Chapter 1: Resurgence
Once again, Annie Leonhardt’s mind was trapped under the spell of her dream, the image of Takodana’s immense foliage and those piercing, green eyes locking her in place. The recurring, haunting image had sneaked upon her in her fitful sleep for what seemed to be the 1000th time, the sight an enigma that utterly baffled the weary Imperial Officer. Annie felt herself shudder in the real world as she gazed back at those unblinking verdant orbs hovering over the landscape, and asked the futile question she’d proposed from the beginning:
“Who are you?”
Barely a moment later, her surroundings faded to black, the green eyes dimming away slowly, until Annie’s haunting dream finally ended once more.
The Officer woke up groggily, finding herself in her modest gray-toned military apartment, and longing for the rest that had escaped her ever since that awful day a year prior. Annie cast a despondent glance at the portrait sitting on her bedside desk, showcasing one of the last joyful moments between herself and her late best friend: Mina Carolina, daughter of Hedasta Carolina, the Senator of Inkari, their homeworld.
In the photo, one of Senator Carolina’s aides had happily captured the moment when Annie, after years of grueling training and practice, had finally graduated from Inkari’s Imperial Academy, at last attaining the rank of Cadet in the Imperial Navy. At that time, their 18-year old selves had allowed the glory of Annie’s success to blind themselves to the increasingly horrific atrocities that the Empire reveled in committing; only a month later, news spread throughout the galaxy that the Empire’s new battlestation, the Death Star , had destroyed the peaceful planet of Alderaan in an attempt at absolute intimidation.
“That moment still makes me shudder,” Annie mused bitterly, recalling the day when she had been patrolling the Inner Core with her fellow Cadets Reiner and Bertholdt for Rebel activity at the time of the disaster. “The three of us cadets could somehow sense the destruction from our orbit near Corellia...we could feel the moment when billions of lives were instantly wiped out. And for what? What purpose will that despicable genocide ever serve us?”
For Mina, that horrible act shattered her rose-colored lenses, and led to her becoming an increasingly outspoken protestor against the Empire’s cruelty. Both Annie and her mother had begged her to not speak publicly about her feelings, but none of their warnings had been enough to placate the previously docile girl. On a number of brazen occasions, Mina had used her mother’s Senatorial Podium in the middle of Gintomi City to implore the rest of Inkari to not deny the inhumanity they could plainly see in the atrocities committed across the galaxy.
In the year 3 ABY, one baleful night in the middle of Inkari’s blistering summer, Annie and the rest of the planet had received an Imperial alert from the Inkarin Moff Sebastian Datenshi that Mina had perished in the fire resulting from an unexplained factory explosion on the outskirts of the main city. On the massive communication screens dotting Inkari’s cities, the polite but cold Moff had stoically delivered news of the tragedy to the population that night, and the wails of the Inkarin could be heard echoing across the planet as Mina’s fellow citizens reeled from the loss.
“Hedasta told me that Mina had received a direct plea from a factory worker that night for help in putting out the fire, because her bravery was so renowned on our world. But none of the workers stationed there that night lived to tell the tale. That disgusting pig of a Moff told us all that he suspected this was an act of arson by a Rebel sympathizer, but that doesn’t sit right with me. While those Rebels have indeed created some civilian casualties in the past, I can’t see them knowingly slaughtering hundreds of workers just to get rid of one factory. And why would they want to kill a girl who openly sympathized with their cause? Mina was lured to that factory and murdered that night, I’m sure of it...but by who?”
Annie made herself change into casual clothing, casting a disdainful glance at the Imperial uniform in her closet, untouched for the whole year of temporary leave that she had requested since Mina’s death.
“You want a whole year of leave?” Moff Datenshi contemptfully asked Officer Leonhardt, as they stood in the antiquated silver Senator’s office with Hedasta and one of Inkari’s finest doctors. “While I understand needing a while to mourn, Ms. Leonhardt, a year is a ridiculous amount of time to take!”
“How dare you!” Senator Carolina snapped at him, tears still streaming down her face as she continued to mourn the loss of her only child. “Annie was my daughter’s closest friend here on Inkari, and as such, she’s taken Mina’s passing just as hard as myself! Both of us will need a long period of time to recuperate from what’s happened here, and Annie fully deserves as much time to recover as possible!”
Before the Moff could make a retort, the doctor spoke up, adding, “Sir, Officer Leonhardt asked me to evaluate her mental and emotional health following Mina’s unfortunate and untimely death. I’ve determined that due to her current poor state of wellbeing, she is unfit for military action, and could easily risk the lives of herself and her comrades if she was deployed in the near future.”
Senator Carolina breathed an immense sigh of relief, and Annie gave the Moff a pointed glare, knowing that the medical affirmation of her status gave him no choice but to relent. He scowled at her, and Annie could plainly see that the contempt, as it had been for years, was assuredly mutual.
“Fine, then, Officer Leonhardt,” he spat, eliciting smirks of satisfaction from the Officer and Hedasta. “Take your year of leave, but don’t you dare ask for more. These are turbulent times with the Rebels posing an ever greater threat to the galaxy’s stability, and the Navy can’t afford for you to spend eternity bemoaning the loss of your precious friend.”
With that, he stormed from the room, and the doctor followed suit after murmuring a polite goodbye. Hedasta and Annie held each other’s hands and wept together in silence, knowing full well that they would never truly recover from Mina’s loss.
Outside, the red planetary shield hummed overhead, casting an eerie scarlet glow on the silver buildings below. The streets of Gintomi City were filled with tense citizens gossiping anxiously about news of the Emperor’s trap being set for the Rebel Alliance at the forest moon of Endor. In only a week’s time, the Alliance was doomed to take the bait that the second Death Star was still unusable, and flock to the space station, only to be wiped out by its superlaser and the Imperial armada set to obliterate them. The end of the galactic war seemed to finally completing, and Annie ached for the bloodshed on all sides to cease.
“It’s just been more pointless deaths, every time, every battle. When they destroyed the first Death Star , my father was still stationed there, despite his pleas to be transferred elsewhere after being horrified by the destruction of Alderaan. He never wanted to see such a massive loss of life on either side, and now he’s dead, just like all the other oh-so valiant soldiers that’ve similarly disappeared.”
She sneered at the glimmering shield towering over her, tainting the once-azure sky into a sickening, unnatural hue. Moff Datenshi had demanded its construction a few weeks after Mina’s death, after he had gotten wind of a cunning Rebel pilot who had managed to sneak in and out of the planet on what must’ve been a lone espionage mission.
“What Rebel would be insane enough to attempt an infiltration of a fortified Core World like Inkari? On that note, who would be stupid enough to attempt that on their lonesome? The fact that they managed to get in and out unscathed is a damn miracle.”
Up ahead, the towering skyscraper that housed Inkari’s Security Department loomed above the other silver buildings, a foreboding sore thumb amidst the beauty of the city. From within, Chief of Security Haston Uttaka, a native of Corellia whose entire family had been tragically wiped out in the latter years of the brutal Clone Wars, controlled each of the shield generators dotting the planet’s surface, along with the hordes of black, spherical security droids slowly ambling about the streets. Chief Uttaka was a polite but immensely reserved man who, while always willing to do his best to work alongside his comrades, refused to let conversations go beyond important matters and the barest of small talk.
Annie thought of her small pilot ship, stashed in the dock just on the outskirts of Gintomi, waiting to be used and still ready for hyperspace travel. Her year of leave was set to end in a mere 24 hours, and Annie was coldly aware that once it ended, Moff Datenshi was likely to order her to join the armada gathering to destroy the Alliance at Endor.
“I need to get off this accursed planet,” she thought, scowling as she continued to walk. “Spending a year here on Inkari, under this planetary shield and unable to go anywhere else has made this place feel like a prison instead of my home.”
Her thoughts drifted to that uncanny, recurring dream that had been overpowering her senses for so long, the wide green plains of Takodana and that massive, ruined castle standing at the edge of its lake emitting a siren call in her mind. Annie had become desperate to find the source of the dream-vision, especially whoever the verdant green eyes belonged to, those eyes that stared unblinking and unyielding into the core of her soul.
She paused in the middle of the street, and with a newfound wave of ambition abruptly changed her path towards the Security Department, anxious to finally leave Inkari and put her mind at ease.
At the front entrance of the skyscraper, the guards saluted her upon recognition of the Officer before them, and granted her entry into the building. Inside, dozens of Imperial workers sat at multiple terminals, checking and ensuring that the security measures across the planet worked smoothly and without error. From the skyscraper, the tallest building on Inkari, they transmitted commands to every shield generator, security droid and even the HoloNet screens dotting the cities.
In the middle of the massive room stood Chief of Security Haston Uttaka and his demure assistant, a young girl named Pieck, eyeing the busy workers around her with a wry smile. Annie walked up to them, and they both greeted her with a nod.
“Officer Leonhardt, it is a pleasure and relief to see that your wellbeing has seemed to recover, after we tragically lost Mina last year,” Uttaka told her, extending his hand and offering her a firm shake. “I certainly don’t blame you for requesting temporary leave after the toll her passing must’ve taken on you, but nonetheless, I’m glad to see you up and moving.”
“Thank you, Chief Uttaka,” Annie politely answered, giving Pieck a nod in turn. “While we all understand that neither myself nor Senator Carolina will ever truly make a full recover from that terrible night, it can’t be denied that I feel much better. This leave was desperately needed, but now that it’s almost over, I’m aching to finally embark on another mission.”
Pieck and Uttaka perked up, and he asked her, “A mission? Did Moff Datenshi preemptively assign you one?”
Annie bit her lip nervously, quickly realizing that she hadn’t thought her plan through whatsoever, and sheepishly admitted, “Um, on the contrary, this is a self-appointed mission.”
The two Security officials gazed at her warily, and Pieck cautiously asked her, “Annie...what are you planning to do?”
Uttaka gently added, “You know how strict our Moff is about unauthorized departures, after that crazy Rebel pilot managed to sneak in and out of here last year. Should he find out that you’re attempting to leave Inkari without military permission…”
“I know,” she answered, agitated at how pervasive the contemptful Moff’s control had become over the years. “But...this is incredibly important to me and my recovery.”
“What gave you the desire to suddenly leave Inkari, Officer Leonhardt?” Uttaka asked her, still polite but giving her a firm look of caution.
The cat was now out of the bag, and with her cheeks slightly flushing red with embarrassment at how silly it was bound to sound, Annie muttered to them, “A...a recurring dream that I’ve been having for weeks now.”
Uttaka and Pieck glanced at each other sharply, and she gave her a superior a knowing nod, abruptly heading off to check on the work of her colleagues as he took Annie by the hand and led her to his remote office at the far end of the room. When they had gotten inside, he closed the door, and from the immense silence inside, Annie was aware that nobody else would be able to hear what was about to be exchanged.
“Annie, listen to me very carefully,” Uttaka whispered to her, sounding both excited yet frightened, his formal tone instantly disappeared without further warning. “Don’t let anybody else find out about this bizarre dream of yours, especially not the Moff. Do you understand?”
She shuddered at the sudden intensity behind his words, his brown eyes glaring into hers behind his gleaming glasses. Annie had never heard him talk in such a serious tone before, even when he had taken her aside and discussed the random Rebel pilot incident with her at her apartment.
“W-what do you mean, Chief Uttaka?” she asked, shaking under the atmospheric pressure present in his office.
“What you just described to me is a phenomena that befell force-users such as the Jedi of old, Annie. The fact that this dream has haunted you for this long, and has given you this newfound ambition to depart from Inkari was the only warning that I needed. Nobody else must know about this, or you could find yourself under persecution by the Moff, or somebody even crueler.”
His words baffled Annie, as she had never considered her dream to be Force-related in nature. Uttaka placed a gentle hand on her frail shoulder, and continued to whisper.
“Please, tell me in detail what you’ve been seeing. Perhaps I can offer my own odd bit of guidance and interpretation.”
Annie gulped, and told him, “In this dream, I see vivid images of Takodana, that lush Mid World planet. I see its forests, its lakes, and an old, crumbling castle standing at the edge of the largest lake. And every time this dream sneaks upon me, I...I also see two glimmering, green eyes staring into me, unblinking, and absolutely inescapable.”
To her alarm, the blood from Uttaka’s face drained, turning him pale as sheet. He shuddered, but before Annie could probe the matter, he snapped to attention.
“Are you absolutely certain that it’s Takodana you’ve been seeing?” he asked her, and Annie nodded firmly.
“Yes, without any doubt. My father raised me on intimate knowledge of the galaxy’s planets and their geography, and my knowledge on Takodana is no different. But I don’t understand why it seems to be that planet, out of all the others it could be.”
“Neither do I, Annie,” Uttaka quietly answered. “But now, I think I understand better why you’re so driven to go there. You said that going to Takodana would help you recover from your grief, correct?”
“Yes sir,” she said, speaking truthfully, fully believing that heading to the place of her dreams would give her whatever answers she was meant to find.
“Then so be it. How soon can you be ready to depart in your ship, Annie?”
She stood dumbfounded, and shakily told him, “I-I can easily be ready to go within the next hour.”
“Perfect. Be ready to leave at the main dock in an hour, and I’ll authorize the partial lowering of the shield to allow you to go.”
For the first time in years, Annie felt a genuine surge of hope within her, and a smile pulled at the corners of her mouth. Uttaka beamed at her, shook her hand once more, giving her a knowing wink as he took in her joy.
The hour passed by in a blur, and to the shock of herself and the other Imperials at the dock, Officer Annie Leonhardt was fully dressed, for the first time in a year, as a battle-ready soldier. Her uniform rustled as she moved, and her blaster was hooked securely on her waist belt, ready for use. Her pilot ship had been perfectly prepared for departure within the short notice given to the dock crew by Chief Uttaka, and Annie could feel waves of excitement coursing through her entire body.
“Officer Leonhardt, it feels like a dream, seeing you ready to leave for this mission of yours after your temporary leave,” the dock Captain said to her amicably, and she nodded in agreement.
“You’re right, sir. In fact, this entire scenario feels too much like a waking dream. It’s been too long, and I’m eager to get moving.”
A moment later, the humming red planetary shield overhead partially parted, and the dock workers whooped and cheered as Annie entered her ship, the engine running smoothly, its hyperdrive fully operational. Annie gripped the controls eagerly, and felt a surge of pride as she heard the Captain’s voice booming over the speakers.
“Officer Leonhardt, you are clear for departure. Good luck on your mission, and we wish you a safe, swift return.”
Moments later, Annie’s ship had zoomed out of the planetary shield’s opening, the red energy closing behind her forebodingly. Just as she exited the planet’s atmosphere and prepared for the jump to hyperspace, she cast her thoughts towards her beloved best friend, her love for Mina still brimming.
“Mina...I will ensure that justice prevails, I will discover who caused your death, I swear it!”
With that, Annie ship entered hyperspace, streaks of starlight stretching infinitely as the ship bolted towards Takodana, and the answer that awaited her there.
Chapter 2: Meetings of Fate
Trigger Warning: Torture/Trauma
Annie’s pilot ship exited out of hyperspace just as Takodana came into view, the chaotic starlit tunnel of the warped dimension giving way to the lush planet. The ship flew slowly as it approached the planet, and Annie carefully plotted how she would investigate the forest-filled land below.
“When I land down there, I have no idea who or what I’m supposed to be looking for. I feel more than a little ridiculous for only having this dream-vision thing to go off of, but I have no other assistance on hand. My best guess is to land silently away from that ruined castle I’ve studied; that place may be a harbor for unsavory individuals, and I can’t afford to waste any time here.”
Her ship passed calmly through the planet’s atmosphere, and within minutes, Annie found herself flying over the same vast forests and lakes from her dream. At the edge of the forest was a clearing large enough to land her ship, and Annie gratefully set her ship down on the grass, eager to leave and explore the surface.
The instant she had left and sealed her ship, Annie took her blaster out of her belt lock and readied it as she walked carefully into the massive forest, her old soldier instincts rapidly returning. She was keenly aware of every noise around her, from the crunch of the leaves under her feet to the sounds of the wildlife all around her.
Up ahead was a grove, with sunlight pouring directly into it, illuminating the section of the forest with a wondrous golden hue. Annie allowed herself to lower her blaster and peacefully wander into the grove, basking in the sunlight and giving herself a moment to gather her thoughts.
“Here I am, in the place of my dreams. I can’t thank Haston enough for helping me leave Inkari. I bet Datenshi was planning on sending me to join the armada at Endor the instant my leave was officially over; he’ll have a hell of a time trying to conscript me when I’m off-world!”
Annie gazed up at the beautiful azure sky, wistfully noting that it resembled the natural look Inkari’s heavens had shown before the Moff had ordered the planetary shield to be created. For the first time since Mina’s death, Annie had found a genuine moment of peace.
Behind her, soft, wary footsteps suddenly resounded, and in a split second, Annie seized her blaster, readied it and whirled around, ready to blast down any would-be attacker. But when she took in the boy standing before her, every fiber of her being went rigid with alarm as she recognized the trespasser.
The emerald eyes that had haunted her dreams for so long now gazed at her with trepidation, as the boy kept his own blaster aimed squarely at her chest, ready to pull the trigger at a moment’s notice. He took in her face as well, and the two soldiers stood frozen in time, gawking at each other and unwilling to budge.
A long, tense moment passed, and when Annie finally accepted that she had found the person she was looking for, she lowered her blaster slowly, watching with wry amusement as the tan boy before her followed suit. She smirked at him, satisfied that she was one step closer towards whatever peace her dream had been attempting to lead her towards, and stepped forward casually so that he would hear her better.
“I’ll ask this for what will hopefully be the last time between us,” Annie coolly said to the newcomer, who was more obviously anxious than she was. “Who are you?”
He gulped, and started to say, “I-I’m…”
Before he could reveal himself, Annie felt her whole body go rigid, a faint blue aura emanating from her as she fell to the ground, groggily aware that somebody else had stunned her before she could react to their presence. Darkness fell over her, and the last thing she saw before going fully unconscious was a tall, raven-haired girl glaring down at her menacingly.
When she came to, Annie found herself bound with handcuffs in the backroom of what appeared to be an old Corulag pilot ship, a massive communications screen in front of her, flanked by several young soldiers sneering down at her, along with the mysterious green-eyed boy gazing at her warily. Annie snarled up at them all and squirmed about in vain, knowing full well that she was cornered.
“Where am I?!” she snapped at them, and the door to her right opened to allow a tall, dark woman in a black body suit to stomp menacingly into the room, followed by a timid looking blonde girl who couldn’t hope to be the same age as her companion.
“You are on the Vindictive Empress , my precious ship and your temporary transportation, Imperial scum,” the woman answered her coldly. “My name is Ymir, and these here are the Rebel kids that I’ve picked up over the years.”
“I don’t want to know your names-” Annie started to snarl back as the rest of the room began to introduce themselves.
“I’m Christa, the ship’s medic,” the petite blonde girl answered with a shy smile, and Ymir grinned down at her partner in a way that made Christa blush.
“They must be lovers…”
“I’m Jean, you piece of shit, and you better watch your mouth while you’re in our hands!” the tall guy with the horseface shouted in the corner of the room.
To Jean’s right, the equally tall girl munching on a hunk of bread told her, “I’m Sasha, and while you’re here, I’d love to introduce you to the galactic delicacies I’ve discovered on my life’s journey!”
Annie was about to snap at the girl that she didn’t give a damn about her food interests when the unwanted introductions continued with the small blonde boy to Sasha’s left.
“My name’s Armin, and I’m the ship’s technician,” he told her softly, and Annie eyed him closely, noting silently to herself that his quiet demeanor was far too similar to her own before she had become an Imperial soldier.
Towering over Armin was the cold, raven-haired girl who had likely stunned Annie back on Takodana. Annie scowled up at her, and in response, the girl continued to glare her down.
“Mikasa.” With that, the stoic girl refused to say anything else.
And at the front of the throng stood the boy from Takodana, who breathed shakily and finally told her, “I’m Eren, and we’re all members of Rose Squadron, an unofficial splinter cell of the Rebel Alliance.”
Annie huffed irritably and said to him, “That’s all fine and dandy, but why have I been seeing your eyes in my dreams lately?”
The rest of the room gawked at her, and Eren asked her, “On that note, why were your icy-blue eyes staring at me in my dreams for so long? It was such a freaky sight!”
“Well, how do you think I felt?” Annie cracked back, unamused at how fixated the other rebels were with their conversation. “Here I am, minding my own business in my daily life on Inkari-”
“Did somebody say INKARI?!”
Without warning, the backroom door slid open to reveal a boisterous boy with closely cut gray grinning at her, carrying a small black rod with him as he sauntered into the room. Ymir rolled her eyes as he brushed past her, standing over Annie and chortling like a child.
“Another one?” Annie asked Eren dryly, and he shrugged at her helplessly as the newcomer loudly introduced himself.
“My name’s Connie Springer, and BOY am I glad to finally meet an Imperial from Inkari!”
“Why?” Annie asked him, huffing with exasperation at the ridiculous turn of events.
“Because on my self-appointed mission there, a wonky security droid ran right into my path, died in front of me, and gave me full access to its memory core!”
At that, Annie froze up, realizing with alarm that she was now facing the same rebel pilot who was the sole reason Moff Datenshi had ordered a planetary shield to be created.
“This loudmouth brat is the rebel pilot?!”
Connie continued to rant, not taking notice of the fright on Annie’s face.
