Beyond Apostasy - Updated 6/5

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Arin_Atona, Sep 25, 2012.

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  1. Arin_Atona Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 10, 2004
    star 4
    Title: Apostasy
    Author: Arin_Atona
    Timeframe: NJO
    Characters: OCs, Luke Skywalker
    Genre: Drama, Action

    Chapter One: Rom


    When I abandoned my daughter, she was a mere two days away from her ninth birthday. Not a day has passed in the ten years since that I haven’t relived the agony of that decision, despite assurances from everyone who knows my story that I made the right choice.

    Though I choose to remember only the darkness of that day, it had actually started as a beautiful spring morning in the lush forests of Yavin Four. The scent of harbinger lilies wafted through the corridors of the Massassi Temple as I discussed my future with the great Jedi Master himself, Luke Skywalker. While most anyone in the galaxy would be envious of such an opportunity, conversations with Jedi Masters are rarely pleasant.

    It had begun hopefully enough. We discussed the training regimen and facilities, and moved on to the expectations for students at the Jedi Praxeum. It was easy to feel included when Skywalker spoke of the growing Jedi Order, but through the conversation I slowly came to realize that when he spoke of we, he was intentionally excluding me.

    I finally stopped pretending that I liked where the conversation was heading and asked him directly, “Does that mean you won’t be training me?”

    Skywalker pursed his lips together, clasped his hands in front of his dark cloak, and gave me an apologetic nod. “Rom, you clearly have some sensitivity to the Force,” he explained, “but one great weakness that can’t be overcome.”

    I nodded my understanding. “I can feel the Force, but I can’t control it until I’m frustrated, angry, and using the Dark Side.”

    “You’re not the first to wrestle with that obstacle,” he assured me. “While it might be possible to overcome, there’s too much sorrow and anger in you that we haven’t been able to move beyond. To expose you to training that would tempt you to use those feelings in order to progress would make you a danger to yourself and those around you.”

    That much was true. I suppose I hurt my chances at becoming a Jedi when I told him about how my wife had been murdered. It probably didn’t help that I was rumored to have hunted down the Imperials responsible and executed them myself.

    Yes, I had shot two Imperials and blown a third out an airlock, but they were casualties of war. The fact that I wished they had been the responsible ones was the specific obstacle in question.

    Space him and his academy. Ceril and I didn’t need them.

    Ceril. My little girl. Just two days hence and we’d be celebrating the conclusion of her ninth year of life, or so I had imagined. She was the only thing left of the happy life we had known before war and its accompanying tragedies claimed the life of the amazing woman that was the mother and lover in our little family.

    Our daughter was the reason we had come here anyway. Ceril had a gift, and I seemed to possess it as well. She also shared my handicap.

    I finally looked Skywalker in the eyes and nodded. “Ceril and I will clear out by sundown.”

    I had barely stood to my feet and started to leave when Skywalker grasped my arm, encouraging me to wait. He communicated everything that needed to be said through that simple gesture, but I faced him with uncertainty. Did he have any shred of an idea what he was asking me to do?

    “Ceril has none of that sorrow and anger, Rom,” he assured me.

    I found it difficult to breathe, much less speak. “You’re asking me to give up my daughter, and she has the same weakness…”

    “She’s young enough that she can be trained to use her remarkable senses in a variety of roles,” he insisted. “Being a Jedi is a lot more than just moving objects around and wielding a lightsaber.”

    I frowned deeply. “So long as she’s removed from sorrowful and angry influences,” I growled, “like me.”

    Skywalker nodded and let go of my arm. “I’m sorry that I have to burden you with this decision.”

    He hadn’t known me but for a few weeks, and yet he already knew me well enough to shut up and leave. No proposal. No academy pamphlet. No brochure assuring me that this was the best future I could secure for my Ceril. Just a polite suggestion that I blast-off this rock and leave my daughter behind to become one of his pupils.

    For the next two hours, I tried to figure out how I could provide a better life for my daughter than she’d have here, and cursed myself for not being able to concoct a single rational argument against Skywalker’s absurd suggestion, nor even an irrational one. I drove myself into a frenzy of guilt for even considering it, but it didn’t register that he was right until I had punched a fist-sized chunk of stone out of one of the Temple’s bricks and shattered a few bones in my hand in the process.

    Ceril was in the infirmary where they set and repaired the bones in my hand and did their best to mend the skin without leaving a scar. She didn’t bother to ask what had happened to my hand. It was just another one of those things her father did.

    This was my normal behavior, and some part of me was terrified that one day I would do the unthinkable and that anger would be turned against her. The very thought that I might be capable of such a thing was the ultimate factor influencing my decision.

    When I left the infirmary, Ceril called after me. “Goodbye, daddy!”

    I made the mistake of turning back to look and saw the tears in her eyes. She knew I was abandoning her, and that made it so much worse.

    “I’ll see you later, baby girl,” I lied, barely able to choke out the words around the knot growing in my chest.

    I hitched a ride on the next supply freighter out of the system and headed for the Core. Twenty-seven days, fifty-two cantinas, and eight women later, my self-destructive death-spiral ended with me and my last two credits slowly sobering up in a recruiting office for the New Republic Defense Force.

    Apparently you can legally reenlist while drunk.

    Being a veteran soldier and medic, I easily re-qualified and they entrusted me with a blaster rifle and a platoon from the 709th Precision Assault Battalion that has been my family for the last decade. Thankfully, I’m a much better soldier than father.


    I swore to myself to keep in touch with Ceril, and to my credit I lived up to that promise for the first year or so, but what contact we had was never in person. Shortly after her thirteenth life-day, she stopped calling me daddy and I’ve been Rom ever since. A few years later, our weekly communications had gradually become a semi-annual exchange of holo-recordings. I felt guilty about not being there for her, which made it difficult for me to respond to her messages, which set up yet another self-perpetuating cycle.

    Just one year ago, I noticed she wasn’t a girl anymore. I had missed seeing every important moment while she grew up, and I regretted every second of it. I haven’t replied to her since.

    I had some crazy premonition that this year would be different. I had planned to leave the military for good, and somehow I thought that if I tried hard enough, I could slowly earn some redemption in her eyes. How to accomplish that, however, was still a mystery to me.

    Nothing about this past year cooperated with my plans, either. A bunch of alien monsters calling themselves the Yuuzhan Vong have invaded the galaxy, and the New Republic has been reeling from a series of devastating losses. The Jedi themselves couldn’t make up their collective minds whether or not to assist in the war, and a few weeks ago, I heard a rumor that the Jedi Academy itself had been attacked and conquered by the scarheads.

    I didn’t want to believe that, but I also hadn’t been able to reach Ceril through our usual communications channels, and began to fear that I’d lost her forever.

    Following the fourth brutal retreat this week from worlds whose names I’ve already forgotten, I had just finished treating the injured and removing my equipment when I was alerted that I had an incoming transmission. My legs carried me to the nearest comm station as fast as they could, because I knew it was her. It had to be; nobody else ever contacted me. I didn’t care if she saw me drenched in sweat and blood; I just needed to know she was alive.

    I put on my best smile when I saw that the transmission was coded as an official communication from the Jedi Order, but when a haggard-looking image of Luke Skywalker appeared instead of my Ceril’s beautiful face, I almost terminated the link.

    If this was a ‘we regret to inform you’ message, I’d be shoving myself out an airlock momentarily.

    “Rom Veceda,” Skywalker said without a greeting, “I don’t have much time to record this message, but I need to make you aware that a number of Jedi have decided to assist the New Republic in fighting the Yuuzhan Vong, but without sanction or support from the rest of the Order.”

    “Good for them,” I muttered, somewhat frustrated that this wasn’t a live transmission so I could voice my irritation at his apparent indecision.

    “Ceril is among them,” he stated plainly, shoving all my indignation right back into my face. “What little information I have suggests that front-line assault forces, like your battalion, are the units they intend to join.”

    I checked the timestamp on the message and my heart felt like it came to a stop when I realized it was more than a week old.

    “I can’t stress enough how dangerous the situation is,” the infernal message continued. “Ceril and her companions aren’t yet Jedi Knights and I fear for both their safety and their futures as users of the Force. Ceril is resourceful and powerful, but I don’t need to remind you how dangerous it is for her to use the Force.”

    I suppose I had hoped that was something she would have overcome as part of becoming a proper Jedi. They had discovered early in my training that I needed the determination provided by barely-restrained anger in order to exert any control over the Force, and that Ceril had inherited the same constraints on her abilities. There was little chance that I’d ever become a user of the Dark Side, since I completely eschewed all use of the Force when I departed Yavin a decade ago, and had never advanced beyond trivial telekinesis.

    Ceril had a decade of Jedi training to wield, and now she was roaming the galaxy spoiling for a fight.

    “I’m sorry, Rom,” Skywalker said with a sigh. “I wish I could tell you what to do if you encounter them, but I don’t have that authority. They’ve taken their destinies in their own hands.”

    Damn him. He was supposed to train her to be a teacher or a doctor, not turn her into a young lightsaber-wielding version of me looking for a war to wage.

    Before he finished saying, “May the Force be with you,” I had reduced the comm console to an expensive pile of sparks and scrap.

