"Nothing on scans," Mulder commented, flicking various analog switches on the anterior-surface panels of his screen, switching between different frequencies and wavelengths in effort to find the anomalous blip one of the New Republic's monitoring stations had detected. In response to a ghostly image that, for a fraction-of-a-second had appeared as a large cruiser, the New Republic had sent a detachment of old Y-Wing Scouts to investigate. "This is a waste of time. Shouldn't we be more concerned about the situation on Coruscant than a sensor ghost?" Mulder grumbled, briefly adjusting his helmet as he glanced back n' forth from the expanse before him and the empty sensor-screen to his right.
"It's important we monitor for any extrastellar activity. Any number of extremist factions could see this as an opportunity to attack and sow more chaos." His wingman, a Mon-Calamari pilot by the name of Greel, stated. "It's not the fanfare I know you wanted, Mulder, but it-" On each of the small four-wing squadron of Y-wing scouts, their sensor screens began to trill. Each droid stationed on the top-aft section of the scout hulls beeped n' burbled to confirm the readings: There was something out there, 80 kilometers ahead and steadily closing.
Panic settled into Mulder's gut for a moment before his training kicked in, and with a serious expression washing over his hardened features, he began issuing orders like a seasoned veteran expecting a fight. "Alright, Bronze-Wing, take up recon positions, I want at least 12 k's between each of us and a wide sensor-net. Transmit everything back to HQ as we go." His three squadmates responded in kind, peeling away from one another to their assigned positions in space. Ahead, Mulder spotted it. Silhouetted at first by the blaring light of Coruscant's star, a familiar dark shape loomed, growing bigger as they approached.
It was a Star Destroyer.
"Holy Jeddha, are you seeing this, Greel?" Mulder called out, flicking a few more switches on his sensor-screen to try and get a better reading of the massive cruiser he was seeing. "Aye. Star Destroyer! Mark-One... Early Empire, it looks. I can't get any readings on it, however. Cloaking Device, perhaps?" Mulder listened but shook his head, "No, look at it. We're not getting any readings because it's... listing. I don't think it has any power. Maybe running silent? Let's get a closer look--but not too close. Remain in long-range formation and keep the sensor-sweep up, I don't want any surprises." 70 Kilometers... 60... 50... It took less than a handful of minutes to close the distance with the drifting cruiser, and the closer the squadron grew, the more they could see the state of disrepair it was in. Not to mention an odd cloud of debris that seemed to be following it, tugged along by some unseen gravitational force.
"Form up. I have a bad feeling about this." Mulder commanded as the Squadron grew tight information again. Greel couldn't help but comment on what he was seeing over the radio: "This is a ghost-ship. Look at the hull. No visible lighting, scorch marks, massive ruptures, and no visible emissions from the ion-engines. Yet... Sensor-Screens are registering a small gravity well. Abnormally small to be as stable as it is without some source of power!" Mulder ground his teeth together in worried thought. "Could be a trap," he replied as the four-man formation of Y-wings passed over the bow of the ruined Star Destroyer. "Or not. Holy Jeddha, look at that thing. How long has it been drifting out here-" Mulder's voice was cut off as, across all of their comms, a soft humming was heard. It wasn't mechanical, nor interference... it was a gentle sing-song tune thrumming from a feminine tongue, almost like a lullaby.
Instead of confirming the voice with his squadmates, Mulder felt... compelled. Compelled to remain quiet, to listen to the gentle hum of a mother's protective tone, and to sleep. Though he struggled briefly to fight it, the wave of drowsiness that had hit him was not overcome, and within minutes, his head fell and his craft was gently tugged into the gravitational disturbance surrounding the destroyer. Without active guidance, it gently listed to the right, only to collide into the destroyer's hull, rending itself into pieces from the sheer force of the impact.
One by one, the other Y-Wings met a similar fate, and after contact was completely lost, the New Republic monitoring station went on full alert.
On the bridge of the Blacktree, silently she slept. Lost in hibernation, in a deep dream without end, as a ship lost to time continued to drift towards the massive ecumenopolis that once stood as the capital of the First Galactic Empire; towards the shadow of the Darkside that forever scarred the planet on a metaphysical level beyond any one-person's understanding.
It was the crown jewel of all galactic civilization - a radiant cityscape wrapped tightly across the surface of an entire world - the center of all power and trade. Hundreds of billions called it their home, and billions still came and went with every passing day through several bustling hyperlanes. One could attribute Coruscant with many things, but quiet was not one of them.