“Ever since then, I’ve been going through this droid’s video log, and for the most part, I found nothing but worthless footage of people living daily lives on the streets...and pursuing some rather x-rated maneuvers, which I won’t get into here, because that’s not the point. The point is that I need to know...:”
Connie leaned in close towards Annie’s face, and he dramatically whispered, “Did you know a girl named Mina Carolina?”
“Mina!” Annie shouted, a horrible sense of dread washing over her as Connie giggled satisfactorily and turned to face the screen.
“Excellent. Then I want you to watch this particular bit of footage and help me understand what the hell those bastards were doing to her.”
“W-what?!” Annie said, feeling herself going pale, and the intensity of Rose Squadron’s eyes deepening as they all shuddered in unison.
“Connie, what the hell are you plotting?” Ymir snapped at him, eyeing Annie as a thin streak of sweat trickled down her tanned face.
Connie smirked up at the captain and told her, “I’m playing the sleuth, my dear Ymir, and I fully intend to get to the bottom of this incident, with the help of our dear friend Annie here.”
They all watched tensely as he inserted the droid’s memory core into a port near the screen’s control panel, and after a few long seconds, the screen blared into life, revealing a flaming factory on the far outskirts of Gintomi City at night. Out of an alleyway in front of the burning factory emerged Mina Carolina, Annie’s joyous best friend, panting from the exertion of traveling as fast as she could towards the factory.
“I need to find that worker and see if he’s alright. What happened here? We have strict a protocol in place to avoid this sort of thing! This looks more like arson than a mere accident.”
“Excellent guesswork, Miss Carolina.”
Annie gritted her teeth as hatred surged with her, and Moff Sebastian Datenshi emerged from the shadows of the street, followed by easily a dozen Stormtroopers wielding crackling EMP rifles. Mina froze up on the spot, and the entire room could see the terror and confusion on her face.
“Mr. Datenshi? What’s going on here?”
“You said it yourself, Miss Carolina. This isn’t some bizarre accident set off by careless workers; this was my handiwork, all to lure you out here for me to deal with you personally, without anybody to interfere.”
“W-what do you mean? Where’s the worker that contacted me?”
“Ah, yes. He’s right here, my dear.”
Datenshi snapped his fingers, and another dozen Stormtroopers with EMP rifles emerged from the opposite end of the street, one of them carrying a charred body of a man whose face was permanently contorted into a dying scream. Out of the corners of her eyes, Annie could see the entire crew of the Empress looking rapidly between her and the screen, their faces all showing how horrified they were by the event unfolding before them.
“No! What did you do to him?!”
“What does it look like? I had him call you out here under the pretense that you could save him and the others, and when I had no more use of him, I disposed of him accordingly. What else does one do with useless tools?”
Mina whirled around, but before she could flee, a handful of Stormtroopers emerged right behind her, backing her towards the burning factory as the others slowly, menacingly surrounded her, their EMP rifles aimed right at her. Connie turned to Annie, grinning and expecting her to speak, but his face fell when he saw the look on her face.
Annie gasped desperately as she felt the panic attack approaching her at lightning speed, the missing piece of the puzzle coldly falling into place before her. Just as she had suspected, Mina had been murdered that night.
“I-I thought you already knew!” Connie told her, panicking as the reality of her terror setting in.
Behind her, Annie heard none other than Mikasa whisper sharply, “Turn it off!”
“Mina Carolina, for intentionally spreading treasonous beliefs among the people of this planet, and for inciting dissent against the Empire, Emperor Palpatine himself has demanded your death.”
“For what? For telling my people the truth that we’ve known for so long? That the Emperor is a murderous monster who cares nothing for the billions of people under his rule? THAT ALDERAAN WAS A NEEDLESS ACT OF GENOCIDE THAT HE ORDAINED?!”
“BE QUIET, YOU FUCKING BRAT! YOU’VE BEEN A THORN IN MY SIDE EVER SINCE YOUR BITCH OF A MOTHER ALLOWED YOU TO USE HER PODIUM TO SPREAD YOUR PROPAGANDA! AND NOW, NOW THAT THE EMPEROR HIMSELF HAS DECLARED THAT YOU MUST BE SILENCED, I’LL TAKE IMMENSE PLEASURE IN GIVING YOU A DEATH FILLED WITH AGONY!”
Annie continued to gasp desperately for air as the panic attack overwhelmed her. She struggled madly in a vain attempt to reach through the screen to snap Datenshi’s neck, and save Mina from her impending death. Connie looked at her and clutched at his face in terror at the too-late realization that he had unveiled a horrid truth kept from her and the rest of the Inkarin.
“CONNIE, FOR FUCK’S SAKE, TURN IT OFF! ” Mikasa screamed at him, glancing at the agony on Annie’s face as the rest of the Empress joined her in screaming at him.
“TURN IT OFF YOU IDIOT!” Ymir shrieked, shielding Christa behind her as the others yelled desperately at him.
Connie nearly attacked the control panel, but nothing he did was able to pause nor power off the screen. To his horror, the video continued to play despite his repeated attempts to jam the main button.
The Stormtroopers discharged their weapons at once, and before Mina could so much as flinch, more than a dozen electrical charges violently coursed through her body, sending her crashing to the ground as she shrieked in pain.
NO!” Annie screamed, thrashing helplessly in her bondage, unable to tear herself away from the horrific sight before her.
On the screen, the Moff cackled with cruel, sadistic laughter as he watched Mina squirm in agony, the Stormtroopers continuing to fire more electric charges into her already crippled body.
At the sound of her dying best friend shrieking her name as her final word, Annie let out an endless shriek from the bottom of her heart, filled with her rage, horror and despair at the atrocity playing before her. She collapsed to the ground and continued to shriek, as Eren followed suit, clutching at his head and screaming in terror and pain.
Everything around her went dark, and the last thing Annie heard was Connie sobbing madly at the horror of what he had unleashed.
Chapter 3: Aftermath
“She’s...barely alive. The trauma of what she saw almost killed her. We need to let her rest…”
Annie heard those words in her unconscious sleep, vaguely aware of the fragile girl named Christa mournfully commenting on her status. The echo of Mina shrieking her name as Datenshi’s Stormtroopers electrocuted her to death had sent Annie over the edge into what felt like a bottomless pit of despair that she had no hope of escaping.
“Mina...you died alone, surrounded only by people who viewed your life as worthless, with that bastard Datenshi gloating over his cruel, sadistic plot to murder you. And I let you die, even when you desperately called my name! ”
When she finally opened her eyes, Annie saw that she was alone, the room pitch dark except for the faint lights covering the screen controls. Annie scowled at the screen in contempt as she groggily sat up, wishing she could smash it into a million pieces.
“Why couldn’t that kid turn the damn video off? From the sound of it, this blasted equipment’s always worked properly...so what was stopping him from shutting it off? I saw him smashing the controls desperately, so I know he wasn’t trying to screw with me…”
Annie sat on the ground, clutching her knees to her chest and continuing to weep silently. In the maelstrom of thoughts whirling around in her head over what the video had revealed, the image of Mina screaming Annie’s name as her final words kept resurfacing to haunt her. Everything Annie had remembered from that night, about the factory explosion and Mina’s selfless attempt to save lives, had been shattered by the revelation that Datenshi had covered it all up. The same man who had so mournfully related the news of the explosion and Mina’s death to the Inkarin was the same aberration who had murdered her and hundreds of other innocents citizens per the Emperor’s direct orders.
And in the end, Emperor Palpatine’s disgusting scheme had been created just to silence Inkari’s sole voice of reason against the Empire’s increasingly apparent barbarism. Mina’s courageous attempts to make her people rethink their loyalty to such a corrupt regime had led to the Emperor himself declaring her a threat worthy of murder.
“Mina was right. After the galaxy learned of Alderaan’s destruction, our people should’ve withdrawn our support from the Empire. If we had, the Empire would’ve lost one of its major shipbuilding worlds, and a fair portion of its Navy. The fear of Mina’s speeches turning us neutral must’ve motivated that bastard Palpatine to have her be killed.”
She heard the main door softly slide open, and when Annie groggily looked up, she saw Connie shambling in, carrying a tray with basic food and water, along with a key. The boy was shaking violently with ongoing grief from his unwitting hand in Annie’s breakdown, and she could see tears still streaming down his face.
The instant he set the tray down in front of her, Connie took his key, reached behind her and hastily unlocked her handcuffs, violently tossing them behind him where they landed with a harsh clang. Annie gawked at him, alarmed at his emotional instability. He kneeled in front of her, looking very much like an upset Fathier.
“I-I-I’m so, so sorry!” he managed to choke out, unable to stop himself from shaking as he wept. “It’s my fault!”
Despite her immense grief and rage at all that had she’d learned ever since leaving Inkari, Annie Leonhardt gave the rebel pilot a look of sincere pity, and she placed a tender hand on his face, wiping away at his tears and managing to calm him down.
“No. None of this was your fault, Connie Springer. You only wanted to see if your hunch was right, to connect the dots. It wasn’t your fault that the screen went haywire and refused to be shut off. You were turned into an unwitting harbinger of a painful revelation that I desperately needed. Thanks to you, the droid that you found and the footage it captured, I finally know what happened to Mina Carolina, my best friend and Inkari’s daughter. Please, understand that my ire isn’t with you, but with the bastards who murdered her and lied to our people, to Senator Carolina’s face.”
At that, Connie bent forward and held her in a tight embrace, which Annie returned after her surprise disappeared. It was bizarre to her that of all the people that would comfort her in her grief, it would be a rebel pilot, especially the rebel pilot whose excursion into Inkari was the reason for the planetary shield’s creation. After a long minute of embracing her, Connie released her, frowning as he kneeled again.
Connie sighed bitterly, and said to her, “That’s right...Mina was the daughter of Hedasta Carolina, your planet’s senator. At least, before that scumbag Emperor dissolved the Imperial Senate for whatever twisted reasons he had.”
Annie and Connie sneered together as she told him, “That sick man seems to have an agenda against the potential for any voice speaking against his wishes. Unfortunately, it stands to reason that Mina isn’t the only innocent he’s murdered to preserve his precious status quo.”
He shyly pushed the tray forward, and Annie gratefully downed the meal, grateful for the nourishment provided to her. She heard no other movements across the Vindictive Empress , and she suspected that the other members of Rose Squadron were too overcome with horror and guilt to speak to her yet.
“Eren and Ymir have already discussed releasing you out of remorse for what we accidentally put you through,” Connie whispered to her, finally calm. “It’s unlikely that they want to hold you here any longer than we have already.”
Annie shrugged at him, and told him, “While I appreciate you all wanting to be hospitable and kind, I’m in no way ready to return to Inkari. I need to think very carefully about how I go about resolving Mina’s murder, or Moff Datenshi will realize that I know what really happened. I need to alert my Chief of Security, Haston Uttaka, about what I’ve learned here. I trust him deeply, and I know that he and the Security Department have the power to reveal to all of Inkari the awful truth of that night.”
“Do you have a plan already in mind, Annie?” Connie gently asked her, shuffling around so that they were sitting side by side.
Annie smiled patiently at him, noting that Connie was already acting like a doting, enamored little brother admiring his older sister. Her thoughts went to her comrades, Reiner Braun and Bertholdt Hoover, both of whom had secretly shared her contempt for the Empire’s choice to destroy Alderaan and millions of innocent lives in a brazen attempt at galaxy-wide intimidation.
“If I can get my fellows on Inkari in on the truth, and my plan to slaughter Datenshi without raising any alarms, I could very well inspire an unforeseen revolt on Inkari. Wouldn’t that be glorious: a loyalist Imperial Core World revolting, especially in this tense hour?”
Connie shuddered, and mumbled, “That’s right...Endor. What happens there could be the end of the war, one way or another. We won’t be joining in the fighting there. We only have Ymir’s ship, and she’s blatantly refused to lend it to such a massive fight, especially if it could harm her Empress.”
“Right. If anything happened to Christa, that woman would easily go berserk. How could I blame her? It’s clear that she values Christa more than anybody else...maybe even more than herself.”
They finally heard the other members of Rose Squadron shuffling about in the living quarters of the Empress . Aware that their conversation had likely woken the others up, Annie and Connie nonetheless continued to speak to each other in hushed whispers.
“In all sincerity, Connie...if the Empire somehow loses at Endor...I’ll be thrilled,” she said, her face contorting with sadistic malice, remembering how the Empire had indirectly enabled her father’s death. “It’s what this pathetic government deserves for killing Mina, the kindest person I’ve ever known.”
He nodded in agreement, and the door opened to allow Ymir entrance into her ship’s backroom. She turned on the room’s light and walked forward, kneeling down in front of them, showing that her eyes, too, were puffy from crying.
“How...how did you manage to not die after you saw what you did?” she choked out, and Connie scowled at her.
“Hey, watch it!” he snapped at the captain, and Annie placed a firm hand on his shoulder, shaking her head and silently telling him to calm down.
“It’s ok, Connie,” she told him, and Ymir began to weep hard as she continued.
“What you watched on that accursed tape is my worst nightmare brought to life! Every day, ever since I rescued Christa from those abusive bastards, my biggest fear has always been that someday, when I least expect it, something will happen to her that I won’t be able to prevent! That’s why I never let her out of my sight! I can’t bear the idea of her getting hurt, or...dying, especially after I learned what that angel’s been through! And you…”
“You had to watch the girl you love perish in agony! How did you not lose the will to live?!” Ymir wailed, clutching at her face as her weeping turned into a full-fledged panic attack, to the horror of both Connie and Annie.
They both scooted the now empty food tray out of the way and patted her on the back, trying to soothe her as she sobbed heavily. Annie bit her lip and glanced away from the mercenary, remembering the well-meaning jokes Hedasta and others had cracked about how intimate her friendship with Mina had become over their years together.
“‘The girl I love’, huh? I’ll admit that in the last months leading up to her death, I did wonder if Mina had genuine romantic feelings for me. I can’t deny that it thrilled me, the prospect of spending the rest of my life together that way, with the person who always mattered the most to me. But...I never let myself seriously consider any sort of love like that. As an Imperial Officer, I always figured that my leaders wouldn’t tolerate any romance getting in the way of my work.”
After a while of them silently comforting Ymir, she shakily rose to her feet and left the room, only for Christa to enter in her lover’s place. The fragile blonde girl tackled Annie in another embrace, and Annie gave the petite girl an awkward hug back as she wept for her.
“I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!” Christa mumbled to her, and Annie gently told her the same thing she had said to Connie.
“It wasn’t your fault. None of this was the fault of you or your comrades. Please don’t beat yourself up.”
When Christa left, to the confusion of both Annie and Connie, the rest of Rose Squadron continued to stream in and out of the Vindictive Empress ’s backroom to offer their own individual forms of comfort to the grief-stricken officer. Immediately after Christa left, Jean and Sasha walked in, both of them likewise weeping, and the brown-haired girl clutching a silver container of expensive sweets.
“W-would you like some Corellian Silverbark sap candies?” Sasha meekly asked her, placing the entire container in front of Annie, who took one and placed it in her mouth, enjoying the instant taste of smooth sugar and a hint of spice rushing over her taste buds.
She beamed up at them in gratitude, and the two rebels offered her weak smiles through their tears in response.
Jean softly told her, “Mina deserved so much better...I’m so sorry,” as he and Sasha left, allowing Armin, the small blonde technician, to enter in their stead.
“If there’s anything I can do for you,” he shyly said to Annie, sniffling and wiping away at his eyes, “please don’t hesitate to let me know.”
“Thank you, Armin,” she said sincerely, and she watched him leave, amazed at the outpouring of compassion that the members of Rose Squadron had for an Imperial Officer.
Next to enter the backroom was Mikasa, the stoic and stern girl who had stunned Annie on Takodana. Annie and Connie watched her warily as she walked up to them, aware of the contempt in Mikasa’s eyes when she had watched Annie and Eren discuss their bizarre supernatural dream with each other.
Mikasa sat down in front of them, and it was then that they realized that she, too, had been weeping ever since the video had horrified the entire ship. Tears were still drying on her cheeks as she looked at Annie with silent remorse, her usually stoic face bent in a bitter frown.
Annie placed a gentle hand on Mikasa’s shoulder in reassurance, and the instant she touched her, Mikasa broke down into heavy sobbing, collapsing to the floor as Annie and Connie wept with her. The three of them wept as they clung to each other, serving as desperately needed supports for each other as the horror and despair of Mina’s murder hit them hard once again.
Once she had regained her composure, Mikasa rose to her feet and left the room, giving Annie one last sad glance over her shoulder as she exited. At last, Eren entered in her wake, looking just as exhausted as Annie was and equally filled with weariness.
“Connie, can I speak to her alone?” he asked, which led to Connie scowling up at him.
“For what?” Connie said defensively. “You better not be planning to make this worse for her, Eren!”
Annie softly told him, “Connie, I assure you, it’s ok. I’ve been aching to talk with Eren in private since we met on Takodana.”
“Oh...ok. Then I’ll leave you to it.”
Connie left the room, and Eren sat across from her, allowing her to see in greater detail the bags under his eyes that she knew she had to have as well. Neither of them had rested well after the trauma of watching Mina’s murder had first made Annie pass out, with Eren evidently following immediately afterwards.
“What happened to you, Eren?” she warily asked him, remembering how he had collapsed to the floor, clutching his head and screaming in agony as she shrieked her heart out. “Why were you in such pain when we heard Mina scream my name?”
Eren sighed wearily and told her, “I don’t know for sure what’s been happening between you and me, Annie, but we seem to have some sort of empathic connection. The instant the pain of hearing Mina scream your name overwhelmed you, I...I felt your pain, every last bit of it, coursing through my mind and body. All I remember is hearing Mikasa and the others yelling in a panic, somebody grabbing me, and then, everything went black. When I came to, I was back on my cot in the living quarters. I think I was the last one to wake up, too.”
“So whatever we have between us is so potent, he felt exactly what I felt when Mina screamed for me. What is this? Is this…”
She scoffed, and Eren raised an eyebrow at her. Annie crossed her arms sternly and rolled her eyes, never a fan of the mumbo jumbo that her father had told her when she was younger.
“You don’t believe in that thing called ‘the Force’, do you?”
Eren gawked at her, and shakily asked her, “W-wait...what do you know about the Force? I’ve only heard whispers about it being what powered the Jedi back then!”
“My Dad told me a long time ago something similar, that it’s something invisible, that...I don’t know, binds everything and everybody together? But I think it’s ridiculous, the notion that the Force is responsible for this weird thing going on between us.”
“I wouldn’t put it past us, Annie,” Eren murmured thoughtfully. “Besides, doesn’t this all feel like a too convenient string of coincidences?”
Annie dropped her arms to her side and nodded, muttering, “Everything about this is way too convenient, especially how this all seems to be linked together. First, Connie of all people imaginable was the pilot who snuck into Inkari, and during his espionage mission, the security drone carrying the video footage of Mina’s murder just randomly falls into his lap? And then, by following that dream we’ve been having of each other’s eyes in Takodana and meeting each other there, I meet Connie, who unwittingly reveals to me that Inkari’s Moff murdered her! Somebody or something has been pulling strings to make this all happen, that much is obvious.”
“And why couldn’t Connie turn the video off?” Eren asked, and Annie shuddered at the memory of seeing how panicked Connie had been. “Ymir’s always ensured that every part of the Empress is in top condition, and that all of the controls work perfectly. This screen’s never given us any issues until recently. It almost feels like...like we were all forced to watch that footage!”
“You’re right, Eren. It creeps me out to no end. For better or worse, I was meant to learn what happened to Mina that night. And now, I need to figure out how to get my revenge on that despicable Moff!”
Eren grinned at her, and told her proudly, “And Rose Squadron will gladly help you achieve your revenge! It’s the least we can do, after all.”
Annie smiled at him, equally eager to wreak havoc on Mina’s killers. She yawned, and Eren followed suit, both of them still exhausted.
“We can plan later. I’m still worn, and clearly, you are too. Goodnight, Eren.”
“Goodnight, Annie. Are you sure you’ll be comfortable here?” he asked, glancing at the screen.
“I’ll be ok. And besides, I’ve always preferred sleeping alone.”
“Alright then. Rest well.”
“You too, here’s hoping.”
Eren turned off the light as he left the room, and Annie laid back down on the floor, feeling her eyes go heavy. Her weary mind drifted to her best friend, and Annie felt more tears beading up in the corners of her eyes.
“Mina...I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop crying over what happened to you.”
In her dream, Annie found herself floating in a pitch-black abyss of writhing shadows, wrapping around her in an endless maelstrom. She was completely and utterly alone, without any apparent means of escape.
Annie curled herself into a fetal position, feeling more tears streaming down her face as she tried in vain to ignore the darkness surrounding her.
“This darkness feels too much like my grief right now: all-consuming, with no end in sight.”
As she floated in the void, a small speck of golden light erupted in the distance, rapidly growing and dissipating the shadows around it. Annie looked up in alarm, and then, she froze up as she discerned the figure rapidly floating towards her.
Mina, robed in white and emitting the golden aura dispelling the shadows around them, flew towards her best friend with open arms, a peaceful smile on her face without any trace of the agony seen in the footage. Annie shakily unfolded herself just as Mina wrapped her up tightly in her embrace, the darkness completely replaced by her light.
“Annie,” Mina whispered tenderly as Annie broke down once more, “it’s so good to see you again.”
Annie threw herself into the embrace, holding Mina as close as possible, the embrace feeling far too real for a dream.
“S-she’s so warm! ” Annie thought as she clung to Mina.