    The next several hours passed in a blur. I returned to the infirmary to assist the shipboard doctors in whatever way I could as a battlefield medic, and then abated my fury in the target range. I don’t know exactly how long I was there, but I managed to completely deplete the power pack on my rifle, which for a sharpshooter requires more stamina than humans typically possess, and I was exhausted before I started.

    That damnable Force was like a child determined to be helpful, even when its help wasn’t wanted.

    When I finally crashed in my bunk to sleep, we were a mere four hours away from pre-mission briefing on nameless planet number five where we’d just repeat what we did on our last four landings: Assault the front-lines of the scarhead ground forces to buy an extra hour or so to evacuate an insignificant number of the planet’s inhabitants, then exfiltrate under heavy fire.

    That was never the battle plan, of course, but that’s how it always turned out. By the time the 709th was needed, the planet was already under enemy control. We were originally trained to lead the ground assault in an invasion force to liberate worlds under Imperial control, which ironically made us experts at providing cover for particularly difficult retreats.

    I turned out to be wrong about the next planet, however. Unlike the usual worlds that have no particular economic or tactical value to the New Republic, planet number five had large deposits of some mineral particularly useful for shipbuilding, making it both economically and tactically important, and the Defense Force actually intended to repel the invaders.

    It was a pleasant surprise to see an actual armada in orbit fighting the scarheads, instead of a token cruiser that would jump out of the system the moment the first wave of invaders made planetfall. By the time my platoon reached the ground, two groups of Yuuzhan Vong landing forces had already been repelled, and we were sent to reinforce the troops defending one of the critical planetary shield generators.

    I had no idea that a mere hour later, I would be reunited with my Ceril and that our destinies would become entangled. I also had no idea that I’d be spending the next six months in the brig.
    Last edited by Arin_Atona, Jun 5, 2013
  2. Draconarius Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 27, 2005
    star 4
    Wow. Fantastic start. I'm looking forward to see where you take this.
  3. Keila_ Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 1, 2000
    star 2
    Very interesting. I'll definitely be watching to see where this goes.
  4. Jedi_Lover Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Nov 1, 2004
    star 5
    Great start. I look forward to reading more.
  5. Arin_Atona Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 10, 2004
    star 4
    Draconarius, Keila_, Jedi_Lover: Thank you very much. The next installment should be up shortly.
  6. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    This certainly has potential. The central character represents considerable possibility, and I appreciate the inclusion of someone with marginal Force abilities (those types don't get enough play in Star Wars). Just be wary of tenses.
  7. Arin_Atona Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 10, 2004
    star 4
    Chapter Two: Ceril

    We hadn’t been on the ground for more than a few minutes when the Yuuzhan Vong discovered there were Jedi on the planet, though I wouldn’t have called us Jedi at all. None of us had achieved knighthood, and considering we had come against Master Skywalker’s direction, we were technically apostates.

    The Yuuzhan Vong didn’t care; all users of the Force were Jedi to them, and their obsession with meeting them in battle had them converging on us almost immediately. The only plan we had at the time was to assist the New Republic soldiers in any way we could, so we did what seemed logical: we headed to where the fighting seemed fiercest.

    There was a group of soldiers mounting a defense of one of the planetary shield generators in the heart of the planet’s biggest city, so we landed our ship in a nearby causeway and went on foot along the ground-level of the skylanes. This particular world wasn’t quite as developed as others, such as Coruscant, so the lowest levels of the city were still illuminated by daylight in most areas, despite the enormous buildings that reached a kilometer or more into the skies.

    The city was dead. The overwhelming majority of its residents had already been evacuated, and those that hadn’t yet made it off-world were at least smart enough to know that anywhere near a planetary shield generator was likely to become a battlefield. That was true here as well, and we hadn’t passed more than seven or eight buildings before we ran into a patrol of Yuuzhan Vong warriors.

    It was the first time any of us had faced the armored extragalactic invaders, so we fought them the only way we knew how, just like we had sparred with one another in training. Less than a minute later, our group of ten Jedi had become eight, and we had to abandon the bodies of our companions in a full retreat. Very soon, it seemed like every enemy warrior on the planet was in pursuit.

    We made our way closer to where we had originally hoped to join some of the New Republic soldiers and assist them, but now we were looking for any help we could find. The platoon of soldiers we found were more than a little excited to discover that Jedi had arrived to help, but any notions that we’d be even moderately helpful were dispelled a moment later when what felt like an entire Yuuzhan Vong battalion was bearing down on us.

    The troops identified themselves as part of the 709th Precision Assault Battalion, and while my team and I had Jedi training, these men and women were grizzled, battle-hardened veterans, and they fought dirty. Where we had been taught a profound respect for life, they showed none. The enemy’s living armor made them difficult to fell with energy weapons and lightsabers, but that didn’t seem to bother these soldiers much.

    I watched, horrified, while the soldiers we had just befriended fired a volley of sonic concussion grenades at the enemy, and the resulting shockwaves turned duracrete, transparisteel, and even the enemy’s own armor into high-velocity shrapnel. The surviving Yuuzhan Vong warriors surged forward, unimpressed by the carnage. An incendiary grenade slowed the advance, and a thermal detonator burst in the air over their heads, vaporizing another wave and collapsing a skybridge on top of the next. All the while, rapid-fire bursts from high-powered blaster rifles picked-off those the grenades failed to kill.

    The only thing more disturbing than witnessing that wholesale slaughter of enemy warriors was the fact that the enemy just kept coming. They showed no regard for the fates of their comrades, and surged forward faster than the 709th could send them to oblivion.

    Razor-sharp insect-like weapons filled the air, cutting down soldiers and nearly overwhelming my own ability to fend them off with my lightsaber. Once again, we were in full retreat. We were heading in the general direction of the causeway where our ship was located, but in the midst of battle, I couldn’t tell whether we were, in fact, heading in the right direction.

    “We have to get inside the buildings!” I yelled over the battle, urging my companions toward one of the larger buildings with public access that likely held an exit through to the other side. The building would not only give us cover, but provide a choke-point to slow down the enemy while we attempted an escape.

    The most imposing of my fellow Jedi, a tall young Corellian with pale skin and broad shoulders, used the Force to hurl a chunk of duracrete at the advancing enemy, crushing two Yuuzhan Vong warriors. He swung his bright blue lightsaber overhead to point down the skylane. “No!” he commanded. “Down the lane! Go!”

    I quickly swallowed my injured pride at being contradicted and followed his command, resuming the frantic retreat. I sensed danger and spun, swinging my lightsaber around to deflect several insectoid projectiles and saw the tall Corellian fall, speared by an organic weapon that had been hurled by one of the Yuuzhan Vong warriors. Disorganized, we turned down another skylane, only to find another group of enemy warriors advancing, prompting us to reverse direction and nearly half of the soldiers with us died in the confusion.

    A flash from above caught my attention, and I spotted another group of New Republic soldiers taking up position on a skybridge above us, and they began peppering the advancing enemy with fire from above. It provided a momentary distraction, and I was able to get my bearings and spot a familiar building; our ship was on the other side. The causeway behind us, however, was filling with warriors intent on either capturing or killing us, and the run to our ship would keep us exposed and in the open.

    The razor-sharp insects were let loose again, this time at the skylane above, which removed our covering fire. Three of my accompanying soldiers overturned a speeder and used it for cover, and I wasted no time in joining them. The rest of my companions did likewise, using the Force to throw speeders onto their sides as makeshift barriers.

    With a place to fire from cover, the New Republic soldiers managed to stall the enemy advance, but not for long. The troops above had now moved off the skybridge and were firing down from the windows of an adjacent building.

    The advancing enemy seemed to relent, retreating to cover. Any hope that might have inspired was crushed when a giant, lumbering beast the size of a starship appeared from behind a building further down the causeway, and began charging, intent on trampling anything in its way. Blasterfire didn’t seem to affect it, so with our demise appearing imminent, we abandoned our overturned speeders and fled as fast as we could run.

    There was a commotion from above. I glanced up in time to see a transparisteel window some twenty levels above us being blown out and a few soldiers from the 709th leaping from the building.

    Down!” I felt the urge to take cover before the falling soldier’s command was shouted, and Jedi and soldier alike dove to the duracrete pavement. I heard the zip of a rappelling line and one of the soldiers from the building above landed on top of me, immediately prostrating himself in an obvious effort to shield me with whatever cover his lightly-armored body might provide.

    A massive explosion rocked the ground, followed by a thundering earthquake. I squeezed my head from under my protector and struggled to view the causeway, just in time to see the charging beast felled by the collapse of one of the kilometer-tall buildings, the rubble from which sealed the causeway and filled the air, along with my lungs, with dirt and debris. We remained prostrate for what felt like an eternity until the ground stopped shaking from the building’s destruction.

    The soldier rolled off me and to his feet, and I used my robe to cover my mouth and nose. The other Jedi had already done the same, and the soldiers activated what was likely some kind of magnetic-containment visor in their headgear. I turned to thank the trooper that had offered his protection from the blast.

    Any words of thanks were quickly lodged in my throat as I found myself looking into a face that I hadn’t seen in person since I was a child. “Rom?”