Which made this silence all the more unsettling.
One moment, Hal's T-70 X-Wing was tearing through hyperspace on a direct route to Coruscant in a desperate attempt to reinforce defenses at the Sector Ranger HQ. The next, his starfighter was brutally ripped back into real-space, with every display suddenly lighting up with emergency warnings before shutting off unceremoniously. The transition was jolting, and the young Jedi Knight nearly slammed his head into the dash as the entire ship rocked and stuttered.
"What the-..." Hal squinted his blue eyes and immediately got to work, his hands a blur as they flicked switches and tapped unresponsive screens as he attempted to diagnose the damages. Nothing changed. In fact, there wasn't even the usual sparking or whirring of machinery that accompanied a failed hyperspace jump, just... silence. That seemed to rule out a hostile interdiction, but what else could it have been?
Then, without warning, the sensor display came back to life, but what it was showing was simply impossible. There was a massive sensor ghost - over a kilometer in length - that was only 100 kilometers, no, 90 kilometers away, and quickly closing the gap. "Oh karabast..." Hal murmured under his breath as he redoubled his efforts to bring the ship's systems online again, but as the ghost signal continued to draw closer and closer, the Knight gave up on his efforts. He looked up through the glass to see if he could catch a glimpse of the signal with his own eyes... and what he saw shook him to the core.
An Imperial-I StarDestroyer, a relic of the Imperial era, and in considerably disrepair, drifted towards him, a swatch of debris pulled inexorably in its wake. By now it was only 20 kilometers away from him. Stunned in awe, he was almost too caught up in reverie to notice the hum of his X-Wing's engines as the ship's systems went back online. His gaze snapped back towards the controls, and with some deft maneuvering, the Jedi was able to regain control of his ship.
"Looks like t's up to me then." Hal said to nobody in particular, his comms system still inoperable. He was close enough to notice more recent-looking debris, days old at most and hours at least, and reached out in the Force to see if he could sense any survivors from their hulking wrecks. While he couldn't find their presences, he was still able to sense...a dark presence emanating from the ghost ship. Whatever had lured those ships in, it was strong with the dark side. Hal dropped his right hand down to his side, grasping the hilt of his lightsaber in an attempt to steel his nerves against a wave of newfound dread.
The onboard communications equipment of the X-Wing crackled; a gloss of white noise accenting every barely audible syllable ushered forth. Someone was talking to Hal, or at the very least being intercepted, and the transmission was coming from derelict Star Destroyer listing like a massive coffin through space. Solemn yet steady breathing followed the feminine tone as if someone had just awoken from a bad dream and was struggling to get a grasp on reality.
"The waters are still... the chaos is gone. W-Why did the music stop?"
Then, that very same equipment stopped picking up the stray transmission... but the feeling of dread n' despair would remain. The closer Hal came to the Star Destroyer, the more intense the presence of the Dark Side would be. The debris casually swirling around the beaten and battered vessel seemed to react to Hal's presence, or that of his X-Wing at the very least, peeling away and maneuvering like schools of aimless and frightened fish. The more Hal looked, the more he might notice that the debris was not simply random hunks of metal, but the remains of old Imperial tie-fighters and their counterparts, while other pieces appeared to be remnants of missing hull fragments from the star destroyer itself. It was as if the vessel was keeping everything it had lost near, like a puzzle waiting to be assembled.
Then, like a beacon amidst a storm, the hangar situated on the underbelly of the drifting leviathan flickered to life. A series of small lights lining began illuminating the battle-damaged interior, but with a dull yellow glow that signified the vessel's age and disrepair.
When the voice emerged without warning through the haze of static, Hal froze. An ancient, instinctual sense deep within his psyche screamed at him to turn the ship around, to run and hide from something that felt, on every level, wrong. As if it wasn't meant for mortal beings. Perhaps if Hal wasn't a Jedi, whose instincts had been honed and compounded upon after years of training, he would have fled then and there. Yet he sensed something within that voice, beyond the static and beyond the darkness... something he couldn't pass up on.
Taking a deep inhale to steel his nerves, Hal quickly looked under his seat to see if his X-Wing's black box was still active. To his surprise, it was. His comms were busted, but maybe if he was able to record his findings on the flight recorder, he could broadcast a message out. At the very least, if he didn't make it, the recording could serve as a posthumous warning to anyone who followed in his footsteps. "This is Jedi Knight Hal Mikko," Hal murmured, his voice sounding surprisingly calm amidst the rubble, "currently I'm investigating the remains of an Imperial-One Star Destroyer in geosynchronous Coruscanti orbit. The ship appears to be mostly intact - ..."
