Beyond Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Invincible: Special Edition

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Sinrebirth, Sep 4, 2012.

Moderators: Briannakin, mavjade
  1. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

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    Nov 15, 2004
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    Reposting once again as this got up and running again on the Temporary Boards, I shall seek to repost this one day at a time, culminating in a final tag for all of you who are following this on a weekly basis. Anyone who wants to chime in and request an update, please do not hesitate....

    ... this fanfic, a repost from the old boards which has been expanded upon and had extra bits squashed in, is designed to be read in conjunction with Legacy of the Force: Invincible, by Troy Denning. It aims to be a full expansion of the story, covering the stories of several characters at the end of the Legacy of the Force Saga. It has been crafted to slide perfectly into the story and provide context to the story. An update will be received every Wednesday, until the novel is completely finished.

    Dramatis Personae: Special Edition

    Booster Terrik; Captain of the Errant Venture (male human)
    Cha Niathal; Admiral, Chief of State of the Galactic Alliance-in-exile (female Mon Calamari)
    Dician; Sith Lord, One Sith (female human)
    Fyor Rodan; Prime Minister of Commenor (male human)
    Gavin Darklighter; Galactic Alliance Admiral (male human)
    Iella Antilles; Chief of Insiders Intelligence, Errant Venture (female human)
    Kyp Durron; Jedi Master (male human)
    Lando Calrissian; entrepreneur (male human)
    Nek Bwua'tu; Supreme Commander of the Galactic Alliance (male Bothan)
    Mirax Terrik; pilot (male human)
    Natasi Daala; Admiral of the Maw Irregular Fleet (female human)
    Shas Vadde; President of Fondor (male human)
    Syal Antilles; Galactic Alliance Captain, Liaison to Jedi Coalition forces (female human)
    Turr Phennir; Supreme Commander of Confederation Armed Forces (male human)
    Tycho Celchu; Galactic Alliance Colonel (male human)
    Traest Kre'frey; Admiral of the Bothan Navy (male Bothan)
    Valin Horn; Jedi Knight (male human)
    Wedge Antilles; pilot (male human)
    'White Eyes'; Sith Lord, One Sith (male persona)
    Winter Celchu; Intelligence Officer, Galactic Alliance-in-exile (female human)
    Last edited by Sinrebirth, Sep 4, 2012
  2. Vialco Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 6, 2007
    star 4
    I've been following this on the Temp Boards, Sinre, nice to see you back at this after so many years.

    On the Temp's we stopped at the climax of the Battle of Roche, is that where you intend to resume?

    Or must I slog through days of reposted old chapters until we get something new.

    Either way, your work is awesome and I look forward to more.

    Sinrebirth is our official Canon Master.
  3. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

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    @Vialco: I will repost a Chapter a day, in the interests of getting people caught up, and so new readers do not miss out.

    I intend to resume as quickly as days allow. Good to hear you have been following this on the temporary boards!
    Rainbow Knight Star likes this.
  4. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

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    Chapter 2.5

    Admiral Cha Niathal’s fist came down on the planning room table, causing the hologram hovering above it to flicker for a moment. The Mon Calamari growled deep in her throat, but managed not to snap at the young woman before her.

    “So the answer is no.”

    “The Jedi have come to the conclusion that would be unable to bring the conflict to a resolution with yourself as Supreme Commander of their forces, and ending their non-aggression pact with the Confederation would be detrimental to that goal,” repeated Syal Antilles, looking like she was expecting a demotion on the spot. There was a drumming in the background, and Niathal knew, from the pilot’s file, that she was bouncing her foot on the floor nervously, but Niathal only grew angrier at that.

    Not only had the Jedi refused to disclose the location of their base to Niathal, but they’d made sure that the signal had gone through so many HoloNet beacons that nobody could trace it. Niathal couldn’t even force the Jedi to help her, as desperately as she needed them. Niathal was about to demand that she be put on to Skywalker, when she was interrupted.

    “Understood, Captain Antilles,” responded Admiral Daala, her scarred face and eye-patch a stark contrast to her still-crimson hair, her exposed eye only describable as striking, even by Niathal. “Please standby.” Not even bothering to mute the channel, Daala turned back to the rest, looking expectantly.

    Everyone knew her history with Jedi, and Niathal, who had never been particularly positively inclined to them in the first place, was beginning to see the usefulness in ridding herself of the mystics. But when Skywalker spoke for the Wookies and Hapans, she had little choice but to reach out to their impromptu Coalition.

    Leaning back on the rail, Niathal wondered when the last time she had immersed herself in water was. A week? She couldn’t remember when she’d slept last, either. Before she’d left Coruscant? If anything, that was adding to her irritation, but she could hardly afford to take a rest when Jacen was growing stronger every day.

    “So now what?” said Fondorian President Vadde, folding his arms. “Of the forces we have left, combined, we’re what, two fleets?”

    Admiral Makin nodded, gravely. “About that, yes. Still a substantial force.”

    “But with little to no support from a supply structure. We’re literally running on the weapons and crews we have on these ships, and patching up the fleet with what Fondor has in its docks.” Vadde looked at Daala, who nodded, shrugging, as if giving him permission to criticise her. “And then on top of that the Maw Irregular Fleet is bleeding ships. Not everyone wants to risk their lives to meet a few debts and answer some favours.”

    “So we’re practically irrelevant, and in a few days the ‘practically’ part will be removed,” concluded Vadde, looking at Syal, who uncomfortably sat in on the conversation. He was clearly attempting to unsubtly influence whatever Jedi was probably monitoring this transmission.

    “Not irrelevant,” said Niathal, shortly. She raised her voice to project it to Captain Nevil, who signalled to the communications officer of the Ocean. “See if you can get hold of Colonel Celchu, he’ll be able to inform us where Jacen is heading next.”

    Syal spoke up, her eyebrows rising and alarm evident in her thin voice. “Tycho didn’t defect with you at Fondor?” The drumming of her leg grew even louder.

    “Oh, he defected,” said Niathal, coldly, “but he elected to stay with the Fourth Fleet and play spy, against direct orders.”

    Daala spoke carefully, as if she was playing with fire, and Niathal’s temper reached boiling point. “I don’t advise contacting Celchu again, so soon, Cha. You’re going to expose him, and Solo will gladly snap his neck. We can’t afford to do that, considering he’s our only asset in the Fourth, and now the Fifth has lost half its strength Solo seems to have attached himself to that fleet instead. If we’re going to end this war we have to take out Solo and the Moffs.”

    “The Moffs can wait,” said Makin stiffly, clearly just as unhappy that they had been forced into an alliance with Daala, even with her new weaponry. “Solo is more important – the GA will collapse if he’s out of the picture, and then we can focus on the Confederation.”

    Daala strode upto Makin and hissed, anger radiating from the woman as she stared into Makin’s eyes. “The Moffs killed Gilad and Liegeus, and I’m not stopping until I have their corpses on my deck with the rest.”

    “If you hadn’t noticed,” cut in Vadde, “I have half a billion Fondorians on the edge of an epidemic, thanks to that Commenori affliceria weapon Solo left behind.” He quickly raised his hand, forestalling a protest from Makin or Niathal of innocence, a repeat of the last four protestations that they were unaware of Caedus having the weapon, and Vadde continued. “Admiral Daala may have convinced the Deep Core worlds to send aid, but it’s not enough. We need to talk to the Confederation.”

    “And convince them to rejoin the Alliance to defeat Solo,” finished Niathal.

    Vadde turned to the communications officer. He was clearly rolling his eyes, and anyone on the bridge of the cruiser could see he wished he’d kept Fondor in the Confederation. “Close the channel with Captain Antilles, please, and get me the Five Worlds Prime Ministers.”

    He turned back the others, the wearied man speaking. “And maybe we’ll see if they will help us out of our grave.”

    ---

    Syal Antilles watched the screen flicker off, but her foot didn’t stop drumming. Instead of being worried about talking to three Admirals and a President, she was now terrified for Tycho, a man who she considered an uncle and tutor. If he stayed close to Solo, and tried to feed information to Niathal, he was going to get caught eventually. It was just a matter of probabilities, her gambler sister Myri would say.

    Syal looked at the person the Jedi had assigned to make sure she didn’t reveal the location of the Jedi base. Her father, Wedge Antilles, had pressed his lips flat, an expression that Syal had seen him use more and more since he’d became an exile of the GA and Confederation. Wes Janson, leaning on the doorjamb, was silent, his own characteristic grin missing. His eyes were on Wedge, and Syal became even more nervous in the silence.

    “Niathal is going to get Tycho killed,” Wedge eventually said, folding his arms.

    “She wasn’t like this before,” said Syal, weakly, as if that statement would justify her actions somehow. She was after all, working for Niathal – not that her bank account would notice the difference. Did she even have a bank account on Coruscant anymore? A future at all without her fiancé? Syal mentally shook her head, pushing aside the thoughts which haunted her everyday.

    Wes spoke, carefully. “Well, look at it this way. She was the Co-Chief of State of the entire GA, respected by at least half of the galaxy. Now, she’s working with Daala and Vadde, with barely enough ships to threaten anyone, and with incredibly limited resources. She no longer has a home, and the Jedi have just snubbed her. She’s irrelevant. It’s a massive blow to her psyche.”

    “You really believe she’s going to get Tycho killed, Dad?”

    Wedge closed his eyes, and took at seat beside his daughter, gesturing at the screen. “You just saw that. Daala, renowned for losing her temper, insane strategies and responsible for attempting genocide of Mon Calamari and Quarren, had to calm down Niathal.”

    “Daala did that before I was born, though, didn’t she? And Master Durron did some pretty terrible things when he was younger, too, like Tycho and Pellaeon – during the Empire.” Syal found herself justifying Daala, although she’d never met the woman.

    Wes shrugged. “A vornskr is a vornskr. It never changes its nature.”

    Wedge carried on, doggedly, now staring at the blank screen. “Niathal’s not thinking straight anymore. She’s almost as bad as Solo, now. Makins supports her completely, and Vadde and Daala aren’t in a position to get rid of her.”

