Coruscant has fallen. The New Republic lies shattered. Jaina Solo returns from Myrkr alone, the sole survivor of the disastrous mission that claimed the lives of an entire generation of Jedi Knights. Determined to avoid a repeat of what she sees as the mistakes that led to the deaths of her brothers, her friends, and so many trillions of others, Jaina is resolved to destroy the Yuuzhan Vong using any methods available, and at all costs necessary. It’s not clear if any side in such a war will be able to claim victory once all is said and done, but Jaina intends to make one thing certain: even if nobody wins, the Vong are sure as hell going to lose… DELENDA EST I.The Yuuzhan Vong War, 27 ABY. Six weeks after the Fall of Coruscant. The dagger-shaped hull of the aging Venator-class star destroyer hung fifty klicks ahead of where we’d emerged from hyperspace, her dorsal armor plating glimmering under the light of the planetless yellow sun half an AU away. A trail of condensed gas and shattered durasteel fragments traced the warship’s course for several kilometers behind her. It wasn’t the only debris in the area; not far away, my sensors were picking up a slowly expanding cloud of yorik coral fragments and unclassified biological matter that must have belonged to a midsized Yuuzhan Vong capital ship. “Star Destroyer Vigilance, this is Wraith One, flying off the Assault Cruiser Ralroost,” I said into my headset. “We picked up a single broadcast from your disaster beacon about eight minutes ago, then it went dark. The Admiral sent us to check it out. What’s your status, over?” I lifted my thumb off the transmit button and waited several seconds. The channel remained quiet except for the occasional faint buzz of static. “Maybe they’re all dead, ma’am,” Wes Janson offered over the squadron frequency. He’d been calling me ma’am ever since he made a fool of himself on the first shuttle ride up to Ralroost a month earlier. I was pretty sure I was the first of his many commanding officers to get any sort of honorific from him. “I’m picking up a lot of radiation coming from near her center of mass.” I checked my readouts and shook my head. “Maybe, but I don’t think so. Her bridge is far enough away from that leak that nobody up there should have taken anything close to a lethal dose yet.” I closed my eyes and reached out with the Force—I couldn’t pick out individuals at this range, but there was definitely still life aboard the damaged warship, and plenty of it. I switched back to the emergency channel. “Vigilance, this is Wraith One. Do you copy, over?” This time, I got a response after a few more seconds of silence. “Wraith One, thank goodness you’re here.” The man speaking sounded scared, which I supposed was natural enough given the circumstances. I had to remind myself from time to time that there were people who still gave a damn whether they lived to see the end of this war or not. “We got jumped by a Vong cruiser. Took her out, but we lost our entire air wing doing it. We’ve got a serious reactor breach. The initial blast must have fried our disaster beacon. We didn’t know it had gotten anything off at all.” That seemed odd. Warship disaster beacons were built to be damn near indestructible. Then again, the Venator-class was ancient technology, so I supposed the beacon could have fallen short of the modern standard. Still, it seemed like the sort of thing that would have been replaced as part of regular maintenance sometime between, say, the Great karking ReSynchronization and now. What the hell, we didn’t have to deal with the details of why the beacon had failed; there was doubtless a committee or subcommittee for that somewhere in the labyrinth that was the military bureaucracy. “We’ve got you covered,” I said, opening the throttle a little and bringing my X-wing closer to the crippled star destroyer, but not too close. I didn’t want to be caught up in the shockwave if that hypermatter reactor went supercritical. “Can you contain the breach?” “We don’t think so, Wraith One,” Vigilance’s commanding officer said after a short pause. “My entire engineering crew is down. The sensors down there are all fried, but best guess is the core temperature’s about twenty thousand absolute and rising by now.” I had enough natural sympathy with things mechanical that I winced at the number. “Then you’re going to have to abandon ship,” I said. “We’ll keep your pods covered until the Ralroost gets here to pick you up.” Again, the response took a moment. When it came, it sounded panicked. “Can’t you send anyone over to see if we can put a lid on it? A ship the size of the Ralroost should have the right sort of hazardous environment equipment onboard.” “With the reactor that close to blowing?” I frowned and shook my head. This guy should know better. “Admiral Kre’fey’s not going to go for it, and I wouldn’t, either. Get out of there while you can.” As if to underscore the point, a blue-white gout of plasma blew out several hundred square meters of armor plating on the star destroyer’s dorsal center. I squeezed my eyes shut against the intensity of the blast, and when I opened them, a lazily-floating reddish afterimage remained seared on the center of my vision for several seconds. “Copy that, Wraith One,” Vigilance’s CO agreed. “I’ll give the order to evacuate. It’s just…damn it. I’ve served on this ship since she was launched. She’s been my home under the flags of three different galactic governments.” He let out a frustrated sigh. “Damn the Vong.” It’s just a frelling ship, I wanted to say, but I thought better of it. I knew how attached my father was to his ship, even if I’d had to slam my fist down on a couple eject buttons too many to fall into that trap myself these days. In the last few weeks, I’d started to feel the same way about people, too. Damn the Vong—the star destroyer captain I was talking to had that much right, at least. “I’ll talk to you when you get to your pod,” I said instead. “May the Force be with you.” He didn’t answer; if he was smart, he’d already stepped away from the radio and was headed for the nearest escape pod as fast as he could run. Moments later, the first pod popped out of its hatch and burned away from the dying star destroyer at full speed. Within seconds, several others had joined it. I