos that had overtaken the bridge. She did not know how long she remained on the floor, somewhat disorientated by the flashes of light that broke the complete darkness but when it became so silent that it was almost deathly, Mary raised her head and pushed herself to her feet.
The first thing she noticed was that the Purgatory was leaning on a slant. Attitude control had been destroyed and the ship though moving forward still was starting to spiral because of the incline. Mary stumbled slightly as she tried to regain her balance and her eyes widened when she saw the state of the bridge. Metal beams had come down on some of the stations, fire was burning out of shattered console screens and live wires hung limply from torn fissures in the walls and ceiling. The viewer before her command chair had completely shattered, covering the immediate area in a spray of glass. Mary saw some of the bridge crew starting to stir and her eyes searched the immediate area for the first undamaged console.
"All hands," Mary activated the com system and hoped that it still function. "This is Commander Travis, Abandon ship!" She ordered, wiping a smear of blood from her forehead. "Repeat. Abandon ship!"
It was not idle threat, from the undamaged console, she was able to get a fairly decent reading of the ship's current state and it was dire indeed. The damage to the ship's core was substantial. Very soon it would reach critical mass, destroying the Purgatory and everyone on it. That is if the four destroyers did not catch up with them and blow them out of the sky first. At this moment, it could go either way. She heard movement and saw Lieutenant Tylene pulling himself out from under a support beam, his arm hanging loosely at his side and was clearly dislocated.
"Get to the escape pods!" She ordered him and scanned the wreckage for any other survivors. Some were like Tylene, emerging from under the destruction, some what disorientated by the chaos. They used her words to focus themselves and the order to depart the ship was one that sank it most clearly. Mary scanned the bridge to search for more survivors when suddenly, she saw a figure huddled near her command chair. Mary stumbled forward, feeling a sharp pain in her hip as she moved and let out a small cry as she unwittingly placed weight on it. She made her next step a little more carefully but it did not lessen the pain any more, just allowed her to get forward a little more. Dropping to her knees once she reached the injured crewman, Mary felt her heart stop when she realized that it was Chano.
"Chano!" Mary gasped as she saw his head and chest bleeding profusely. The head injury did not seem severe but the wound to his chest, just beneath the ribcage was another thing entirely. If he were not given medical treatment soon, he would die. Mary was not about to let that happen. Slipping his arm over her shoulders, she closed her eyes and braced herself for the pain that would come when she attempted to haul him to his feet. The pain was beyond belief and set her hip on fire as she pulled him upright. Mary could not keep herself from uttering a sob of pain as she stared dragging him towards the exit. She knew that she would be forgiven if she left him and continued on her own but she refused to let him die here. After failing the Purgatory so dismally, she was not going to waste any more lives under her command than necessary.
The bridge had access to life pods of their own and as Mary made the laborious task of bringing Chano and herself to safety, she could hear the Purgatory's death knell in the increasing frequency of explosions that were exploding throughout the ship. It was almost a cascading effect, moving deck by deck until it reached crescendo at the engine core and tore the entire ship apart. Mary cast a final gaze at the bridge as she drew further and further away, trying not to feel the sorrow of its loss. The Purgatory had been her first real warship command, the reward she had received by joining the rebellion and forsaking command of a star destroyer. She had loved the little Nubian warship and was proud of all they managed to do together. Their relationship had almost been symbiotic except now she was leaving it to its death. She felt as if she had cheated somehow.
This is not the time, Mary told herself as he found an escape pod and placed Chano into it. The pod took two and Mary took a deep breath, casting one final look at the hallway of her ship, even though the bridge was no longer in sight. The pod could take more but the others had gone ahead and Mary could not trust the ship to remain any longer than necessary on board. When the core went critical, they had to be a good distance away or simply escaping in the nick of time was not going to be good enough; they would be vaporized just the same. She did not mind her own life in jeopardy but Chano's was another thing entirely.
Fastening Chano securely into one of the seats within the life pod, Mary did the same for herself and activated the panel next to her that would breathe life to the transport. The lights underneath her finger tips came alive once she keyed in the correct sequence and with a sudden lurch, the pod plunged downwards, making Mary's stomach follow its direction for a few seconds. She raised her eyes to the portal above the ceiling and saw the metal surface contract into the shape of the Purgatory as the pod left it behind. Mary did not know how long she continued to stare until she saw her beloved ship tear itself apart in a brilliant explosion that lit up the sky with amber balls of fire and smoke.
She watched the ignited pieces of metal streak across the sky, not realizing that corresponding streaks were moving down her cheeks as tears.
With the lowering of the deflector shield, the priorities of the rebels fighting the ground assault shifted radically. While a few remained to impede the progress of the juggernaut rebel forces encroaching their defensive perimeter, most of the ground pounders had returned to the rebel base in order to aid with the evacuation. Some parts of the damaged structure were not accessible and though they were certain there were lives still trapped in small pockets throughout the facility, no help could be provided to them. The efforts were now focussed on retrieving as many from the destroyed bastion of rebel activity as possible and with the depletion of forces on the line; the Imperial advance grew even more rapid.
Chris Larabee and the rest of Colonel Kellis squadron had been busy attacking the Shadowstar after it had begun its assault the rebel base. The contingent of X wings sent to do battle with the star destroyer soon found itself outmatched and it was a note to preservation and determination that they managed to disrupt some of the bombardment though not enough to be effective since the shield generator had been lowered. During the course of the fighting, only Chris superior reflexes kept him from joining the growing number of casualties, including Kellis, who was shot down in a fiery blaze. Chris felt the terrified emotions of all that had died, seconds before the end and after awhile he had to consciously disconnect himself from sensing them. However, as the Shadowstar began to move off and join the other ships, with the X-wings following close behind to aid their comrades who were embroiled in the engagement with the Purgatory, Chris noticed something disturbing.
The closer they neared to the Chimaera; his senses found itself pressed against a barrier it could not penetrate. A circle of darkness surrounded the lead ship and its radiating power also extended itself to the ships that flew close to its sphere and even the Purgatory itself as the Nubian surged toward it. Within that perimeter, Chris could sense nothing; not a mind thinking its thoughts, not an emotion depicting the fear and aggression this situation must surely engender. All that he could feel was this large vacuum of nothingness. As he and the rest of the X-wings watched in horror as the Purgatory found itself surrounded on all fronts by the large attack force, Chris was helpless to discern whether or not Mary was still alive because of that nullifying effect.
It was the same feeling he had experienced when Buck had returned from the Maw with the yslamiri.
Suddenly, it all made perfect sense. It was Thrawn that was commanding this battle. Mary was facing a Grand Admiral. Although Chris had never served in the military, he knew that the rank was given to officers with exceptional command abilities. The surgical effectiveness of the strike against the rebel forces was proof enough of Thrawns capabilities since this was shaping up to be one of the rebellions worst defeats in its short history. Thrawn had engineered the retrieval of the yslamiri in order to use it on the Jedi. The small furry creatures were an oddity of nature, somehow existing outside the Force and in doing so were able to create a bubble around itself, which no Jedi could penetrate and was thus rendered helpless. It did not surprise Chris in the slightest that having anticipated the presence of Jedi on Siraj, Thrawn had taken appropriate measures to protect himself against their threat. Whatever the reason for it hardly mattered now, because its effects were well and truly in force. Chris could sense nothing from the Chimaera and the surrounding ships.
Which meant he could not sense Mary either.
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