Several long minutes passed as Mina held Annie lovingly, the two of them floating in the middle of the golden light, silent but relieved to see each other again. It was Annie who pulled away first, bewildered to see her best friend so happy after what she had seen in that awful video.
“M-Mina!” Annie gasped through her tears. “I’m so-”
“Annie…” Mina said softly, placing a warm hand on her best friend’s face, “what happened wasn’t your fault, and you have no need to apologize.”
“But...I failed you, Mina!” Annie protested. “In your dying moments, you screamed for me to help you, while I was sound asleep, unaware of what that bastard Datenshi was doing to you! I hate myself for letting you die!”
Mina’s face fell into a look of sheer pity, and she told Annie firmly, “ Don’t! Annie, you can’t hate yourself for what happened to me that night, when none of us knew what that awful man was plotting! How could it possibly be your fault that Moff Datenshi and Emperor Palpatine deliberately kept their plan to murder me hidden from all of our eyes? You didn’t let me die, Annie! Do you understand?”
Annie sobbed harshly and managed to nod in response, earning a sigh of immense relief from Mina as she held her hands. Her guilt was only beginning to fade away at Mina’s assurance, and her grief still clutched at her heart.
“I’ve missed you so much, Mina!” Annie wailed. “Ever since that horrible day when that bastard lied to us all, telling everybody on Inkari that you died trying to help those factory workers, I almost lost the will to live! Every day, every night was nothing but torture, knowing that Datenshi wasn’t giving us the real truth about what happened to you, and how powerless I felt in face of his blatant lies! I…”
Mina gently said to her, “Annie, do you understand why this recent chain of events has occurred, so seemingly random but so completely connected? With this knowledge that you’ve gained, and with the allies you have now, you do have the power to achieve justice for me and all the other innocents Moff Datenshi has brutalized. When you return to Inkari, you’ll be able to put that monster in his place, and our people will gladly revolt when they learn the truth.”
She gave Annie another warm smile, and she told her, “No matter what happens next, Annie, remember that I don’t blame you for my murder. I called your name in that moment because I wanted to see you one last time, and now, that wish has been granted. And I promise you, Annie: we will see each other again.”
She bent forward, and just as the golden light around them started to fade away, indicating that the vivid dream was about to end, Mina kissed Annie tenderly on her lips, and after a moment of shock, Annie molded her lips to hers in turn. A blissful moment passed before Mina pulled away, placed her hands softly on Annie’s face, and whispered her last words as the dream ended.
“ I await you on the other side. ”
Chapter 4: Bonds
Reiner woke up shrieking in horror, unable to make himself forget the image of Annie collapsed on the ground, writhing, screaming and sobbing in what had to be a moment of torture. It took a long, painful minute before he was able to calm himself down enough to hastily get dressed, his mind set on bolting to Annie’s home to see whether or not his dream was a vision.
“What the hell was that?!” he thought, still in a panic as he adorned himself with his full Imperial attire. “Was that really a dream, or some sort of freak psychic warning?”
His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden pounding at his door, making Reiner jump in fright. When he heard the equally terrified voice on the other side, he managed to slightly relax.
“Reiner, please, open up!” he heard his best friend Bertholdt shout. “It’s about Annie!”
He ran to the door and yanked it open, to see Bert covered in sweat and panting from the exertion of bolting to Reiner’s quarters, his gray Imperial uniform clinging to his body. The tall, dark-haired young man was likewise out of his mind with anxiety as he seized Reiner’s massive shoulders and held them in a vice-like grip.
“I-I had an awful nightmare about Annie sobbing and screaming in agony! I ran as fast as I could to her apartment, but...she’s not there, Reiner! Her neighbors don’t know where she could be, either!”
“Shit!” Reiner snarled. “Bert, you and I had the same nightmare! This is feeling more and more like some sort of bizarre supernatural warning. And if she’s not here on Inkari...then we need to go to Chief Uttaka and see if he knows where she went! Let’s go!”
Bert nodded desperately, and the instant Reiner slammed his door behind them, the two of them sprinted madly for the Security Tower, drawing multiple confused looks from the civilians passing them by. The security drones dotting the streets focused on the two officers warily, but Reiner and Bert wasted no time worrying about what the droids were capturing. After several minutes of rushing towards the Tower, it finally loomed into view, and the two guardsmen stationed outside the door froze up in alarm at the sight of the two young men barreling towards them.
“Officers Braun and Hoover, are you ok?!” one of them started to ask, before Bert cut him off with a wail.
“Please, let us in! We need to speak to the Chief at once!”
“O-ok,” the two guards mumbled, and a moment later, Reiner and Bert were finally able to dash into the main room of the Security Tower, only to gawk at the sight before them.
All of the Security Aides were anxiously huddled around the Chief and and Pieck, collapsed on the floor, clutching their heads, their bodies wracked with painful sobbing. The two boys cautiously walked up to the crowd, drawing the attention of several Aides.
“Sirs, this isn’t a good time!” one of the female Aides snapped at them. “Our Chief and his Assistant are in a very poor state of mental and emotional health!”
“W-what happened to them?” Reiner asked, and the woman shuddered violently.
“A nightmare! They keep muttering the name ‘Annie’ over and over again-”
“ Annie! ” the two officers shouted in unison, provoking many aggravated looks from the other Aides. “Annie’s in trouble!”
“Reiner, Bertholdt, t-thank goodness you’re here!” Uttaka mumbled wearily, slowly rising from the floor, helping Pieck to her feet. “Pieck and I both had a disturbingly vivid dream of Officer Leonhardt shrieking and sobbing in agony, and…”
To the officers’ horror, Uttaka suddenly screamed to everybody gathered, “ It’s my fault! I authorized her to leave Inkari for her personal mission, and now, she’s somewhere far away, potentially dead now! ”
Reiner, Bert and the entire Security Department gasped, and Uttaka wiped away his tears, making himself face Reiner and Bert directly.
“She came to me only a couple of days ago, and after the discussion we had, I authorized her to go to Takodana, where Annie believed she’d find peace over Mina’s death. I expected her to be back by now, but…”
Reiner gulped, and told him, “Chief Uttaka, Bert and I had the same horrifying nightmare that you and Pieck had. Annie’s screams have haunted all four of us somehow.”
The Aides glanced between their commanders and the officers warily, and a knowing gleam flashed through Pieck’s dark, tear-softened eyes. Uttaka’s face went somber and stern, the entirety of his sorrow ebbing away to reveal his resurging iron determination.
“Then this is no mere coincidence. Annie is out there alone, in pain and despair, without anybody to help her. Reiner, Bertholdt, I hereby authorize you both to go to Takodana to find our missing Officer. You need to look there first, for whatever clues you can find on her whereabouts.”
Reiner and Bert turned to beam at each other, both of them thrilled to have found a bit of hope after their nightmare. They nodded eagerly at the Chief, and he grinned at them in turn.
“In about 30 minutes, I’ll ensure that the planetary shield is lowered so you to can depart. Be at the dock at that time. And...good luck, to you both.”
Annie woke up from the dream-vision of Mina’s visit, let herself breathe deeply, and headed for the main room of the Vindictive Empress , eager to get out of the lonely backroom. When she entered the ship’s main room, she saw the entire crew seated around, apparently waiting for her to wake up.
“Thank goodness,” Ymir said, letting out a huge sigh of relief. “We were terrified that you’d never wake up.”
“Well, I don’t blame you for being so worried,” Annie said back, taking a seat next to Connie and Armin. “Half of me wished that I’d never wake up, after what I saw.”
Connie grimaced guiltily next to her, and she patted him on the back, hoping that he’d forgive himself sooner or later. She gazed out the port window in front of her, and saw that the Empress was absentmindedly floating through space, likely somewhere in the Mid Rim. Mikasa followed her gaze and anxiously shifted about on her seat as she spoke up.
“We’re trying to lay low, and stay off of any Imperial radar by hiding away from Endor. Takodana isn’t that far away from Endor, and if we’re not careful, we could encounter Imperial reinforcements heading there for the upcoming battle.”
“So you all won’t be joining the Rebels there?” Annie asked, and Ymir viciously shook her head.
“Absolutely not. My ship can easily fend off a handful off normal attackers, but there’s nothing she can do against an Imperial Armada. We’d get crushed in the first minute of fighting.”
Armin turned to her and told her, “That, and Annie, our primary goal is to stay out of any major conflicts as much as possible. Rose Squadron is only really ready to fight in small skirmishes, not any grand battle.”
Sasha sighed wistfully, and remarked to them all, “I still remember our surprise visit to Corellia. We wanted to gauge how loyal the Corellian people are to the Empire, and what sort of military strength they have. Well, we weren’t disappointed. While they do supply a fair portion of the Imperial Navy…”
“...The morale there is awfully low,” Jean finished, a wry smirk on his face. “You see, the Corellian youth have been drafted into the Imperial ranks for years now, and the vast majority of the population is fed up with it. Countless Corellian youth have been sacrificed for the Empire’s agenda, against their own will, and we heard multiple malicious whispers from the citizens that a Corellian revolt might be on the horizon.”
It was a stark contrast to the Inkarin’s loyalty to the Empire. Annie, Reiner, Bertholdt and thousands of other Inkarin youth had joined the Imperial forces of their own free will, believing that they were fighting to preserve order and justice throughout the galaxy. But not even Inkari was safe from feelings of dissent; the destruction of Alderaan, and the increasingly obvious brutality of the Emperor’s decrees against the worlds that dared to speak out against him had planted the seeds of revolt on Annie’s homeworld too.
“I’ll admit that Imperial propaganda hasn’t done a good job of lifting the morale of our citizens,” Annie said to them. “At this point, after what the galaxy has seen the Empire do, the Emperor is walking on thin ice. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the majority of the galaxy ends up supporting the Rebel Alliance over this corrupt regime.”
Christa mused to her, “Annie, for an Imperial soldier, you’re awfully jaded.”
“But of course,” Annie answered her. “I have my own reasons for despising the Empire. Learning that the Emperor himself arranged for Mina to be murdered was only the last straw in a line of offenses.”
“This is odd, though,” Eren said, drawing glances from the rest of them. “The Empire made us all orphans by either killing our parents or permanently separating our families, and that’s why we joined the Rebellion. So what made you finally lose trust in the Empire, Annie?”
Annie bit her lip and glanced out the port at the endless stars surrounding them. The crew of the Empress gave her a worried look as she whispered to them painfully.
“ The Empire made me an orphan too, indirectly. ”
(0 BBY, the day after the destruction of Alderaan)
Annie woke up in the middle of the night to hear her Hologram Communicator on her bedside desk vibrating into life with a message. She groggily sat up in her bed, pressed the Communicator’s reception button, and gasped when her father’s hologram materialized above the machine, looking wearier than she had ever seen him.
“Dad?” Annie worriedly asked, bending forward to observe the tears streaming down his cheeks. “Are you ok?!”
“No, Annie,” he answered truthfully. “What I saw on the Death Star’s main viewport was horrific. So many innocent lives, all brutally and instantly destroyed all because Tarkin wanted to prove his point!”
“W-what?” Annie muttered, trying to make herself wake up and unnerved at what she was hearing. “What happened?!”
“Annie, don’t believe the official propaganda about what happened to Alderaan. It’s a blatant lie! It wasn’t destroyed by a self-destructing Alderaanian superweapon; Grand Moff Tarkin destroyed it to spite Princess Leia Organa and terrify the rest of the galaxy! ”
Annie gasped and collapsed backwards onto her bed, the full meaning of her father’s words overwhelming her. Inkari, along with the rest of the galaxy, had received Imperial reports that Alderaan had been suddenly destroyed in what was summarized as an unfortunate and unexpected cataclysm caused by an imperfect superweapon created to aid the Rebel Alliance.
“I know that the Grand Moff is a snake, Annie, but what he planned was disgusting! I was there with him as we approached Alderaan, for what reason I couldn’t initially understand. When Vader dragged the Princess out of her cell at Tarkin’s bidding, I realized that he was attempting to do something drastic to force information about the Rebels out of her. At first, after he threatened to destroy her homeworld in front of her, she panickingly revealed that there’s a Rebel base on Dantooine, and he seemed to accept he answer. But...then he ordered the Death Star to fire on Alderaan regardless!”
“N-no…” Annie mumbled, clutching at her stomach as nausea surged within her.
“Alderaan’s planetary shield did nothing to stop the superlaser from destroying it! And I watched Vader drag Princess Leia screaming and sobbing back to her prison cell! All the while, that bastard Tarkin was chuckling about how it was ‘a successful test of the station’s power after all’!”
Annie grimaced as she watched her father nearly collapse to the floor of his room as the trauma of what he’d seen crush him. All she wanted to do was reach across the light years separating them and do what she could to comfort him in his grief.
“Annie...I begged, pleaded with Tarkin to let me be transferred to another station, another planet, anywhere but here...and he refused. He treated me with complete contempt and told me he wouldn’t tolerate any sort of ‘weakness’ from those stationed here on the Death Star. Annie, I’m stuck here on this weapon of genocide, and I want out! ”
Annie shuddered as she wiped away at her eyes, telling them, “And as we all know, soon afterwards, the lone Rebel pilot defied the odds and managed to destroy the Death Star, with my father still on board. But I’ll never blame that pilot for my father’s death. I fully blame Tarkin and the Empire for ensuring that my father was trapped there, and for refusing to help him when they knew of the psychological toll Alderaan’s destruction had on him.”
“I’m so sorry, Annie,” Eren muttered, sighing and wiping away at his own tears. “The Empire has caused us all so much agony over the years, and all I want is to avenge my mother for what happened to her.”
Mikasa glanced away from them, and Annie could see more tears in the raven-haired girl’s eyes as Eren continued to speak.
“She adopted Mikasa when a group of criminals slaughtered her parents. Only a handful of years later, after my Dad, Grisha Yeager, disappeared without any warning from our village on Ruusan, and when a group of Imperials came to our world to scour for any traces of Rebels, they terrorized our village.”
His eyes fell as he muttered, “Mom lost her composure when a few of the soldiers threatened me and Mikasa...and she tried to attack them. They gunned her down in a matter of seconds. My nightmares are still haunted by that moment.”
Mikasa spoke up, adding, “Because of the atrocities we saw that day, because of the violent murder of my foster-mother, Carla Yeager, me and Eren dedicated ourselves to the Rebel cause, and over the years, we founded Rose Squadron alongside the others here.”
“I guess you could say that I adopted these kids in turn,” Ymir said softly, casting a weary glance at Annie. “All of them went out of their way to save Christa from being kidnapped by Imperial scum, and as thanks, I gave them a home of sorts. In its own way, it’s been a continual reward for me. I kinda know now what mothers feel.”
“That’s...beautiful,” Annie said, amazed at how the crew had come together.
“Annie, why is Inkari still so loyal to the Empire?” Jean asked her, and she turned to him.
“Inkari is one of the Empire’s main shipbuilding worlds. We’ve created dozens of Star Destroyers for the Navy, and in fact, some of our ships are in the armada gathering at Endor. Thanks to that, my people receives priority treatment from Coruscant when it comes to security, trade protections, and other benefits. But I suspect that if we didn’t benefit the Empire like we do, Coruscant wouldn’t give a damn about us.”
Before she could continue, Annie’s head suddenly snapped back as her senses were overtaken by a brilliant vision of an Imperial pilot ship leaving Inkari, the crimson planetary shield closing over the world as the lone ship jumped to hyperspace, in the direction of Takodana. The vision inverted, and Annie was given a view of the inside of the ship, revealing Reiner and Bertholdt at the cockpit, their faces etched with grim determination.
The vision ended as abruptly as it had come, and Annie came back to her senses with a gasp, seeing Rose Squadron huddled around her, alarmed and tense. She shuddered, turned to Ymir, desperate to get back to Takodana.
“I...just had...a vision of my comrades, Reiner and Bertholdt, leaving Inkari for Takodana. I think my planet’s Chief of Security, Haston Uttaka, told them about my destination. If possible, I want to go back to Takodana and head them off, before they do anything drastic. I’m certain that if I show them the footage Connie found of Mina’s murder, they’ll join me in plotting revenge against Moff Datenshi.”
Ymir nodded stoically and pounded over to the Empress ’s main controls. A moment later, the ship lurched out of autopilot, and the entire crew rose to their feet to prepare for the encounter. Eren glanced at her as the others left the room, and whispered to her as the ship moved faster.
“Are you sure about this, Annie?”
“Absolutely. Reiner and Bert also have their own reasons for not trusting the Empire. Right before Alderaan was destroyed, the three of us were patrolling the Corellian Sector for Rebel activity, one of our usual assigned duties. The instant the Death Star fired on the planet, all three of us nearly lost control of our ships as we felt the loss of millions of lives from light years away. Ever since then, they’ve been just as disgusted with the status quo as I am, though they’re far more subtle about it.”
They were momentarily interrupted by Mikasa entering the room, with Annie’s blaster in hand. Annie gawked as the girl who had stunned her before gently pressed the blaster into her hand, giving Annie a firm nod and leaving the room once more.
Annie looked up from her blaster, and told Eren, “Before I can kill Datenshi for what he did to Mina, I’ll need support from the other Inkarin. Reiner and Bert are the key to me relating this revelation to our people, and I can’t do this without them. But still, I know that we need to tread carefully down on Takodana, or this will turn into a needless fight.”
Chapter 5: Reunion
The Vindictive Empress dropped Annie and Mikasa off at the opposite end of the same forest Annie had entered during her first excursion to Takodana. Mikasa had swiftly volunteered herself to be Annie’s shadow, on the basis that her reaction time was the swiftest out of the soldiers in Rogue Squadron, and that she wanted to make amends with the Imperial Officer. The two girls carefully stepped into the forest, watching and listening closely for any sign of Annie’s comrades.
“I know I haven’t made it clear to you, but I feel shitty for stunning you here,” Mikasa whispered to Annie as they continued forward. “It was an impulse, in all sincerity. When I saw you, I immediately assumed that you were threatening Eren somehow.”
“That’s only understandable though,” Annie assured her. “After all, you’re pretty much his sister. It’s only natural that your instincts would kick in. Though I can’t deny how shocked I was that you were able to stun me without me noticing your presence.”
Mikasa’s lips twitched into a small smile at the remark.
“While Eren is the more brazen, berserker fighter in our group, I’m the silent hunter type. It’s been my specialty ever since he and I began training ourselves in combat. My fighting style was, and still is inspired by the legends of the Loth-wolves of Lothal. I value the ability to silently sneak up on my targets and eliminate them before they can so much as flinch.”
Annie felt herself shudder at how sinister Mikasa sounded describing herself, as she realized that their fighting styles were too similar. Ever since she’d graduated from Inkari’s Imperial Academy, she had developed a similar fighting style to accommodate her lack of physical strength. Over the years, she had trained herself to deftly defeat stronger opponents with an impressive agility that allowed her to evade and counter at the drop of a hat. If she hadn’t despised the Emperor for his cruelty and dismissal of the lives he ruined, Annie would’ve gladly seized a likely offer to become an Emperor’s Hand, one of the Empire’s deadliest assassins.
“What do you intend to say to them?” Mikasa softly asked as they approached the grove where Eren had met Annie.
“First, I need to assure them that I’m completely safe. That’s the easy part. The hard part will be convincing them to come with us back to the Empress .”
“Right. I doubt even they will be thrilled at the prospect of boarding with Rebels.”
“Is your blaster set to stun?”
“Of course. And yours?”
“Naturally. Now...if my guess is right…”
Annie and Mikasa stopped just outside of the grove, and Annie whispered to her, “Hide here, and don’t do anything unless this somehow escalates.”
Mikasa silently obeyed, and Annie stepped into the sunlit space, squinting through the light as she anxiously waited and hoped for her comrades to appear. Despite her history of giving the young men the cold shoulder throughout much of their military career together, Annie couldn’t deny that she was relieved to know that they were desperately looking for her.
After a few painfully long minutes of waiting, Annie froze up as she heard aggravated yelling coming steadily closer from the other end of the forest.
“Her ship’s abandoned, and we don’t have a damn clue where she went!” she heard Reiner snarl. “If I’m right that Rebel scum captured her, I’ll slaughter them all!”
“And I will too!” Bertholdt joined in. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get Annie back to Inkari safe and sound!”
Annie breathed hard, feeling her heart swell at the fierce loyalty in her comrades’ words, and her eyes welled up with tears once more.
“All this time, they never stopped caring about me, even after I kept brushing them off. What did I do to deserve this level of loyalty?”
She couldn’t let herself remain silent any longer, for fear that the tension inside her would make her collapse. Annie took a deep breath, and called out, “Reiner? Bertholdt?”
At first, the only sounds she could hear were the continued calls of the fauna surrounding her, and the soft whisper of the wind rustling through the trees. And then, mad, hurried footsteps came bounding towards her as both Reiner and Bert emerged from the forest into the grove, tackling Annie in a crushing embrace.
“ Annie! ” Bert sobbed as he clung to her. “We were worried sick!”
“W-what happened to you?!” Reiner asked her as he wept, while Annie allowed herself a moment to enjoy the warm comfort of her fellows’ embrace.
They both towered more than a foot over her mere 5’1” height, making her look like a fairy surrounded by towering giants. Reiner’s powerful bulk rippled underneath his gray Imperial uniform, and Bertholdt’s own uniform accentuated the lithe build his Imperial training had transformed his previously lanky body into. Annie felt safe and secure between her two sturdy comrades, and relieved to be among her fellow Inkarin once again.
