Black Four throttled back his engines, watching all the red on his hull status display flash angrily. Plasma flames racing over the main engine's cowling, his gunship had more holes and gaps than the second Death Star...
...before it blew up...
...which was going to be his fate if he didn't get help quickly. As a squadron leader, he had access to the emergency frequency but he'd been informed by Black One upon pain of death not to use it unless he absolutely had to do so. It was for the most dire of circumstances only, to be punched up only if he was in danger of being captured or if there was absolutely no chance of the mission succeeding.
The former wasn't a risk; he'd managed to hyperspace out of that death trap. Four flights of Ties, each lead by a gunboat, and he was the only one to make it out alive. They'd jumped into a firestorm, turbolaser fire tearing them apart before most of them even knew they were under attack. He'd resented being chosen as the rear squad leader. Now, he was grateful.
The lasers tearing through all the others first had given him the few precious seconds he'd needed to run like hell. Sure he'd abandoned his flight but they were all going to die. No sense in throwing his life away with theirs.
Besides, someone had to report the mission failure. He just hoped a rescue ship would get here before his life support ran out.
He entered the manual code numbers, activating his transponder as soon as the frequency locked in. His communications array dispatched a pre-recorded distress call complete with current space coordinates and recorded footage of the mission.
Then the thermal detonator under his seat exploded, killing him instantly and setting off a chain reaction of plasma charges that vaporized his assault ship down to the last fight panel. Within moments, even the glowing motes of ash dispersed, leaving only empty stars and the cold void between them...
Thick fingers toggled a bright red switch on a dark wooden desk, revealing a display screen behind a hidden, sliding panel in the wall. The monitor alone was worth thousands of credits, the concealing systems around it costing ten times that to install.
He didn't care. The money was irrelevant. He had hundreds of millions of credits, scattered across the galaxy in hundreds of accounts. He could buy and sell star fleets. He had before and he would no doubt do so again. Right now, money did not concern him. All that mattered was this transmission and what it would mean to his plans.
The watcher took in every last image on the screen, silently observing the attack on the Mandalore fleet, the Rebel fools breaking off their assault, his Imperial vessels having to strike at the Neo-Crusaders directly, their unexpected retreat and the ambush waiting for his ships on the other end of the hyperspace jump.
That was not been in his plan at all. Neither had the survival of the Ithorian hive carrier nor the Rebels not doing his dirty work for him. These were chaotic elements in an otherwise flawless scheme.
He hated random factors. They could not be bought or sold. They could not anticipated. He preferred to deal in assets and exchanges. A few hate groups combining to form an intergalactic racist brotherhood. A single base on Tattooine traded to simulate planetary bombardment. A ship full of worthless aliens to instigate a Rebel response.
And finally a manipulated clash with rabid would-be "honorable warriors" to simulate a false first strike in what would become a very real war. Such a plan had worked twenty years ago to forge the Empire, after all. There was no reason it couldn't work again.
Expect that now there was a very good reason. He needed lots of dead Rebels and angry Mandaloreans getting righteously blown out of the stars by Imperial forces. Right now, he had neither.
This would not do. This would not do at all.
Fortunately, he never did anything without a contingency plan. And a contingency for when that contingency failed. And a third plan to back up the other two just in case.
He detested being in the position of having to relay on his very last option but such was life. If this was how the game would be played, he would have to make the best of the sabacc hand being dealt. Fortunately, just like in sabacc, he knew how to cheat.
It was time to stack the deck.
A calm, feminine voice played over the desk's integrated speaker. "Sir?"
"Get me Savan."
He steepled his fingers in front of his heavy-jowled face. Black Sun. He'd been trying to avoid this, but there wasn't any choice now.
"Tell her I am ready to discuss an alliance. Tell her... tell her I know where she can find a certain droid she's looking for."