    “So what are we going to do about Uncle Tycho?” said Syal.

    Her father’s eyes phased out, which he only did when he was consulting that internal list of his. The list of pilots and peoples he’d lost in four decades of fighting. Pilots of Rogue Squadron, friends from the Rebellion, and the men and women who had served on the Mon Mothma he had lost. The tally had gone far into the hundreds, and Syal was at the same time proud of her father’s indecision but terrified that he, too, was going to get himself killed.

    She’d spoken to her mother about Fondor, and knew how she would feel about it.

    “I don’t know. But something, no doubt, Syal,” Wedge’s expression grew only more severe. “All I know is that Tycho isn’t playing spy. He’s playing the tragic hero, and he’s going to die for us, and I can’t let that happen.”

    Wes sighed. “I’ll go and recruit the Ewoks, then.”

    ---

    “I’ll go and recruit the Ewoks, then,” snapped Niathal, spitting fury once again at a hologram. The Admiral turned away, throwing her hands up in the air, which was only slightly better than swearing. “Thanks for nothing, Teppler.”

    Corellian Minister of Information Denjax Teppler looked at the others apologetically. He and Admiral Genna Delpin had been sharing the post of Five Worlds Prime Minister since the destruction of Centerpoint station, but he had generally become the Confederation Supreme Commander’s secretary, when word spread that he could speak Turr Phennir’s ‘language’. But that didn’t mean he was going to lobby the man for the enemy.

    “Look,” said Teppler, trying to be reasonable and firm at the same time, “the Confederation currently has considerably more firepower and strength than you, even though you’ve convinced Fondor to rejoin.” Admiral Delpin couldn’t help tsking at Vadde, who glared at the Corellian.

    “Sure, you’re almost as powerful as Solo alone, but you and I both know that with the Remnant supporting him he heavily outnumbers and outguns you. Sith, he outgunned you the moment Fondor rejoined the GA,” said Vadde, coldly. “The Remnant took most of the GA casualties when Niathal left, remember. But with the Roche munitions plant, he’s practically invincible.”

    “Then you should join us, don’t you think?”

    Daala didn’t say anything. Niathal had decided that she was regretting her alliance with her, too, but the Confederation wasn’t a viable political choice, and the Jedi wouldn’t work with her anytime soon, it looked. If Daala and Vadde could work with Niathal, why couldn’t the Confederation and Jedi? Were the differences between them too large to ever see the Galactic Civil War ended?

    Niathal looked back at Teppler. “Whatever. We’ll figure out where Solo is ourselves, and we’ll kill him. Then the GA and Remnant will crush you anyway. It’s only a matter of time, and we all know it.”

    Vadde fell silent at that, while Makin stepped up behind to support her with his physical presence. Teppler managed not to appear too offended, but Delpin’s expression narrowed, and Niathal was reminded of a younger Admiral Daala. Niathal allowed herself to look as severe as she could, the staring match continuing for several more minutes until Teppler coughed.

    “We’ll see you on the battlefield, then, Admiral.”

    “That we shall,” Niathal gestured to Captain Nevil to cut off the channel, his own face-tentacles writhing at the affront perhaps a little too much to be genuine. Niathal resolved to speak to him, but had one last thing to say to Teppler before she engaged with her paranoia. “If Solo doesn’t kill us all first.”

    ---

    Ex-Admiral Teren Rogriss had been preparing for this very day for nearly thirty years. It had came several times before, under Supreme Commander Pellaeon, under Warmaster Tsavong Lah, and now under one Darth Caedus – the Dark Lord of the Sith, and he was well prepared. Today, of course, was the day someone tried to invade Adumar and capture it’s numerous munitions factories.

    However, this day had stretched on for months, and didn’t seem likely to end.

    His chin sporting growth which would have seen him carted from the Imperial Navy, Defence Minister Rogriss was woken by the alarm of incoming forces, his eyes barely lidded in sleep. He glanced at his chrono, and saw he’d been asleep for barely four hours, having just battered off the latest attack. He went to put on his ministerial uniform – a military cut rather than the robes he would have been expected to wear in a government position on Coruscant or Bastion – and realised he hadn’t taken it off, blinking in confusion. Sleep fell from his eyes before his mind caught up, the ex-Admiral recovering mid-step, and he lurched out his chambers towards the war room.

    Rogriss hadn’t been an Admiral in the Imperial Navy for some time, but he still thought of himself as an ex-Admiral, and never truly came to terms with his new position. He was still regarded as somewhat of an outsider by the Adumari, though his relationship with the relatively young Perator Balass ke Teldan – in his mid fifties to Rogriss in his late eighties – remained close. The Adumari Union had quickly realised that the Perator was the skilled politician they needed for the galaxy they had just entered, and it was almost as if the nation of Cartann still ruled the planet – albeit with a considerably softer hand than before.

    Perator Teldan was already on the flatscreen in the war room when Rogriss arrived at it, flashing a worn smile. “Hello again, Minister. I haven’t seen you for a while.” The light sarcasm followed the shrewd man around, and while it didn’t grate, it was irritably disarming. The Perator was visible in a uniform, blastsword attached to his side even in his own flagship – that wasn’t a sign of paranoia, Rogriss’ addled memory scolded him, but the warrior culture that was deeply ingrained in the Adumari. He was, surprisingly, bereft of his usual courtiers, alone in the Palace’s war room.

    Rogriss didn’t even bother to return the smile, nor respond to the clumsy salutes of his commanding officers, stepping up to the command console and scanning the other screens. “Are the Alliance back?”

    “They never left,” said Teldan, and Rogriss found his attention focusing on the problem, a display showing Alliance fighter craft engaging with ground-turrets and Adumari Blade-48’s. “The task force just broke the defensive screen you’d formed last time, that’s all.”

    “Still units of the Ninth Fleet?” said Rogriss, leaning heavily on the console. He had never felt so old. Upon discovering he had outlived even the great Grand Admiral Pellaeon, Rogriss had been keenly feeling his age, wondering if he’d be called out of retirement again if he survived this war, too.

    “Still units of the Ninth Fleet, yes,” quipped Teldan, the strain showing for a moment in his next statements. “Are you going to let us use our reserves yet?”

    Rogriss narrowed his eyes at the Perator. Rather than respond, he asked a different question. “Where is the rest of your retinue?”

    “I sent them to fly Blades. We’re running out of pilots, remember.” A whir of movement shook the Cartann, the Meteor-class aerial fortress that served as the mobile command base for Rogriss, which had been concealed in cloud cover with half a dozen other aerial fortresses several kilometres away from the Palace. In the wastelands between Cartann and Yedagon, the uncharted mountains providing the reserve with cover from the sensors of the Alliance fleet, but the winds were ferocious, requiring the fortresses to moor themselves to the mountains like boats of old.

    Rogriss pressed his lips together, and looked at his son, Terek, who had been commanding the vessel while he rested. “Any sign of reinforcements for the Alliance fleet from the Remnant?”

    A grumble went through the Adumari crew, as Rogriss slighted the Perator and chose to ask his son a question which had already been answered. Terek answered, carefully, “None, sir, and the Alliance formation doesn’t suggest they’re waiting for anything – it looks like that the Alliance has all that is free of the Ninth pushing on Adumar – surely they would have called in any reinforcements they had already?”

    Rogriss scowled. There was absolutely no way for him to prove otherwise. He swung back to the screen. “We’re on our way, Perator. Hold on.”

    The aerial fortresses pushed forward, detaching their moorings and emerging from cloud cover at the last moment. Rogriss swung to the front viewport, and saw more than a dozen Galactic Alliance frigates and gunships engulfed in a multi-colour firestorm, barrages thrown at and by Cartann, twinkling explosions indicating places where Blades, old style X-wings and B-wings flared out of existence. The centrepiece of the enemy force was an elderly Dreadnaught cruiser, the monolith taking everything Cartann could throw at it and returning it in a torrent of death and terror. Similar forces were surrounding every city on Adumar, made up of vessels which the GA had resurrected from wars long ago and fought – the aging Galactic Voyager remained the flagship of the Ninth, as the most powerful of these older vessels.

    The ex-Admiral stabbed his finger at several points on the schematics, directing his gunners via flatscreen. There were reasons why some of these designs had been phased out. “Focus on these points in the opening barrage. We don’t have the shields they do, so we need to take them out quickly.”

    The latest generation of fortresses would better be termed as missile frigates, with shields and even space capacity, something very few Adumari vessels had thirty years ago. Rogriss had pioneered this approach, allowing him to engage Pellaeon long enough for the New Republic to capture the Antemerdian Sector, so long ago, and even dispatch vessels to relieve Bilbringi during the Yuuzhan Vong War.

    The support fleet pushed forward, opening up at maximum range. The barrage of laser fire hit a pair of corvettes hard, causing one of them to list badly to port. The light cruiser moved to avoid the vessel, slamming nose first into the missiles which arrived moments later. In a few seconds the Adumari relief force was in the center of the Alliance formation, scattering it. A fortress was lost, raining debris on the streets below, but the Alliance was on the retreat. Half a dozen corvettes were pulling up, and Rogriss directed his task force to stay on their tails, using the GA vessels as shields from the larger capital ships. Space-capable Blades hurtled up from hidden hangars, ready to drive the Ninth clear away.

    The crew cheered, and even Terek joined in, pumping his fist into the air. Rogriss turned about, snapping. “Don’t celebrate yet. We’ve gambled every piece we have, and this is all or nothing. If the Remnant is still as vicious as the Empire used to be…”

    The second and unexpected Remnant task force arrived almost the moment Rogriss cleared the atmosphere. A pocket Star Destroyer surrounded by medium cruisers, the fleet opened up almost immediately, lancing the fleeing GA task force and the Adumari fleet simultaneously. Rogriss grimaced as an explosion shook the Cartann[, and turned to his son.

    “Get us the hell out of here. Pull us back.”

    Behind the Remnant fleet decanted a wave of freighters, which Rogriss had no doubt contained the munitions produced by the Roche asteroids, to pummel the Adumari back into an Unknown Regions world.