Annie patted them both on the back, gently but politely signaling them to stop smothering her with their embrace, and beamed up at them, eager but desperate to relate her plan to them.
“I’m glad to see you both again, but we don’t have much time to discuss things here. I need you two to come with me back to my allies’ ship, where I’ll discuss in detail what I’ve learned.”
“Huh? What allies?” Reiner warily asked her, and Bert glanced down at her with his usual nervous look.
She bit her lip under their inquisitive stare, and muttered, “Look, it’s a really long story, and it’s something that I have to show you two instead of simply telling you. It’s...about Mina.”
“Mina?” Bert asked. “What about her?”
“Moff Datenshi lied to us all,” Annie angrily told them, and they shuddered at the malice seeping out of her. “Again, I need you two to come back with me so that I can show you the truth.”
“Hold on a minute, Annie!” Reiner interrupted, provoking an exasperated sigh from his comrade. “Where have you been? You had us terrified that Rebels had abducted and tortured you! Bert, myself, Chief Uttaka and his assistant Pieck all had a horrifying nightmare about you screaming and sobbing in agony-”
“ What? ” Annie asked, alarmed at how empathetic her agony over Mina’s murder had become. “How the hell-”
“Answer me, please, Annie!” Reiner begged. “Where did you go?”
“Look, I’m safe, I’m sound, and I don’t want you two freaking out about my safety right now. So please, come with me-”
“Reiner?” Bert cut her off, glaring at the shadows behind them. “Who’s that lurking near those trees?”
“ SHIT! ”
Reiner and Bert whipped out their blasters as Mikasa bolted out of the foliage, but before they could so much as pull their triggers, Annie fired stunning bolts into both of her comrades, sending them crashing to the forest floor. They gawked up at her as they went unconscious, and Mikasa walked up to her, aggravated that her cover had been blown so quickly.
“How did your friend detect me?” she asked Annie as they reached down and started to haul the boys off towards the Empress . “Not even the best Stormtrooper’s been able to do that!”
Annie grimaced down at Bert, and muttered to her, “It looks like Bert did some serious environmental training to compensate for his previous lack of awareness.”
The rest of the crew helped them haul the unconscious bodies into the backroom and bound them with handcuffs, where they waited nervously for the soldiers to waken. Connie kept twitching with anxiety, knowing that Annie needed him to show her comrades the horrifying footage he had found.
Not long after they had been taken aboard, Reiner and Bert both snapped to attention, snarling at the Rebels surrounding them. Rose Squadron rolled their eyes in unison as the Imperial Officers went ballistic.
“ REBEL SCUM! ” Reiner screamed. “I’ll kill you all for what you did to Annie!”
“I’ll rip you all limb from limb!” Bert shrieked, and Annie hastily stepped forward, waving her hands in a bid to get them to cease their ranting.
“Calm down, for fuck’s sake, both of you!” she snapped, earning another confused look from them. “These people did nothing to me! So stop giving yourselves an aneurysm and let me show you what I learned!”
She nodded at Connie, and with a nervous gulp, he pressed the main button on the backroom screen’s control panel. Annie watched Reiner and Bert gawk as the screen as the scene of Mina’s murder played out before them.
The room was filled with a horrid silence as Reiner and Bert glared up at the screen, heaving, sobbing and panicking at the vile truth they had learned. Annie shuddered and wiped away at her eyes, still agonized over Mina screaming her name as she died.
“W-why?” Bert meekly asked nobody in particular as Ymir moved to undo their shackles. “Why would Moff Datenshi…?”
“That piece of shit!” Reiner hissed, barely able to speak through his thick tears. “So he and the Emperor plotted her death in advance?!”
“Yes,” Annie answered coldly. “And for that, I’m going to ensure that Datenshi dies a violent death.”
Reiner and Bert shakily rose to their feet, rubbing their wrists as they gazed uncomfortably at the Rebels of Rose Squadron looking at them with sheer pity. Connie stepped forward and softly spoke to the agonized Officers.
“I’m...so sorry. I’m...I’m the pilot who snuck into Inkari a year ago on an urge to learn more about your homeworld. Just before I left, one of the security drones literally collapsed at my feet, allowing me to take it with me for further study. When I scanned through the footage it captured, I discovered the horrifying scene you just watched, and became determined to know the full story behind it.”
He turned to Annie, and sheepishly said, “When Annie was brought on board after Mikasa stunned her for looking like a threat to Eren’s safety on Takodana, and after I learned that she’s from Inkari, I played the footage with the hope of her helping me understand its context. I firmly believed that your people knew about this, and that the basic knowledge I assumed you all had about this crime would aid me. Instead...I unwittingly made Annie break down into screaming and sobbing, and learned that Mina’s death was a conspiracy hidden from the Inkarin.”
“Kid…” Reiner said back, weary and drained, “I don’t know what to say. I know you only wanted to learn the truth, but still, you should’ve known better than to have Annie watch this. Mina was her closest friend on Inkari, and the agony Annie felt after learning what happened is what gave us that horrifying nightmare back on our homeworld. But still…”
He reached forward, placed a large but gentle hand on Connie’s shoulder, and softly said to him, “ Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for helping us see the truth about what really happened to Mina. ”
Connie sobbed at those words, and received a grim pat on the back from both Reiner and Bert as they wiped away their tears. Annie let out a big sigh of relief, and addressed the entire room.
“I’m glad that we got my comrades up to date on this matter. Now, we need to discuss our plan of action. The rest of my people need to know about Mina’s murder, and I want to get my revenge on the Empire itself the atrocity it’s committed against us. Now is the perfect time to strike, with the Empire so desperately focused on Endor and the battle soon to transpire there. Nobody will be paying attention to what I’m planning to unleash on Inkari, and if this works the way I want it to, my people will permanently withdraw their support from the Empire at its most critical moment.”
Bert gently asked her, “How do you want to go about this, Annie?”
She looked up at him, and told him, “We need to get Chief Uttaka on our side, first and foremost. He controls our world’s HoloNet, which we need access to in order to show our people the damning footage of Mina’s murder. I suspect that he’ll become an eager ally. He’s been awfully willing to let us defy the Moff’s order to not let anybody leave Inkari unauthorized, and it’s likely that he’s been subtly subverting that bastard for a long time now.”
“You’re right,” Reiner murmured in agreement. “The Chief really doesn’t care about Moff Datenshi’s demands.”
“Exactly. Now, the one thing we need to worry about is how to enter Inkari without raising any alarms. We need to use your ship, Reiner, to get clearance through the planetary shield. If we all try to go back in Ymir’s ship, we’ll be obliterated within seconds upon arrival.”
Annie turned to face Rose Squadron, and announced to them, “I appreciate all of you for helping me see the truth, and for caring for me with the immense compassion you all have, even for an Imperial Officer. For the purpose of being subtle about this plan, though, I only intend to take Armin and Connie with me on the initial entrance to Inkari. I’ll need them to give the Chief the memory core with the footage on it, and give him whatever help he might need in transmitting it to the entire planet’s HoloNet screens. That, and it’ll be easier to convince him to let the Vindictive Empress through if we don’t pressure him with more than a couple of you.”
“So be it,” Ymir replied.
She addressed the youth, telling them, “Alright ladies and gents, this is the grand fight we’ve been itching for! Armin, Connie, get ready to depart with them. The rest of you, prepare yourselves for battle. We’ll await word from the others once they get the shield down, and enable us to join the fray.”
Rose Squadron bolted out of the backroom towards the ship’s armoury, leaving the Imperial Officers alone. Reiner and Bert gave Annie intensely worried looks, and she gazed up at them, weary but aching to set her plot in motion.
“I’m not going to tell you two that I’m ok, because clearly I’m not,” she told them. “But I’m itching to throw this all back in Datenshi’s face and finally give Mina and those poor factory workers the justice they deserve. I just hope that Chief Uttaka, Pieck and the rest of the Security Department will be willing to comply with this plan. If not, we’re screwed.”
Haston and Pieck stood side by side in the middle of the Security Tower’s main room, watching the door warily, knowing that Reiner and Berthold leaving the planet so suddenly with their permission was inevitably bound to send the Moff after them. Their dozens of Security Aides, hunched anxiously over their terminals and all too aware that they were now collectively in the crosshairs of Datenshi’s ire, cast glances at the front entrance, likewise knowing that a confrontation was soon to occur.
Sure enough, loud shouting suddenly erupted on the other side of the metal doors, and the entire Security Department went rigid with tension. A moment later, the doors were yanked open from the other side, and Moff Sebastian Datenshi sauntered in fuming, followed by an entourage of a dozen fully armed Stormtroopers. The two door guardsmen peeked in from the entrance, terrified and unwilling to intercept any further.
“Chief Uttaka!” Datenshi snarled, his entourage forming a half-moon arc behind him, fanning out to both prevent any escape, and to enable the troops to easily gun down their opponents. “For the second time in this week alone, you’ve brazenly defied my orders to not let anybody leave Inkari without my permission. Not only that, but at this critical moment in our galaxy, you’ve allowed three of our best soldiers to leave on some wild Bantha chase! Explain yourself!”
Pieck raised an inquisitive eyebrow up at her superior, but Haston shook his head firmly, not wanting his lieutenant to ignite the tense argument into a fatal skirmish. He saw that his aides were all watching him anxiously, waiting for him to give them the signal they had discussed for situations like the one before them. Haston gave them a confident, relaxed smile, and turned to face the Moff.
“I’m afraid, sir, that I can’t divulge in too great detail why Officers Leonhardt, Braun and Hoover departed from Inkari. Their reasons are deeply personal, and I would be betraying both their trust and basic Security protocol if I were to reveal their motives.”
“Oh, just cut the diplomatic bullshit and tell me what’s going on!” Datenshi snapped back. “I have every reason to arrest and detain every single one of you conniving wretches for deliberately going against my orders, and I’ll gladly have my personal guard incinerate any of you who refuse to comply!”
At that, Haston and Pieck shuddered as they watched their Aides casually reach their arms underneath their desks, where they had all hidden blasters in secret compartments, for the purpose of self-defense. Though the Moff thankfully wasn’t paying them any attention, Haston could see from the malice in their faces that they were all willing to go down in a brutal blaster fight.
“Such violence is absolutely unnecessary, Datenshi,” Haston answered cooly. “You are jumping the gun and freaking out over miniscule things, after all.”
“‘ Miniscule ’?! You gave those soldiers unwarranted permission to leave this planet without consulting me first! Not only that, but Officer Leonhardt’s leave of absence was due to expire just when you allowed her to leave on this ridiculous ‘personal mission’ of hers, and I have every reason to believe that you knowingly timed her departure to spite me! This is treason!”
The Stormtroopers casually but menacingly raised their blasters, all pointing right at the Chief, who remained utterly unflappable in the face of the sudden adversity. All around him, his Security Aides tensed up even further, aching to whip out their blasters and catch their enemies off guard.
Haston sighed mockingly and told the Moff, “My goodness, Datenshi, you really are riled up over this petty matter!”
“Don’t taunt me, Uttaka!” Datenshi shrieked, the veins around his eyes bulging with fury. “I have the power to slaughter you and all of your precious Aides here and now, and if you don’t tell me everything, these Stormtroopers will gun each and every one of you down!”
Pieck snarled at him, and Haston casually let his head fall back, a high, cold laugh echoing from his mouth all across the interior of the tower, sending chills down the spine of every individual watching him. He lowered his head and gave the Moff a horrid sneer, making the vile man freeze up in fear.
“ Power ? My dearest Datenshi, do you truly believe that the precious power you think you have at your disposal will give you the assured victory that you so desperately desire? Let me explain this in plain layman’s terms to you.”
Sebastian Datenshi shuddered as Haston spoke softly but sinisterly, enrapturing the entire room with his words.
“You boast so proudly about the power at your disposal, Datenshi, but you forget that your supposed power fails to make you invincible against the laws of this world, and the inherent, all-binding laws of this galaxy, the eternal codes that serve as the ebb and flow of our morality. In your pride, you have forgotten about the thousands of eyes at my Department’s disposal, the unblinking sentinels that see all here on Inkari, every little motion, every insidious misdeed committed in the dark of the night. Your own misdeeds, Moff, have not gone unnoticed. While you may unwisely believe that your position places you above any and all laws set forth, you will learn soon enough that not even a Moff can escape the punishment justly reserved for those who revel in purporting the cruelest of atrocities. Watch where you tread, Sebastian Datenshi, because not even you can escape the ever-watching eyes of Inkari.”
To his satisfaction, the Moff’s face fell in horror, and he waved a hand signal at his entourage, prompting them all to lower their weapons and follow him out the still-open door. When the last trooper had left, the two guards bolted inside as the door closed, and the Security Department collectively breathed an immense sigh of relief.
“We narrowly avoided a brutal fight,” Pieck murmured, still warily eyeing the spot where the Moff had stood. “If you hadn’t said what you did, Haston, we could’ve faced multiple casualties.”
“I won’t let that happen!” Haston snarled, his adrenaline and malice still surging after putting the Moff in his place. “He had the audacity to storm in here and threaten my people, and I’ll never let him lay a finger on any of you!”
To his right, one of the aides collapsed into panicked sobs, his fellows rushing to comfort him. Haston and Pieck grimaced at each other, knowing that the aide had been on the verge of a panic attack the instant Datenshi had entered the building.
“I...I wanted to gun that bastard down for what he’s done, but...I couldn’t make myself do it!” the man wailed to the others, and they all shook their heads sadly, even the two door guards, who were all too aware of why the aide was so stricken.
“It wasn’t the right time, Daz,” Haston assured him. “But that man will receive the punishment he deserves soon enough. For the longest time, Datenshi has brazenly acted as if he’s above the law, but now, he knows that not even a Moff can escape the repercussions he’s meant to face.”
One of his female aides spoke up, asking her superior, “Sir, what is our next plan of action?”
He turned to her, gave her a sly wink, and told them all, “My dears, we wait for Officers Leonhardt, Braun and Hoover to return. And then... we, too, will strike .”
Chapter 6: Calm Before the Storm
Trigger Warning: Discussion of Suicidal Thoughts
Before she departed with her four comrades to Reiner’s pilot ship, Annie pulled Mikasa into a remote corner of the Vindictive Empress , shocking her stoic companion.
“What is it, Annie?” she hesitantly asked.
“I need to tell you another, vital reason why I can’t have everybody else initially accommodate us into Inkari,” Annie told her in a hushed whisper. “Specifically Eren. Mikasa...I can’t let him know that this’ll be the last time we’ll ever see each other.”
Mikasa balked, and mumbled, “W-wait, what do you mean?”
“The odds are stacked against me that I’ll die in whatever fight I instigate against the Moff,” she said to Mikasa. “He doesn’t fight fair, and always has an entourage of Stormtroopers with him at all times. I’m bound to die down there, and I don’t want Eren trying to defend me and get himself killed as a result. I’ve already dealt with too much heartbreak up until now, and if he dies trying to help me, it’ll destroy me.”
Mikasa bit back tears, and said to her, “I don’t understand the nature of the bond you have with my foster-brother, Annie, but it’s obvious that you care a whole lot about him, even though you don’t know him. And you’re right. He’s a self-sacrificing lion towards us, and would definitely do the same for you after the time you’ve spent with him, and that odd dream you two kept having of each other. It’s clear that you both were meant to meet each other, probably to help you find the truth about Mina’s death, and as for Eren...I suppose that remains to be seen. Perhaps he’ll find something on Inkari when we join you five in the fighting.”
“I suppose so. This is goodbye, Mikasa. Thank you for everything.”
“Goodbye, Annie Leonhardt. And...may the Force be with you, no matter what happens next.”
Reiner’s pilot ship sailed through the hyperspace tunnel as the group stood in silence, watching the streaks of starlight aimlessly. They all stood still as statues, aching for the ship to finally arrive at Inkari, and for their hopeful pass through the planetary shield into Gintomi City.
Connie, still standing unwaveringly faithful next to Annie, gently asked her, “What’s your plan of action, Annie?”
She turned to him and told him, “First things first, we need to get through that planetary shield. When we get close to the planet and within the transmission range of the Security Department tower, Chief of Security Haston Uttaka will need to grant Reiner and Bertholdt permission to pass through, based on the necessary lie that they failed to find me. After that, we need to convince Haston to deactivate the entire shield, so that the Vindictive Empress can join us.”
All heads were turned to her as she muttered, more to herself than anybody else, “Of course, before Eren and the others join us, we need to find a way to convince Hedasta and the rest of the Inkarin to join us in outing Datenshi. That’s the hardest part of this scheme, and why uploading that video to the HoloNet is so important.”
Armin told her, “Annie, remind me, how do you intend for us to share the footage with Inkari’s HoloNet?”
“Through the Security Tower’s main terminal,” she replied. “But that also depends on Haston, and whether or not he sides with us.”
Reiner said over his shoulder, “Without being too optimistic, chances are, he will. He was more than willing to let all three of us go to Takodana without asking the Moff for permission. Mr. Haston has been oddly willing to circumvent the martial laws imposed on our planet. That, and ever since he told me and Bert that both he and Pieck also had that horrific dream-vision of you screaming and sobbing, I’ve had a growing suspicion that those two have hidden motives...maybe even rebellious ones.”
“No kidding,” Annie mused, remembering how Haston and Pieck had exchanged a knowing glance when she had opened up about her apparent Force-created dream about Takodana. “They’re definitely hiding something, especially Haston. I still don’t understand why he was so shaken when I told him about seeing Eren’s eyes gazing at me over the view of Takodana. He doesn’t know who Eren is...does he?”
Bert grimaced, and told them all, “I just want to return to Inkari, make everybody aware of what that bastard did to Mina, and return to our normal lives. I don’t care if that means the three of us are marked as traitors by the Empire, so long as we finally have genuine peace.”
He gave Annie a meaningful glance, and in return, she gazed up at him wearily, aware that she was about to break their hearts even further. Reiner turned to look at her closely, and Annie could see that the blonde giant was aware of another matter on her mind.
“Yes, when the dust settles from this conflict, you two will be able to return to your daily lives, no doubt hailed as heroes by our people. But as for me...I fully expect for this battle we’re planning to be my last day on Inkari...or anywhere else in this wartorn galaxy. When we return to Inkari, I intend to lay down my life.”
A horrid silence fell over their group, and Connie wrapped a lithe arm around her frail shoulders, holding her close as his body wracked with new sobbing. Annie leaned into his embrace gratefully, watching as the other boys simultaneously collapsed into their own tears.
“W-what?!” Reiner shouted, clenching his seat and panicking. “Are you saying that you’re going to commit suicide once this is all said and done?!”
Annie shook her head and gave them all a firm, stoic glance as she stated, “While suicide isn’t my desire... I want to be with Mina. ”
To her right, Connie bowed his head in guilt, and the others looked at her with expressions of mixed pity and alarm. Annie sighed wistfully, and knew that she had no choice but to explain her motives.
“She came to me in a dream, on the night before I returned to Takodana to intercept Bert and Reiner. When I saw Mina, there was no trace of agony, grief, or even rage at her death. She was robed in white, and gave me that beautiful smile I’ve cherished for so long. During the dream, she held me close, kissed me tenderly, and told me…’ I await you on the other side. ’”
Reiner started to protest before Annie cut him off with an agitated shake of her head.
“Please, Reiner, all of you, don’t try to stop me. It’s too late. None of you can hope to understand what happened to me when I learned how my best friend died. When I watched her writhe in agony and scream my name as her last word, the despair I suffered at that moment was so bad, I nearly died from a broken heart. In fact, Christa can attest to that.”
Annie felt her own tears welling up, as she whispered to them, “I came to the door of death when that happened, and I’ve already taken a step through to the other side. As it is, I can’t come back, and I know that I’ll never fully recover from what happened. I want my pain and sorrow to end, and death is the only permanent solution. While I’m not going to Inkari to commit suicide, I’m well aware that I’ll die during my confrontation with Datenshi...and that’s what I want. To die, and finally be reunited with Mina. Nothing else matters to me.”
Reiner bit his lip hard and shakily turned around, facing the port window in an attempt to cover up his grief. All the others remained silent, except for Bert, who stepped forward, looking desperate.
She glanced at him warily, and asked, “What, Bert?”
“Can we...talk in the back?”
Connie removed his arm from her shoulders, and Annie followed her anxious comrade to the back of the ship, aggravatingly aware that everybody else was watching them closely. In the back, a small bead of sweat trickled down Bert’s tanned face, a harbinger of the agitation building up inside him. It was too obvious to every other person around him that he was consumed with tension.
“Bert, what’s the matter?” Annie whispered to him, confused by his sudden bout of assertiveness. “You look like your beating yourself up over something...again. What is it?”
Bertholdt shuddered and softly told her, “A-Annie...me and Reiner owe you a huge apology.”
At that, she gawked up at him, and asked, “For what? You two never did anything to me!”
“I know that, but...that’s not what I’m apologizing for. Annie…”
Tears beaded up in Bert’s green eyes, and he finally said wearily, “ We weren’t there for you while you grieved over Mina, and...we failed you, Annie! ”
Out of the corner of her eye, Annie saw Reiner collapsed over the pilot controls, shaking with what must’ve been bitter tears, with Connie and Armin watching on somberly. She looked up at Bert with pity as he continued.