radioed Ralroost. “Admiral, Wraith One. We’ve found the Vigilance. She’s still in one piece for now, but she’s losing reactor containment fast. The crew just bailed out. Could you swing by and pick them up?” “Certainly. We’ve already got the jump plotted out. ETA, six minutes. Ralroost, clear.” I watched the escape pods thrust towards safety, glinting in the same yellow sunlight as the ship from which they had come. I shook my head and sighed. Most of Vigilance’s crew would live, and that was a good thing, but the Republican Remnant desperately needed every warship it could get, even a museum piece like Vigilance. We hadn’t even known the star destroyer was out here; she had been listed as missing and presumed destroyed two months earlier. “This doesn’t feel right, One,” Elassar Targon broke in over the squadron channel. “There’s something off about his story.” “It doesn’t seem right to me either, Five,” I agreed. “I’m just trying to piece out how, exactly, it’s wrong.” “Can’t you just read his mind or something?” “From thirty klicks out?” I snorted in derision. “I wish.” “Wait, there’s a range limit on that?” Janson cut in, sounding quite hopeful. “So when I’m safe in my stateroom and you’re off somewhere else, I’m free to think about…uh, things I want to think about?” I rolled my eyes. “Think about whatever you want, but the range limit in question applies to the Force, not to me having a functioning brain. Anybody have something useful to say about the situation?” I almost specified other than Janson, but decided that would be redundant. Targon did. “They have to be completely insane not to have all bailed out ten minutes ago. At this point, it’s fifty-fifty whether they’ll even clear the blast zone before that reactor goes.” “We’re pretty deep in Vong space,” I said. “We all know what the Scarheads do to their prisoners. Running up to the nearest unstable hypermatter annihilation reactor and giving it a great big hug makes a certain amount of sense under the circumstances.” “Yeah, but the entire crew feeling that way?” Tyria Sarkin questioned, her voice doubtful. “Not everybody is quite as grim as you are, One. We’re talking about nearly eight thousand people here, minus whoever’s already dead. What are the odds nobody on there wants to take their chances and see if they get rescued?” “Pretty low,” I agreed. “Like I said, it sounds fishy, but we’re not any closer to knowing what really is going on. Unless…” My astromech warbled a short series of beeps at me, and I checked the item being displayed on my scanner. It was Vigilance’s disaster beacon, drifting down the trajectory along which it had automatically launched itself the moment its tiny droid brain had detected a reactor containment failure in progress. I’d seen enough types of battle damage to immediately recognize that the beacon had taken a direct hit from an ion cannon. The Vong sure as hell didn’t have ion cannons, and there was no reason to fire anti-electronics weapons at the Vong, so it hadn’t gotten caught up in the crossfire, either. The only explanation was that the beacon had been targeted intentionally by Vigilance’s gunners, and her CO had lied to me about it. “…unless they knew they’d get no sympathy no matter who picked them,” I finished, disappointed that I had to say the words but not altogether surprised now that the pieces were coming together. “And the worst part is that if they hadn’t tried to cover it up in the stupidest way possible, we wouldn’t have figured it out until after we’d let them onboard Ralroost.” I sighed and shifted my weight in my seat, then dialed my transmitter back to the emergency channel. “Captain, this is Wraith One. I know you’re listening. My astromech unit just picked up the wreckage of your disaster beacon. Seeing as the Vong haven’t cracked the positional encryption on those things, we both know there’s only one reason you wouldn’t want it to transmit. How long ago did your ship defect to the Peace Brigade?” For a moment, I thought he wouldn’t answer. Then I thought he must have been busy trying to come up with a lie. Finally his voice came across the radio, defeated. “Just before Coruscant. Listen, Wraith One. We all made a mistake, and we’re willing to face justice for it. Just please don’t leave us here.” Red started to creep in around the edges of my vision. The Peace Brigade were the lowest form of scum. They were worse than the Yuuzhan Vong—and nothing was worse than the Yuuzhan Vong. “Would you still think you’d made a ‘mistake’ if the Vong hadn’t just finished trying to clean up their little ‘mistake’ that they made when they hired you?” “Please, Wraith One. My name’s Senis Felev. I have a wife and three kids. The Vong told me—” He stopped abruptly, and I heard a choked sob. He was actually crying. “My name is Jaina Solo,” I said softly, silencing his sniveling with the turn of a dial. “And I had two brothers.” I was tired of listening to him, and whether he was cardboard cutout Peace Brigade scum or a family man with a name didn’t matter. I already tasted bile on my tongue, and I honestly felt as though I might vomit if I heard another word from his mouth. I checked my chrono—Admiral Kre’fey wouldn’t be here with Ralroost for another three and a half minutes. I switched back to the squadron channel. “Wraith Squadron, form on me.” I angled my X-wing toward the mass of escape pods gathered twenty klicks from the abandoned star destroyer, easing my throttle lever forward. “Lock S-foils in attack position.” *** Author’s Note: Hello there! Thank you for reading. It’s been about three years since the last time I posted here. I mainly wrote humor then, much of which was pretty dumb in retrospect, but there was plenty that I’m still proud of. The idea for this story was kicking around in my head back then, but I moved on to other things and never got around to writing it. A couple weeks ago, I decided I’d give it a go again. I’ve got about a seven-chapter head start drafted, so I can promise reasonably frequent updates for a good while. If you liked what you read, comments are always appreciated; I respond to all the comments my stories get, and I enjoy discussing these things. If you didn’t like it, then, well, comments are still appreciated. I’m open to constructive criticism, either here or by PM.