    There was a piercing shriek from the console Rogriss stood at as it experienced a power surge, and the old man closed his eyes, in anticipation of a death. Something slammed bodily into him, shoving the old man to the floor. A rib snapped in his chest, Rogriss crying out. Fire erupted on the bridge, Rogriss’s eyes streaming tears in the smoke, only partly from the pain. There was something heavy lying across his legs, and Rogriss rubbed his eyes with his sleeve, waving away smoke. Terek lay there, unconscious, blood oozing from his midriff, and then Rogriss noticed his legs were soaked, his mouth gaping.

    “Medic!”

    A flat screen called out, Rogriss spying the Perator, looking anxious. “Teren, what’s going on? There are shuttles pouring from the skies, and Starhunters escorting them down. What’s happening?”

    Rogriss shook his head, cutting free some of his tunic – cursing the galaxy for not giving him a robe to use – and staunched the wound as fire rippled around him. What kind of military mind sacrifices the lives of your own people to destroy another enemy? Rogriss remembered Lord Vader, and the Emperor, finally understanding that he hadn’t a chance against such an Empire.

    “Caedus is merciless… a terrible and unstoppable force…” Rogriss pulled his son close to him, wincing against the pain but not caring, squeezing his eyes shut against the coming fury.

    “Invincible.”

    ---

    Kam and Tionne Solusar stood face-to-face for the first time since the massacre on Ossus. Both had been brutalised by the GAG battalion deployed there, Tionne now sporting several prosthetics. The medical droids in the Consortium had taken their time with the two Jedi, at Luke Skywalker’s insistence, leaving Clighal and Octa Ramis in charge of teaching the students in the meantime.

    The pair had been separated during their recuperation to protect them from discovery by the GAG, and, now, on Uroro station, they were together at last. And now, standing, looking at each other, they embraced, Tionne releasing silent tears at the reunion. They were gauging each other, tentative, acknowledging what parts of each other they had lost permanently, and how close they had been to losing each other.

    But Jedi are more than crude matter, and in the Force neither was diminished.

    Tionne leaned away, her eyes glistening. “I’ve missed you.”

    “I know,” said Kam, closing his eyes to kiss her forehead. “I’ve missed you too, so much.”

    The two Jedi embraced, leaving the war be. They were not moving it forward, or holding it back. All they did was let it continue without them, for a long moment. Luke came to meet his oldest friends, Jedi he had found before even Kyp and Corran had joined his Yavin 4 academy, nearly thirty years ago, his weathered face not yet giving way to a smile.

    “I feel bad,” admitted Tionne, as she hugged him. “That we weren’t here to help with the children. You must have missed Octa and Clighal at Fondor.”

    Kam continued, for her. “And that we couldn’t be here more to help you with Mara’s death. And finding out Jacen did it.”

    Luke simply hugged Tionne back, his eyes shimmering in the reflection of the Mists. “Don’t worry, Tionne, Kam. Ben has helped me, and I’m glad, in a way, I’ve had this chance to bond with him.” Luke looked embarrassed, a little bit of what Mara called the Farmboy returning to his expression. “Sorry if that sounds a little selfish. You have been missed, honest.”

    “Luke, if anyone is allowed to be a little selfish, it’s you,” said Kam, nodding his head. “You’ve given so much, and the Order hasn’t returned it to you.”

    “Someone has to be Grandmaster,” said Luke, smiling with considerably less concern than he had in the earlier weeks. It didn’t last. He returned to seriousness, and became his rank once more. “Are you two up for taking back the training of the apprentices?”

    Tionne looked up at Kam, and he nodded, answering for the both of them. “Sounds good to me, Luke.”

    Luke placed a hand on both of their shoulders, looking at each. “It’s good to have you two back, it really is. We’re going to need everyone for what we have planned.”

    “You’re going after Jacen again?”

    Luke nodded. “We’ve made a few mistakes, I can see that now. And now we have to see it through to the end.”
  5. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

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    Chapter 4.5

    It’s a strange thing, loyalty. Galactic Alliance Colonel Tycho Celchu stood on the observation platform of the Trucemaker, with Admiral Gavin Darklighter, the two ex-Rogues staring into space, angular Destroyers surrounding the blocky shapes of Verpine freighters and transports. Lord Caedus had focused production into the easily mass-produced Star Destroyers rather than the slower to build Mon Calamari cruisers, and so the majority of the Galactic Alliance fleet resembled the Imperial fleet of old. Considering the actions of Niathal and many other officers from Mon Calamari, such foresight had instilled a sense of divinity to the Chief of State.

    But Tycho hadn’t stayed loyal to the Galactic Alliance over the Jedi Coalition and Confederation because it reminded him of the Empire. He still carried the pain of Alderaan within him, but he’d spent more of his adult life without a homeworld than with one. Time dulled such aches, but that didn’t mean Tycho was loyal enough to bear another Palpatine in Jacen Solo. The Confederation was in the wrong, and the Jedi Coalition’s efforts should be focused against Jacen, not Admiral Niathal. If Tycho could save lives by working against Caedus from the inside, then he would, but he would not betray his belief in the Galactic Alliance as the only government worth protecting.

    Tycho finally made out a shadow glistening blocking a star, pressing a button on the wall display and speaking to the Captain. “They’re going for the Ansta, bridge.”

    “Acknowledged, Colonel Celchu.”

    A moment later, he and Gavin watched as the turbolasers of the Trucemaker fired, apparently blindly, into space surrounding the task force. The Verpine freighter was surrounded by a tunnel of green flame, and something flared in space. StealthX debris became apparent, and Gavin tapped the wall himself.

    “Sensors, do we have a beacon?”

    “No sir, no sign of a Jedi.”

    Gavin pulled away, swearing. “Sithspawn, Tycho. I’ve killed more Jedi today than Confederates. What is Luke thinking, sending his forces after the supply train? Doesn’t he want the GA to win the war?”

    “Of course he does, but even if he does take Caedus out of the picture, the Jedi still want the war to end. If the GA is more powerful than everyone else, the war won’t end. And the GA will stay exactly like it is now, preferring Remnant muscle to Hapan honour, and condoning the attacks on Kashyyyk and Fondor – fighting a total war which will never end.” Tycho felt like he was representing the Jedi, and it just made his betrayal of them at Centerpoint even more sickening. You were shot for that, you’ve paid for it, remember. Wedge would have understood.

    “Caedus is no worse than Niathal. But at least he has Coruscant, the GA fleet, and isn’t working with the Confederation.” Tycho knew otherwise about Niathal, through Syal, but didn’t comment. Gavin was just venting, like he did in his youth. Though to be fair, the situation was so complex and ridiculous that all you could do was find an enemy and go after them. It wasn’t a clear-cut right and wrong scenario.

    “But Caedus has Tebut,” said Tycho. “And Kashyyyk and Fondor. Probably Commenor, too, to account for.”

    “Sure,” said Gavin, “but he’s winning. I don’t have to like the man, but he knows what he’s doing, generally. If he wasn’t such a Sith about it we would have won already – but with Niathal running off the GA either has Solo or we lose. He’s our Skywalker, now. I can just hope he gets himself killed after the war’s over.”

    The comlink chimed, and Gavin reached back out, his frustration still evident in his voice. “Yes?”

    Darth Caedus came through, patched across from whatever vessel he was using as his flagship today. The military may have found his use of the Anakin Solo as his personal yacht annoying, but now he had taken to being conspicuous and hopping around the Navy it was even worse. Luckily for Gavin, he’d stayed away from the Trucemaker, his experiences at the Battle of Balmorra well remembered. “Admiral Darklighter, the Jedi are pulling back. Take the freighters the rest of the way to the Perlemian and return to Nickel One. The next shipment for the front will be ready by the time the Fourth gets back. I shall be returning there, for the time being, to meet with the Moff Council. The Jedi won’t keep up their strikes on the supply chain for much longer.”

    “Yes, my Lord,” said Gavin, managing to push his irritation back. The line shut, and Tycho looked away from the stars, at Gavin. The Colonel had finally discovered where Caedus was going to be, and needed to inform the Admiral as soon as possible. He needed to cut this short, and return to his chambers. Another wave of guilt filled him, as he betrayed another friend, but he damped it down, continuing as he would regardless. Gavin was a smart man – he might work out that Tycho had left them only after speaking to Caedus, and poke around. Caedus had ordered Tycho to hunt down Niathal, not remain with the Fourth.

    Tycho swallowed his guilt, speaking. “I’m surprised he dislikes you. You appeal to his ‘Vader’ side so well.”

    Gavin was about to return a barbed response when Tycho’s comlink chimed, indicating a message from Admiral Niathal. Equipped with a nearly untraceable holocomm, Tycho felt the blood drain from his face as it chimed again, urgently. Gavin frowned, gesturing at him.

    “Aren’t you going to answer that?”

    Tycho managed to remain calm when lying to one of his closest friends, reaching casually for his comlink. His mind worked through the logical next steps, as he did when flying an X-wing. Niathal would demand an update immediately, and her icy voice was so distinctive that Gavin would figure it out if he heard it. Tycho had never been particularly good at sabacc, and Gavin had that rogue streak inherited from Tatooine which made him perceptive enough to see through such things.

    So Tycho did the logical thing, and continued his hand down, while speaking. “Have you heard from Wedge, Gavin?” Gavin’s eyes narrowed, completely threw by the question. If Tycho was asking him that, it raised many possibilities, about Gavin’s position in the GA, about Tycho’s, about the GAG grabbing him and his family, about –

    Tycho shot him in the chest, the stun bolt snapping Gavin back and into the transparisteel. Tycho caught him as he bounced forward, putting him down on the floor and checking his pulse. It was weak, but still there, throbbing beneath Tycho’s fingers. Tycho would have normally take Gavin to the medbay, but it was only a matter of time before the bridge commed Gavin for orders and -

    The comlink chimed for the third time, and Tycho scooped it from his belt with his free hand. “Colonel Celchu here.”

    “Report,” came Niathal, as expected. “I need Solo’s location. If we wait any longer the fleet will start falling apart, literally, Colonel.”