“We had every opportunity imaginable to try to offer some form of comfort while you were on leave, but we were too hesitant, and unsure that you’d want us around. We watched you weep alongside Senator Carolina this whole time, but we never stepped forward like we should’ve to help you. We both feel like shit for standing around and watching you mourn, when as your comrades, we shouldn’t have hesitated to offer you our shoulders to cry on. And I feel the worst, Annie, when I…”
He turned away in shame, his cheeks turning the slightest shade of red, and Annie knew that no matter how many years passed, Bertholdt, perhaps the shyest man to ever join the Imperial ranks, could never bring himself to directly admit his feelings to her.
Annie stepped forward and held his hand gently, making him look back down at her. An unexpected surge of regret welled up in her as her memories of their camaraderie returned, reminding her of all the times Reiner and Bert had stood by her side, always loyal, despite her endlessly cold demeanor towards them, and her blatant refusal to let them in on her life. For the entirety of their military career, Annie had rebuked any and all attempts from either of the young men to get close to her, as she had scornfully viewed them both as unconditionally loyal dogs to the Imperial cause, even after they had learned of Alderaan’s destruction.
“Oh, Bert…” she sadly whispered, squeezing his hand as they looked into each other’s eyes. “Please, don’t do this to yourself. I never gave you or Reiner any indication that I wanted you to help me heal while I isolated myself from the military and the rest of Inkari. This whole time, I treated you both with disdain, and made it clear that I was only your fellow soldier, not somebody interested in genuine friendship. When I took my leave, I wanted to be alone, and that had nothing to do with you two; I needed to hide from the world until I was ready to return, and not once did I expect you two to turn up at my doorstep, ready to comfort me. How could I? I never treated you two with any bit of warmth, and that’s entirely my fault.”
“B-but…” Bert argued, tears now fully streaming down his face, “even then, we still should’ve checked up on you, even once! If you had...disappeared, I never would’ve forgiven myself!”
In that long, painful year of grieving and slow recovery, Annie remembered that suicidal thoughts had crossed her mind more than once. It was a miracle, and out of loyalty to Hedasta, that she hadn’t acted on them.
“Bert, if I had made that choice, it would’ve been because I couldn’t bear the pain of Mina’s loss any longer...not because I felt you two failed me. And you never did, Bert. Neither you nor Reiner ever failed me in that regard. Especially in this tumultuous series of events, when you both were utterly determined to rescue me when you thought that Rose Squadron was torturing me because of the nightmare you two had. And please, Bert…”
They both gave Reiner a mournful glance as she muttered, “Please, don’t blame yourselves when I inevitably die down there.”
Connie and Armin bit their lips hard, their own tears still streaming down their small faces, and at last, Reiner turned around in the pilot seat, showing both Annie and Bert that his eyes had turned scarlet from the overwhelming amount of grief he felt for her.
“I know that none of us can change your mind about your resolve, Annie,” Bert said to her softly, as she cast a pitying look on Reiner and the other two boys. “But please, trust us to help you give Mina justice...ok?”
She looked back up at him, and gave her comrade a genuine smile, as she said sincerely, “Of course, Bert. I trust you, Reiner and the rest of you to help me avenge Mina’s murder, and obliterate that snake, Sebastian Datenshi. When we set foot on Inkari, I will see to it personally that he dies just as violently as the death he gave Mina, and that the entire galaxy finally becomes aware of the Emperor’s treachery against our people.”
Chapter 7: Haston's Gambit
At last, the pilot ship exited out of hyperspace, and Inkari came into view, the silver mass of Gintomi City standing out among the verdant green of the planet’s main continent, everything tainted by the crimson planetary shield encompassing the world. Annie recognized the smaller blotches of silver as her homeworld’s smaller cities, all connected to Gintomi by Inkari’s HoloNet, controlled by Chief of Security Haston Uttaka and his Security Aides. Once they succeeded in transmitting the brutal footage of Mina’s murder, Annie knew that the entire planet was bound to violently revolt.
“This is it,” Reiner muttered, taking deep breaths to steel himself as he prepared to transmit a communication to the Security Tower.
The five of them waited for a response from the planet, shifting about uncomfortably and anxious to get moving. A few moments later, a bleep was heard from Reiner’s monitor, and the deep but gentle voice of Haston Uttaka echoed into the ship’s interior.
“Ah, Officers Braun and Hoover, thank goodness!” they heard him say, genuine relief evident in his voice. “I’m glad that you two made it back safely. Was your mission successful?”
Reiner turned to Annie, and she gave him a firm shake of her head, whispering to him, “Let them believe I’m dead, at least for now. That way, Datenshi will never see me coming.”
He nodded in response, pressed the communicator button on the panel, and told the Chief, “Sir, Bert and I...we only found her abandoned ship on Takodana. She’s gone. And we failed.”
A deep, painful breath was heard on the other end before Haston softly replied, “I’m...so sorry to hear that. I can only hope that wherever Annie is, she’s safe. At any rate, welcome home, soldiers. I’m lowering the shield for you now.”
They watched the planetary shield part over Gintomi’s main hangar bay, and Reiner slowly eased his ship towards the surface. Annie gazed stoically through the port as they passed through the shield and entered the atmosphere, seeing that it was a dark, cloudy night, massive black clouds obscuring the horizon. When she glanced at the middle of the city from their skyview, Annie saw that the citizens were milling tersely about, clustered together and aggravated.
“What’s going on down there?” she asked the others, but before anybody could propose a theory, Reiner’s communication monitor blared into life.
“ Attention all Imperial units! ” a woman’s voice snarled, sending shudders down the backs of Connie and Armin. The three Imperial Officers looked at each other warily, recognizing the commanding voice of Admiral Rae Sloane, one of the higher-ups serving in the Imperial Armada at Endor. “ The Rebels have successfully fallen for the trap that the Emperor so cunningly set for them, and now, we have them wedged between the Death Star’s superlaser and our Armada! The end of this war has come! ”
Annie mused to them, “We couldn’t have returned to Inkari at a more opportune time. With the battle going on, nobody will pay us any attention as we move about. This is perfect!”
“That, and the citizens will all be glued to the HoloNet screens for any Imperial updates. We have all that we need in place, besides the support of the Chief,” Bert added.
Their landing at the hangar was smooth and without consequence. Not a single personnel member was in sight, likely scattered about the crowded streets discussing the battle with their fellow citizens. None of the Inkarin would pay any heed to five youth heading for the Security Tower, as the entire planet was embroiled in excited but terrified discussions about what the battle meant for the entire galaxy.
The five soldiers set off to find Haston Uttaka and beg him to help them unveil the truth of Mina’s death to her people, noticing the ominous wind starting to pick up around them, whistling through the silver towers of Gintomi City and sending chills down their spines.
“Officer Leonhardt…” the Security Aides sadly murmured to each other, fighting back tears as they recalled the hopeful girl who had left the planet in hopes of finally recovering from Mina Carolina’s untimely passing.
They had all overheard their Chief discussing with Officer Braun the female Officer’s disappearance without a trace, with her only memento the abandoned pilot ship outside the woods of Takodana. The Aides looked to their Chief for direction as he straightened and turned to them.
“My friends,” he softly told them, “don’t give up hope just yet. Despite what Reiner just told me...I’m absolutely certain that Annie has finally come home.”
“W-what?!” they all said, and a few of them ran to grab the two door guards, leading the bewildered men in to listen in on the revelation.
“It seems that Officer Leonhardt correctly deduced that Moff Datenshi is her enemy, just like he’s ours. By having Officer Braun officially remark that they couldn’t find her, he’s ensured that anybody listening to our previous conversation, especially the Moff, won’t see her coming until her damage is done.”
The entire room sighed with relief, and Pieck said to him, “I’m so relieved, sir. It would’ve been another tragedy if she’d permanently left us after trying to find solace over Mina’s passing.”
“Indeed, my dear. Now then, my people. It’s time for us to make our move.”
Haston spoke softly but firmly as the Security Department huddled around him, ready and willing to do their part to throw an unforeseen wrench in the corrupt Moff’s rule. Even Daz, the Department’s shyest member, looked ready to fight.
“A year ago, for better or worse, Daz happened upon the captured footage of Moff Datenshi having his personal squadron of Stormtroopers electrocute Mina to death outside of the factory he obliterated. It’s a miracle that he failed to notice that lone security droid fixated on his cruelty. None of us will ever forget that horrific moment when we discovered the truth, but for Mina’s sake, and for the sake of the hundreds of lives ruined that night, it was necessary for us to learn the real story.”
Daz wept, and told them all, “Hearing Mina scream as she died...and knowing that Officer Leonhardt was the final person on her mind...I can only imagine how Annie would react if she ever found out.”
Zeke turned to his meek associate and gently assured him, “Daz, you were perhaps the bravest of us all, for refusing to delete that footage in your terror that the Moff would discover what we had found. For alerting me and the rest of the Department to what you found, you ensured that the seeds of justice could be sown. For that, you will forever have my heartfelt thanks.”
Daz bowed humbly, and Zeke continued his speech.
“You all know that I played a very dangerous gambit by sending the droid containing that footage into the path of the rebel pilot who infiltrated Inkari last year. I still don’t regret deactivating it front of him, and allowing him to take the droid with him. That boy was brimming over with curiosity, and I needed a curious mind to delve into the mystery behind Mina’s murder. If I’m right...Annie, Reiner and Bertholdt all met that boy, who no doubt thought it wise to unveil the footage to them. If my assumption is right, then all three of them are bound to come here for support in spreading the footage across Inkari, so our people can finally know what happened.”
Pieck spoke up, adding, “Haston and I intend to aid the Officers, and whoever may be accompanying them to our Tower, in spreading the video across Inkari. In order to buy them time, and to distract Datenshi, we intend to fully lower the planetary shield. The populace and Datenshi will be left in an uproar as they look to the skies for a Rebel attack that’ll never happen.”
“As you all know, Datenshi will send his forces here to confront us for what will clearly be an act of treason against him. Before that happens, Pieck and I need you all to take your blasters with you, and quietly disperse into the crowds before the Moff attempts to interrogate any of you.”
Before Haston or Pieck could continue speaking, one of the female Aides shouted, “We won’t abandon either of you, sir! You and Pieck have fought for us for so long, it’s only fitting that we lay our lives down to protect you against that bastard! He’ll die a violent death before he can so much as aim at you!”
“I’ll gladly lay down my life before I see anybody harm you!” Daz screamed violently, and at that, the entire Security Department, including the previously meek door guards, joined in the shouting, transformed into a crowd of inflamed men and women enraged at the thought of the snakelike Moff hurting their beloved superiors.
“W-wait!” Haston choked out, feeling his eyes well up with tears and seeing Pieck react likewise. “Please, don’t...don’t throw away your lives…”
“ GET AWAY FROM MY SON, YOU SEPARATIST SCUM! ”
His mother’s vicious warcry before throwing herself in the path of enemy fire for her child’s sake threatened to bring Haston Uttaka to his knees, as his subordinates’ furious chants reminded him of her selfless but tragic sacrifice.
“P-please, we don’t want you all to die for our sakes!” Pieck pleaded, starting to weep as the Security Department continued to rant.
“ Wait! ” Haston shouted desperately, and finally, the others calmed down enough to listen, despite the rage emanating from them all.
“It means the world to both me and Pieck that you all have no qualms laying down your lives for our sakes, but please, I’m begging you, live on! If any of you die at the hand of the Moff and his followers, the loss would kill me!”
“But sir,” somebody said back, “how will you and Assistant Pieck survive against the Moff and his forces?”
Pieck and Haston glanced at each other and nodded in unison, both of them mutually understanding that it was time to unveil their full plan.
“My dears, there are far more subtle reasons why Pieck and I continually took monthly excursions to other worlds up until now. Those vacations weren’t solely for research; on our time off, both she and I have been preparing ourselves, training ourselves for this very battle. I assure you, Pieck and I are now dangerously and fully capable of handling whatever the Moff throws at us, be it one Stormtrooper or his entire entourage.”
The Security Department listened raptly at his cryptic revelation, and Pieck added, “The best part is that Datenshi fully believes that Haston and I are sitting ducks, incapable of defending ourselves. He still doesn’t know that we equipped all of you with your blasters, in case he ever tried to intimidate our Department with a threat of lethal force. Similarly, the two of us have equipped ourselves with weapons of self-defense, weapons that will enable us to strike our enemies down swiftly and perfectly.”
“So please, my people,” Haston pleaded, “don’t fear for us. Pieck and I will live to fight another day, as will all of you.”
Daz softly asked them, “Then...sir...Miss Pieck...is this goodbye?”
Haston sorrowfully answered, “I’m afraid so, my fellows. Once the Moff finds out that we’ve finally turned on him, Pieck and I will have no choice but to flee Inkari and disappear. The Empire itself will try to hunt us down once the higher ups realize what we’ve instigated here, and the only way to avoid that is for us to go into hiding until the dust settles.”
At that, the rest of their room bowed their heads in silent grief. The painful reality of separation had drawn gradually closer ever since the awful day they had discovered the footage of Mina Carolina’s murder, and the necessary plan they all had to plot to undermine the Moff’s authority. Even then, the necessity of saying goodbye indefinitely was heartbreaking for the entire Security Department.
“It has been an honor, serving alongside you all, and working to finally destroy Datenshi’s poisonous grip on Inkari and our people. The moment has come for us all to do our part and aid Annie Leonhardt in achieving justice for Mina and for the countless others that Datenshi has slaughtered in his rule. Please, take those blasters with you and calmly depart from here, and know that this day belongs to the many vindicators working to free Inkari from her selfish ruler.”
The Department saluted their leaders, and each individual took their blasters from the secret compartments within their working spaces, tense and ready to fight. Before they left, each Aide and guardsman personally said goodbye to Haston and Pieck, wiping away tears but knowing fully that for them all, victory was soon to be obtained. They left in steady streams, doing their best to hide their blasters and avoid raising suspicions from the people and soldiers milling about the streets.
“Good luck to you both,” Daz said, the last person to leave. “And may the Force be with you.”
“And with you as well, Daz,” Pieck and Haston lovingly replied. “Always.”
They watched Daz leave, and at last, they were alone. Haston turned to the main terminal, the computer controlling each shield generator across Inkari, and breathed deeply as he prepared to openly defy the Moff. Pieck gripped his hand tightly, and he squeezed it gratefully, glad to have her by his side in the anxious moment.
“Are you ready, Pieck?” he asked her, his free hand typing in his personal code for deactivating the shield, leaving only the confirmation command to be executed.
“Yes, Haston,” she answered firmly, her dark eyes glinting with a hard edge of steel. “Let that bastard send as many of his Stormtroopers as he pleases; it’ll make no difference. Both of us are more than ready to destroy our opponents, and rip this planet out of the Empire’s corrupt hand.”
“Then my dear, let’s begin.”
He activated the confirmation command, and all around them, a baleful hum could be heard as Inkari’s planetary shield rapidly collapsed, leaving shouts of fright and alarm from the populace in its wake.
Chapter 8: Sleeper Agent
Annie and her friends stood frozen in place as they watched Inkari’s crimson planetary shield slowly collapse, sending the populace into a frenzied panic. All around them, the Inkarin shouted in alarm and pointed at the sky, unable to understand why the shield had been completely dissolved for the first time since its creation.
Bertholdt told them, “The only person who has the ability and authority to remove the shield is Haston. But why did he shut it down so suddenly? What purpose could he have for doing this now, when our people are already filled with tension thanks to the battle happening at Endor?”
“That must be why, Bert,” Reiner answered. “Haston...he’s deliberately drawing attention to the skies, and away from the ground. Everybody else is going to be expecting an armada of some sort to emerge out of hyperspace near our planet. Thanks to that, we’ll be able to move about further unnoticed.”
“Does that mean Haston knows what we’re doing?” Annie inquired, unnerved at the sudden change. “Is he somehow aware that I made it back?”
“Possibly,” Armin muttered. “There’s a chance that he acted all sorrowful at the ‘news’ of your loss in order to confuse the Moff, if the Chief suspected that Datenshi and his forces are tapping into his communication links.”
“There’s no way Datenshi approved Haston lowering the shield completely. If anything, that bastard will probably confront him, and…”
“We need to get to the Security Tower, quickly!” Annie told them, her hand darting nervously to the blaster located on her hip. “Haston just put himself and the rest of the Department in danger! There’s no way the Moff will sit around and tolerate what’s happened!”
“Shit, we better run then!” Connie snarled, and with that, the group dashed as fast as they could towards the Tower, doing their best to weave between the clusters of Inkarin gawking anxiously up at the rapidly blackening sky.
“I haven’t seen a storm on Inkari in ages,” Annie silently mused as they ran. “And this one’s the nastiest one yet! It looks almost like a planet-wide superstorm!”
The sky was teeming with baleful storm clouds, and a rumble of thunder resounded in the distance, echoing across Gintomi City. A thunderstorm was on the horizon, unnaturally massive and spreading quickly.
All around them, the crowds faded away as they neared the Security Tower, located in Gintomi’s secluded northwestern section. The Tower finally loomed up ahead, without a single citizen anywhere in sight.
A sickly sweet stench was in the air, rapidly growing stronger as they neared the Tower, and Connie gagged as he hissed, “It stinks of scorched flesh!”
“Shit, what happened?!”
They bolted closer to the Tower, and shuddered at the sight of a Stormtrooper’s arm sticking out of the entrance door, caught between the doorway and limp. The two guardsmen were nowhere in sight, and the usual sound of the Aides busily moving about the terminals was absent. The silence was deadly deafening.
“What happened here?” Reiner asked, and he gripped at the door, desperately trying to force it open.
It wouldn’t budge, and it took the combined efforts of all three Inkarin Officers to yank it open. When they did, they saw the corpses of more than a dozen Stormtroopers scattered around the entrance, many of them missing their arms, the wounds and dismembered limbs cauterized by an intense heat. The damage couldn’t possibly have been caused by blaster work.
“Haston, Pieck!” Annie desperately shouted as the group stepped carefully over the slaughtered Stormtroopers and went further in. “Where are you?!”
“ It’s ok, Annie, ” they finally heard that soothing, deep voice utter at the middle of the main room. “ We’re safe. ”
The five of them dashed forward, and gasped at the sight of the individuals before them.
Haston and Pieck stood straight and proud, covered in sweat, breathing hard but otherwise unharmed, azure and emerald lightsabers clutched in their respective grasps. In his free hand, Haston held a hologram recorder disk, and it looked like he had only then finished saving his message.
“Welcome, all of you, to Inkari’s Security Department, now finally liberated from Sebastian Datenshi’s disgusting grip,” Haston Uttaka boldly declared, deactivating his lightsaber, with Pieck quickly following suit.
Annie struggled to find words, both relief at her allies’ safety and confusion at the revelation before her filling her heart with conflicting emotions. At last, she understood why Pieck and Haston had been so alarmed by the supernatural nature of her recurring dream, and the basis of his knowledge on Force-inspired visions. Since the start of their employment in the Security Department, Inkari had been unknowingly harboring two Jedi, without the truth ever dawning on anybody.
“I...I don’t understand!” Annie stuttered out. “What happened? Why...do you two have lightsabers? When did you get those lightsabers?! How the hell did you manage to stay here undetected, after all these years?”
Pieck smiled shyly and told her, “We both feel bad for deceiving you and everybody else, Annie, but for the sake of avoiding our true identities coming to light, we had to keep the truth hidden. You know what the Empire did to the Republic’s Jedi when the Emperor first rose to power. Both Palpatine and Datenshi would’ve dealt with us cruelly if they had learned what we are.”
“And you see, my dear,” Haston added with a cunning smirk, “those various offworld vacations that Pieck and I have taken were secretly for the purpose of refining our combat abilities, with these lightsabers that I obtained many years ago, from my past in the Republic, and for Pieck, from the clutches of the blasphemous black market.”
“Then, you are Jedi?!” Connie asked, nervous but excited to see an echo of the galaxy’s old heroes.
“In truth, Mr. Springer, Pieck and I are
Jedi,” Haston answered calmly. “The Jedi Order was brutally destroyed almost a quarter of a century ago, and with it, the Knighting process. While we do adhere to the old tenants, we have never been able to openly declare ourselves as Jedi. Had we attempted to, we would’ve written our own death sentences.”
Connie gazed at him warily, and asked, “Wait...how do you know my name?”
Haston smiled at him, and told him, “Because of the Force, my boy. And because it was I who sent that droid into your path a year ago.”
Reiner, Bert and Annie gawked at him, knowing that Haston was openly admitting an incredibly treasonous action. Ever since they had seen the footage of Mina’s murder, they couldn’t see how Connie could’ve randomly acquired the video and droid during his espionage mission, even if the droid in question had merely collapsed at his feet. Even then, none of them had suspected that Haston would’ve been bold enough to subtly betray the Empire in such a way.
“Now I see,” Armin said softly. “You wanted an outside party to learn about Mina’s death, in the hope that doing so would eventually lead to your own people learning the awful truth.”
“Yes, Armin,” Haston affirmed, provoking a shudder from the boy at the unforeseen knowledge of his name. “Me and my fellows discovered the true nature of Mina’s death soon after she was murdered, and we knew that if we attempted to alert our people to the truth while Datenshi was watching us closely, our attempt would’ve been met with further tragedies. I’ve reason to suspect that our Moff has wiretapped some looser areas of our communication network, which is why I opted for subtly sending the footage offplanet.”
“But why me?” Connie asked, sounding weary and grim. “Why did you choose me?”
“Because you were readily available, my boy, and because Datenshi never suspected that the lone rebel pilot who visited us and departed so quickly could’ve learned the truth. You were a loophole in his foresight that the Moff never saw coming, and I can’t thank you enough for helping our Officers learn the truth, no matter how painful it was for them.”
