While a grim Luke Skywalker reels from Darth Vader's revelation on the cloud city of Bespin, the tattered remnants of the Rebel fleet desperately seek sanctuary and time to muster new allies. Their forces are weak, and that has not escaped the notice of Emperor Palpatine—ultimate victory lies within his grasp. All it will take is another blow to crush this Rebel Alliance, one more straw to break their backs. A blow, Palpatine reasons, that could be struck by the vast, criminal underworld that lurks within the Shadows of the Empire…
While the remnants of the Rebel fleet are traveling through the galaxy, one of the transports contacts the Redemption and Princess Leia telling her that their scanners picked up a ship approaching rapidly towards their direction, and they suspect that it is hostile. Leia realizes that that might mean an Imperial ship, and wonders how the Empire found them. The transport captain guesses that it was probably due to chance, as they make a pretty big blip on their scanners, telling her that they are diverting from the fleet to intercept the target. Luke Skywalker briefly gets up, telling R2-D2 to come along, telling Leia when question that he's needed. C-3PO attempts to stop Luke, pointing out that Luke hasn't recovered from his injuries, and his prosthesis still needs time before he masters it. Luke mentions that his hand is probably fine, until C-3PO points out the dent he made just by gripping the hatch. Luke points out that he doesn't need to use both hands to pilot an X-Wing anyways, even with his hand needing more practice. R2-D2 then points out that his X-wing starfighter is still undergoing a refit in the service bay, making the decision final. Leia reminds Luke while pointing out that he needs rest to regain his strength that Wedge Antilles and Rogue Squadron are with the fleet, so they can provide all the backup they need.
Meanwhile, the fleet contacts Wedge and tells him that they have confirmed that the ship in question is an Imperial strike cruiser, and that it is essential that the cruiser does not escape to give away their position. Wedge then mentions that they have sang their song. He then commands Rogue Five to sweep wide, and the rest of the squadron to "stick like glue." They then detect that the cruiser has released 9 TIE/LN starfighters, causing Rogue Squadron to prepare their weapons. Meanwhile, onboard the strike cruiser, the captain tells the communications channeler to send a message to Darth Vader with their coordinates telling them that they have located the Rebel Fleet and they are engaging. The Communications channeler tells him the signals aren't getting through as the Rebels jammed their signal. Rogue Squadron then destroys the TIE leader, causing the squadron to break formation. Wedge then tells his squadron to stay focused because any deaths as a result of friendly fire "is a contradiction in terms." Rogue Three is briefly attacked by a TIE, which is destroyed by Rogue Two, although not before shooting out one of Rogue Three's engines, causing his ship to require some traction. The strike carrier is breaking for it, however, being tracked as going to coordinates 03039er. Rogue Squadron attempts to attack it from behind, but they have raised their rear shields. However, they lower the forward shields, which Rogue Squadron uses to their advantage by having Rogue Five attack the front, destroying the vessel. Wedge then remarks that it pays to play a deep safety. The fleet then congratulates Wedge, and tells them to return to the fleet.
The captain tells Leia that they are altering their course as a precaution, and it may mean some delay if she still intends to go to Tatooine. Leia explains that she understands, and the safety of her fleet comes first. However, in her mind, she also realizes that a short delay won't do any harm anyways, as Chewbacca and Lando will let them know as soon as Boba Fett arrives at Jabba's Palace, anyway. She also begins to feel some concern about Luke, as she cannot help but wonder if there was something that happened during the fight between Vader and Luke that he isn't telling them. While this is going on, C-3PO, referring to when R2-D2 did the finishing touches on C-3PO earlier, mentioned that he probably didn't fix his leg properly, as he keeps getting this unnatural urge to kick himself. R2-D2 denies that there was anything unnatural about it. When C-3PO asks what R2 meant by that, his response apparently deeply hurts C-3PO.
Meanwhile, at the Executor, an Imperial officer tells Vader that his communication link to the Emperor is ready. Vader then goes to his quarters to make contact with Palpatine, who tells Vader that his failure on Bespin distresses him. Vader then mentions that while Luke Skywalker's escape was unfortunate, it was not fatal, as he managed to sew the seeds of ambition into Luke's mind, and that he will be theirs. Palpatine then implies that he suspects that Vader did not even wish to ensnare Skywalker. Vader then reminds Palpatine that trying to turn Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side was Vader's idea, and mentions that even then, he is redoubling his efforts to find him, and has found a report of a possible sighting of the Rebel fleet. Palpatine mentions that the search may have to wait, as he has a more pressing matter for Vader to attend to, as construction of a new weapon proceeds apace, and the Imperial fleet alone cannot handle their delivery requirements, and thus Vader must return to Coruscant to conclude shipping arrangements with Prince Xizor. Vader then asks if it is even wise to involve Xizor in the project. Palpatine then reminds Vader that Xizor controls the largest merchant fleet in the galaxy, and thus could be useful for them. Vader points out that Xizor's ties with Black Sun are too well known, and thus makes him dangerous, and thus untrustworthy with a military cargo. Palpatine scolds Vader about concerning himself with schoolboy rumors, and that it is better for him to attend to his own duties. With finality, Palpatine tells him he has his instructions.