    “No time for a reunion, baby girl,” my father said sharply, pointing his thumb over his shoulder toward the devastation. “That bought us a minute; maybe two. Let’s move out.”

    “Wemo’s hurt,” one of the other soldiers shouted, and Rom sprang into action, helping to remove a wounded humanoid being from under a permacrete colonnade that had collapsed on him during the explosion.

    “I can’t do anything for him here,” Rom stated, shaking his head. “We need to get off this rock.”

    “Like I told you earlier,” another soldier said, this one bearing an officer’s rank, “the rendezvous is three kilometers that way.” He gestured at the collapsed building, emphasizing the impossibility of making it to the destination.

    “We have a ship on this other side of the next building,” I offered.

    The officer glared at Rom for a brief moment. “Let’s go,” he finally ordered. I offered to help carry the injured being, but my father merely slung him over his shoulder like a sack and headed toward the ship at a speed that required some exertion on my part to keep up.

    “Not exactly the reunion I had hoped for,” I said, clipping my lightsaber onto my belt as we went.

    “If you go into battle wielding one of those things,” Rom said in a chastising tone, “you had best be ready to lead.”

    And there it was. All I’d wanted for the last ten years was to have my father see who I’d become and be proud of me, and my poorly-conceived idea of how to accomplish that had exploded in my face, leaving half of my companions dead and me humiliated in front of the one person whose opinion I cherished most.

    For ten long years, my mind had waged war with my heart, with my mind telling me that my father hadn’t abandoned me, but rather left me in the place where I’d have the best opportunity for a good future. My heart, however, demanded proof. I still had no closure.

    We fled to the ship at a quick pace, but Wemo, the injured soldier, had taken a turn for the worst. While the engines blasted us from the surface and hopefully toward safety, I stood in the loading bay with the troops, watching my father trying to save Wemo’s life. His frame looked awkward performing chest compressions, and the work appeared exhausting.

    The grief among the small group of soldiers was palpable when Rom stopped the compressions and instead struck Wemo’s chest, hard. After checking for a pulse, he repeated the strike, checked again, and finally sat back on his haunches with his eyes closed.

    “Try the other heart,” one of the soldiers suggested, almost as a question rather than a demand.

    Rom shook his head. “He’s gone.” My father stood to his feet and glared at the officer.

    The officer, however, would have none of it and marched up to Rom and stuck a gloved finger into his chest. “What part of my direct order to retreat did you not understand, Sergeant?”

    Rom scowled at the man and refused to back down. “You ordered me to let my daughter die.”

    The officer pointed to Wemo’s body. “And got half of my platoon killed in the process.”

    “He didn’t ask us to follow him, Colonel Darvis,” one of the other soldiers offered helpfully.

    “And yet they did,” Darvis remarked, still burying a finger in Rom’s chest. “What were your exact words? ‘Come with me if you dare’?”

    Rom glared at him in silence.

    “You caused a mutiny to save a handful of half-witted Jedi kids,” the Colonel stressed, pointing directly at me. After a long pause, Darvis addressed another soldier. “Corporal, escort Sergeant Veceda to whatever facilities on this ship will best serve as a brig.”

    Two soldiers stepped forward and flanked Rom, but both appeared nervous and reluctant to carry out the order.

    Rom waited until everyone was certain the order would not be enforced before snorting derisively and walking toward the ship’s interior. “I’ll find the damned brig myself.”

    The weariness of the tragedy had already taken its toll on me, and fell to my knees when he left. I struggled to reconcile my grief and humiliation with the sudden surge of pride I felt at seeing the respect my father’s fellow soldiers showed him. I wished that I could spend more time with him, but I wasn’t certain he’d want anything to do with me now that I’d effectively ruined his life.

    Though we managed to escape the system, we had both betrayed sworn oaths and our futures were anything but certain. In a few days, Rom would be standing before a court-martial, and I would be at the center of an anti-Jedi propaganda swarm.
    Driven by shame, I left the Jedi Order and joined the New Republic Starfighter Corps, hoping that I’d make a better pilot than a Jedi, but the quality of my billet suggested otherwise. I wasn’t certain of anything anymore.
    Rainbow Knight Star likes this.
  8. Mechalich Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 2, 2010
    star 4
    Clearly you can see the chaos and misery of battle, which is very important and works well. Ceril's introduction here is brief and rapid, but she comes across as a potential source for growth.
  9. Arin_Atona Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 10, 2004
    star 4
    Apologies for the long delay in continuing this story.

    Chapter Three: Rom

    The self-conscious feelings that crept into my mind while I walked through the battlecruiser’s corridors had nothing to do with the uniform I was wearing, possibly for the last time. It also had nothing to do with my boots slapping against metal grating that was so different from the permacrete floor of the cell I had called home for the last six months. Likewise, it was not the armed guard escorting me to my fate, nor the pain inflicted on my wrists by the binders that kept them firmly immobilized behind me.

    Instead, it was what I saw in the faces of those I passed by. If I bothered to make eye contact, they each gave me a simple superficial nod, with an occasional salute from a young staffer with a misguided sense of what constituted heroism.

    Judgment. It didn't matter whether they had their own opinions, or whether they simply accepted what the holo-media circus had pre-determined they should believe. It still required each of them to look at me and make a determination. They couldn't remain neutral. Each was required to pass judgment where none were qualified to do so.

    I rounded a corner and passed through a common area that was filled with several troopers chatting in small groups, each of which slowly ceased their conversations as I passed by. My presence alone was a measurable void of wary silence.

    In some ways, I had found it easier to deal with the prosecutors that had argued in front of the entire galaxy that I was a criminal mastermind that led good troopers to their deaths. At least with them, I always knew where I stood.

    The next corridor brought me to a hangar bay that had been converted into a makeshift courtroom for a series of courts-martial that had been delayed for months while the New Republic was busy reeling from defeat after defeat. An unassuming protocol droid stood at the entrance, holding up a metal hand as we approached.

    “Please wait,” the droid requested politely. “The panel has not yet seated.”

    After only a few moments, the doors to the ‘courtroom’ slid open with a hydraulic hiss.

    “Follow me, please,” the protocol droid instructed, and then it led me into the room. Seated to the right were three officers—the only people in the galaxy whose judgment mattered—and at the front of the room stood a special-purpose protocol droid painted black with gold markings indicating it as a military arbiter.

    I frowned. I didn’t much like the idea of having my sentence imposed with the cold efficiency of a droid, but with a war raging, it was a miracle that three fleet officers could be spared to panel a tribunal, much less a fourth to keep the attorneys in line.

    “Stand here,” instructed the droid that had ushered me into the room. I did as instructed, and the droid had scarcely trundled out of sight when a side entrance opened and a large Bothan in crisp dress-whites that clashed with his black fur strode purposefully into the courtroom.

    I came to attention before the arbiter droid announced, “Admiral on deck.” Everyone, including the panel of officers and military attorneys, did likewise. I was very careful to hide my enthusiasm. My court-appointed advocate had worked hard to ensure the trial received galactic attention, since the likelihood of an acquittal was low. A living, breathing officer capable of leniency was my best hope for not spending the rest of my life in a permacrete cell.

    “Let the record show,” the arbiter added, “that Admiral Torric Venish’dra—Commanding Officer, Eleventh Fleet—has elected to oversee these proceedings.” The arbiter droid then moved aside and quietly relegated itself to the role of court reporter.

    “Be seated,” the Bothan said, gesturing to the panel and the attorneys. “Sergeant, front and center.”

    I approached the Admiral’s lectern and remained at attention.

    “Before the panel publishes its findings,” Admiral Venish’dra began in a somewhat conversational tone, “I want to be sure that you understand your rights. This is a military tribunal. You have the right to a trial by jury in a civilian court.”

    I could also throw myself into a gundark nest. It would hurt less and be over sooner than a public trial for mutiny during wartime.

    “By waiving that right,” the Admiral continued, “you agree to be bound by the decision of this panel with no chance of appeal. Understanding this, do you still wish to waive your right to a jury trial?”

    “Yes, sir,” I said without hesitation.

    Admiral Venish’dra nodded his large equine head. “Then please remain at attention while the panel publishes its findings.”

    He then turned to the panel. “On the charge and specification of dereliction of duty, resulting in the negligent deaths of seventy-two sapient beings, how does the panel find?”

    I braced myself and held by breath. This was the most serious of the three charges against me, and if it stuck, not even the most lenient sentence would see me out of prison in my lifetime.

    The panel’s foreman, a starfighter commander, took an ephemeral eternity to stand and brush at an errant wrinkle on his trouser leg. I wasn’t the only one in the courtroom ready to bludgeon him when he finally spoke.

    Not guilty.”

    My legs threatened to buckle, and howls of fury rose from the civilian observers, but I maintained my composure.

    Order!” The Admiral’s voice boomed through the hangar, almost painful even without the assistance of an amplifier. Murmuring continued, but he ignored it with only a slight delay.

    “On the charge and specification of inciting mutiny, how does the panel find?”

    This charge was only slightly less serious, but with consideration from the Admiral, I would have the possibility of being free again… of seeing my daughter again.