    Tycho narrowed his eyes. The Admiral hadn’t even followed the pre-arranged protocols, set up by his wife – she’d just called him as if he could answer at any moment. Tycho swallowed his professional and personal anger and responded, a clipped tone to his voice. “I have discovered Colonel Solo is intending to remain at Nickel One for the time being, Admiral.”

    “Is this confirmed, Colonel?”

    “Yes, Admiral,” said Tycho, his irritation leaking into his voice. He wouldn’t have said it otherwise, would he? Niathal had crossed the line from hawkish to paranoid far too quickly, and Tycho actually found himself wondering why he was supporting the woman. He pushed away the thought, and continued, looking at Gavin’s prone form. “My position has been compromised by this transmission, Admiral, so we shall need to prepare extraction.”

    “Of course, Colonel, we’ll make provision for that after the battle. I imagine the Jedi Coalition will discover where he is without us, and we’ll meet on the field.”

    For a moment Tycho’s concerns for his own safety were eclipsed by Niathal’s short-sightedness. “You’re not going to tell Luke about this?”

    Niathal took on a tone that suggested impatience. “No. Find yourself a safe-hole and wait out the battle, Colonel. We’ll make every effort to get you out in the meantime.”

    Liar, thought Tycho as she signed off, surprised at how vehement this thought was. She had no intention of allocating her diminishing resources to get him out. He was on his own, and playing hide and seek on a Star Destroyer was not his best option. He moved to leave Gavin behind, his irritation at Niathal pushing away his worry for his friend, disabling the comm. and locking the observation bubble from the outside.

    “Going somewhere, Colonel?” came a voice, and he turned about. A man stood there, in the black uniform of the Galactic Alliance Guard, a blaster trained on Tycho’s stomach. Lieutenant Girdun. He looked unbearably pleased with himself.

    “Ah,” said Tycho blankly, his mind launching forward, analysing everything around him in slow motion. He glanced down at the blaster and squeezed his hand around the comlink, gritting his teeth as he strained to break it.

    The GAG officers’ expression grew darker, his eyes became hard, but there wasn’t an ounce of regret in them. “So, you decided to do this the hard way, Colonel. I expected more of an officer of the Rebellion.” Girdun raised the blaster to Tycho’s forehead, and pulled the trigger.

    Darkness consumed him.

    ---

    The bridge of the Ocean was ablaze with movement. Admiral Niathal snapped commands, and Captain Nevil his own, preparing her fleet and the vessel launch. Empire-era Star Destroyers formed up around the Chimaera and Bloodfin, the motley armada of the Maw Irregular fleet complimented by a type of frigate that Niathal had never scene – some kind of Imperial prototype no doubt, she had decided.

    Nithal watched the second-generation Star Destroyers produced by Fondor form up around Vadde’s flagship, those vessels that had survived the great battle waged here less than a month ago. Galactic Alliance frigates and corvettes formed up with her own Mon Calamari battle carriers, and began taking positions around the Ocean.

    They were almost ready to launch, vessels filled with over-worked and exhausted crews and sporting weapons transplanted from the Fondorian docks to bring the vessels back upto full strength, the core of Niathal’s force being the quarter of the Third Fleet she’d taken with her into exile.

    “Admiral?”

    Her focus was abruptly pulled back to her own vessel, and she turned, seeing a woman that would have been able to live lucratively on being Princess Leia’s double, despite the pure white hair. The member of Galactic Alliance Intelligence stood at attention, her hands behind her back and demeanor respectful. But Niathal had spent too much time with Jacen Solo, and she no longer paid attention to such outward appearances, looking straight at the woman’s eyes.

    Pearls of anger stared back, and Niathal found herself surprised – Solo had at least kept the façade of cordiality between them, even his eyes. Winter Celchu continued, unbidden, her voice filled with steel.

    “Are you seriously intending to extract my husband after the battle?”

    Niathal didn’t respond, turning away and ignoring the fact she had dropped all military etiquette. “We don’t have the resources to save Colonel Celchu, and even if we did, I wouldn’t use them to extract someone who decided to act as a mole on his own initiative. I don’t condone rogues in my navy.”

    Winter snorted. “Like you, then?”

    Niathal considered whether or not to order that she be put under arrest, but left her be. Turning away, making clear that she was dismissing Winter, Niathal carried on preparing for the battle. It was a decision Niathal knew she would regret, that she would one day break down with the strain of all the death she was dealing to her subordinates. Years from now, if she survived, she’d find a way to end it, unable to cope with what she’d been forced to do. The hundred lives of the minelayer crew she’d caused the deaths of still weighed on her mind, pushing her. The fact that her resources were trickling away, while Jacen grew only stronger, was forcing her to make more and more of those decisions that Jacen had convinced her were necessary, if only to have a fighting chance in ending his reign – a reign which her fault as much as the Jedi Councils.

    Winter remained, waiting for Niathal to turn back. A minute passed, and then two. Then it happened. Winter still had her near perfect memory, her edge only slightly worn away by age, and this moment would be crystalised for her, seared into her mind. It would join the pained memories of the lost; those quiet and happy moments on Anoth with Anakin Solo before Ambassador Furgan attempted to kidnap him; the joy at seeing Jacen Solo return from Yuuzhan Vong captivity with the mysterious Vergere beside him; the last moments of Admiral Ackbar’s life before he passed away.

    It was in this moment that her faith in the Galactic Alliance was broken.

    It was the exchange of one life for thousands, but Winter had seen enough of giving up ‘one more life’ for peace, and she’d lost Anakin, Jacen and Ackbar. She’d seen almost all of her friends labelled criminals and exiled, and had lost her homeworld to defeat the Empire. She wouldn’t lose her husband to a deranged Admiral who had decided to sacrifice everything to make up for a mistake she had made. It was selfish, and egotistical, and a kind of megalomania none too far removed from the thinking of Darth Caedus.

    Winter turned and walked away, nodding at Captain Nevil, the Quarren returning the nod. They were two members of the same generation, with different viewpoints. Nevil had already given up his son to bring peace to the galaxy, and had made his own decision of where to stand when the final act began.

    Winter had only just made hers.

    Niathal paid them no heed, watching as the fleets of Fondor, Niathal and Daala moved off, in formation. The three elements became a pair of fleets, and Niathal, not so much the commander of the flotilla but a component, called out to the communications officer.

    “Raise the Amerce and Chimaera. It’s time to launch.”

    The flagships of the Fondorian and Maw Irregular fleets were patched through, President Vadde and Admiral Daala appearing. Over three weeks ago, Niathal had been caught up in a triumvirate with Jacen Solo and Gilad Pellaeon, and before that Pellaeon was Senator G’sil, and before that Cal Omas. It was a good system, she’d decided, and if she had it her way the Galactic Alliance would use it when – if - she resumed control, until elections could be called.

    Admiral Daala, still sporting that eye-patch, and Vadde, still looking as haggard as ever, waited for her to speak, and Niathal had the impression they were humouring her. Irritably pushing aside such thoughts, and looked at Vadde. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to stay behind and look after the shop?”

    “With the fleet all dressed up and ready to go?” said Vadde, snorting. “Solo killed practically all of my military staff, so it’s me or nobody.”

    “And three is a pleasant enough number, anyway,” said Daala leadingly, ending a discussion that they’d already had. “Are we ready?”

    “As ready as we’re going to be,” said Niathal. “We’ll rendezvous in the Roche sector in eighteen hours. Intelligence suggests the Hapans will be moving on the Remnant fleets in fourteen. Remember, we’re to avoid all major hyperlanes and maintain comm. silence until then. We’ll see how the Jedi like having their maxim’s used against them.”

    Let the enemy do the work, had been the maxim of the Jedi mission against Centerpoint station according to Colonel Celchu, and Niathal and Daala had decided it would have use in taking down Solo. And so they had deployed GA Intelligence – most of which had defected with Niathal out of professional distaste for the GAG – and the Ryn network not to discover the location of Solo on Nickel One, but to anticipate the deployment of the Hapan fleet, the easiest element to infiltrate out of the Jedi Coalition.

    The re-worked concept was that when the Hapan’s launched at Roche so too would the GA-in-exile shortly after, letting the enemy do the work and taking the lead in the offensive - the GA arriving to finish off the Remnant fleet, and, hopefully, the prior battle weakening the Coalition and supporters of Solo enough to bring them both to the table before the Confederation intervened. Colonel Celchu simply confirmed where the Coalition would be heading, while Intelligence discovered the when. The plan was almost irritating in its simplicity to Niathal, a seasoned strategist, used to immense military resources, supply chains and a galaxy-wide frontline. But as a smaller power forced to punch above her weight, the delicious irony in using a Jedi maxim against them pleased her immensely.

    “We’ll launch in six minutes,” at that, Niathal closed the channel and started preparing the GA forces for the final jump, noting absently that Winter had vanished from the bridge.

    Four minutes later, a shuttle departed the Ocean, and leapt into hyperspace without being noticed or queried. Admiral Daala, still a commander who preferred to stand on the bridge rather than sit in a chair, watched from the Chimaera, leaning on the handrail.

    The first to flee the sinking ship.

    ---

    “How many more times can I say this, Senators?”

    Pwoe waved a fist, again, his face-tentacles shaking in rage. He still had a tentacle missing from the Battle of Ylesia, where he had tried to negotiate a separate peace with the Yuuzhan Vong, but that scar hadn’t dampened Quarren’s ability to produce vitriol and rants that demanded attention and respect. Pwoe, the democratically elected leader of the Quarren representatives within the Mon Calamari Council, snapped at the crowd, allowing his anger to show.

    “Admiral Niathal has betrayed the principles of Dac by siding with Admiral Daala. Niathal may be worthy of our support, but not Daala! If we are against Caedus and his destructive reign, then we should join the Confederation! If we vacillate, the galaxies last hope will be snuffed out!”

    The typical voices responded, either criticising the Confederation for the use of Centerpoint and a clear inability to cooperate when things became complex – as evidenced by the Corellians being froze out of the Confederation until they worked with Phennir – or suggesting they joined the Jedi Coalition, apart from Niathal and Daala’s efforts.

