Chapter 46: "May the Force be with you."

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The lock exploded in a cloud of black smoke and the door slid open with a loud 'hiss.'

Secretary Dalian emerged with a triumphant look on his usually static face.

"You made the right choice, princess," he said. "The only way for any ship to get passed that Star Destroyer is if we incapacitate it. Farsalt's ion cannon can do that, but we'll have to seize it back from Sarn's men first. And to do that, we'll need to get control of my office."

"Wait!" Lance Dare commanded. He levelled his blaster at Dalian. "Explain. What was Governor Mazier up to? And why did you help him?"

Dalian looked at the rest of his staff who were emerging from other cells that had been unlocked. He gave them a derisive look.

"They know nothing of it. It was Mazier and me, alone. Mazier had grown tired of the Empire. He believed it had become far too extreme to govern, that it was inspiring revolution rather than providing security. I imagine it all started with his son, a TIE pilot who was killed in some pointless cause. King Garrand told me that he snapped and murdered Admiral Karion after the officer ordered his arrest."

"And you?"

"Money. And survival." Dalian shrugged. "As Mazier's deputy I was needed to audit many of his reports and accounts. He simply couldn't have committed the fraud he did without me. On ship A the ledger said we allowed two-hundred refugees in, in reality it was more. Ship B's cargo manifest described an import of five hundred cooking units, in reality they were portable power generators. An off-world transport would detail a hundred sick patients, whereas a hundred fit fighters would leave for the rebellion. And so on." He smiled. "All very simple really."

"And profitable for you too, no doubt?"

"Indeed. But my price was a bargain for the gains made. As I will prove to you very shortly. If I can gain control of my office, then I should be able to access Sarn's communications. I doubt they have deemed it necessary to change my access codes after locking me in prison. Come on!"

A scream sounded from the next cell. It was the young man.

"There's no time. We have to take back my office. Leave him!" Dalian said, rushing away.

"No!" Ella snarled. "If we're fighting for anything it has to start with decency."

She ran forward, blew the lock aside and raised her weapon as the door slid open. The spherical droid turned toward her, hovering only a few inches from the youth's blanched and sweat-soaked face, frozen in mid-scream.

Ella squeezed the trigger, pouring two red lines of fire into its metallic surface.

The Interrogator droid burst into flame and crashed to the floor.

Its last act was to let out an electronic wheeze as it expired.

Ella glanced at the man. There was no visible injury on his body. He stood in a metallic stock, his wrists and neck restrained. Ella slid the bolt across and heaved open the top of the stock with a grunt of effort.

The young man staggered out, groaning and taking deep laboured breaths.

"You're free," she said. "Get out of here and hide. Whether you like it or not you are no longer a part of the Empire."

Ella left the room to find Cor waiting, with Chip at her side.

"I am taking Chip to the ward," Cor said. "I don't think the stormtroopers will have bothered with the hospital. It's hardly an area of strategic importance to them." She patted the cyborg's arm gently. "Hopefully I can find the right equipment to remove this ghastly restrainer. Here."

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