    Not guilty.”

    I blinked. The Admiral’s calls for order were drowned-out by a raging chorus of civilian voices. He threatened to have them removed, and when that didn’t restore order, military guards began to escort the loudest of offenders out in binders. Even with the display of force, it took nearly half a minute for the cacophony to come to an end.

    The Admiral waited for several seconds of silence before returning his attention to the panel.

    “On the charge and specification of disobeying a lawful order, how does the panel find?”

    I had already broken attention and was considering sinking to my knees in gratitude when the word was spoken.

    Guilty.”

    It didn’t matter. My advocate was already chortling to himself, beaming from gill-to-gill. I’d be out of prison in two years, maximum. I had already served a quarter of that awaiting trial. I simply smiled and nodded, feeling absolutely invincible.

    “Staff Sergeant Rom Veceda,” the Admiral said loudly, drawing me back to attention. “This court-martial has found you guilty of disobeying a direct order. As a consequence of your actions, I am prepared to sentence you to incarceration for a period of two years, after which you will be dishonorably discharged from the New Republic Defense Force.” He then paused for a moment, and his visage softened. “However, in consideration for your many years of service, the current state of war, and the general lack of experienced corpsmen, I have a proposition to make.”

    “Sir?” I asked quizzically. Was he actually giving me an opportunity to reduce my sentence even further?

    “It is within my authority to commute your sentence to time-served,” he said, raising a finger. “With one condition… you are to be immediately transferred to Fleet MedCorps, where you will be assigned to a medical evacuation team attached to the Eleventh Fleet.”

    He didn’t need to explain the offer any further. Since the start of the invasion, being a medic assigned to a MedCorps Evac unit was an automatic death sentence. Few survived their first mission.

    I was given a choice between going back to my prison cell for an easy year-and-a-half, or a horrible death at the hands of the Yuuzhan Vong. I didn’t have to think very hard about it.

    “I’ll do it,” I replied. I really hated that prison cell.

    From there, everything moved quickly. I was reassigned and put through a training course in less than a month. I was then to report to a space station where I’d rendezvous with the battle cruiser Insuperable a few weeks later. I was happy with the arrangement, especially when I discovered the starbase I’d be on was where my Ceril was training to be an A-Wing pilot. Being able to spend some of that time with my daughter would make the assignment worthwhile.

    I might even get the chance to say goodbye.
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  10. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Great, and I do mean great action =D= You detail action superbly. :cool: I like the idea of chapters dealing with a MedCorps focus. :) Medical dramas are riveting.
  11. Kahara Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2001
    star 3
    Rom and Ceril's backstories are interesting and I feel sorry for both of them at this point. In trying to do the right thing as they saw it, they have both managed to cause themselves a lot of grief. The description of the battle and Ceril's reactions was well-done.
  12. Arin_Atona Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 10, 2004
    star 4
    Jade_eyes: Thank you! I don't have a plethora of medical knowledge, so it'll probably be less medical and more drama :)

    Kahara: Yes, they're both carrying around a lot of grief and regret. We'll see how they handle it.

    Next chapter up momentarily.
  13. Arin_Atona Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 10, 2004
    star 4
    Chapter Four: Ceril

    I stood at attention at the end of a line of pilots while Major Tobin paced back-and-forth in front of the assembled squadron. I’d finished an abbreviated training at the Academy, which was not at all uncommon for experienced pilots with war raging across the galaxy, but everyone in Venom squadron other than Tobin had exactly zero hours in an actual A-wing.

    We’d flown them in the simulators, of course, but all of our actual flight time was done in dilapidated Rebellion-era Y-Wings with no weapon load-outs. Still, we’d regularly out-flown the other squadrons at the Academy, and several in the group were really quite good for rookies.

    “If you remember only one thing from this training session,” Tobin droned on, using that phrase for the third time in the last ten minutes, “remember this.” He stopped pacing in front of me and stared directly into my face.

    “There are exactly two-hundred and fifty-seven elite squadrons in the Starfighter Corps,” he stated factually. “And they all have one thing in common.” He finally broke his stare and turned on his heel to continue pacing. “None of you are in them.”

    It was obvious the phrase had been rehearsed and delivered many times in his career, but he clearly believed it, and knowing the ego of pilots, it was a fact that needed to be emphasized.

    After a mere six months in the Academy, we were being placed into real starfighters with real weapons and would likely fly into battle within another month. It was a ridiculous timeframe, but the New Republic was at war and they were struggling to find enough bodies—warm or otherwise—to fly against the Yuuzhan Vong invaders.

    “Each of you will need to earn your place,” he stated, returning to stop and stare me in the face once again. He backed off slightly and snorted a bit, looking down to where the lightsaber dangled from my belt. “Except for Captain Longreach here, of course.” He looked back up and gave me an unimpressed smirk.

    His disdain was not unwarranted. I had been selected to be the squadron’s Executive Officer precisely because I had Jedi training and carried a lightsaber. I was not a natural leader, and I certainly wasn’t the best pilot in our class. If anyone in the squadron had a problem with my being in that position, however, they hadn’t expressed it.

    For the next eleven and a half hours, we drilled performing quick-launches and getting a feel for the A-Wings, which were surprisingly easy to handle. In the Academy they had told us repeatedly that if we could fly a Y-Wing, we could fly anything. That seemed to hold true.

    Major Tobin pushed me hard during the training session, holding me responsible for everything from weapon load-outs to launch order. Those things would ultimately be my responsibility, but I got the distinct impression that being burdened with those extra duties this early in our training had more to do with the lightsaber on my hip than my being the squadron X.O.

    Thus went our training sessions each day for the next week. We practiced launch drills each day, followed by tactics, and all the while, I had to be a step ahead of the rest of the squadron. And day-by-day we improved, both as pilots and as a squadron.
    The extra time I spent doing clerical work to plan drills and make requisitions quickly earned me the nickname Cap’n Keypunch, and within a day it was shortened into my new call sign: Keys.

    I was in the middle of some of that clerical work when my datapad tweedled to let me know I had an incoming message, and to my surprise, it had come from my father.

    On station for a few days. Hope to see you. -Rom.

    I winced. Considering our last meeting had resulted in a Yuuzhan Vong victory and Rom spending half a year in prison for coming to my aid instead of retreating… I couldn’t imagine he’d want to see me for anything more than a good wringing of my neck.
    Still, I needed to apologize, and sent a reply that I’d be in the mess hall in half an hour.

    “You’re still here?”

    I glanced up to find Major Tobin eyeing me suspiciously. “Just finishing up the weapon load-out requisitions,” I replied. “I don’t want to have to think about them on my day off.”

    “Don’t bother,” he said dismissively. “We’ll be doing some combat simulations with no weapons.”

    Catalyst squadron will be doing those simulations tomorrow,” I reminded him, just in case this was another lesson in regulations. “That means our fighters have to be loaded and on-standby for station defense.”

    I wasn’t sure what reaction I was expecting, but Tobin was clearly annoyed. “I know the regs,” he snapped. “This is a training facility, not a Star Destroyer, and you are the trainee.”

    “Yes, sir,” I affirmed, but when I reached to tap the delete command on my datapad, something in my mind urged me to err on the side of caution. I followed my instincts and tapped submit instead, which Tobin had no way of seeing, and then I stood and forced a smile at him. “Enjoy your time off, sir.”

    I left the hangar and used the next half hour for a brisk run through station’s wide and largely unoccupied corridors to clear my head. It worked for a while, but my mind eventually returned to the uneasy feeling that made me disobey Tobin. It was subtle, persistent and… elsewhere. While I lacked the ability to control the Force, it did occasionally give me an excellent sense of perception. I only wished that I possessed the wisdom to interpret that perception. I managed to shrug off the sense of regret at not finishing my training and let my legs pound out my frustrations into the deck plates.

    I finished my run with just enough time to freshen up before meeting Rom. He was waiting for me when I entered the mess hall.
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  14. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

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    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Interesting update and looking forward to the next part
  15. Arin_Atona Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 10, 2004
    star 4
    Thanks Jade! The next chapter is on its way.
  16. Arin_Atona Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 10, 2004
    star 4
    Chapter Five: Rom

    Neither of us seemed to know how to greet the other, so we stood there at the entrance to the station mess hall for several awkward moments before Ceril finally smiled and wrapped her arms around my neck.

    “You look just like your mother.” She smelled like her mother, too, which made me secretly wish that embrace would last much longer than it actually did.

    Ceril backed away, still holding my hand, and her smile faded a bit. “I’m truly sorry for what happened…”

    I waved her off. “Even with the benefit of hindsight, I’d make the same decision again.”

    “I wouldn’t,” she said, her gaze falling a bit. “I should have listened to Master Skywalker.”

    “There’s a part of me that thinks he should have been leading you, not trying to stop you,” I said honestly. In a way, I understood Skywalker’s rationale for not wanting to make this yet another war led by Jedi, but that line had already been crossed with the destruction of Ithor.

    Our conversation turned to more pleasant things, like our careers, and I was pleased to learn that she’d already become her squadron’s XO. She was a little disappointed that I would be transferring to the Insuperable in just a few days, since she had only a single day of leave before resuming her training again.