Annie gently clasped her and with Connie’s and he gratefully squeezed hers in response, both of them painfully remembering the horrible moment when he had helped her realize that Mina’s death had been an insidious conspiracy. All of the pieces of the puzzle were finally falling into place.
“Please, all of you, believe me when I tell you that I desperately wanted to put the truth out there,” Haston pleaded. “But for the safety of the people serving under me, I couldn’t. Datenshi would’ve had the authority and power to slaughter us all, and cover it up with another official lie. I had to pull this gambit and sow the seeds of discord against his rule without him becoming aware of my treachery, trusting in the will of the Force to take care of the rest. And I can safely say that the Force has accomplished what the Empire thought impossible: the avenue for Inkari’s revolt has been fully prepared, and all that’s left is for you all to spread that footage across this planet’s HoloNet. ”
Connie gulped nervously and withdrew the droid’s memory core from his pocket, eliciting gleams of delight in the eyes of the Jedi sleeper agents before them. He breathed deeply, knowing that he held the key to Datenshi’s doom in his hand.
“Before anything else happens, please, let me ask you this,” Connie said warily, and everybody glanced at him as he spoke. “Do you know a man named Grisha Yeager?”
Armin went pale at the recognition of what his friend meant, and said to Haston, “You do look too much like Eren’s dad, sir. In fact, you’re his spitting image!”
Pieck gave her superior a questioning look, and he nodded gravely at her, turning to face the soldiers with a somber expression.
“Of course I know him, my friends,” Haston answered quietly. “ Grisha Yeager is my father. ”
The five soldiers drew a collective sharp breath as Haston spoke solemnly.
“Haston Uttaka is not my real name, you all must understand. It is the alias I took after the Great Jedi Purge began, and the identity I took when I offered myself as this planet’s next Chief of Security. I am Zeke Yeager, the only child of Grisha Yeager and his first wife, Dina Fritz, whom he married after his love for her earned his exile from the Jedi Order.
They settled on Corellia, her homeworld, and when I was merely five years of age, I was given to the Jedi Order on Coruscant. It was there that I was essentially adopted and raised by none other than the Grand Jedi Librarian Jocasta Nu, my foster-mother who instilled my love of knowledge and truth, and the person who has inspired me to continue fighting against the corrupt will of Emperor Palpatine, no matter how bleak the chances may seem.
While I was offworld on Dantooine, searching for my missing father on his original homeworld, my Master sent a hologram message warning me and anybody else who could flee to stay away from Coruscant and ignore any false messages pleading for us to return; she saved my life with that message. It was her murder, and the genocide of my colleagues on Coruscant that led to me going undercover all these years under a different identity. All these years, I’ve waited earnestly for my opportunity to throw the Empire into disarray, and at this moment, when the Empire is so desperately focused on conquering the Rebel Alliance at Endor, my chance to strike has arisen. I will rip this planet out of Palpatine’s grasp, and watch with glee as this Empire finally collapses!”
Pieck sorrowfully added, “I was a Force-sensitive child he found during a short visit to Corellia, his deceased mother’s homeworld. He rescued me before the Empire could discover my existence, and raised me here as his daughter and eventual Security Assistant. I’ve assisted Zeke in his dangerous but necessary secret missions as best I can, out of love and loyalty to him.”
The five soldiers stood in silent awe at the revelation of the Jedis’ heartbreaking but inspiring backgrounds. Zeke’s iron will and eternal devotion to his foster-mother had evidently been his main motivator to wait for the golden opportunity to avenge the Jedi Order, and the woman who had given him his morality.
“Mina, those factory workers, Alderaan, Master Nu, the Order...they all deserved better,” Zeke wearily said, on the verge of tears. “I’ve stayed in the shadows, feeling powerless to stop the Empire from brutalizing these innocents, while I remained quiet for fear of being discovered. But no more. ”
He turned to Annie and offered her the hologram recorder, telling her, “Now, you might understand, Annie, why I was so unnerved at the mention of those green eyes haunting you in your dream. The Force has given me countless visions of my half-brother, whom I’ve been desperate to find and shelter before tragedy takes him like it did our mothers. I recognized that the Force itself is leading Eren here, by means of his mutual dream of you, and the bond between you two now. While Pieck and I must leave this planet permanently before Datenshi or Coruscant becomes fully aware of what we intend to unleash, I’ve left my half-brother a vital message for him on this recorder. Please, give this to him when the dust settles. It means everything to me that he learns who I am, and that he isn’t alone.”
Annie humbly took the recorder and carefully pocketed it, knowing that Eren would never see this revelation coming.
“All this time, Eren never knew that he has a half-brother desperately looking for him, to unite with him against the Empire. That’s amazing, but what about Grisha Yeager, their father? From the sound of it, he abandoned both Zeke and Eren at various points. Why would he do something so cowardly? I wouldn’t judge either of his sons for blaming him for the loss of their mothers.”
Zeke then turned to the two members of Rose Squadron, telling them, “Now, the rest falls to you two. I’ve granted you full access to the Master Terminal behind me, which has complete access to every single Security Droid under our disposal, along with Inkari’s HoloNet. I’ve sent Datenshi a command to meet me at a small, out of the way plaza on the outskirts of Gintomi City, where I’ll send Annie in my place. Have some of the Droids follow her, and make sure that when she confronts Datenshi, broadcast the treachery he’ll foolishly reveal in their confrontation to the planet. And when the time is right, upload the footage of Mina’s murder to the main outlet you’ll see on the Terminal. The computer will enable you to spread the video across every single HoloNet screen dotting Inkari, and after that, the rest is up to our people.”
Connie and Armin gravely nodded, knowing that they were about to be the harbingers of chaos on Inkari. Annie grinned savagely, aching to punish Sebastian Datenshi for what he had done to her best friend, and to their people by lying for so long.
“Annie, my dear,” Zeke said tenderly as he and Pieck stepped up to her, “you have been so strong throughout all of this. I admire your tenacity, and refusal to let yourself be paralyzed with horror after what you’ve learned. Nonetheless, I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you sooner.”
“I don’t blame you, Zeke,” she told him firmly. “If you had, I would’ve been treated as a madwoman, and gunned down shortly afterwards. It wasn’t the right time back then, but now, our moment has come. I’m going to avenge Mina at last!”
“Just be careful, Annie,” he pleaded. “Because as you know, the Moff will be surrounded by more Stormtroopers, and will not hesitate to pull a cowardly move against you.”
“Oh, I know,” she answered, sneering at the thought of Datenshi trying to silence her. “But I’ll be more than ready.”
“So be it.”
He and Pieck headed for the entrance, covering their faces with hoods, and pocketing their lightsabers deep within their robes. They turned to speak one last time, looking exhausted but hopeful.
“Good luck to you all. Trust in the Force to ensure that justice is done, and tread carefully. Know that you will be remembered as the heroes who freed Inkari from the Empire’s lies, and take that honor seriously. We go now to Dantooine, to meet with Eren after he receives my message, and to look for our father, to determine whether or not he’s still alive. Farewell.”
With that, Zeke Yeager and his apprentice Pieck disappeared into the night, heading for the hangar where their small ship waited to take them far away from the ensuing chaos. Annie breathed hard and turned to address her friends for what she knew would likely be the last time.
“This is where it all begins,” she told them, eyeing each one of the guys closely. “This is where we light the fuse that’ll turn into an explosion of anger among our people. And...this is where I need to say goodbye myself. I fully expect to die for facing Datenshi alone, and that’s ok with me. I don’t mind being martyred when it means being reunited with Mina, wherever she is.”
Her fellows bit their lips hard, trying to fight back their tears, and each one of them went forward to hold Annie in a tight, desperate group embrace, all aching to deny her loss that they knew would inevitably come. She gently returned the embrace, smiling up at them and grateful to have stalwart allies in the plan that was about to unfold.
“Thank you, all of you, for being there for me after I learned what happened to Mina. Your support kept me from collapsing forever. Don’t be afraid for me, and know that whatever comes next, we’re freeing this planet from the Empire’s rule, forever. I trust you all to fulfill the roles set before you, and...I know that it’ll all work out, no matter what.”
Annie walked towards the exit, knowing exactly where Zeke needed her to go, her nerves filled with steel as she prepared herself to face her best friend’s murderer. At the doorway, she turned one last time to beam at them all.
The four boys waved at her mournfully, and she waved back for the last time, heading out of the Tower and walking briskly towards the quiet plaza.
At the meeting spot, a plaza where three alleyways winding between Inkari’s silver towers exited at a massive but empty space near the southern edge of Gintomi, Annie waited tersely for the Moff and his forces to arrive. She saw that Connie and Armin had already programmed a handful of circular, black Security Droids to focus on her, floating around the plaza and staring at her like lidless, all-seeing eyes.
“Come out of your hiding place already, you cowardly snake!”
Only a few minutes later, she heard the sound of a small crowd coming towards her, and Annie withdrew her blaster, preparing it for the incoming fight and ready to get her revenge at last. Out of the leftmost alley, Moff Sebastian Datenshi emerged in the midst of the rest of his Stormtrooper entourage, fuming and anxious.
The Stormtroopers fanned out around him, momentarily ignoring Annie in her gray Imperial Officer uniform as they scanned the area for Zeke Yeager, who was already long gone with Pieck by his side. Datenshi’s gaze landed on her, and he froze with alarm when he recognized her.
“Officer Leonhardt, you’re supposed to be dead!” he shouted, and his Stormtroopers all turned to look at him, cocking their heads in confusion.
“I’m afraid not, Datenshi,” she answered coldly, smirking with satisfaction at knowing that he had fallen for Zeke’s trap. “Your Chief of Security knew that you were listening in on his talk with Reiner, and covered up my return accordingly.”
“That traitor will pay for his treason!” Datenshi shrieked, his eyes bulging out of their sockets with fury and terror. “What is the meaning of all this?!”
“It’s simple, you scheming piece of shit,” Annie whispered sinisterly, and her enemies all went rigid as the malice in her voice washed over them. “ You’re about to pay for what you did to Mina Carolina. ”
Chapter 9: A Mother's Grief
The Moff and his entourage gawked at her as Annie stood before them, the female Officer aware that the security drones staring at her and her enemy were relegating the scene to the rest of Inkari. Connie and Armin had already programmed the silent sentinels to observe Annie’s confrontation with Datenshi, and unleash the revelation upon the entire planet.
“You heard me, Datenshi,” Annie answered. “A year ago, you lured Mina Carolina to the outskirts of Gintomi, by destroying the ship factory there in a work of arson, and using one of the dying workers to deliver a plea to her. You deliberately used her goodwill to trick her to coming alone, where you surrounded her with your soldiers and killed her in cold blood. You slaughtered my best friend and countless innocents, and it’s time for you to pay the blood price.”
In the distance, Annie could no longer hear the anxious chatter of her fellow citizens. A baleful silence had fallen over the city, the only noise the wind billowing over the silver towers, and the distant echoes of her contemptful words. It had begun.
Datenshi laughed harshly, and told her, “You are rambling, Officer Leonhardt. I don’t know where you got into your precious little head that I killed Mina, when her death was clearly a tragic accident, as was the factory explosion. What reason would I, Inkari’s Moff, have to kill her?”
“What reason?” Annie repeated, mocking him and his desperate bluff, seeing beads of sweat forming on his brow. “You had every reason to. Mina refused to remain silent on the travesties of our Empire, and the abuse of power you’ve employed since coming here. For that, you murdered her!”
“You have nothing to prove this accusation!” he snapped back. “You are nothing more than a madwoman intent on undermining my rule on this planet!”
“No, Datenshi. I am a heartbroken vindicator who wants justice for the crimes you’ve committed. And if you really think that I came here without proof of what you did, then you are sorely mistaken.”
He and his squadron stood confused as they watched Annie turn to face the closet security droid. She steeled herself for the chaos that was certain to erupt, and uttered the command.
“ Do it. ”
A few tense moments later, a horrendous screeching sound resounded over Inkari as the HoloNet screens were rerouted to show the footage Connie had found. Annie stood silent and cold, feeling the old dread rising up in her, and seeing Datenshi’s face go pale.
The screeching transformed into the sound of the burning, crumbling factory, and a second later, Mina’s tense words upon finding the sight echoed everywhere. Annie turned to face the Moff again, and gave him a cruel grin filled with malice, sending violent shivers down his spine.
“You wanted proof, bastard? Now you have it. You forgot one important thing about our planet, Moff: not even you can evade the eyes that watch over this world, the eyes that see all in the night.”
Horrified shouting could be heard in the distance as the footage progressed unheeded, leading to Mina’s vicious final exchange with Datenshi. The crackle of the EMP rifles resounded, and a split second later, Mina’s agonized screams filled the atmosphere, quickly joined by the Inkarin watching the footage.
“ AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH! ”
All over Inkari, the crowds of Inkarin shrieked in terror and grief as they watched their most beloved daughter writhe in agony on the HoloNet screens. And then, Annie bit back painful tears as she heard her best friend wail her name once more.
“ ANNIE! ”
The Stormtroopers surrounding the Moff cowered in terror, quaking in their boots and looking up at the sky, shouting among themselves. Thanks to Connie and Armin, the entirety of Inkari now knew that they had murdered Mina Carolina, and every individual in the plaza knew that they were now on the planet’s deathwatch.
“Shit! SHIT! There was a drone watching us that whole time?!”
“This is impossible! How did nobody notice that there was a droid floating nearby?!”
“We’re all gonna get killed!”
Datenshi snapped at them, “Calm down, you idiots! There’s got to be a way out of this!”
“A way out?!” Annie screamed at him. “You have nowhere to run, DatenshI! This is where you die, along with all of your pathetic bodyguards! My people will slaughter you all for what you did, and there’s no safe place for you to hide here!”
Above their heads, the dark clouds had malformed into a full-blown superstorm, arc lightning flashing through the sky, and ominous thunder rattling the silver towers below.
And piercing above the entire agonized cacophony erupting throughout Inkari, carried high on the wind whistling through Gintomi, Annie was certain she could hear Hedasta Carolina screaming her heart out from the Senator’s Tower in the middle of the city.
“ MY BABY! HE MURDERED MY BABY! ”
Hedasta screamed and screamed in Officer Hoover’s arms, as the young soldier and every single person in her office wept bitter tears. The sound of her daughter’s dying screams threatened to make her pass out, and it was all Hedasta could do to stay on her feet.
“He lied to my face, to Annie as well, and acted like it was all an accident! This whole time, my daughter’s death was plotted by the Emperor of all people! That monster silenced my daughter just so his total rule wouldn’t be threatened! I...no, Inkari ...we’ve been betrayed by our own leader!”
Commander Magath, the Inkari-native leader of the Imperial forces on their planet, stood in the corner of the office, still as a statue, tears streaming down his weathered face as he beheld his Senator crying from the bottom of her soul. To their left, Officer Braun stood near her Tower’s Communication Terrace, the same platform that Mina had used so often to beg their people to decry the Empire’s cruelty. Officer Braun glanced outside, where the crowds of Inkarin screamed and sobbed as they processed the horrific revelation.
“Senator...I’m so sorry…” he muttered, breathing hard.
Hedasta couldn’t answer him, her grief choking her up and leaving her barely able to breathe. Reiner bit his lip, and exchanged a cautious look with Bertholdt, who was doing his best to not let their Senator collapse.
“It’s time,” Bert whispered to Reiner, and Hedasta raised her head to give the dark-haired soldier a wary look.
“T-time? For what?” she asked, gasping for air as she struggled to regain composure.
“Senator,” Reiner said to her softly, doing his best not to agitate her further, “I need your permission to use your Communicator to talk to our people.”
Hedasta looked him square in the eye and said to him, “I have a faint idea of what you’re planning, Officer Braun. You know how aggravated our people are, but I suppose that you want to use that to your advantage.”
“Are you...giving me your approval, Senator Carolina?”
“ Yes , Officer .” She turned in Bert’s loose embrace, and snarled at the bulkier soldier. “ Let it happen. Let our people wreak havoc upon the bastards who murdered my daughter. LET YOUR WORDS IGNITE THE FIRE OF REBELLION! ”
“And may ever last Imperial who supported my daughter’s murder become a splatter on these silver streets!”
Reiner gave her a grateful nod, and walked to the edge of the Terrace, where he could project his message to the entire grief-stricken planet through the ComLink attached to the balcony. Magath glanced at him, and back at his Senator, whose grief had turned into violent rage. Hedasta glared back at him, hoping for his sake that he wouldn’t say something to support the traitorous Emperor.
“What, Commander?” she snapped at him. “What do you have to say for your pathetic excuse of a Moff, and our ‘dearly beloved’ Emperor?”
Magath quaked under her iron gaze, and told her, “S-Senator, I have no interest in defending nor excusing what happened to your daughter! But...what Officer Braun’s about to do...surely you know…”
“Yes, Magath, I know. We are about to commit the greatest act of treason imaginable. But do you really think I give a damn? What loyalty should our people owe to the Emperor, when he had none to genuinely offer us from the beginning?”
He grimaced, and along with the Senator and Bert, he turned and listened silently as Reiner pleaded to their people.
“Citizens of Inkari, my people, my comrades! For far too long, we let ourselves believe that our status as a ship-building fortress within the Core Worlds would guarantee us favourable treatment from Coruscant, from the Emperor himself! But we were wrong. The blood, sweat and tears we’ve sacrificed for years did nothing to stop the Emperor himself from having our own Moff murder Mina Carolina, and the hundreds of factory workers slaughtered in the factory explosion that Datenshi created!
This is the moment, my people! This is the moment for us to revoke the Empire’s unworthy rule over our planet and our lives! With the Emperor himself stationed at Endor, and the rest of the galaxy so focused on the battle ensuing at this moment, nobody will be able to interfere with what we unleash here!
RISE, MY BRETHREN! RISE, AND AVENGE THE INNOCENTS THAT PALPATINE AND DATENSHI MURDERED FOR THEIR PATHETIC AMBITIONS! ”
With that, the hordes of Inkarin around the planet let out a collectively frightening war cry, and Reiner used the Terrace’s ComLink to issue a plea to his fellow soldiers.
“And to you, my fellow soldiers, I beg you, don’t stand silent! Our duty is to our people first and foremost, and we no longer have any reason to support the Emperor’s will! Let us rise and defend our fellow Inkarin as they march on the Moff and crush his rule forever! OPEN THE ARMORIES! ”
Around the city, and echoing harshly across the planet, the ominous screech of the armories becoming unlocked resounded everywhere, followed by the people shouting victoriously as Reiner’s comrades passed out weapons. He turned to Hedasta and grinned eagerly, a look that she shared.
“That bastard will be surrounded on all sides,” she coldly mused, sneering at the thought of her citizens blasting the Moff to pieces. “ Excellent. ”
Reiner nodded, and then pressed a communication device on his collar, saying swiftly, “It’s time.”
A minute later, a Corellian pilot ship came careening out of hyperspace, entering Inkari’s atmosphere and coming to a stop right next to the Terrace. The ship’s drop-bridge emerged, allowing a group of young soldiers fronted by a tall, tan woman to walk into the Tower. Reiner gave them all a stoic nod, and they nodded gravely back, turning to face Hedasta.
“What...what is the meaning of this?” she asked, looking up at Bert, who looked utterly sheepish.
“These are Annie’s allies, Rose Squadron,” he answered, and Hedasta gawked at the youngsters before her.
“Annie brought rebels to Inkari?!”
The leader walked up to her, and knelt before her, withdrawing a massive weapon from the sling on her back, and presenting it to the Senator with outstretched hands. Hedasta warily glanced at the young woman and the weapon, silently noting that it wasn’t a conventional blaster, but something entirely different.
“Senator Carolina, I come in peace, alongside these people under my wing,” the newcomer stated solemnly. “My name is Ymir, and I’m the captain of this ship, the Vindictive Empress . We are friends and allies of Officer Annie Leonhardt, and we’ve come to help her ensure that justice is carried out against the scum who murdered your daughter. You have my deepest condolences for the living nightmare that you must be experiencing at this moment.”
Hedasta sobbed bitterly at those words, and asked Ymir, “What are you intending to do here?”
“To aid you , especially, in getting revenge on that snake,” Ymir answered, and she lifted the weapon towards Hedasta eagerly.
Magath shakily said, “That’s...that’s a Malastare flamethrower!”
“Right you are, sir!” Ymir affirmed, a cruel sneer contorting her features. “This is a weapon that gives its victims a painful, slow and debilitating death!”
She gave the Senator a knowing look, and Hedasta felt, for the first time in her life, a surge of bloodlust rise in her as she took the weapon into her hands. The Senator gazed at the weapon with wide eyes, already imagining how Datenshi’s screams would sound under the assault of its cruel flames. Ymir grinned maliciously, seeing the look of cold fury on Hedasta’s face, and rose to her feet, winking at Bert and Reiner in affirmation.
Hedasta turned to Magath, and snapped at him, “ Ready my transport, Commander. I will see to it myself that Datenshi pays for his crimes. ”
Chapter 10: Revolution
"Let them fly,
the rest is like a cup of tea!
I transform into energy,
with your mouth! ooo...ooo...
-Energy by Austra, 2nd Chorus
Datenshi screamed at Annie, “ YOU BITCH! You deliberately set this whole thing up!”
“I sure did, Datenshi,” Annie answered, cackling softly at his breakdown. “And I couldn’t have done it without the help of our dearly beloved Chief of Security, Haston Uttaka. He saw fit to plant the seeds of your downfall soon after you murdered Mina, and now, here we are!”