    In response, groups of Pwoe’s supporters – those with a similar disdain of the Jedi as himself – shouted back, highlighting that even Luke Skywalker was willing to work with Daala – that they would inevitably be working beside the Butcher of Reef Home City, as Daala was known.

    Galactic Alliance Senator Gron Marrab had been faced with this debate almost daily since the Battle of Fondor. The Council had been anticipating that Niathal would turn against Jacen Solo after news spread of his acts towards Lieutenant Tebut and Kashyyyk, and had secretly agreed to secede when Niathal left the Alliance, or support her in a coup.

    But Daala’s intervention at Fondor, though apparently the only way Niathal could have survived against the Alliance and the Remnant, had thrown the entire war into a quagmire, far more complicated than Gron had anticipated.

    The Alliance had taken advantage of Daala’s return spectacularly, Caedus having been able to get local HoloNet holoreel channels under his control to play re-runs of Reef Home Falls, the famous film which was part-documentary and part-propaganda piece from the time of the New Republic, commissioned by a diehard Rebellion supporter to enthuse the Mon Calamari after the repeated devastation wrought to their world by the Empire by demonising Daala – which wasn’t too hard, considering her track record.

    Now the film was hardening support among young Mon Calamari and Quarren for Caedus’ regime, even when the older members of the two races remembered the reign of Palpatine, and so the GA was retaining a powerful albeit distant ally. With things as they were, the balance was dipped diametrically, and individuals such as Pwoe were scattering support from faction to faction like an exploding star.

    Gron stood, the elderly Mon Calamari who had represented the planet in the Senate since Pwoe had declared himself Chief of State, holding his hands out for quiet. The Council immediately silenced, still deferring to the Senators position and respect. “It is clear that Admiral Niathal has made this decision, and it is not our position to question it. The Calamari Defence Force will maintain operations against Confederation and Jedi elements within the sector until a new situation arises itself.”

    The Councillors reluctantly agreed, crumbling amongst themselves, and then started to leave. Pwoe made a beeline straight for Marrab, and the Mon Calamari signaled to his supporters to carry on, and leave.

    Before the room was even empty, Pwoe grabbed at Marrab’s Senatorial robes, pulling him close. “Why do you continue to block my motions, Marrab? You know better than anyone that Caedus is poised to wipe out all resistance, everywhere – he’s invincible, as long as we stay on his side.”

    Marrab closed his webbed hands around Pwoe’s offending arm, and leaned forward, making it clear he had no intentions of being intimidated. “You know as well as I that the Calamari Defence Force couldn’t dedicate a significant force to the war, even if we did secede. We’re too far from the war, and Fondor was the best choice in the circumstances, as too was Daala." Gron wasn't a fool; he knew that Pwoe was grabbing this crisis as a lever to gather himself more political power, as a politician who had been discredited, but somehow survived - and so it was with his home planet in mind that he pushed on. "Our vessels remain slow to construct, and we’re still in the midst of the order Cal Omas made for Star Defenders – even if we secede, we won’t be able to support either side in any immense fashion.”

    “With our direction, the crews of Mon Calamari and Quarren aboard the Galactic Alliance’s fleets would revolt -”

    “- and they would die,” finished Marrab, breaking Pwoe’s grip and pushing aside the arm. “The majority of the vessels we provide to the Galactic Alliance have been modified to be crewed by not just Dac species – those vessels which weren’t have seceded, or died at Kashyyyk with the Fifth. We need the few ships we have to protect our sector – if we secede, and dispatch forces to help Niathal – or even Phennir – we’ll leave the system exposed.”

    The room was empty by now, and Pwoe’s tentacles were furling and unfurling constantly, his agitation impossible to become more evident. He produced a blaster from a fold in his robes, but Gron managed not to look at it, focusing upon Pwoe.

    “Daala is back, Pwoe – and armed with weapons that can bypass shields and crystallise hull, and with a fleet that surpasses our own – and with links to the Remnant and Mandalorians, she’s a massive threat unto herself.” Gron leaned forward, pressing the blaster into his chest. “What’s more important; intervening in the war when we’re not sure that we can make a difference, and then being enslaved by the Empire again when we're wrong, or waiting until she exposes herself and then doing what needs to be done – saving the galaxy.”

    Pwoe tried one more time, stymied by the durasteel willpower that Gron represented. “If we don’t join the Confederation now, there won’t be a galaxy left to save.”

    “If we intervene now, there won’t be a Mon Calamari to save from Caedus.” Gron turned away, and walked towards the exit of the Council chambers, resisting the urge to count his last moments, to comm. his wife, and children, to remember his inspiration Ackbar, to pray to the Force that he would live. He believed in the Galactic Alliance, and he believed that, one day, the Force would bring Daala to justice – even if the Mon Calamari had to do it themselves.

    Gron left the Council chambers alive.

    The person that Pwoe had been did not.

    ---

    “Captain Antilles, I’m placing you in command of the squadron. I was older than you when I was given my first squad, but I have no doubt you’ll make a fine commander.”

    It was like a dream. Her squadron commander was retiring, and he’d nominated her to take his position, and Command and the squadron itself had agreed wholeheartedly, and she was about to take her first leadership position.

    But, as her commanding officer was her father and Command was a decidedly unhappy-looking Luke Skywalker, as she looked over the survivors of Rakehell squadron – the motley group that had lost more than a quarter of its numbers to the Centerpoint mission and the withdrawal of Wedge to ‘retirement’ and Jaina and Tycho to other duties – she found herself witnessing a nightmare rather than the expected dream. Sanola Ti was still in the medbay, recovering from injuries received at the battle, as too was the Adumari Cheriss ke Hanadi – though she was expected to rejoin soon.

    Corran Horn remained with the squadron for the upcoming mission, as too did the other Jedi, Tyria and Zekk. Volu Nyth and Wes shored up the non-Jedi in the squad, but it was hardly her ideal first command. Syal found herself looking at them with worry in her eyes. Most of them were maybe twenty years her senior, after all.

    “Captain Antilles?” Wedge intoned, and Syal focused again, too engrossed in her dismay to even appear sheepish.

    “Yes, um, sir?”

    “Relax,” Wedge said, smiling. It didn’t help. “Cheriss is literally on her way down. When she’s here I’ll explain this to her, and we’ll be heading off.”

    “To join up with the Venture.” Syal was keenly aware that the rest of the squadron was looking back and forth from one to the other as the conversation bounced from one Antilles to the other - Zekk was looking particularly amused. Syal assumed she should start showing some command acumen, and spoke carefully. “I’m not losing anyone else beyond Wes and Wedge, am I?”

    “I’m leaving with Wedge, too,” said Cheriss, as she breezed into the ready room, evidently completely healed and her determination renewed – to Syal’s further dismay. Her expression, and the blastsword held over her shoulder, told her that there was no chance that Syal was going to be able to talk her out of leaving, and in an all-volunteer militia, most people had only joined for their links to family and friends – Cheriss’ loyalty to her old homeworld were limited at best, especially as it was a Confederation member.

    And now Wes had a smirk on his face, probably remembering when Cheriss had a mild crush on Wedge, nearly three decades ago. The fact of the matter being he told the story at least a few times a year at family reunions. Usually Wedge followed through with the story about Wes naked with nothing but an Ewok toy to protect his modesty.

    And so Wedge looked at Cheriss, his expression unhappy but accepting, and Syal pursed her lips. Zekk opened his mouth to speak. Syal glared at him, injecting some of the steel into her gaze which she had learnt from her mother. His jaw snapped shut before he could ask to be detached from the Rakehell’s and join Jaina. Syal gazed appraisingly over what she had left. The squadron had devolved into whispers, Corran bringing Tyria and Volu up to speed on Cheriss and Wedge.

    Syal looked back at her father, who was smiling at her, somehow. “Nice command style.”

    Syal, her confidence buffeted by her father, finally smiled, looking at Luke, who was still looking at Wedge in deep concern, those eyes of his almost as sunken as some of the holographs of Emperor Palpatine. If his eyes had flickered yellow she wouldn’t be surprised – but it was alarming to see how the loss of Mara had transformed him so much, in the physical sense. Her sympathy and own heartache at the loss of her fiancé could only go so far.

    Luke’s eyes slid to her, and he responded to her unspoken question. “Jagged Fel is joining you, don’t worry, but I’m giving you command of the number two blastboat. The Rakehells are to support our attack on Caedus.”

    “With the Owools as an escort,” said Corran, nodding absently.

    Luke started to nod, and stopped, his face clouding over, for a moment his expression phasing out, and the main conversation paused with him. Wedge took that moment to incline his head to the exit, and Wes nodded, grabbing Cheriss by the arm and starting to walk out of the room. Syal blinked, suddenly aware that Wedge abandoning the Coalition at such critical a juncture wouldn’t go unnoticed by one of his oldest friends.

    Before Wedge made it out Luke returned to the living, and spoke, his voice rapidly recapturing the ability to command attention and respect. “Yes, with the Owools as an escort. Captain Antilles, I will need Master Horn to help with organising the mission, but he’ll be back with you by the time we launch. You may want to get to know the new blastboat design – it’s none too far from the Twee design that you flew during Operation Roundabout, Captain, but your squadmates have no experience with such smaller vessels.”

    Before Syal could acknowledge with a salute, Luke was gone, walking briskly after her father. She blinked, unnerved by how far away from human he had gone, until Corran stepped up to her and placed a hand on her shoulder, reminding her that Jedi in-fact were. Her father’s voice spoke volumes to her, however, inside her mind. The Jedi aren’t like you and I. The closer you get to a Jedi, the more you realise it. They have different goals to you and I, even if it seems as if you’re on the same side. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s a thing you have to get used to.

    Syal nodded, as Corran walked off, and turned to her squadron. This may have been the loosest military she’d ever been apart of, but she narrowed her eyes and spoke, clearly. “Alright, Rakehells, let’s head to the flight deck. I want to get some flighthours in before we have to leave for Nickel One.”