As he continued with his description of events, including the time and (estimated) coordinates, the X-Wing was coming ever closer to the open hangar doors. The sound of his own voice galvanized the light within him, and as he stared up at the faded lights of the capital ship, instead of dread, he felt an odd sense of renewed purpose. There was no doubt that this was an invitation. His mission was simply to find out who - or what - had drawn him here.
The X-Wing touched down within the belly of the beast. Before Hal unlatched the cockpit clamps and crawled out of his ship, he made one last comment for posterity's sake. "This is Hal Mikko, signing off. May the Force be with me..." If anyone were to listen to that recording afterwards, the last thing they would hear before the cockpit closed shut was the unmistakable sound of a lightsaber coming to life, and the sound of footsteps as Hal stepped into the dying warship.
As the X-Wing touched down and Hal left the relative safety of his X-Wing's cockpit... the Hangar came alive! The once dull yellow lights flickered rapidly until they burst with a brilliant blue glow, and the blackened, scorched walls and decrepit Tie-Fighter hulks littering the floors pulled themselves together with metallic screeches and twisting metal. And it was at that moment, when the sickly black texture of the walls faded back to their old steel-blue glory, that everything changed. The Star Destroyer was suddenly no longer old and listing, but rumbling with active ion engines, and the dull groans of a ghost ship's bones had turned into active klaxons of a combat-ready destroyer.
All around Hal, it would have been as if time had reversed, and should he look past the hangar, down towards the sea of stars and debris that once filled the canvas below, he'd see perhaps, an oddly familiar sight: A large gas giant with a small marble green and blue world. Turbolaser batteries could be heard thumping beyond the hangar's great walls; legions of Tie-Pilots in formation stomped past Hal and his X-Wing, and the intercoms blared with active military updates.
"Rebel ships have engaged the main fleet! All Ties deploy immediately and engage enemy wings! This is not a drill!"
With a roar of twin ion-engines, a squadron of Tie-Fighters undocked and flew over Hal's head, before diving down past the hangar's gates and into the battle outside. Ahead, at the main entrance, a well-decorated Imperial officer marched with an escort of Stormtroopers... heading straight for Hal, both arms behind his back and a serious glare worn on his pasty white face.
"You there! You're not supposed to be here!" He decried while his Stormtrooper escorts quickly took up formation around him, attempting to surround the Jedi at a reasonable distance. If Hal allowed them to, he'd be surrounded from his left to his right by eight Stormtroopers in total, each leveling small blaster carbines at him, while the officer approached. His glare of annoyance, however, quickly faded to one of almost morbid concern, "Turn around and leave immediately. You don't belong here."
Hal may have thought that he'd been prepared for anything, but when the derelict hangar suddenly pulled itself back to life - for lack of a better explanation - it was something he couldn't have possibly foreseen. He hadn't even felt a premonition in the Force; one moment, he was alone, and the next, he had been thrown back a hundred-and-thirty years. Imperial TIEs took off into flight all around him, the unmistakable roar of their ion engines so loud that they were almost deafening as they engaged swarms of X-Wings... Rebel X-Wings in the space below the Destroyer. Hal may not have been a historian, but he recognized the difference between the archaic T-65s of the Rebellion era and his modern, updated T-70 variant.
"Where-..." A confused Hal murmured to himself before his voice fizzled into nothingness. This had to be an illusion, maybe an act of Force Psychometry, but then how did it all feel so... real?
An Imperial Officer called out to him, flanked by a squad of Stormtroopers. Hal's ears were still ringing from the TIEs, and so the man's words were difficult to discern. HIs intent, however, was not. As the Stormtroopers began to spread out and level their carbines at him, Hal instinctively raised his cobalt saber into a defensive position, leveling it diagonally across his chest as he steadied his footing. The familiar hum of the blade calmed his nerves. What he was experiencing was impossible - some kind of Sith trick, surely - but he couldn't assume that it couldn't kill him. Everything felt real enough. He didn't care to find out if the blaster bolts felt real as well.
But then the Officer's expression changed. Where there had once been malice, there was now... fear. "Turn around and leave immediately" was a decidedly uncharacteristic thing for an Imperial to say to begin with, but it was the other thing that snapped Hal out of his haze.
"You don't belong here."