    So we made what time we had count. We shared a meal for the first time in more than a decade, and I listened to her describe her abbreviated time at the Academy. I gave her the non-media version of the events of my court martial, which she seemed to find fascinating, or at least was able to fake it really well.

    For three hours, it felt as though we were just a few long-lost friends catching up on old times. It was only when our time together was ending for the evening that I realized that we hadn’t really touched on anything truly important. Even those times she’d brought up accomplishments of which she was proud, I had deftly turned the topic to something that didn’t remind me that I’d missed all of those things.

    We had left the dining hall and were about to part ways at the station’s central corridor, but Ceril just stood there looking at me expectantly, her smile a bit less bright than it had been earlier. I was struggling to think of something fatherly to say when the awkwardness of the moment must have finally gotten to her.

    “Goodnight, Rom,” she said softly, placing a soft kiss on my cheek and turning to leave. The lack of happiness in her voice finally urged me into action, and I stopped thinking long enough to say what needed to be said.

    “Ceril,” I called after her, stepping forward and catching her arm. She turned to face me with a query etched into her face. My hand slipped down to grasp hers and I clutched it firmly. “I know I may have seemed a bit disinterested at times tonight, but nothing could be further from the truth. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t regret not being there to see you grow up.

    “You’re my daughter,” I reminded myself, just in case I’d forgotten, “and I want to know every detail. I just can’t quite take it all in yet.”

    And with that, my brief encounter with the right words ended.

    I wasn’t sure whether she understood me, because she just stood there nodding for a moment. Then the nodding stopped and the tears started.

    Blast. Was that the good kind of crying, or the bad kind?

    Her face was contorted with the same expression her mother had confounded me with for years, and her lips parted to squeak out the one word I feared most.

    Why?” she demanded softly.

    The damnable little word struck me like a blaster bolt. I’d rehearsed this moment a thousand times in the last few weeks, but every time it came out sounding like an excuse, or worse, a callous rebuff. I could do little more than stand there for a moment and let the words trickle out. I just hoped to the stars that I said something intelligent.

    “I thought,” I stammered, “that I was doing the right thing… for you. I…”

    Her eyes were so expectant, searching for the closure that I simply couldn’t provide.

    Only two more words made their way past my lips, sounding foreign in my voice since I hadn’t uttered them in the dozen years since my wife died. “I’m sorry.”

    I steeled myself for her fury, but received only her arms around my neck and her head buried in my shoulder. Once my confusion wore off, I was content to merely hold her while she cried, and she seemed content to let me.

    If our story had ended there, I could have simply declared my life a success. I dared to hope for the briefest of moments that we would have become a family again, that I would be able to watch her blossom into both a great Jedi and beautiful woman, and that no further hardship would interfere with our lives.

    But the universe had other plans. We were, after all, at war.

    This fact became particularly prescient when the overhead lights switched to an eerie red glow.

    The wail of an alarm klaxon heralded the station commander’s voice over the address system. “General Quarters. General Quarters. All personnel to battle stations. Flight crews to launch stations. Secure to condition one-aurek in two minutes. This is not a drill.

    Our embrace had broken and we were both running down the next corridor over before the announcement finished. Despite the tear streaks on her face, Ceril was calm and focused. I didn’t have a station to report to, so I decided I’d see her to the launch bay, and then locate the nearest infirmary or security detail and help however I could.

    When we arrived at the hangar, we were met by a particularly nervous-looking Major putting on his bright orange flight gear.

    “Longreach!” he exclaimed upon seeing us.

    I was taken aback for a brief moment, since I hadn’t heard my wife’s family name in many years. Ceril looked back and gave me an apologetic shrug. Given the current situation, I tried to assure myself that there was a practical reason why she had taken her mother’s name instead of mine, and that it was something I could find out later.

    “Please tell me you disobeyed my order and submitted that weapons requisition,” the nervous officer demanded as he finished getting his flight gear on and moved to help Ceril with hers.

    “Of course I did,” she replied in mock callousness while removing her fatigues down to a simple compression garment.

    “Good girl,” he sighed.

    “Rom, this is Major Tobin,” Ceril said cordially while the two of us quickly fastened her into a flight suit that weighed almost as much as she did. “Major, this is…” she hesitated a moment.

    “Your father, right?” Tobin asked absently while routing her emergency air supply tubing. Ceril and I locked eyes for a brief moment and then she averted her gaze. I could only assume meant she was ashamed that she couldn’t say those words herself.

    I gathered her fatigues and my hand clasped around a hard metal object that was both foreign and familiar. I extracted the silvery lightsaber hilt and Ceril stood solemnly while I fastened it to her harness. “If you go into battle wielding one of these things,” I began, offering a bit of advice.

    “I had better be ready to lead,” she interjected, giving me a half smile. “I remember.”

    I nodded while a stream of pilots hurried into the launch bay in various stages of dress and disarray. The immediacy of the moment turned my attention away to help them prepare their gear while Tobin barked orders at the group. Hearing him became difficult as the deck crew began to prep the fighters and engines started whining.

    “Stick to your training,” Tobin admonished, “and we’ll get through this together.”

    A minute later, I finished helping the last pilot with his helmet while he was trying to sprint toward the ships. Only then did I realize that I’d lost track of Ceril and that she was already in one of the fighters. I looked furiously to catch a glimpse and maybe offer a wave of goodbye, but the deck officer grabbed me and ushered me toward the entryway.

    With an entire squadron of A-Wing fighters roaring to life, it was impossible to hear him, but it was obvious he was telling me I couldn’t remain in the launch bay without hearing protection. The hangar doors yawned open to reveal the cold black of space while I backed into the corridor. I waved to no one particular as my only goodbye, and then the hatch snapped shut.

    The eerie red glow reminded me that I could be useful elsewhere, so I followed the overhead symbols to the nearest medic rally point. I didn’t even need to introduce myself; I just grabbed a kit and a group of us listened to an officer’s voice brief us over the comlink.

    “… overwhelming enemy force that is clearly superior to the station’s defenses. Venom squadron has been launched. Catalyst squadron is changing weapon load-out and will not be ready to launch for at least half an hour. Combat evacuation contingencies are now in effect. Civilian personnel should proceed to hangars seven through twelve…”

    A young medic next to me shook his head. “There aren’t enough ships to get us all off the station.”

    Another snorted with derision. “The scarheads would kill us before we could get into hyperspace anyway. I hope we called for reinforcements.”

    Two soldiers arrived from another corridor and quickly unlocked a nearby weapons cache, gesturing for us to come over. “If you’ve been paying attention, then you know we’re outgunned and we don’t have the resources to evacuate everyone; that means we’re going to be boarded.” He snatched a blaster rifle from the cache and held it up. “This is your best hope of surviving long enough to escape this floating metal coffin.”

    I slung my medical kit over my shoulder and he tossed the rifle in my direction. I caught it gingerly and sighed.

    “I hope you know how to use that.”

    Frowning, I checked the safety, cleared the gas valve, extended the stock and switched the power level to a notch below maximum – just high enough to burn through Yuuzhan Vong armor.

    The soldier nodded. “At least one of you knows what you’re doing.”

    The station alarm klaxon wailed again, and the station commander’s voice yelled, “All personnel evacuate sections twelve through forty immediately! Evacuate sections twelve through forty immediately!

    “That’s half the station!” one of the medics remarked.

    “That’s us laser-brain,” I yelled as I broke into a running stride down the corridor. “Get moving!”

    I was in section twenty-three, with nearly two kilometers of corridor between myself and section eleven. Given that I had spent most of the last seven months in a prison cell and wasn’t exactly young anymore, I hoped to the stars that immediately was just a suggestion. Somehow I doubted it.

    My legs were already feeling like lead when I entered one of the family residence sections only a minute later. Numerous beings were filing in and out of the corridor, trying to collect their families and whatever belongings they thought they couldn’t do without. Part of me wanted to stop and try to urge them to leave everything behind and just run, but I’d been a part of enough evacuations to know that if the commander’s urgent demands weren’t enough to spur them into action, then mine would be a waste of breath.

    Some were fleeing right along with me. I caught up with one older woman who slowed to a walk and then stopped to slump to the ground in obvious pain.

    My sense of duty overrode my desire for self-preservation, and I came to a stop at her side, unslinging my medkit and checking her pulse. “Do you have any pain or pressure in your chest?” I asked quickly, taking note of her rapid breath.

    “No, just too tired,” she complained with a mild chuckle. “I ran down stormtroopers on Endor, but now I’m just too old for this game.”

    The klaxon wailed again. “All hands, prepare for impact in thirty seconds.

    I grabbed a hypo from the kit. “Come on,” I said with a smile as I gave her an injection of adrenaline. And then we ran. Stride-after-stride, she stayed close to me, falling back little by little.

    The commander’s voice came on once again without the alarm, his tone solemn. “Brace for impact, and may the Force be with you.

    Exhausted, I came to a stop and prostrated myself in the corridor. The woman passed me, still running. “Get down!” I yelled.