    The collective moans from her squadron sounded surprisingly good. Syal allowed herself a small smile. So this is the real reason why Dad wanted to stay in command of a fighter squadron for so long – torturing his pilots.

    Tyria, who had flew under Wedge in Wraith Squadron, glanced to the others. “I know that look. She’s going to be almost as bad as her father. Get ready to lose all your hard won points to your wingman.”

    “We don’t have wingmen on blastboats,” said Zekk, doubtful.

    “That’s never stopped an Antilles from being inventive.”

    ---

    Luke caught up with Wedge and grabbed his arm with his cybernetic hand, Wedge doing an incredibly good impression of being old and deaf up to this point. Wes and Cheriss carried on walking, Cheriss obviously wanting to stop, but Wes electing to take a casual stance just within earshot, typically. If Luke had been the one watching Wes eavesdrop on someone else, he’d have found it amusing. As it was, he was mildly annoyed.

    “So you’re leaving.”

    Wedge nodded, without hesitation. “Yes.”

    “Because of what happened at Fondor,” said Luke. Wedge had been friends with Luke long enough that he didn’t flicker. Syal still did sometimes, forgetting that Jedi didn’t need the Force to work out things about old friends. Wedge was as open to him without the Force as he was with it, and it was clear to him what was wrong.

    “No,” said Wedge, and Luke blinked, surprised.

    “Then what else is it?”

    Wedge moved his arm free of Luke’s, himself embarrassingly opening his hand automatically. “I’m not sacrificing anyone else, Luke. Not even for you.”

    Luke winced at that. This entire organisation was running on the sacrifices of others, and even if the Jedi won, there was no guarantee that everyone would get even half of what they had left behind when the dust settled. If Han and Leia’s comments were anything, Teppler could probably organise it so Wedge was left alone on Corellia, but there would always be some diehard Confederate ready to track him down and kill his family, and, equally, always someone in the GA that would be willing to chase down the man who had orchestrated the deaths of hundreds of GA personnel during Operation Roundabout.

    The first Galactic Civil War had a clear delineation of good and evil within it, the majority of the Empire filled with Tarkin’s and Daala’s rather than Pellaeon’s and Sarreti’s. It wasn’t until after two decades of fighting that the Remnant had been purged, and even then a full quarter of the Moffs in the Council had gladly taken down Pellaeon without a moment’s concern.

    This war didn’t. It was, even at this late a stage, still about fighting each other. Luke hadn’t had to struggle with that because he was a Jedi, and the Jedi had always had an organisation which was at very least separate from the Senate, though to limited degrees at any one time. But for people like Wedge and Cheriss and Wes, they’d had to give up everything to join the coalition, and they could only lose in a war like this.

    While Luke had a large support groundswell in the Hapans and Wookies because of what Caedus and the Confederation had done, his support was limited to personal favours beyond the Jedi Order itself. Jag and Han had become all but Jedi, but he couldn’t expect Wedge to stay when he had something else to attend to.

    Luke nodded, and embraced his old friend, who returned it with surprise. Luke decided he could sympathise with Wedge, pulling back and nodding. “I understand, Wedge. We’ve both lost a lot in this. We can’t afford to lose anything else. Iella told me about Tycho.”

    Wedge managed a smile. “So, you’re back again.”

    “For now, yes,” said Luke, sadly, realising what he meant long before he could be offended by the sentiment. “I’m Luke Skywalker the Jedi Grandmaster most of the time, now.”

    “Why?”

    Luke paused, at that, surprised at how much better his friend knew him, throwing a question which was as precise as the shot Luke had taken to destroy the Death Star. Sadly, Luke knew the answer, although he wasn’t sure Wedge would understand. He decided to trust him, and went for it.

    “Mara, and Lumiya, mostly,” he said, a little ashamed. It was different to say this to your friend, rather than your family – and the war council he’d discussed this with was practically family, of a different sort that Wedge or even Lando could claim entry to. “I made a mistake.”

    “So did I, in siding with Sal-Solo and Gejjen,” shrugged Wedge, not quite concealing his pain at what he’d done. “It takes time to get over those things, before you can become dependable again.”

    “And time is something we don’t have,” sighed Luke.

    “Typically.”

    Luke closed his eyes, and decided, as Luke the Grandmaster. He sensed Corran hanging back, now joined by his son, who must have been on his way to the hangar, at the far end of the corridor. Luke opened his eyes, and gestured to Valin, whose eyes rounded in surprise.

    “Take Valin with you. You’ll need a Jedi, and he’s all I have to spare.”

    Wedge grinned, a hard grin that Luke hadn’t seen him use since the days of Red Squadron. “Just like the old days.”

    Wes scowled, speaking up. “Does this mean you were serious about me recruiting the Ewoks?”
  6. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Nov 15, 2004
    star 7
    Two updates today as I missed one yesterday!
  7. AzureAngel2 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 14, 2005
    star 6
    May I ask, sinre, because I see a lot of fanfic authors do that, are you going to update all your old chapter updates again? Or will you wait until all is fixed? Exciting story, by the way.
  8. AzureAngel2 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 14, 2005
    star 6
    Gah, why is that there 2 times? I did not post that twice!
  9. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Nov 15, 2004
    star 7
    Repeated post gone. I'm reposting this one day at a time. All the chapters will be reposted :)
    AzureAngel2 likes this.
  10. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Nov 15, 2004
    star 7
    Chapter 5.5

    Darth Caedus found himself looking down at Tycho Celchu and mourning his choices. It wasn’t the first time, either. When he looked at the man strapped to a table in the medical centre in Nickel One, he found that the Force was interposing images of other people he could see on such a table – one moment it was Ben, the next Shevu, the next a woman he did not recognise, and could not clearly work out whom it was before the image faded. If there was one aspect of being a Sith that he disliked, after a fashion, it was staring into the face of another, and inflicting pain upon them.

    It was his personal weakness, but when he looked beyond the person beyond him, and saw himself reflected in them – and his own eyes – he saw his daughter’s eyes, Allana, and knew that he was doing the right thing.

    His own personal grievances were swept aside, and he nodded to himself, stepping into the light spilling down upon Tycho. The rest of the room was blanketed in darkness, and the white pouring down so intense that the rest of the room was impossible to see from within the light. Tycho’s eyes registered the shadow that was Caedus, and looked over, his fists curling under his restraints.

    “Greetings, Colonel Celchu.”

    Tycho smiled, candidly. “Hello, Jacen.”

    Caedus returned the smile, injecting a certain amount of bile into it. It was all show, of course, but appearances had to be kept. He held nothing against a man with honour and skill. But that didn’t mean he would let such a disrespect go unchecked.

    He cupped his hand, and choked the man with the Force, Tycho’s eyes widening. “My name is Darth Caedus, Colonel. It would do for you to remember that.”

    “Funny -” choked Tycho, his throat rippling against the invisible grip, “all I see is Jacen dressed in drag.”

    Caedus allowed his anger to touch the Force, and felt the tantalising power reach his eyes, glowing golden. His smile turned carnivorous at the same time, and Tycho seemed to shrink back into the table. “Are you done?” He tightened the grip, preventing Tycho from speaking.

    Tycho’s eyes burned, but he did not nod or indicate acquiescence. Sighing, Caedus released him. “I don’t enjoy this, you realise. I’m only doing it because you’ve betrayed me, when you really needn’t have.”

    “We’ll have to agree to disagree about that.” Tycho cleared his throat, coughing a few times, “You do realise I was tortured by the Empire before you were even born?”

    “And?”

    “The Empire had decades to perfect torturing people.”

    Caedus stepped forward, leaning over Tycho. “I’m not going to be the one who’s torturing you.”

    Tycho blinked, once, and responded. “One of your GAG goons from the Empire? I’m not scared, Jacen.”

    “Last chance, Colonel – what are Niathal and Daala upto?” Caedus allowed smugness to crawl into his voice. He’d warned him several times, now, and he deserved entirely what he was about to receive. As a traitor, as a fool, and as a man with entirely appalling manners.

    “Go throw yourself in a Sarlacc.”

    “Don’t say I didn’t warn you…” He closed his eyes and clapped his hands, a single snap of Force energy activating the rest of the lights. Tycho’s eyes flickered as they tried to equalise with his expanded surroundings. In that short moment, Caedus stepped away, getting out of the way.

    Caedus leaned on the wall and folded his arms as the Embrace of Pain reached down from the ceiling for Tycho, wrapping its tentacles around him, creatures skittering down the limbs to nibble at the skin and hair. Thorns cut into his skin, and Tycho was drawn from the table, the Embrace yanking him in the restraints, which cut into his skin and oozed blood.

    As Tycho’s screams filled the room, Caedus marvelled at his old friend. They’d known each other for years, and it was another person who was just as much apart of him as any. It was beautiful, after a fashion. He had very few guilty pleasures, now. So few friends to call upon, to trust, and to love – the World Brain killed by Bothan assassins, Ikrit by the Peace Brigade, Anakin by the Yuuzhan Vong, and then the betrayal of all his friends…

    It was good to see the Embrace enjoying itself, indeed.

    He held out a hand as a tentacle passed, and it wrapped around, as soft and pliant as the animals he’d tamed back on Yavin 4. The Embrace had been a gift from the World Brain, who had kept the creature alive after discovering it during the Reconstruction. Caedus remembered marvelling at the creature he’d established a bond with during those dark days after Anakin’s death.

    The bond between the two of them, forged by his Vongsense, had caused him a surprising amount of psychic anguish fighting with Luke on the Anakin Solo. Combined with the wounds to his head and kidney, and the puncture in his back, he’d been driven to his knees, and nearly killed. Since then, he’d withdrew slightly from their bond, and, in hindsight, he should have done the same for Tenel Ka and Allana. It would have saved him Tebut, and Fondor.

    Spinning on his heel, he left Tycho to play with his friend. He didn’t care about whether Tycho confessed now. His friend deserved some playtime. Caedus remembered his visions of the future, of Mandalorians bursting from walls and attacking Moffs, and smiled softly. He also remembered his other ploys, and actions, which would lead more of his enemies to him.