The Jedi's face hardened. He had a feeling that the Imperial wasn't talking about the ship. A real Imperial, the type of Imperial that existed a century ago, would've shot a Jedi on sight. There was something far more sinister about how this warning had been phrased. It was almost as if he was warning Hal to leave while he still could... but he was in too deep. He couldn't stop now. The Knight adjusted his feet, positioning his blade into a more aggressive, Form V stance. "No." Hal said calmly. "You don't belong here. You aren't real. None of this is real." He took one step forward, and then another. The stormtroopers may have surrounded him, but he didn't feel fear. Not anymore. When Hal spoke next, he spoke past the Officer, to whatever entity was engineering this vision.
"What is this place?" Hal snarled, his blade raised in front of his face. "Tell me what this is!"
"You don't understand," the officer's tone became pleading. As Hal tried to peer past, he shifted his feet to step closer. "The dream must continue!" His last words became echoes as the 'vision' flickered. The dull, rusted red and grey hull of the hangar bleed through the once pristine plating, and slowly, the hangar returned to what it was. The officer's appearance became grisly, then. One of death, dust, and bones. His features paled, his skin grew tight and gaunt, and eventually, he turned into dust with his uniform, along with the stormtroopers that once surrounded Hal.
Ahead, across the debris-littered grounds of the old decrepit hangar, the twin doors of the main entrance slowly peeled open. Their old gears screeching as the heavy slabs of steel pulled open, one at a time, and revealed a dimly lit hallway. The lights within flickered, revealing walls pocked with blaster fire and bodies--old bones preserved in dusty uniforms--littering the length. Few looked distressed, most of the dead appeared to have settled, as if accepting an inevitable end. Others were fetal, various metal tins rusted with time lay around them, some with barely eligible writing that revealed them to be old Imperial ration packs.
Further down the corridor, a lone figure could be seen. Standing in wait, arms behind himself... The Officer from before. He glared hard at Hal. "You're making a mistake. Turn back!" Despite his words, another presence was there, beckoning the brave Jedi to continue onward. The halls creaked and the ship rumbled, almost as if it were groaning in pain.
He'd filled himself to the brim with righteous fury, ready to face down a firing squad of Imperial stormtroopers without fear, without hesitation. Then the vision decayed, and the soldiers crumpled to dust, and Hal was left alone with his fury. He'd been ready to fight them, ready to fight the forces of evil that had nearly exterminated his Order, only for them to be nothing but a vision. Once again, Hal had failed to do anything of significance... and thatangeredhim.
Everything about this place evoked that feeling of anger within him. The rusty, malformed bulkheads were too similar to the walls of the slave ship that had once ferried him into Wild Space. He'd only been a boy then, but he remembered vividly how powerless and trapped he'd been. It wasn't the shackles that had truly trapped him - nor the dingy cell crammed with too many slaves to count - but the feeling that nothing would ever be okay again. The feeling that he would waste away in a mine in a system so remote, nobody would ever find him again... nobody would ever know that he existed.
Hal had believed that by becoming a Jedi Knight he would make a difference in the galaxy, but deep down he knew that it wasn't enough. It was never enough. Of the few things he'd accomplished as a Jedi, none had been of any significance. He had deluded himself that he'd held power, but in the end, none of it had made a difference. The galaxy would never know his name. He might as well have remained a slave, stuck in the spice mines, for all the good he'd done for the galaxy.
But that would all change if he could slay whatever entity that lied within the heart of this ship.
With a determined stride Hal moved through the hallway, the dead illuminated by the blue glow of his lightsaber. In his driven state, he didn't bother to wonder how they died - his stubborn mind had already come to the conclusion that whatever entity resided within the ship must have killed them. Directly ahead, Hal could make out the Officer from before, once again ordering him to turn back. As if he were still a slave.
Without so much as breaking stride, the Jedi continued to advance down the hallway. "Tell me what killed your crew, or get out of my way."Hal said resolutely."I'm going to put an end to whatever murdered your crew. You can help me, or you can leave - but you can't stop me."The malice that had seeped into his voice surprised even him, but it didn't shake the trance-like anger he felt. No, in fact, Hal had never felt so sure about anything in his life. He was meant to end the evil that had corrupted this ship, the one that was calling out to him even now. The Force willed it.