    Space stations and giant ships are terrible places to be when something large impacts them. The shockwaves take a while to spread out, much like an earthquake, but unlike on a planet, the durasteel skeleton of a space station tends to resonate with the impact. And not just once; impacts take time to develop, as whatever is crashing into you tears its way through deck after deck, creating successively larger shockwaves.

    If you’re lucky, the first really large shockwave will push you into the air and the artificial gravity will—by design—fail just as you reach the apex of your ascent, leaving you suspended between the deck and the ceiling while the shockwaves rattle through the ship. If not, the shockwaves will generally paddle you back-and-forth until your body has been pulverized, and if the universe is feeling particularly cruel, you’ll survive.

    I got lucky, and before I knew the impact had even occurred, I was floating above the deck while it vibrated furiously. The woman that I’d helped wasn’t so lucky. Her thankfully-lifeless body was being slapped and spun around in rather macabre ways.

    Screams. They came from every direction, and were only silenced when the air seemed to be sucked out of the corridor, signaling that the worst was yet to come. Whatever had crashed into us had exploded.

    For several seconds, I stayed suspended and light-headed, wondering what would come rushing back into the corridor: air, or fire.

    I didn’t have a preference, but no inferno claimed me. The air returned, as did gravity, but only with emergency lighting. Station command was silent—and presumably dead—so I turned my thoughts to what I do best: tending the wounded and saving lives. And a few minutes later when the enemy boarded the station, I engaged my other great skill: killing things.


    All the while, Ceril was never far from my mind. I mused about whether we would be able to tell if the other perished. I had no idea what sort of hellish battle she was enduring in the darkness of space outside, nor whether her one squadron of rookie pilots could hope to even mount a defense against the enemy.
    Last edited by Arin_Atona, Mar 28, 2013
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  17. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Bravo on the poignant reunion. It was very real to life, and barely got warm and comfy when the emergency erupted. :( I too hope Rom and Ceril will both come out allright.
  18. Rainbow Knight Star Game Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Apr 18, 2005
    star 5
    This is a wonderful story. Please tag me when you update.

    :)
  19. Arin_Atona Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 10, 2004
    star 4
    Sorry for the delay on this next post. It will be forthcoming momentarily.

    Jade_eyes: Thanks! I hope so as well.

    Rainbow Knight Star: Will do.
  20. Arin_Atona Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 10, 2004
    star 4
    Chapter Six: Ceril

    My troubles began before I ever cleared the launch bay.

    “Keys, what’s your status?”

    While other pilots may have simply slammed their fist in frustration against the fighter’s console in response to the series of red indicators, I kept my cool and keyed the launch bay crew into the conversation.

    “Venom Two has starboard engine failure,” I sighed. Two technicians leapt into action with an astromech droid that quickly jacked into my fighter to begin running diagnostics. This newest batch of A-Wing fighters were technically capable of housing an astromech droid, but no pilot would ever willingly sacrifice speed and balance—the only advantages the A-Wing possessed over any other fighter—just to carry around the ability to calculate their own hyperspace jumps and perform diagnostics. If you needed to do either of those things in battle from within an A-Wing, the odds were that you were already dead anyway.

    Tobin’s voice was calm, yet irritated while my squadron continued without me. “Enemy forces are holding position at two-eight-mark-four… what are they waiting for?”

    “Leader, Six. Looks like the Peace Brigade.”

    That was some consolation. The Yuuzhan Vong would have brought overwhelming force and we’d have lost the station for sure. If our attackers were their turncoat Peace Brigade lackeys, we stood a chance of fighting them off. Between the station’s shields and laser cannons, along with two A-Wing squadrons, we could repel an entire Star Destroyer.

    “I count seven Star Destroyers, forty-seven assault frigates…”

    So much for hope.

    The time it was taking to get me into space was beginning to wear on my patience. “What’s my status, Chief?”

    The tech outside my fighter gave me a dirty look before responding. “Flight computer is faulty. Unless you want me to load up this astro-droid, it’s going to take a few minutes.”

    Tobin’s voice was cold as death. “I need you, Keys.”

    I clenched my jaw for a moment, hard. “Fine,” I remarked through bared teeth. “Load the droid.”

    A gaping hole appeared in the starboard wing of my fighter and the entire flight computer was dumped from its socket and onto the flight deck. My ride was dead.

    One of the technicians spent a few moments clearing away the ejected computer while the other moved the droid into position under the fighter. A moment later, a silver and gold dome appeared in the socket and everything in my cockpit came back to life.

    “Great,” I muttered. “I’m flying with a droid that’s older than I am.”

    The little astromech’s dome turned to face me with its optical sensor and blatted out a few choice insults.

    “I don’t care how many Jedi Masters you flew with in the Clone Wars. Where are they now?”

    I couldn’t really follow the tirade of beeping and blatting that followed, but it did at least start the engines while it questioned my genetic heritage. Somewhere in the stream of electronic profanity, it introduced itself as R2-A6.

    “Stow it Aysix,” I snapped at the droid. “Get me in into the stars.”

    It blatted in annoyance, but my power levels approached maximum. Everything was go.

    “Venom Two, lit and green.”

    The technicians bolted away before the crew chief uttered the words, “Clear to launch.”

    I eased the fighter forward and yawed to face the magnetic field, then urged it gently through. Just before we crossed the plane into vacuum, I reached forward to dial up the inertial compensator, and noticed that Aysix did it for me. Smart droid; that was some consolation.

    As soon as I cleared the bay, I pushed the throttle up to the stops and the fighter bolted into action. Even at ninety-nine percent compensation, the acceleration was physically painful. My threat board lit up with red icons of hostile vessels, a large green one for the station, and out in the open area between, a number of green blips that represented my squadron.

    One of the other pilots commented, “They have an entire armada; surely they aren’t waiting for more reinforcements.”

    As I reached top speed, the inertial compensator dialed down to ninety-seven-point-two. “Give me ninety-six,” I snapped.

    Aysix assured me that due to his extra weight in the fighter, this was the optimal level to ensure that it would feel natural to me. I started to adjust it myself, but then admitted that with just a single week of drills in this fighter, it probably didn’t matter.

    I had barely covered half the distance between the station and the rest of my squadron when a flash of hyperspace wash nearby caught my attention. Another red blip appeared on my threat board.

    “Armored freighter incoming at nine-two-mark-zero,” I announced. “It’s heading for the station.”

    Tobin wasn’t impressed. “Not much of a threat. Let the station cannons deal with it.”

    I clicked my agreement, but something didn’t quite feel right. And I always trusted my feelings. “Aysix, scan that freighter.”

    The grumpy droid complied, but not silently. It, too, didn’t consider the freighter to be much threat, but it broke off its analysis of my orders mid-stream.

    I stared at the readout for a moment. “That’s not right. That ship can’t carry that much weaponry.”

    Aysix forcefully asserted the accuracy of his scan.

    “Maybe all that ablative armor is interfering with the sensors,” I mused aloud. “The only way a ship that size has that many proton torpedoes is if its entire cargo hold is…” I trailed off as the implication hit me. I checked the freighter’s speed to confirm my fears and found it accelerating toward the station. “Oh, blast.”

    I cut the throttle and spun my fighter around, then poured on speed to catch up to the freighter. “Station command, this is Venom Two,” I announced over the comm.

    Tobin’s voice interjected, “Keys, what are you…” I’d beg forgiveness later.

    “Go ahead, Two.”

    “You have a freighter incoming on collision course—heavy ablative armor and a cargo hold full of proton warheads.”

    The silence over the comm was frightening. If that ship rammed the station, there wouldn’t be a station left to defend. Laser cannons on the station opened fire, all targeting the armored freighter, which appeared to have powerful shields in addition to armor. It couldn’t last forever against that kind of firepower, but it didn’t have to. It only needed to last another two minutes at most.

    Tobin’s voice returned to the comm. “Venom squadron, lock targets and arm concussion missiles. Set to maximum range. Fire.”

    Those missiles wouldn’t have anywhere near enough power to hammer through both the shields and the armor. “Let’s change the odds,” I muttered as I caught up to the freighter and rolled my fighter over to strafe its ventral axis. I was so close that less than a meter separated my canopy from the freighter’s hull.

    Aysix managed a lock and I squeezed the trigger instantly, unleashing a pair of bright red laser bolts at the primary shield generator, which erupted into a column of fire and debris that required throwing my fighter into an uncontrollable tailspin to avoid. The first salvo of missiles arrived while I tried to regain control.

    “That armor’s too thick,” Tobin remarked. “The missiles barely put a dent in her.”

    I pulled out of the spin and looked at my threat board to see where my squadron was at. All of them were still in position between the station and the enemy fleet, which was now moving in. Another flash of hyperspace wash in the rear of the enemy fleet lit up a bright red icon.

    One of my fellow pilots stammered nervously without identifying himself. “Yuuzhan Vong battleship analog incoming. Two-eight-mark-seven.” A swarm of smaller red blips appeared among the enemy; they had launched fighters—hundreds of them.

    I couldn’t worry about what the enemy fleet was doing. If I didn’t stop this freighter’s suicide run, the Peace Brigade and the Yuuzhan Vong would be the least of our problems.

    Aysix whistled nervously and a new indicator lit up on my console.