    The Dark Lord of the Sith’s playtime was about to begin.

    ---

    Fyor Rodan of Commenor found himself sympathising with Princess Leia, of all people. It irritated him, immensely, that he could have something in common with a Jedi.

    His world was the Alderaan of the Second Galactic Civil War, its people massacred in every theatre – the homeworld devastated, and its fleet shattered. The fact that the Jedi were responsible for the latter was reminder enough of the evils of the Jedi Order.

    He looked out at the stars, at constellations he recognised from sessions during the Yuuzhan Vong War as a member of the Advisory Council. Corellia, Commenor, Kuat. Those stars were interrupted occasionally as warships and refugee vessels passed between him and them, winking out of existence.

    The main Confederation fleet hung above the galactic disc at the direction of Supreme Commander Turr Phennir, whom had been amassing spare and free vessels from the fronts over the past few weeks. There were no more Commenori Imperial-class Star Destroyers among the Bothan Assault Cruisers and Corellian Provident-class light cruisers, and nor were there any Commenori Carrack=class light cruisers among the modern Bothan frigates, elderly Corellian gunships, corvettes and Nebulon-class frigates. It was little consolation that the Hutts had no remaining vessels within the fleet either.

    Those few modern Star Destroyers provided by the Fondorians had been withdrawn when they rejoined the Galactic Alliance, and the fleet was increasing looking increasingly stretched. With Caedus and the Empire controlling the Roche asteroid belt, and simultaneously crushing down on Adumar and Bespin, the Confederation was being starved of munitions and blaster gas while Caedus was becoming stronger and stronger with every passing day.

    Rodan wouldn’t say that Caedus was unbeatable, but ‘invincible’ was being batted around a lot more than anything else. Even the Yuuzhan Vong hadn’t been called that by the military. But, that war had been more about politics until Cal Omas took control, yes, control - Rodan hadn’t forgot that his enemy had became Chief of State only by unscrupulous means – of the Alliance and eventually led them down this path.

    “President Rodan?”

    Fyor blinked, turning back to his peers and stopped staring out of the viewport. The Confederation Council reminded him far too much of the Separatist Council from history, but it was the only way for them to work together.

    Admiral Kre’frey’s hologram, broadcast from the Ralroost, folded it’s arms, Kre’frey giving Fyor a glare. The two had been keen political opponents during the Yuuzhan Vong War, and were now on the same ‘side’. It reminded Rodan that this Confederation was unlikely to outlast the Alliance even if they won, but for Rodan it had become more – the only way he could have revenge for his people.

    “I apologise. I was elsewhere. You were saying about the Mon Calamari?”

    The holograms of Prime Ministers Delpin and Teppler, the latter sitting in Vadde’s seat the former in Prime Minister Sadras Koyan’s, sympathised, he suspected. They’d lost more than tenth of their systems population in the destruction of Centerpoint, and were baying for blood. The Bothans had lost tens of thousands of civilians to Caedus and the GAG, but that was less important in light of the opportunity for their ar’kai to be fulfilled, typically. To be fair, the Bothans were in a far better position than anyone – the Hutts had stopped sending a representative and the Adumari and Bespinese had too many things to worry about than playing in a Confederation which couldn’t come to save them. The Bimms hadn’t any reason to send a representative, either – they didn’t have any military to donate.

    Supreme Commander Turr Phennir, from Commenor like Rodan, made up the donation of the Commenori, nowadays, and continued. “I understand. I was saying that the Mon Calamari have been placed in a complex position by what happened at Fondor. While the majority of defectors were Mon Calamari and Quarren, the fact Niathal is at very least nominally allied with Daala has isolated her. The Mon Calamari as a whole have been forced to support Caedus, in spite of the fact that they’d rather support Niathal if not for Daala.”

    Teppler nodded. “And thus the GA keeps control of their shipyards, and Caedus is able to maintain his offensives across the galaxy.”

    “Exactly,” said Phennir, “As such, our diplomatic advances since Fondor have been soundly rebuffed.” The Supreme Commander shook his head, sadly, as if it was simply another setback in a wave of them. The Confederation hadn’t technically won a battle since Kuat, and it was costing them support, as evident by the empty seats within the Council. “But I didn’t call us together to discuss failure. I’ve called this meeting to discuss new intelligence handed to us by the Bothans.”

    Kre’frey leaned forward, clearly hearing this for the first time. No surprises, there. At least half the Admirals in the Bothan fleet were looking to replace him in some shape or form. Rodan spoke into the pause, reminding the Council of his world’s contribution. “Go on, Supreme Commander.”

    “The Hapan fleets have left their border patrols and launched rimward towards the Perlemian. The two fleets will arrive in the Roche system within a few hours, if that is their target. The Home Fleet is holding position within the Consortium, we believe, protecting Hapes. I’ve received another request from the Heritage Council to intervene in the cluster, but I’ve ignored them again. More interestingly, the combined fleets around Fondor have scattered as well.”

    “Connected actions?” said Kre’frey, his eyes glazing over thoughfully.

    “Unknown, I bet,” said Teppler. “None of us are exactly working together. We just happen to hope we don’t get in each others way.”

    Delpin snorted. “Well, we all crossed paths at Centerpoint and Fondor.”

    “So, are we going to cross paths at Roche?” said Rodan, calmly. “With just this fleet?”

    Phennir held up a hand before Kre’frey bit off Rodan’s face with a response. “No. We’ve been focusing on Caedus too much, and I think we should take advantage of the confusion in the galaxy. There’s no way Niathal and Daala are going to arrive in-time to support the assault without the Hapans taking massive casualties.”

    “On purpose…?” said Delpin.

    “I doubt Daala is going to lose sleep if a few Jedi-lovers die,” said Rodan, pleased at the irony of that.

    “And are we going to cry if Niathal and Vadde lose a few more sycophants?”

    “Not at all,” grinned Kre’frey, mercilessly.

    “Didn’t think so,” said Rodan, standing. There was something in his stomach that squirmed at that, and he began wondering if he was becoming Leia. Sick of politics, sick of warfare, sick of death. But then there was an enemy that wouldn’t roll over, and promised to be as ruthless as the Yuuzhan Vong. He didn’t need to listen to how the Bothans and Corellians deployed themselves to take advantage of the deaths of several thousand soldiers, no matter how misguided.

    His decision to enter this war had killed so many of his people. The responsibility weighed down more than anything he’d ever done. Even when the Yuuzhan Vong conquered his homeworld, the destruction hadn’t been this… calculating. Caedus was so methodical, so manipulating…

    Rodan found he was thankful he had never had children.

    “Let the galaxy torch itself for us.” Rodan stood up, and left the meeting room, not even bothering to call a formal end to the facade. “Call me when it’s over.”

    ---

    They were gathered at last.

    This was hardly the first time the family had gathered to face this crisis, but there was always someone missing, always in soul. Supporting Corellia, or supporting the Alliance, or supporting the Jedi. It had been almost a year since the entire family could say they were all on the same side politically, and the bonds between them all were strengthened ever more.

    All except one.

    Winter Celchu folded her arms, her mind remembering everyone as they hugged or shook hands, gathered in this room to bring the last of the family back into the light. Although Corran and Syal were not here, and nor were the Solo’s and Skywalker’s, they were at least here in spirit, all a member of the Jedi Coalition together.

    Valin embarrassingly hugged his grandfather, Booster Terrik, while his mother Mirax watched with pride, half in conversation with Iella Antilles, her husband overlooking the entire conversation from the overhead gangway with Wes Janson, discussing tactics already, by the look of it. Myri wandered over to her, the teenager sporting some excessively expensive clothes and jewellery. Winter glanced up, and noticed that Myri’s father wasn’t even looking, was so far gone into his thoughts of Tycho that he hadn’t attended to his daughter’s transformation. Derek ‘Hobbie’ Klivian was leaning on the hangar wall, shaking his head at something undoubtedly said by Pash Cracken, who was laughing. Cheriss was off to the side, replacing her blastsword charge with a fresh battery. However Booster had managed to get Adumari technology through the Ninth’s blockade was beyond Winter.

    Myri gave Winter a fierce hug, and Winter returned it, absentmindedly, and Myri pulled back, narrowing her eyes. “Aunt Winter?”

    “I’m worried about Tycho.”

    “I don’t see why,” she said, smiling. “He’s always gotten himself out of his messes in the past.”

    “He’s never had to deal with a Sith Lord face-to-face before, honey.”

    “None of us have,” said Wedge, breaking the little discussions up with his raised voice. Booster raised his head, his human eye slightly irked by the interruption.

    “What’s that, boy?”

    “None of us have had to deal with a Sith Lord before. But that’s exactly what we’re planning to do, today. Take on a Sith. Some of us here fought the Empire, and remember how hard that fight was. I’ve flown against Vader and Caedus, at Yavin and Fondor, and they’re good – better than any of us here. Valin watched him beat up Kyle, and kill another Jedi. He took on Luke. If Caedus interferes personally in this, we have absolutely no chance.” Wedge was giving a speech, that speech, and everyone knew what he meant.

    “We’re all in, Wedge, don’t worry. This is about family, at the end of the day,” said Cheriss, looking particularly aggressive, as if she was proving herself to the others.

    “So, what’s the plan?” said Hobbie, lamely. “We do have a plan, right?”

    “Worried you’re going to be shot down again?” Wes said, grinning like a Trandoshan.

    Wedge, all business, cut in. “We have a plan. The plan is to take the Errant Venture into the Roche system, and insert as close to Nickel One as we can. By this time, the Imperial fleet should be scattered to cover the Jedi attack, which is undoubtedly going to involve StealthX’s. Red Flight – Pash, Wes, Hobbie and myself - will be screening the Venture, while the insertion team – Iella, Valin, Winter and Cheriss – fight their way to wherever Caedus has Tycho locked up. The Venture, captained by Mirax -”

    “Damn right.” Booster couldn’t help but beam at that, but let Wedge continue.