“I’ll find him after I execute you for treason and make him pay!” Datenshi snarled. “You are both traitors to the galaxy!”
“And you are a traitor to the Inkarin, along with the rest of your soldiers. It takes a traitor to know a traitor, Moff.”
“You’re dead, Leonhardt!”
The Moff and his men pointed their blasters at her, but Annie felt no fear. At last, she could lay down her arms and fulfill her deepest wish.
“I’m coming, Mina.”
Before anybody of her opponents could pull their triggers, blaster fire erupted from the leftmost alleyway, and a two of Datenshi’s Stormtroopers fell to the ground, screaming in agony. A horde of angry, armed Inkarin civilians flanked by uniformed Officers and even a few Stormtroopers flooded into the plaza, shooting viciously at the Moff and his entourage.
“ WHAT?! ” Datenshi shouted in alarm, as he and his troops desperately fired back into the crowd, striking down a few, but not enough to stop them from advancing.
“ FOR MINA! ” The enraged revolters shouted in unison as they pushed forward, surrounding the Moff’s entourage and preventing any of them from shooting at Annie.
“Protect Officer Leonhardt at all cost!” she heard somebody bellow, and Annie’s heart leapt within her.
“They all now know what Mina meant to me, don’t they? And now, they certainly must understand what I had to do to unveil the truth. We’re in this battle together, and it’s time to topple Datenshi’s undeserved rule!”
One of Datenshi’s Stormtroopers screamed “Traitors!” as he fired at the revolting Stormtroopers surrounding the armed citizens. In response, Annie heard one of the revolting Stormtroopers scream “ MURDERERS! ” as he returned the blaster fire. It was Stormtrooper against Stormtrooper, Officer against Officer.
Annie whipped out her own blaster and joined in the fray, landing cunning shots on a couple of Datenshi’s Stormtroopers who were preoccupied with the horde surrounding them. She could see Datenshi desperately looking for a way out of the area, and she kept her gaze focused on him, calculating the most convenient way to gun him down.
Out of the middle alleyway came a massive group of Imperial Loyalist reinforcements, snarling as they fired into the crowd of revolters. But no matter how many civilians, Officers or Stormtroopers that they killed, the crowd kept pushing forward, constantly refilled by even more furious Inkarin pouring into the plaza. The battle was clearly in Inkari’s favor.
In the chaos, Annie saw Datenshi bolt for the rightmost alleyway, attempting to abandon his troops and flee for his life. Annie sneered as she aimed her blaster and fired, landing a well-timed shot on his shoulder, wounding him and eliciting a shriek of pain as he limped away out of sight. She pushed through the crowd, shooting down whatever enemy she could to protect her people as she made her way towards the alleyway, determined to hunt the Moff down and get revenge at last.
She paused and turned around, seeing her fellow Officer Marcel Galliard, the eldest of the Galliard brothers running towards her through the throng, panting and desperate to speak with her. Annie glanced at him with impatience but pity, knowing that her well-meaning comrade only wanted to keep her safe in the raging battle surrounding them.
“What happened to you, Annie?!” Marcel asked, ducking with her as blaster bolts sailed overhead. “We all were told by Commander Magath that you had been given unauthorized permission to leave Inkari for ‘personal reasons’, and now, you suddenly have the proof to show that it was Moff Datenshi who killed Mina! Where did you go?!”
“So you aren’t surprised, huh?” Annie mused dryly. “I suppose it was a bit obvious from the beginning that the bastard knew more than he was letting on. But I can’t talk, Marcel. I’m not finished here yet, and it’s my duty to ensure that Datenshi dies today.”
Marcel reached out and gripped her arm, as he pleaded, “Please, Annie, be careful! You could die if you chase after him right now!”
“Oh, Marcel…” she answered pitily, “you’ve always had such a big heart. But this is exactly what I want. And...I’m sorry, but this is goodbye. Stay safe, Marcel.”
With that, she ripped her arm out of his grip, and bolted down the empty alleyway, hearing Marcel wail her name as the battle disappeared behind her.
Annie saw drops of Datenshi’s blood dotting the tight path, and knew that he had to be close. She gripped her blaster, focused on hunting down the Moff before he could escape the planet.
“This is it, the moment I’ve been craving since Connie showed me the footage. It’s time to avenge everybody who he’s harmed!”
She flew around the next corner of the alleyway, and the instant she turned the corner, a blaster bolt flew and hit her square in her abdomen. Annie collapsed to the ground in pain, the shock and agony leaving her reeling.
Datenshi stood a foot away, cackling and gloating over his successful surprise attack. He had evidently been betting on Annie chasing after him, choosing to lie in wait to ambush her. There was nobody else around to intervene, and Annie Leonhardt was now at the cruel Moff’s mercy.
“So much for your grand plan to overthrow me, Leonhardt!” he said gleefully, as Annie scowled up at him. “You’ve been aching to kill me, but now, you’ll die alone and in vain, just as your precious friend Mina died last year.”
Annie paused, and to his confusion, let out a harsh, cold laugh in response. The Moff had only scraped the surface of her plan, and was completely unaware of what was about to happen to him and the Imperial rule over Inkari. She raised her face and did her best to focus on him through the pain, her vision starting to blur.
“‘In vain’? Datenshi, you really know nothing after all. You honestly believe that Mina and I will have died in vain? Look around you and admit the reality before you! My people have unanimously rejected your supposed ownership of our world, and we all know now, thanks to your arrogant blunder, that Emperor Palpatine himself betrayed us! Our people no longer have any reason to give loyalty to the Empire, and after the dust settles here, I foresee them attacking Coruscant itself in revenge! Oh, and that reminds me…”
She chortled darkly and told him, “It’s all thanks to my new friends that I was able to pull any of this off, Datenshi. When I went off world, I encountered some lovely individuals who helped me understand the full extent of your treachery, and at this very moment, they’re here in Gintomi, helping the revolt unfold.”
Datenshi glared at her, and then gasped in horror, “You brought rebels to Inkari?!”
“I certainly did, Datenshi, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
He snarled at her and shouted, “You’re telling me this just to spite me, aren’t you?!”
“Obviously, you idiot,” she answered, sneering and amused, even in pain. “Consider it my last act of defiance against you and your rule over my homeworld. I owe neither you nor the Emperor any loyalty whatsoever, and I couldn’t care less if other Imperials remember me as a traitor. You scum showed my father no loyalty when Alderaan’s destruction broke him, and I blame you and the other top brass for his death! My loyalty is to Mina and Inkari alone; you’re undeserving of any fealty from me.”
“Silence, brat! You’re still going to die, and when I report your treachery to the Emperor, I’ll ensure myself that every last one of your people gets the proper punishment for abating the Rebel cause!”
Annie gawked at him with mock alarm, and softly asked him, “Moff...do you really think you’re going to live another day?”
“W-what?” he answered, shuddering at the soft malice in her voice.
“You really are blind after all. Yes, I’m going to die here, of that, there is no question. But you ? You, Datenshi, will die here as well. You’ve allowed your arrogance to blind you to the wrath stored against you, and the many people besides me now out for your blood.”
He went rigid with terror as the sound of an Inkarin air transport zooming towards them echoed nearby, and Annie leered up at him, knowing full well what was about to happen.
“Your fatal mistake here, Datenshi, was assuming that I’m the only Inkarin capable of killing you. Have you seriously forgotten your other most despised enemy?”
Before he could retaliate, Datenshi fell to the ground, gasping in pain as somebody shot a blaster bolt into his back, followed by numerous bolts to his limbs, rendering him immobile. He fell on his back, looking up in horror at the transport approaching them. Annie breathed hard, struggling to stay conscious, hearing the transport land behind Datenshi and two newcomers walking slowly towards them.
“ Now, Senator, ” she heard Ymir whisper sadistically, the captain’s breaths going ragged with bloodlust, “ let-him-BURN! ”
Sure enough, there stood Senator Hedasta Carolina, clothed in her Senatorial robe, and wielding what could only be a Malastare Flamethrower, looking like a frightening angel of death ready to reap Datenshi’s soul. Hedasta pointed the barrel of the weapon directly at Datenshi’s chest, standing away so that the flames wouldn’t catch her, but close enough to instantly incinerate him. The Moff squirmed helplessly on the ground, and tried to make one last plea for his life.
“W-wait! I can explain-”
But Hedasta had no mercy to offer him, because he had showed her daughter none.
She pulled the trigger, and at once, flames erupted out of the barrel and consumed Datenshi, wrapping around his body like an infernal coffin. He shrieked in agony as Hedasta glared down at him with a look of sheer rage, tears still streaming down her face after what she had learned. The fire lit up her face and Ymir’s, contorting the captain’s malicious grin into a demonic expression.
A grueling minute passed of Hedasta continuously pouring flames over Datenshi, before the wretched Moff ceased moving. He had become a morbidly perfect doppelganger of the incinerated factory worker that he had used to lure Mina to her death. The irony was lost on none of the three women sneering at his corpse.
It was finished, after all of the plotting Annie had done with the members of Rose Squadron and Zeke Yeager. The man who had caused Inkari so much pain was now dead, no longer able to harm any more innocents. Mina Carolina and every other victim of his cruelty was now avenged, by the hand of none other than the Senator herself.
Hedasta turned her head towards Annie, and when she saw the Officer collapsed on the ground, a pool of blood forming around her from her abdominal wound, she placed the flamethrower in Ymir’s arms and bolted towards her in a panic. Ymir’s face fell when she realized what had happened to Annie; the look on her face transformed from malice to a vacant, stunned image of denial.
“Annie, what happened to you?!” Hedasta wailed, lifting her head off the ground and holding her hand, more sobs shaking her weary body.
“He got me, Hedasta,” Annie softly admitted, wincing as the pain worsened. “He predicted that I’d try to chase him down, and was lying in wait here, ready to gun me down. I walked right into it.”
“Oh, Annie…” Hedasta whispered heartbreakingly as she cradled the Officer’s broken body. Ymir could only stand and shudder, looking more and more ill as the seconds ticked by.
Annie grimaced and asked Hedasta, “Did...it work?”
“Annie,” Hedasta assured her, managing to beam at her through her tears, “you were wonderful. Thanks to you, we all know now that the Emperor was ultimately behind the tragedies that happened here. Now, we know that we can no longer act as loyal servants of the Empire, when we were never shown true loyalty. You set us free, Annie, and there’s no amount of gratitude sufficient to give you for what you’ve done here.”
“I had to, Hedasta,” Annie whispered. “After seeing that horrific video footage, I had to make that bastard pay. What he did was disgusting, and I still can’t forget the sound of Mina screaming my name as her last word. It was my duty to make justice happen, but I couldn’t have done it without you, and all the other allies I garnered.”
“Allies…” Hedasta murmured, and raised her head sharply, looking behind Annie as they heard two pairs of footsteps rapidly approaching.
Hedasta then bit her lip knowingly, and asked Annie, “Annie...these boys are your allies too, aren’t they?”
“Oh, no…” she heard Connie wail, and then, Eren saw her laying in her blood.
“ ANNIE! ”
Her head snapped back as his horror and grief coursed through her, causing a fresh wave of sobbing to wrack her body. Eren’s empathetic bond with Annie threatened to overwhelm her.
“What happened?!” Eren screamed at them as he collapsed to his knees next to Annie, grief-stricken and broken at the sight before him.
“Child,” Hedasta answered him sadly, “the Moff ambushed her, before either me or Ymir arrived here. I’m so sorry.”
Eren snarled, and was about to attack Datenshi’s corpse when Annie softly told him, “He’s dead, Eren. Hedasta took care of him.”
Ymir shuddered, and bolted for the transport, provoking a furious look from Eren. Annie watched her sadly, knowing why the captain was choosing to flee the scene. The faintest memory of Ymir’s breakdown onboard the Vindictive Empress came to her mind as Eren yelled at her.
“Ymir, where are you going?!”
She whirled around, and Eren gasped as he saw the panic attack overwhelming her, her body heaving with the intensity of her grief. Instead of Annie lying motionless on the ground, all she could see was her lover Christa in her place.
“I...I can’t!” Ymir screamed, and Annie nodded at her painfully, signaling her approval.
The transport zoomed towards the center of the city and the main area of the battle, leaving the others to kneel around Annie. She was surrounded only by those who loved her, with even Datenshi’s cruelest remarks fading out of mind. Despite her pain and knowing that her time was short, the victorious Officer was at peace.
“This is it for me,” Annie said quietly, glancing at her comrades with love. “But not the end for Inkari, nor for any of you. My mission is complete, but yours have only begun.”
“Hedasta,” Annie said to her Senator, “lead our people to victory. Our battle against the Emperor’s treachery has only begun. Now that the Moff is out of your way, you are the leader of our people now, and I highly doubt that Commander Magath is even interested in contesting that. You know what to do. Use our power to inspire the other Core Worlds to rebel likewise, and the Empire will crumble.”
“Yes, Annie,” Hedasta said, bowing her head solemnly. “It will be my pleasure to punish the Emperor for what he’s done to my people…and to my daughter.”
Annie nodded gratefully, and then turned to Connie, giving her surrogate little brother a sad, gentle smile. Connie bit his lip hard, trying in vain to stop his tears from flowing.
“Connie, I don’t ever want you to blame yourself for what happened to me. For whatever incomprehensible reasons there are, you were meant to show me that footage, to ignite the fire of rebellion in my heart. It’s not your fault that seeing Mina die broke my heart; please don’t ever forget that. Remember that you refused to leave my side when you saw how broken I was; your compassion for others would make you a wonderful diplomat, and I want you to use this gift of yours to the fullest in the battles to come.”
Connie sniffled and mumbled, “I will.”
Annie then turned to Eren, who was now sobbing his eyes out at the knowledge that they were about to part ways. They locked eyes for a long moment before Annie spoke.
“Eren. Our meeting the way we did was no mere coincidence. You and I were meant to cross over into each other’s lives, to lead each other towards a vital truth. By finally seeing you face to face after that dream, you led me to the truth about Mina’s death. And now, it’s time for me to lead you towards your truth.”
She nodded at Connie, and he bent forward, reaching into her pocket and withdrawing the hologram recorder that Zeke Yeager had left them. Connie gave it to Eren, who took it warily, giving them all a questioning look.
“Our Chief of Security, Haston Uttaka, turned out to be even more mysterious than my people believed,” Annie explained. “Before he fled Inkari, he left me with this disc, with a message meant specifically for you. Haston knows vital information about your father, and wants to help you find him, if your father is still alive.”
“H-how?” Eren shakily asked her. “How could he know about my Dad?!”
“All will be clear after you’ve played the message, I assure you.”
Annie shuddered violently as the harshest wave of pain washed over her, and she knew that her time was imminent. The others bent over her worriedly, and she did her best to comfort them in her last moments.
“This is what I wanted, everyone,” she said to them all. “I...can be with her again. I…”
Her vision went foggy, and Annie’s surroundings faded away, Hedasta, Connie and Eren gradually disappearing from sight. Annie gazed upwards, undeniably anxious as she waited for the unknown to come.
At the end of her vision, a speck of golden light appeared, rushing towards her and rapidly growing in size. As it approached, Annie felt a final spark of life in her body The wall of light filled her entire sight, and Annie gasped in recognition of the newcomer waiting in its midst.
Mina floated towards her, once again robed in white and beaming endlessly. Annie wept again, but this time, out of the sheer joy of seeing her best friend again. A genuine, wide grin lit up the Officer’s face as she reached out desperately with her hand, aching to clasp hands with Mina at last.
“ Mina! ” Annie joyfully exclaimed, feeling the last traces of her pain and despair fading away as Mina drew close, her golden aura filling Annie’s sight.
“Come, Annie,” Mina gently said to her, grasping her hand firmly and pulling upwards. Annie felt herself leave her broken body behind as Mina led her away.
They left together, hand in hand, the two martyrs of Inkari departing for the otherside, no longer burdened by any agony and eager to see what awaited them beyond.
Chapter 11: Victory
Hedasta, Connie and Eren watched the light leave Annie’s eyes, her overjoyed smile at seeing Mina etched into eternity. They sobbed over her body, trying to process her death and her apparent death vision, Inkari’s lightning storm raging over their heads as the sounds of the battle echoed in the distance.
“I’ve never seen her this happy!” Hedasta told them, her breathing ragged as she gently closed Annie’s eyes.
Connie wiped away at his eyes and told them, “We need to get her to a safe location until this battle ends.”
“Yes, you’re right,” Hedasta answered, lifting Annie’s body as she stood. “Let’s return to my Tower until things calm down.”
The Senator proceeded back down the alleyway, towards the plaza where the three paths met. Connie and Eren walked behind her, weeping as they silently processed Annie’s passing. While they knew that she had ultimately passed in peace, the two boys still couldn’t help but mourn the loss of the most determined girl they had ever known.
“This is what she wanted? To die after ensuring that she had carried out justice here on Inkari? I had no idea...I had no idea that she lost the will to live after seeing that video…”
Eren clutched at the hologram recorder in his pocket, anxious to play it and hear what Inkari’s mysterious Chief of Security had to offer him regarding his missing father. It made little sense to him, how this man had gained any information on Grisha Yeager, when Eren’s father had been missing for 10 years.
“Whoever this ‘Uttaka’ person is, he must’ve been incredibly cunning, in order to know whatever he does about Dad. It amazes me, how far he went to undermine that bastard’s authority, and remain undetected the entire time. That’s insane.”
At the plaza, the Loyalist reinforcements had all been blasted to death, lying in bloody heaps over the area. The survivors stood in groups, panting madly and flooded with a collective rush of adrenaline. One of the fighters, a young man with swept back brown hair in an Imperial Officer uniform, saw Hedasta coming with Annie’s body in her arms, and let out a heartbroken scream at the sight.
“ ANNIE, NO! ”
He crumpled to the ground and sobbed in horror, and when the other fighters saw that Annie was dead, they wept likewise. Another young Officer with bleach-blonde hair, likely the brown-haired boy’s brother, grit his teeth, shed a few angry tears and lifted the weeping boy to his feet, saying, “C’mon Marcel, Annie wouldn’t want us to drown in our grief.”
Hedasta told them somberly, “My comrades, Datenshi ambushed Annie when she tried to chase after him down that alleyway. But don’t worry about that snake; I ensured with my own hands that he died a painful death. Please, gather our wounded and deceased. We need to get them to safety.”
She turned to the other Officer and told him, “Officer Porco Galliard, please relegate this to the others.”
He pressed the ComLink on his collar, and announced, “Officer Annie Leonhardt has fallen. She was ambushed by the traitor Datenshi, who was summarily killed by Senator Carolina. Do not let Officer Leonhardt’s sacrifice be in vain!”
A minute later, a vicious warcry resounded over Inkari as the planet’s people learned of Annie’s untimely passing. The sounds of fighting intensified, as the Inkarin’s rage was fueled even further by the loss of their beloved vindicator. Porco smiled coldly, knowing full well that he had helped seal the Loyalists’ fates.
The fighters gathered the wounded and deceased into the arms and filed behind the trio, murmuring in alarm at the sight of two outsiders standing with their Senator. As they sorrowfully touched Annie’s head, the two Galliard brothers stood behind Eren and Connie, looking at the two of them warily.
“Who are you?” Marcel cautiously asked as the group proceeded to march towards the center of Gintomi City.
“Friends of Annie,” Eren answered simply, earning a cocked eyebrow from Porco, who wasn’t fooled.
“You’re both Rebels, aren’t you?” he said wryly, and Connie nodded sheepishly.
“So be it. I don’t have the patience to give a damn, and I don’t think anybody else here does either. I suppose we’re allies, at least for now.”
“I suppose so,” Connie muttered shyly.
Hedasta lead them all back into the center of Gintomi, where the fighting was beginning to die down. All around them were corpses of the Imperials who had sided with Datenshi’s cruelty, evidently overwhelmed by the hordes of armed citizens and their allies. While there were civilian casualties, their losses paled in comparison to the scores of Loyalists slaughtered in the fighting.
Eren looked to the stormy skies and cried out in alarm, “They’re fleeing!”
The others looked above, and sure enough, numerous Imperial pilot ship were fleeing into the atmosphere, desperate to escape the wrath of the Inkarin below. But the enraged people below weren’t the only threat that the Loyalists had to face, for the lightning above reacted violently to the cowards trespassing in the skies.
One by one, the pilot ships were struck with blinding bolts of lightning, and sent careening back down to the ground, colliding with Gintomi’s silver towers and exploding on impact, to the joy of the fighters on the ground. Not a single Imperial ship was able to escape the planet, and it seemed that the sky itself had come to life to exact revenge on the traitors below.
At the far end of the city, a massive Star Destroyer rose off the ground, its engines beginning the priming process for the jump to hyperspace. The rest of the Loyalists had seemingly hijacked one of the planet’s ships from the shipyard on Gintomi’s outskirts, hoping to escape to the comfort of Coruscant.
But Inkari refused.
Numerous bolts of lighting harshly struck the surface of the Star Destroyer as it ascended, sending wreaths of electricity coursing over its surface. Still, the ship managed to float upwards as lightning continued to strike it, and they all saw its light-blue thrusters light up as it prepared to jump.
“Let them crash!” Eren silently fumed, furious at the notion of the cowardly Imperials getting away scotch free.
The Star Destroyer jumped, but even that proved to be futile. Thousands of miles away from Inkari’s atmosphere, a massive explosion erupted in space, and all over the planet, the revolters cheered at the sight of the last of the Loyalists perishing. At long last, they had overcome their traitors, and usurped control of their world.