    “Why are you plotting a hyperspace jump?” I demanded.

    The droid gave me a plaintive wail.

    “I don’t do ‘just in case’. Help me stop this freighter.” In fact, even on a heavily armored ship, there was still one major weak-spot when deflector shields were down. “Arm concussion missiles and target the engines.”

    As I brought my fighter in behind the freighter, Aysix informed me that at its current speed, it would have more than enough momentum to still crash into the station, even if I took out all the engines.

    I thought quickly. “Fine, target the starboard engines. And as soon as I fire, get laser locks on the starboard maneuvering thrusters.” If I could create enough differential in thrust and eliminate its ability to compensate, maybe I could throw the freighter off course before its captain realized it and shut down the engines.

    I raced up to the freighter and found my squadron heading in my direction. Tobin apparently understood my thinking and was coming to help. I braced myself, because I had to execute this maneuver as quickly as possible to have any chance of success. At the last possible instant, I launched a pair of missiles directly into two outermost starboard engines, then jammed my flightstick to roll my fighter over for another strafing run.

    Aysix whistled and my lasers locked onto the maneuvering thrusters just as the ship began to compensate for the sudden change in direction. I held the trigger down and the thrusters exploded in a storm of shrapnel. There was no avoiding it this time; all I could do was fly right into the debris cloud and hope my deflector shields could take it.

    One chunk of metal slammed into my fighter, but not with enough force to do any damage. Aysix accused me of trying to get us both killed.

    “That’s a likely outcome,” I remarked, taking note of the enemy fighters that were inbound and creating a wide front, likely to ensure that any ships leaving the station couldn’t get through without engaging.

    Refocusing on the suicidal freighter, I found its engines had been cut, leaving it drifting off-course, but not enough to avoid the station entirely. The station’s lasers hammered the ship, but even with our collective firepower, we didn’t have enough to punch through the armor and destroy it before it could hit the command section of the station in…

    I sighed seeing the counter below twenty seconds. I launched another pair of missiles in vain hope, only to watch them ineffectually explode against the ship’s ablative armor. Another salvo of missiles accompanied my squadron arriving to help, but their additional firepower and strafing runs were a futile effort.

    My thoughts turned to the people on the station, namely my father. I found myself mercifully contemplating whether I’d want Rom to survive, given the overwhelming superiority of the enemy fleet. Of course I did. Survival was hope.

    The station commander’s voice came over the comm, somber in tone as he realized he wouldn’t be surviving the event. “Major Tobin, you’re now the ranking officer in command. May the Force be…”

    The freighter crashed through the station’s hull like it was nothing, disappearing inside and leaving only a column of decompressing atmosphere and debris in its wake. A moment later, the explosion caused my canopy and visor to darken completely. Even through my squeezed-shut eyelids, it was still painfully bright.

    I rolled my fighter hard and pulled away to avoid the maelstrom of debris that erupted and I tried to maintain control when the shockwave hit. When I was finally able to see again, fully a quarter of the station had been vaporized in the explosion. What remained was derelict, listing aimlessly in space.

    I had expected to feel some kind of agony through the Force if my father had died, but instead it was the sudden combined deaths of everyone caught in the explosion that hit me as painfully as someone physically kicking me in the gut. My head was disoriented and it took a concerted effort to not empty the contents of my stomach all over the cockpit.

    Awareness escaped me for a bit, and it didn’t occur to me that my fellow pilots were yelling my call-sign over the comm until one of them called me by name.

    “Ceril! What do we do?!”

    My mind snapped back into the present and I collected myself. I keyed the comm, “Leader, Two. What are your orders?” I glanced to my threat board to try to find his position.

    After only a moment of silence, one of the other pilots broke the news. “Tobin was too close to the explosion. He’s gone. You’re in command, Keys.”

    The deaths of everyone caught in the explosion hadn’t affected me nearly as much as the sudden realization that I was now solely responsible for the defense of a now-derelict space station in the face of an enemy armada with nothing but a group of eleven A-Wings and a lightsaber. The enemy fleet closed in.

    “Two, Eight. Enemy is launching boarding parties. Fighters incoming at… well… everywhere.”

    I reached down and clutched my lightsaber briefly.

    If you go into battle wielding one of those things, you had best be ready to lead.

    “The station has been boarded.”

    “Keys? We need orders.”

    I glanced at Aysix’ completed hyperspace plot and lamented that my first command decision might condemn many to their deaths, my father included. “Venom squadron, slave your flight computers to mine and download my jump vector.”

    “We’re retreating?”

    I stifled my feelings of shame. “We’re going to be in for the fight of our lives just to escape. Our only hope to save the station survivors is to come back with reinforcements before the enemy destroys them completely.”

    A series of clicks told me they acknowledged and the process of transmitting the hyperspace jump route—a massively complex piece of data—began. We had to survive until that process could complete.

    “Weapons hot, engines hotter,” I commanded, shoving my throttle forward to the stops and hurtling myself toward the cloud of enemy fighters. The rest of the squadron joined in a slashing formation that would give us the best chance of breaking through the fighter cordon the Peace Brigade had now established around the station.

    It already weighed on me that I knew the odds. Even if we broke through, half of us would probably die. And considering Aysix was the jump plotter, if anything happened to it, we were all dead.

    The enemy fighters appeared to be a mix of old TIEs and Z-95 Headhunters. As we closed in on the cordon, I switched weapons. “Arm concussion missiles. Pick your targets.”

    Every enemy fighter in the area knew what we were attempting, and nearly four squadrons of TIEs and Z-95s were bearing down on us when we came into range.

    “Fire,” I said, launching my last pair of missiles and switching back to lasers. “All power to front deflectors.”

    Between our shields and the enemy pilots avoiding our missiles, their first salvo against us was largely ineffective. “Good hunting,” I remarked, glancing at the plot timer. We had to survive eighteen more seconds for everyone to receive the jump coordinates.

    My squadron plunged into the gap created by our missiles, but several more enemy TIEs were already vectoring in to flank us. Two Headhunters took up position on my tail and I juked randomly to shake them. The A-Wings’ speed would put us out of their range in a few seconds. I just needed to keep them from getting a lock until then.

    Two of my pilots’ indicators disappeared from the thread board. We passed out of the Headhunters’ ranges and straight into bright green laser blasts from the oncoming TIE fighters. I rolled hard and Aysix managed to score a lock on one just as I hit the trigger, turning one of the eyeballs into star-food. Three others exploded, but a third indicator blinked out of my squadron as well.

    “Stabilize your rear deflectors.”

    I juked and rolled in an attempt to shake a particularly good TIE pilot, and would have been sucking vacuum myself if another of my pilots hadn’t vaped him first.

    “Thanks, Three,” I said.

    “Anyti…” Three’s voice crackled out in a scream and his indicator disappeared.

    I dodged one more pair of laser shots when Aysix tweeted that the jump coordinates were ready.

    Just as I reached for the hyperdrive switch and keyed the comm to order my pilots to jump, my proximity alarm wailed and Aysix screamed something about a fleet coming out of hyperspace directly ahead.

    “Evasive!” I yelled, pushing the flightstick down and over to hopefully avoid colliding with whatever was dropping in on top of us. I pulled out of my spin in time to dodge one scrambling TIE fighter, then pulled up and saw a red laser blast clip the stabilizer off another.

    I turned my head to follow the doomed TIE as it spun away, then blinked in surprise when it crashed into the hull of a monstrous ship that appeared out of nowhere.

    I didn’t need to look at my threat board to identify the new ship. Nothing else in the galaxy will make your heart leap into your throat like the sight of a Mon Calamari battlecruiser.

    The comm came to life. “This is Admiral Torric Venish’dra of the New Republic battle group Insuperable. Who’s in command here?”

    “Captain Ceril Longreach, Venom Squadron,” I replied, elated that I was about to be relieved. A quick glance at the threat board confirmed that we were still outnumbered, but had a fighting chance of claiming victory.

    After a momentary pause, the Admiral said calmly, “As you were, Venom Leader. Where do you need us?”

    While it was standard procedure for ranking officers to defer to their subordinates when entering a battle zone until they could appraise the situation, it surprised me that he’d do so when the situation was essentially half an A-Wing squadron defending what’s left of a defenseless derelict space station.

    I brushed off my surprise and only needed a moment to gain my composure and confidence. Considering I wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about the battle group’s resources, I simply surveyed the threat board and followed my instincts. “I need five security teams ready to board the station and repel enemy invaders. I also need three medical teams standing by to evacuate the station survivors as soon as it can be secured.”

    Tapping my threat board, I highlighted an enemy assault frigate and a Star Destroyer that were now positioned close to the station to defend their boarding parties. I was trusting that Aysix was smart enough to transmit my indicators to my allies. “I need two wings of anything carrying proton torpedoes, designated Green and Gold groups to destroy these vessels and provide escort for evacuations.”

    “Security teams one through five, launching now. Evacuation teams assembling.”

    “Copy that,” I remarked, switching my attention to the bulk of the enemy fleet.

    “Gold and Green groups heading to targets.”