His face crinkled with disappointment. Like the visage of a father trying to teach his child a valuable lesson, who continued to ignore him. As Hal pushed further into the dark recesses of the ship, striding through the corpse-littered halls, those old decayed bones of Imperials long lost began to stir. The officer standing at the crossroads ahead unfolded his arms from behind his back whilst his uniform began to deteriorate. Flakes of old clothing brushed off from his left as if succumbing to a steady tide of time and air, and his eyes narrowed.
The doors to the main hangar just behind Hal suddenly slammed closed. Metal screeches sounding as old locks latched into place, and with a flicker of light, his immediate environment changed. Again, Hal was thrust into the past or at least burdened with an echo of such, and the decrepit halls were once more like new. The old yellowing lights blazed like a pale star as alarm klaxons sounded around him.
"W-What happened? What hit us?" A junior officer, a girl with blonde hair and frightened, wide blue eyes asked a young Imperial gunner. "The Executor's been destroyed, the Death Star went critical and... I think we jumped into hyperspace? Captain Noon-" The ship rocked again, and behind the pair walking past Hal, a contingent of stormtroopers trodded past, making way towards the central lift leading to the bridge. The entire destroyer seemed full of life, recruits and experienced officers alike running to and fro between stations, damage-control teams racing to put one fire out after the next.
"You there! New blood!" Someone then called to Hal from behind, coming in from the hangar. "Captain Noon wants all Bridge Officers on deck; us included!" The girl that called to him was young, but her face was accented with scars and wrinkles that spoke of years of intense experience in this war of the past. "C'mon!" As she turned away with a bright, pearly-white smile, a flicker of light returned Hal to reality. To the dark, dank, corpse-littered halls he'd been in only moments before.
"C'mon, New Blood! Report to the bridge..." came the girl's voice, echoing softly through the halls... Leading him. The officer that had been present before was nowhere to be seen, but where he stood was a corpse mangled by time and something worse.
"No... " Hal stumbled forward, reaching out with his free hand in some pointless gesture as the man began to fade away once more. The doors slammed shut behind him. His voice cracked, suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of profound hopelessness. "NO! LISTEN TO ME! STAY WITH ME!"
And then he was back in the past. The reanimated lights were blinding, and the klaxons seemed overwhelming. Everything felt overwhelming. Hal had no control over anything. He'd entered the ship out of some vain sense of duty, but in the end he'd been no match for the darkness that resided within the ship. Already, he'd let it corrupt his heart. And now he was trapped, just as these Imperials had been all those years ago. His anger evaporated, replaced by hollowness. Why did he ever think he could overcome the evil within this ship?
He wasn't a Jedi... he was just a slave.
But then he heard the crew talk about the Death Star going critical, and the Executor being destroyed, and suddenly Hal knew exactly when and where he was. It seemed impossible, but... he was at Endor. Or the ship had been, before it jumped into hyperspace. Still, Endor. The climax of the Galactic Civil War. When Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi, had seen the light in his father Anakin Skywalker and overcome the Emperor. One of the most pivotal moments in all of galactic history, the defeat of the greatest evil the galaxy had ever known. And he was living it.
Hal was roused from his reverie when he was addressed by an officer - this time a younger, blonde woman. When she smiled at him, reality flickered, but Hal wasn't going to be phased by that. She - or whatever she represented - was leading him to the bridge. He sensed that it was an invitation. There was a darkness that called to him from there, threatening to consume him entirely if he let his guard down. But he would face this darkness, even if it killed him, just as Luke had done.
Because Hal was a Jedi.
"Lead the way," He replied to the woman as he followed her, sparing one last glance to the man from before. Where he had once stood, now there was only a mangled corpse. Whatever happened next, Hal hoped that he could bring the man some semblance of closure. He deserved that much.
As Hal followed the voice, he would hear others. Most of them being hushed whispers from the dark, speaking of being lost in space. Others simple bits of conversation, casual and otherwise, removed from time. It would be difficult to make heads or tails of what was said and when, but many of the conversations had something in common... a name.
"...Captain Amee Noon..."
The hall leading to the main lift of the bridge seemed to stretch on forever as more and more mentions of this infamous captain escalated until only a single syllable of her name was being chanted from every direction.
The closer he came to the end of the hall, to two highlighted doors leading to the lift that would bring him to the ancient Star Destroyer's bridge, the louder the chorus of chanting 'ghosts' became.
Upon reaching the doors, however, the voices became silent. Should Hal dare to peer over his shoulder, he would see them. Shadowy figures just beyond the reach of the dimly lit corridor, looking upon him with light reflecting from the sunken sockets of their eyes... looking almost hopeful in their grim countenance.