Two hours later, after the revolting forces had performed a sweep of the entire planet to scour for the bodies of their fallen and then properly prepared them for burial, the Inkarin and Rose Squadron gathered at the Grand Inkarin Cemetery at Gintomi’s west side. The storm had disappeared by then, leaving a waking sunset in its wake, the sky gradually igniting with glorious shades of crimson and gold.
They carried the bodies in their silver caskets tenderly down the path to the burial grounds, as the civilians and rebelling soldiers watched on. As the bodies passed, the onlookers gently tossed soft-blue aonei flowers onto the caskets, adorning the fallen with one of the planet’s best known symbols for eternal peace. Many tears were shed as they counted the deceased, more innocents swept away in the Empire’s treachery.
At the end of the procession, the onlookers collectively sobbed at the sight of Officer Annie Leonhardt, still smiling peacefully, carried down the line by Officers Braun, Hoover, and the two Galliard brothers, all doing their best to remain composed. The onlookers tossed bundles of aonei into Annie’s casket, watching their beloved martyr pass by with forlorn eyes.
It was only fitting that they buried her next to Mina.
The sun shone brightly over Inkari’s skyline as the denizens gathered at the plaza below the Senator’s Terrace, somberly waiting for her to speak. Those who couldn’t fit into the massive crowd in Gintomi awaited their Senator’s speech around the HoloNet screens dotting Inkari’s smaller cities. In Hedasta’s office, the members of Rose Squadron conversated with the Senator and the Officers quietly.
“When I go out there, I fully intend to introduce you all to my people,” Hedasta informed them, looking each rebel in the eye carefully. “I want them to know about how you helped Annie find that footage, and by extension, help us learn the truth.”
“Won’t they hate seeing rebels next to their Senator, though?” Sasha innocently asked, and Commander Magath spoke up firmly.
“Don’t worry about that, ma’am. Our people know better than to even sneer at the people who helped Annie find the truth. I beg you, don’t be nervous out there. We’re all grateful for what you did, no matter how small you think your roles in this situation were.”
Hedasta turned to Connie, and told him, “Young man, I want you to tell my people everything that happened, especially how you came to find that footage. While we all know that the topic will break our hearts even further, we all need to know.”
“O-ok,” Connie stuttered in response, already blushing.
“I don’t think she knows that he’s the lone pilot who infiltrated Inkari last year…” Eren mused, knowing the connection would shock Hedasta’s people to the core.
He turned to the Officers, and gently asked them, “Are you guys ok?”
Reiner, Bert, Marcel and Porco had been unable to stop their tears from flowing once they had laid Annie next to Mina, and watched as the burial groundsmen had covered her forever. They tried and failed to smile at him through their tears, unable to deny how broken they were after losing their comrade and friend.
“There’s a good chance none of us will ever be fully ok after what we’ve learned,” Porco answered. “This whole time, that monster Datenshi lied to all of us about what he did to ensure Mina’s death. And nothing sickens me more than knowing that it was Emperor Palpatine himself who ordered her death.”
“I’ve known for a long time that he stops at nothing to silence dissenters, but Mina? Mina never deserved what happened to her! All she did was point out how wrong Tarkin was to destroy Alderaan, and how the Empire has morally fallen in how it’s handled its citizens’ complaints,” Marcel said.
“Annie’s father was right in the end,” Reiner mumbled bitterly, “the Empire isn’t at all loyal to the people it rules over. We thought that our status as a ship-building world like Corellia would spare us from any mistreatment, but we were so, so wrong.”
Bert grimaced, and added, “It’s only a matter of time before the Empire learns of Inkari’s revolt.”
“I don’t think they’ll know for a while, Officer Hoover,” Hedasta said. “Every last Loyalist perished in the battle, and chances are, they were too focused on attempting to silence us to warn Coruscant of our rebellion. We still have time... time to launch a surprise attack on Coruscant itself. ”
Everybody gawked at her, and Magath asked her, “Senator, are you serious?!”
“Did I stutter, Commander?” she angrily retorted. “I will have vengeance for what happened to my people and to my daughter, and my wrath wasn’t sated completely by Datenshi’s death. My next target is the leadership on Coruscant, especially the Emperor himself. His death will be even more violent than the one I gave Datenshi.”
Before Magath could retort, Inkari’s planetwide HoloNet system suddenly blared into life as an outside Imperial transmission was received. Everybody in the office turned to the small screen in the room as outside, the Inkarin muttered anxiously, watching the message begin.
A tall, noble looking woman in an Imperial Admiral uniform appeared on the screen, looking traumatized and weary. Magath muttered “Admiral Sloane? What happened to her?” as she spoke gravely.
“Citizens of the Galactic Empire, it is with great sadness that I inform you of our Emperor’s death, along with Lord Vader and the other personnel stationed on the 2nd Death Star who couldn’t escape in time. The rebels managed to destroy it, despite our armada and the superlaser working to decimate them completely.
I have ordered our armada to retreat to our prearranged rendezvous location until we decide what move we’ll make next. While I don’t know what the future holds for our Empire, I know that if we stay united, even through these turbulent times, our order will survive. Please join me in mourning the loss of our Emperor, and listen for orders from Grand Vizier Mas Amedda on our next plan of action.”
A long moment of silence overtook Inkari, before the populace and everybody in the Senator’s office cheered loudly, thrilled that despite the odds, the Emperor himself had fallen. The impossible had happened, and with the Emperor slain, Inkari was far freer than they had originally imagined.
“This is perfect!” Hedasta told them. “With the Emperor out of the way, an attack on Coruscant will further devaste the Imperial bureaucracy!”
“I-I suppose so,” Magath muttered, shocked at the sudden turn of events.
Hedasta grinned at them all, and everybody gathered, “My friends, I believe it’s time for the speech to commence.”
She led them to the Terrace, and beamed down at her jubilant citizens, the darkness of the night dispersed by the joy of their newfound freedom. The sacrifices made and the unprecedented luck they had gained was thrilling, and lessened the grief that they had become burdened with.
“My people, let us rejoice!” Hedasta roared, eliciting bellows of joy from the masses. “The grand traitor himself has fallen, and with him, the Empire’s undeserved control of our world! At last, we are our own world, and no longer will we bow to any tyrant!”
Eren and the others wept, but this time, it was out of relief instead of overwhelming sadness. Nobody had ever imagined that the corrupt Emperor would ever perish, but the wretched man was mortal, despite the rumors that had circulated his existence. The man who had destroyed the Galactic Republic and reforged it into a cruel war machine was gone.
“Before I discuss my plan for vengeance against our wrongdoers, I see it vital that I introduce to you Officer Annie Leonhardt’s stalwart allies, the members of Rose Squadron. These selfless youth are the reason we were allowed to see the revealing footage, and ensured that Annie could carry out her self-appointed mission to the ultimate end.”
Eren and the others flinched as the intense gaze of the Inkarin fell upon them, wary but curious eyes surveying each crew member of the Vindictive Empress . They heard the crowd below whisper tersely “Aren’t they... rebels? ” The young Officers flanking them gave them assuring nods, and Reiner patted Connie firmly on the back, calming the nervous boy down.
Hedasta told the Inkarin, “Allow me to introduce Connie Springer, a boy who Annie trusted dearly. Come forward, Connie.”
Connie steeled himself and stepped up to the front of the Terrace, looking anxiously down at the mass. Eren and Mikasa exchanged a nervous glance as Connie managed to speak up.
“H-hello. I’m Connie Springer, and...I’m sorry, I’m not good at public speaking. I never imagined that I’d be asked to address you all, even when I befriended Annie. There’s so much I need you to know, and I know exactly what to begin with.”
He breathed hard, and told them solemnly, “ I am the lone pilot who infiltrated Inkari a year ago.”
Hedasta and the Galliard brothers gasped as the crowd below gawked up at him. They had likely expected somebody as infamous as the Corellian pilot Han Solo to pull off such a brazen mission, instead of the meek boy before them.
“I came here to see what I could learn about this planet, but instead, I encountered a seemingly haywire Security Droid that almost literally fell into my lap. As I discovered soon after, that Droid contained within its memory core the footage of what happened to Mina Carolina.”
Hedasta murmured, “This...is insane. That’s how the footage came to be found?!”
“I thought that it was too random and too coincidental for that Droid to find me the way it did, and I was right,” Connie continued. “In the end, this was part of an elaborate and risky gambit started by none other than your Chief of Security Haston Uttaka, who first discovered the footage soon after Mina’s murder. It was he who enabled me and my comrade, Armin Arlert, to access your planet’s HoloNet and project the footage.”
“Chief Uttaka was behind all of this?!” Porco said, his mouth wide open in alarm.
“Your Chief risked everything by allowing me, an outsider, to see what happened to Mina. He gambled his safety on who would find the footage, and in the end, it was me. I...while I’m grateful to have helped you all, especially Annie, I still regret receiving that footage, and seeing what happened to Mina.”
Connie’s voice went shaky as he told the crowd, “It was bad enough when I watched it. But...when I, in my naivete showed it to Annie in my misguided goal to learn the full story for myself, I learned the hard way that neither Annie nor any of you knew the truth, that your Moff covered up Mina’s murder as an accident. I...I’m still haunted by how Annie reacted to seeing it happen on our ship’s screen. She wasn’t prepared...and...when Mina screamed her name…”
He broke down sobbing, and with him, the Inkarin followed suit, clutching each other and wailing for their lost daughters. They were joined by the smaller crowds in the smaller cities dotting the the planet, and with each city’s grief echoing simultaneously around them, it sounded like Inkari itself was in mourning. Hedasta weeped, and gently pulled Connie back, knowing that the boy couldn’t speak any further.
“It wasn’t your fault, young man,” she whispered to him, but Connie only shook his head sadly, unable to forget that awful moment.
Hedasta retook the front spot, and announced to her people, “For too long, we have sat idly as the Empire brutalized those who weren’t as privileged as we. It shouldn’t have taken Alderaan’s destruction for us to admit to ourselves that our government is corrupt. When we learned that the Empire was more than willing to destroy an entire planet, especially a Core World like ours just for openly sympathizing with the Rebel Alliance, we should’ve spoken up. In our silence, we’ve allowed even more innocents to be murdered by the Empire’s cold apathy. But no longer!”
She shouted at the top of her lungs, “Now is the time to inspire the other Core Worlds to battle! Now is the time for us to step forward with all our might, to strike back at Coruscant and the smug bureaucrats who believe that their rule is absolute! When we attack, we will unleash a rain of fire upon our enemies, with a fury that will haunt their nightmares forever! The Imperial leaders will know our rage, and know that their disgusting treachery will not go unpunished! TO ARMS, MY PEOPLE! TO THE STAR DESTROYERS, AND TO VICTORY!”
A terrible warcry erupted all over Inkari as the people surged towards the shipyards, ready to board and swiftly form an armada. Eren shuddered in awe, knowing that they easily had enough manpower to launch 12 of the massive ships against Coruscant. It would be a surprise attack that the Imperial Capital was woefully unprepared for.
Hedasta turned to the members of Rose Squadron and softly told them, “I don’t advise that you follow us to Coruscant. I am eternally grateful for everything you all have done for me, Annie, Mina and the rest of Inkari, but there’s no way your ship would survive this upcoming battle.”
“Trust me, Senator,” Ymir chimed in, “I have the common sense to not attack the Imperial Capital itself.”
“Good. This is goodbye, until we are lucky to meet again. Good luck to you all in whatever endeavor you pursue next. Tread carefully, because should the Empire learn of your role in liberating Inkari, they will attempt to hunt you down.”
“And we’ll be ready,” Jean answered stoically.
“Farewell, Rose Squadron,” Hedasta said to them, smiling as she bolted from the office and out of sight, Magath and the Galliard brothers following close behind.
Reiner and Bert told them, “This is goodbye. It’s been an honor serving alongside you all, and putting an end to Datenshi’s treachery. We’re forever indebted to you for what you did for us, and most of all, what you did for Annie. You helped her overcome the grief she’s been carrying for so long, and we couldn’t have freed her without you.”
“I’m just relieved that she died happy,” Armin sadly said, and the others nodded in agreement.
“Hedasta told me that she saw Mina as she died, and that it looks like Mina lead her away to whatever world awaits them next,” Bert mused. “I don’t blame her for not announcing that, though; it would’ve been too much for our people to handle when they’re still grieving.”
Eren removed the hologram recorder from his pocket, still aching to know the full story behind its message, and the Officers flinched at the sight of it. Reiner turned to him and spoke gravely.
“Eren, listen to me carefully. There was so much to our Chief that none of us knew, and when we went to him for help in spreading the truth to our people, we learned some deep secrets about him. Please, wait until you’ve boarded your ship again before you play that message. What’s on there could endanger both his and his assistant Pieck’s lives if any of my people catch wind.”
“W-why?” Eren innocently asked. “Did he do something bad?”
“No, Eren,” Reiner patiently answered. “It’s the nature of what he’s been hiding. You’ll understand when you play the message.”
Reiner looked behind them to see that the plaza below had nearly emptied, and told them, “Bert and I need to go. We’ll both be needed in the assault on Coruscant. Goodbye for now, Rose Squadron. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you ever need our help. We all owe you our freedom for what you did for us.”
The two Officers bolted from the Tower, leaving Rose Squadron alone at last. Ymir addressed her underlings firmly, anxious to board her ship and leave the turbulent planet behind.
“Well, let’s get back to the ship. I don’t have a damn clue what the big deal is about this recorder you’ve got, Eren, but I suppose we’re about to find out. Let’s go.”
Chapter 12: The Message
The Vindictive Empress sat alone in the landing dock outside Gintomi City, with all of the dock workers gone to the Star Destroyers. The city had fallen eerily quiet in comparison to the violent cacophony created by the battle only hours before. In the distance, the powerful sound of the Inkarin Star Destroyers preparing for take off hummed in the air.
“They’re really going to attack Coruscant, aren’t they?” Mikasa mused, seeing the first massive ship lift into the air.
“Can you blame them?” Jean said, weary from the toll of fighting. “It’s rash, yes, but I’d do the same thing if I was in their place. Coruscant’s about to regret forming this world into a ship-building powerhouse.”
“And they still don’t know that an attack is coming their way,” Ymir added with a sneer. “Poor bastards. I bet they’d never think anybody, Rebel or otherwise, would have the nerve to attack the Imperial capital world itself.”
“It’s like Senator Carolina said,” Armin told them. “This is the best moment for them to strike. Coruscant will be overwhelmed with the revelation of the Emperor’s death, and won’t be prepared to muster any defences, especially with that armada still recuperating. Even better, they won’t be prepared for Star Destroyers of all battleships to attack them. The Inkarin have the element of surprise on their side.”
They boarded the Empress and sat together in the ship’s main room, all anxious to hear the mysterious message left by Inkari’s enigmatic Chief of Security. Eren took out the recorder disk and held it out so that the others could see the projection clearly. Mikasa held his free hand tenderly, and they grimaced at each other, both of them worried about the ominous information that they were about to learn.
He activated the disk, and gawked at sight of a tall, slender man wielding a blue lightsaber of all weapons. Armin and Connie glanced at each other anxiously, and Eren realized that they had to know the truth.
“You two, what the hell is this?!” he shouted, but Armin shook his head firmly.
“Eren, he’ll explain it far better than either of us can. Just watch it.”
The Chief of Security spoke softly in the message, forcing Rose Squadron to bend in to hear.
“Eren Yeager, you don’t know who I am, but I could never blame you. Why would you know, when our father kept so many secrets from both of us?”
“W-what?” Eren and Mikasa said in unison, realizing then how he resembled a blonde version of their father.
“For too long, I’ve gone under the name of Haston Uttaka, to protect myself from the Emperor’s wrath that would surely come my way if my past was discovered. But I’ve hidden in the shadows for long enough, and tonight, the seeds of dissent I’ve planted will blossom into the flowers of war. The first, and most important step is for me to explain who I am to you, little brother. I am the only child of our father and his first wife, Dina Fritz, from when he lived on Corellia before the Clone Wars. ”
“I have a half-brother?” Eren asked out loud, bewildered and aggravated that the fact had been hidden from him for so long.
“You have every right to blame our father for hiding this from you, Eren. I still do. He...he hid so many things from myself and my mother, too. It wasn’t until I became Jocasta Nu’s apprentice that I learned he was once a member of the Republic’s Jedi Council. Grisha Yeager lived a double life and refused to open up to the people he loved about his personal truths. In doing so, he failed to protect those who needed him.”
The rest of Rose Squadron instinctively bolted forward to catch Eren and Mikasa before the traumatic weight of Carla Yeager’s death could make them fall. The two orphans wept bitter tears as their long repressed anger against their father resurfaced, and they watched as Zeke wept likewise on the recording.
“I’m so sorry, little brother. Our father abandoned our families when we needed him most. Just as he wasn’t there to prevent my mother’s death when the Separatist forces invaded Corellia, he wasn’t there to defend your mother from the Imperial raid on your Ruusan village. Without a doubt, our father is a coward who has abandoned his loved ones over and over again. From what he’s been running from, I can’t say. Perhaps it’s trauma from his time serving the Jedi Council. Perhaps it’s something else that not even I have deduced. Whatever it is, he allowed it do drive him into hiding as a recluse, and I’ve scoured the galaxy for his whereabouts, little brother. There’s only one place left to investigate... Dantooine. ”
“What could possibly be on Dantooine?” Ymir grumbled. “It’s just endlessly rolling green plains stretching as far as the eye can see!”
“It’s also home to a Jedi Enclave, dating as far back as thousands of years ago,” Armin informed him, asserting his complex knowledge of galactic history. “If their Dad really was a Jedi Master at one point, he’d have good reason to go there to hide.”
“Thanks to the knowledge imparted to me by my Master, Grand Jedi Librarian Jocasta Nu, I eventually discovered that Dantooine is our father’s original homeworld. While I don’t know for certain if he’s truly hiding there, or if he’s even alive after all these years, Dantooine is our best bet for finding him. Given his mentality, it’s likely that he wanted to go there to eventually die in peace on the world where he was born. Eren, I’m begging you, please meet me on Dantooine, and join me in this attempt to finally find our wandering father. If he’s still alive, this could be our last chance to reach him, and have him explain himself.”
“Once this message is finished recording and after I’ve explained to Annie what she needs to do to destroy Datenshi’s rule here on Inkari, I’ll be departing this world straight for Dantooine. I’ll await you there, little brother. Once you arrive at the planet, the Force will guide me to you, and at last, we can finally meet in person. I’m so sorry that I failed to find you and protect you from the woes of this wartorn galaxy, Eren. My role as this planet’s Chief of Security prevented me from traveling as long as I’d originally wished to find you. I can only imagine the agony you must have endured since that awful day on Ruusan. Come to me, little brother, and let us both find our father and hear what he has to say.”
The recording ended, leaving the crew to sit in stunned silence. On top of Annie’s untimely passing, they now had to deal with the revelation that Eren and Mikasa’s wayward father had once been a Jedi Master, a vital fact that he had refused to tell even their mother Carla. Grisha Yeager was truly a man of secrets, and they all feared that he had taken those secrets to the grave, that he had died alone in his reclusiveness on some far corner of the galaxy.
“What do you think, Eren and Mikasa?” Connie asked them. “Should we go to Dantooine?”
“The answer seems obvious to me,” Mikasa answered, glancing at Eren as she spoke. “No matter how much I despise Dad for abandoning us when we needed him most, I still want to talk to him, to hear him out like Zeke said. If Eren’s half-brother really has deduced that our Dad’s on Dantooine, then we need to go there and find out for ourselves. What do you say, Eren?”
They all turned to him, and Eren sighed deeply, filled with many conflicting emotions. He was relieved to have such a stalwart ally on his side in his journey to finally see his father again, but at the same time, he felt even angrier towards Grisha for hiding so many vital truths from him.
“It’s like you say, Mikasa. This might be our last chance. We all know I’m more than bitter at my Dad for leaving us like he did, but I, too, want to know what he has to say. Let’s do it.”
Ymir shrugged, and told them, “Hey, if that’s what you guys want to do, so be it. I’ll support it. I can’t deny that this whole thing has struck my curiosity too. Looks like the Empress is headed for Dantooine, folks!”
She bolted for the Captain’s chair at the front port of her ship, and soon, they were floating upwards through Inkari’s atmosphere, leaving the silver towers of Gintomi City far behind. They all looked out of the port at the fading green cemetery, where Annie lay resting peacefully next to Mina, and shed quiet tears as they remembered her fondly. It was thanks to her that they had come to Inkari and gained such a vital revelation about the missing Grisha Yeager, and found direction on where to go next.
“Rest in peace, Annie,” Eren quietly wished, still heartbroken at her loss. “Rest in peace, and may you and Mina enjoy whatever happiness awaited you both on the other side.”
The ship hummed as it prepared to jump to hyperspace, and the two foster siblings beamed at each other, knowing that the future was finally looking up for them all, with the Emperor’s death and the revelations they had found. Finally, the old darkness that had clouded their thoughts for so long had started to dissipate, making way for the light of hope rising within them.
Ymir activated her ship’s hyperdrive once they had sailed out of Inkari, and at once, the familiar corridor of bent starlight emerged around them, stretching to infinity as the Vindictive Empress prepared to jump.
“Dad...you better be alive.”
A moment later, they successfully made the jump to hyperspace, rushing towards the remote Outer Rim world of Dantooine, where an uncertain future awaited them all.