    The enemy fleet was attempting to move between the battle group and the station, and their fighter cordon was collapsing to try to overwhelm our fighter support. I glanced at the Insuperable to see which way she was facing and took note of her supporting vessels.

    It felt more than a bit odd giving orders to an entire battle group, but I had to hold things together as best I could until the Admiral came up with a plan. “Insuperable come to heading four-eight-mark-one and hold your port-side fighter launches,” I ordered. “All fighter wings except for Green and Gold pick up enemy fighters and draw them toward the stern of the Insuperable. Keep them on the starboard side facing their fleet. Venom Squadron, on me.”

    I wheeled my fighter about and headed to the Mon Cal cruiser’s bow where my squadron set up to race down the port side; I was counting on the ship’s bulk to hide fighter launches from enemy sensors.

    “Launch remaining fighters from port-side bays as Venom Squadron passes by,” I ordered. “Form up behind us.”

    “Copy, Captain.”

    “Venom Leader, Gold group target destroyed.”

    I nodded to myself and saw a red Star Destroyer indicator disappear from the threat board, quickly followed by the assault frigate.

    “Green group target destroyed. Security teams boarding the station.”

    I watched the swarm of fighter indicators approach the Insuperable’s starboard side, and our pilots led the enemy on a merry chase down the long axis of the massive ship.

    “Here we go,” I announced, and shoved my throttle up to the stops. The fighter bucked and bolted ahead with my squadron racing along behind me in tight formation. As we passed each launch bay, squadron after squadron joined us in our race to the stern. By the time we passed the last bay, my little battered group of rookies were accompanied by no less than a hundred X-Wings and their veteran pilots.

    “Bring the enemy around the stern and be ready to take evasive action,” I said with a wry smile creeping up my face.

    Seconds later, another hundred friendly fighters rounded the front of the Insuperable and headed directly at us. They were immediately followed by twice as many Headhunters, TIEs, and coralskippers.

    “Evasive!” I yelled, and our allied fighters scattered in multiple directions. Our enemies realized much too late that they were flying straight into a trap while my threat board filled with easy target locks.

    “Weapons tight. Light them up.” In the span of a heartbeat, we met the enemy head-on and turned twenty of them into balls of fire. Shrapnel from the explosions took out at least that many more, and another dozen or so took each other out either by crashing into one another or firing in panic. Within another few seconds, the sudden chaos, our pilots’ precision, and supporting fire from the Insuperable had cut them down to almost nothing.

    It took a concerted effort to remember that I was commanding more than just fighters, and I quickly returned to where I had a clear view of the battle. With so many enemy ships out there, it would have been tempting to simply start smashing them one-by-one, but I had to remember that we were still outnumbered, even if we had achieved a momentary advantage.

    One target stood out in my mind, but it would be a very risky move. Another pair of assault frigates were moving in on the station, most likely intent upon finishing it off rather than capturing it.

    “Orders, Admiral?” I asked, wondering why he hadn’t yet taken command. I selected a pair of our destroyers from the threat board.

    “Carry on, Captain,” he replied in a somewhat distant tone.

    I blinked in surprise and Aysix let out a low whistle. I made sure I wasn’t broadcasting when I said between us, “What is he thinking?”

    Rather than dwell on it, I simply reminded myself of the responsibility on my shoulders and re-keyed the comm. “I have two destroyers selected. Break off from the battle group and take up position near the station to defend it from those frigates. Gold group redeploy to support.”

    “Copy, Venom Leader.”

    I looked out on the battle. Once more a single target captured my eye: the Yuuzhan Vong battleship. It had initially been on the far side of the fleet in an almost observational capacity, but the odd-looking organic vessel was now moving through the middle of the enemy fleet toward us. We must have gotten their attention. I tapped it on the threat board.

    Aysix immediately questioned my sanity.

    It felt right, and I was going to trust my feelings. If the Admiral disapproved, he could do his job and take command.

    “All medical frigates stand by to assist with evacuations when the station is secure,” I began. “All other frigates and gunboats take position around the Insuperable and engage any enemy vessel that approaches. Fighter squadrons take up escort positions throughout the battle group. I need one X-Wing group designated Sword; take up your escort position toward the front of the column.”

    I then tapped the indicator for the Mon Cal battle-cruiser. “Insuperable, come to two-eight-mark-seven.”

    The comm crackled. “Captain Longreach, that’s will take us directly toward that Uro-ik v’alh battleship.”

    Tapping on the scarhead battleship once more, I said casually, “They like to fight. Let’s goad them into one. Forward turbolaser batteries stand by; fire on that ship any time your lane is clear.”

    The Insuperable completed her turn and the entire battle group lumbered forward, moving the entirety of our forces directly into the middle of the enemy fleet in a simple escort pattern.

    “All vessels, weapons tight. Hit anything you can get a clear shot at.”

    The unfamiliar voice came over the comm again. “Admiral?” Apparently, Aysix wasn’t the only one questioning my sanity.

    Admiral Venish’dra made no response.

    “Venom Leader, station is secure. Evacuations commencing.”

    “Sword group standing by.”

    I punched the throttle on my A-Wing to move up to the front of the column, with one of my pilots taking position on my wing. By the time I reached the front, the forward batteries were already firing ineffectually at the scarhead battleship. Its dovin basals used powerful gravitational fields to simply absorb the blasts into a void. Though the shots hit nothing, they were drawing the ship forward—they were eager for a fight.

    Everywhere else in the battle group, New Republic and Peace Brigade forces exchanged broadside blows. Considering our numbers, we couldn’t take this kind of punishment for long. Shields would be exhausted in short order, and then massive numbers of casualties would start to mount.

    I carefully watched as the distance closed between the massive vessels, and more Yuuzhan Vong coralskippers began to launch. “Pick up those enemy fighters,” I ordered. “Stay out of the firing lane. Insuperable, stand by thrusters for a port-side roll. Sword group, stand by photon torpedoes.”

    The Admiral’s voice finally returned, also inquisitive. “Captain, I’m not sure that’s such a good…”

    My threat board indicated optimal range. “Insuperable, immediate course change to heading two-six-mark-two-seven-seven! Port-roll, go!”

    For a moment, I thought the Admiral might countermand my orders. That thought fled when the battle cruiser turned downward to bring itself perpendicular to the Yuuzhan Vong ship while spinning on its long axis. I tried my best to estimate the speed of her course change and roll.

    I counted to three in my head. “Sword group, arm torpedoes. Fire one! Insuperable, stand by to stabilize.”

    Toward the front of the fleet, seventy-two torpedoes launched toward the Yuuzhan Vong vessel. Their coralskippers realized what I was trying to do and raced to get into the firing lane to intercept the torpedoes. They’d be successful, for sure, but their dovin basals were both their shielding and their propulsion; they would have a hard time intercepting torpedoes and turning the fighters at the same time. “Sword group. Fire two!”

    While the coralskippers raced to intercept the first group of torpedoes and careened out of the lane, another salvo launched, unlikely to be interfered with by enemy fighters.

    Insuperable, full stop!” And stop she did. The Admiral must have figured out my plan and had her prepared. As her roll stopped, her broadside turbolaser batteries came to bear on the Yuuzhan Vong battleship.

    As the torpedoes raced toward the enemy ship, I cracked a smile. “Weapons free.”

    The Insuperable’s broadside turbolaser batteries erupted, bathing everything in a red glow. The scarhead ship’s dovin basals did an amazing job intercepting the blasts, but they were so over-taxed that nearly every one of Sword group’s proton torpedoes passed through and slammed into the Yuuzhan Vong ship, exploding in white fury.

    “Target those explosions. Sword group, fire three.”

    With its dovin basals and weaponry either destroyed or rendered useless, the third salvo was devastating. It took barely half a minute more for the Insuperable’s relentless turbolaser batteries to cut the crippled Yuuzhan Vong ship in half and blow it to pieces. The sudden loss of their strongest ship and the ensuing chaos threw the enemy fleet into panic. Once the Insuperable turn her guns on the Peace Brigade ships, most attempted to flee, bringing the battle to a swift conclusion.

    When the fighting ended, my entire body shook until the adrenaline rush passed. The battle had sharpened and focused my mind, but now that it was over, my thoughts were jumbled.

    Several minutes later, Admiral Venish’dra finally relieved me. I spent the next hour and a half after the battle flying escort for evac cruisers, doing clerical work to ensure the families of my fallen pilots could be notified, and trying to get the rest of my squadron reassigned. All the while, I tried constantly to find out whether or not Rom had survived the assault.

    I still hadn’t heard anything by the time I was summoned to the Admiral’s briefing room. I dearly wanted to know what kind of insanity had led to my being in command of an entire battle group. The answer came when I walked into the briefing room, still in my flight suit and stinking of sweat.

    The Admiral, a tall Bothan with black fur in a crisp white uniform, was surrounded by a room full of fleet officers. Ten more, including his executive officer, were lined up in the middle of the briefing room on their knees with hands bound, and being watched over by armed guards.

    There was only one reason for such a scene: Mutiny.
  21. Kahara Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2001
    star 3
    Looks like Ceril got dropped in the deep end with that space battle. Glad she made it through. I was wondering what was up with the Admiral near the end and am curious what happened with the mutiny.
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