Xizor arrives as the transmission ends, mentioning that Vader has no love for Xizor, as is certain to him. Xizor finds this regrettable, as he notes that Vader has many admirable qualities, but he can be a trifle rigid in his thinking. Xizor then hopes that Vader's judgment is not impaired by his emotions, namely hatred of him and love for his son. Palpatine then points out that Vader is above that, as his loyalty to the Empire is unquestioned. Xizor then asks Palpatine if Vader will not be obstructive. Palpatine then explains that although he will drive a miser's bargain, Vader knows too well the importance of the Endor project and will do nothing to delay it. Xizor then mentions that he will enjoy dealing with "him," and thanks Palpatine. His assistant, Guri, then asks if the meeting went well with the Emperor as he approaches his ship. Xizor explains that the Emperor saw the advantages in his participation. He then tells Guri to contact Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine and tell him that he wishes to confer with him at Coruscant immediately. When questioned why he wishes to make contact on Coruscant, Xizor mentions that he has his reasons, and she should just follow orders without question. She then accepts. Xizor then asks Guri if she made contact with the bounty hunters. Guri then replies she did through intermediaries. Xizor, while boarding his ship, then tells her to make arrangements, and that she should be careful, as his hand must not be detected in the affair. To himself, Xizor confirms to Vader that he is indeed dangerous, and especially if Vader even hopes to deliver Luke to the Emperor alive. He then suspects that Luke's next move is to rescue Solo, the little hero that he is, and notes that it is a wise hunter who remains one step ahead of his quarry.
Meanwhile, Slave I has entered the Tatooine system. Boba Fett, after mockingly asking Solo if he enjoyed his trip and the next stop is Jabba the Hutt, mentions that he is going to pay well for Solo, as now Solo is more than a prisoner, as he is a work of art: Frozen in a man of time, -Man in Carbonite- a masterpiece by Darth Vader. However, the Slave I's computer warning system blares as a signal beacon has been activated. Boba then realizes that someone must have planted the device on his ship while he was on Cloud City with the intention of activating as soon as he entered Tatooine space. He is then forced to set the whole lower hold on fire, as he has absolutely no time to search for it. After neutralizing it, he then has his targeting computer calculate the trajectory for return to hyperspace. He then mentions to Solo that they probably knew they were there, but he doesn't know where. The targeting computer then identifies a blip, and he recognizes from the outline that it is the IG-2000, the property of the assassin droid IG-88, a bounty hunter who fancies himself to be Fett's equal. He then blows the ship up, but realizes shortly thereafter that it was most likely a decoy, as it went down too easily. The real IG-2000 then comes out of hyperspace behind Slave I, and manages to shoot off one of his wings, causing Fett to mention that it was a neat trick. IG-88 then tells Boba Fett that he can surrender his prisoner and thus have a 30% probability chance of surviving their encounter. Boba then points out that IG-88 has a bit of a problem: If he destroys Fett, he'll also lose Solo. IG-88 points out that "he" is fare more capable of withstanding gravometric pressures than Boba, and thus Boba's tactic has a zero probability curve for success. Boba then initiates the Slave I's Inertia Dampers. After some difficulty evading, he manages to evade the IG-2000, and points out that the Inertial Dampers cut velocity 90%, and he only has to drag IG-2000 into his sights. He then gets a lock and shoots down the IG-2000, killing the droid as well, telling him the better man wins. Boba then requests a damage report. Turns out the Slave 1 has lost 60% of its function and rear deflectors. Also, the implosion of the Inertial Dampers caused attendant meltdown in the hyperdrive core. The hyperdrive was also rendered nonfunctional and the sublight engines are operational at 30%. Boba notes that this means the IG-88 has done serious damage to them, which means he must put the Slave 1 for repairs. He can't do so on Tatooine due there being other Bounty Hunters waiting for him and will most likely take advantage of Slave 1's weakened state. He then decides for Gall as there is a safe dock in the Imperial Enclave. He then tells Solo that they might be keeping each other company for a while longer, and not hope that it is too much longer.
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- "ComicScan: The Graying of the Galaxy"—Star Wars Galaxy Magazine 7
- The Secrets of Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
Notes and references