    “- will hyper out once we’re down, and return when we’re on our way out to support us. Myri will remain aboard the Venture acting as Flight Control, as she seemed to enjoy that so much during our departure from Corellia. Red Flight will remain in-system for the entirety of the mission, making sure no Imperial or GA vessels discover the escape vessel.”

    “How do we know Tycho is even on Nickel One?” said Winter, surprised that this was the first she’d heard about it.

    Mirax pointed a datapad at the holoprojector sitting in the centre of the hangar bay, which activated. It was a HoloNet show, aired to Coruscant, a talk show that had, in the past, been renowned for its anti-Jedi sentiments, even before the Yuuzhan Vong War. Now, with Darth Caedus in charge, it was in full swing again, denouncing the Jedi and praising Caedus for being the only Jedi to have sided with the Alliance. Winter privately wondered if they’d done the same reel for Darth Vader, back when he was the only Jedi to side with Palpatine.

    The over-excitable human presenter broke from the scheduled debate with analysts over the Remnant and Hapan military capacities, and spoke to the viewers.

    “We are indeed happy to announce that Galactic Talk has an exclusive from the Chief of State himself, a statement released from his office only a few minutes ago. Tycho Celchu has been revealed as a traitor to the Alliance, and has been feeding information to the rogue Niathal, whom as you all know joined the rebels at the Battle of Fondor. Celchu was apprehended at Nickel One in the Roche system, the latest sight of rebel disciplining, having just injured his commanding officer, Admiral Darklighter, in an assassination attempt.”

    “Celchu has been on trial for treason before, during the first Galactic Civil War, wherein he was suspected to be a secret agent of Iceheart, over three decades ago. It appears that he has been a Jedi secret agent all along – but as many of our long-time viewers are aware, we believed Celchu to be a traitor back then, and thus this is no surprise to us here at Galactic Talk.” Mirax closed down the holoproj at that, wincing.

    “It’s a trap, then,” said Iella, even as the hologram closed down, coldly. “And we’re still going through with this?”

    “Of course,” said Wedge, neutrally. Iella shook her head. Wedge visibly tensed, and Winter found herself looking at Myri, her concern for the teenager watching her parents have a fight eclipsing her worry for Tycho momentarily.

    “Wedge, you can’t be serious about this. You just warned us that Caedus is as dangerous as Vader, and now you’re considering taking the whole family into one of his traps.” Iella was cautious, but clearly losing her temper with her husband.

    The distance between them became larger everyday. It was palpable. As Wedge took more and more responsibility for Caedus after Fondor, Iella was feeling more estranged from her husband, and Winter, even without her keen skills in profiling, could tell instantly. Everyone in the hangar could. Myri seemed to suddenly notice, and something wilted inside her, but Winter placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder and felt her teenage-cockiness return – undoubtedly rallied by Winter treating her slightly like a child.

    The old twinge – the lack of children Tycho and she had – rippled through her, but Winter had made her bed with that issue a long time ago, and accepted that the Galactic Alliance was their child to support. Both of them were career officers, and children didn’t come into it, more often than not. Of course, now their child was a monster, in all forms. A New Empire. She could only sympathise with the Solo’s, who would feel it even more keenly than her, as it was their child in reality, rather than metaphor, which had became a monster.

    “Look, Iella,” Wedge answered, almost sharply; “It’s the exact same scheme we used to extract Allana. Luke and the others will distract Caedus, and we’ll save Tycho. Why would it be any different now?”

    “Because we’re not working with Luke this time, Wedge. This is some damn crusade of yours that you have to do to make things sit straight.” Iella’s voice raised, and Winter watched Myri cringe. “And because Caedus wants us to come this time.”

    “Luke isn’t going to be able to save Tycho,” said Wedge, coldly. “He’s too busy with his nephew, now. Saving Tycho won’t bring the galaxy back into order, and the Jedi have limited resources and time to pull this off. Any side-operations are going to detract from their overall goal; killing Caedus.”

    Wedge leaned forward on the rail, continuing. “I was the one Luke chose to help him capture Caedus at Fondor. I was the one who failed him. Whatever tricks Luke was playing, making me feel like a Jedi in the Force to protect us from him, I was the one who failed.” Wedge pulled back, waving his hand towards one of the exits. “You can go if you want, I’m not stopping you.”

    Iella threw up her hands and stormed from the hangar. Myri went to go, and hesitated as Winters hold on her shoulder broke. Winter, however, had no hesitation of her own, pushing Myri lightly to go. Tears in her eyes, Myri ran after her mother. Everyone looked back to Wedge, and his expression grew dark, and he stepped away. Wes, now the centre of attention, shrugged embarrassingly, before finding his authoritative voice.

    “You know the drill, people. Get some rest while we move out. Make sure your fighters are ready, if you have them, and you are too. This could get rough.”

    “You ordering me around, junior?” said Booster, raising the eyebrow above his droid eye.

    “What else was he going to do, Booster, marry you?”

    The smooth voice cut across the still-uncomfortable gathering, and revealed Lando Calrissian leaning on the far hangar wall. The con artist extraordinaire flashed a smile which, to Winters amusement, made Cheriss blush. His cape flapped behind him, his clothes as vainglorious as ever, and the walking stick tapped on the floor as he walked over.

    “Making an entrance, as ever, Lando,” said Winter, kissing him on the cheek with a smile, and embracing him. He returned the hug one-handed, and twirled his cane as he broke away, pointing it at Wedge.

    “Sounds like your problems need solving, and I just happen to be a problem solver,” he continued, that smile gleaming.

    Wedge released a sigh, and simply mock-glared at Lando. “Go on, then. Blow a huge hole in my plan, and get on with it.” Winter wanted to tell Wedge to stop playing and go after Iella, but they all needed a morale boost – she knew Wedge would talk to Iella in his own time.

    “Well, it seems to me that if you know it’s a trap, you’re going to need a way to get in and out of Nickel One, and a fast one at that.”

    Booster snorted, catching on straight away. “He’d never lend her to you. Not after what happened when you borrowed her from him last time.”

    “I wasn’t thinking of asking, I’m afraid,” said Lando, winking.

    “It’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission?” said Mirax, shaking her head.

    “He’s not using her,” said Pash, cautiously. “Isn’t he flying a blastboat to Nickel One?”

    Hobbie, as ever, looked mournful. “Han’s going to shoot us, one at a time, and slowly.”

    Wedge appeared rueful. “Rather him than the Alliance. Lando, your scheme, your responsibility – go and retrieve the Falcon, and we’ll rendezvous here in a few hours.”

    Lando pulled a face, but spun jauntily as he finished his sentence. “I knew you’d say that.”
    Bardan_Jusik and AzureAngel2 like this.
  11. imiller Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 26, 2004
    star 3
  12. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Nov 15, 2004
    star 7
    Chapter 7.5

    Darth Caedus could tell they were watching. He’d lost control of the surveillance system to someone – the Mandalorians, most likely – and they were using it to keep tabs on his location. Evidently they were aware of how dangerous he was. That little nugget of ego – the echoes of the madness he’d indulged in at Fondor – he instantly suppressed. Had he not been acting in such a ridiculous manner, taking out the planetary shields himself, he would have swatted aside those Mandalorians on the Bloodfin with ease – and Jaina with them.

    Even in the throes of madness the Force had intervened, allowing him to avoid capture by Luke Skywalker, and survive the cataclysmic battle that had followed. The reappearance of Daala could hardly have been anticipated by anyone, let alone him. Caedus had to focus upon the Force, upon what took him here so far.

    And that meant the Sith tassels. He no longer had Lumiya, his Sith mentor, and Alema Rar had vanished again, despite helping him at the Battle of Kashyyyk. And so Caedus held the multi-coloured artefact and touched the tassels, recalling their meaning, a hand pressed to his brow.

    Some of them were fairly obvious –He will remake/rename himself – had already come about – he was no longer Jacen Solo and was Darth Caedus. He had chosen how he will be loved, and he certainly had ruined those who deny justice. Many times over, in fact – as well as having decided the fate of the weak for many months now – he could hardly be said to be doing anything else.

    Caedus, his legs folded as he sat in meditation, and closed his eyes. He had long since immortalized his love – killing Ben’s adoration for him, with the death of Mara Jade Skywalker. He could hardly strengthen himself through sacrifice anymore, could he? The Sith Lord considered the remaining tassels.

    While he would win and break and his chains was clearly an acceptance of the Sith Code, at least as far as Caedus was concerned, and he will make a pet had been fulfilled – the pet was Tahiri, clearly, – but how could he shed his skin and choose a new skin?

    Darth Caedus considered. Would it simply overlap with him remaking himself? It sounded far too physical, that he would literally remove his skin – why would Lumiya have gone to such lengths to include two similar sounding statements? Caedus considered for a moment, turning the tassels over in his hands again and again. After a long moment Caedus looked at his hand, his eye drew to the burn circle on his palm.

    It had not quite healed since his brinkmanship with a naked flame almost a year ago, back on Coruscant, when the Corellian blockade had just begun. Canting his head, Caedus wondered, considering the wounds he had received during the war. His eardrums burst on Centerpoint, the skin on his hand burnt away by his own actions. Mara had burnt a hole through him with a lightsaber, and he had far too many cuts on his body from Mara. Too many to count, even. Later, he’d lost a kidney and a portion of skull to Luke, and an unpleasant scratch on his eye. Ben had cut him, twice, the second plunging a vibrodagger into his back. At Fondor he’d lost a knee to the Mandalorians, an irritating loss.

    In fact, since he’d met Vergere it was possible to argue he’d had almost every possible wound he could suffer apart from outright mutilation. He had quite literally made decisions which had seen his skin shed, if not shredded outright. Caedus smiled as he resolved another aspect of the tassel. Thinking more on his battle with Luke, he unconsciously recalled clawing across the floor of the Anakin Solo after their fight, his cloak spilled over his head as he dragged himself away from Luke and Ben.

    So I have crawled through my cloak. Dismissing his humiliation with ease – he was proud for surviving a fight with his uncle – Caedus considered when he would know brotherhood – or if he had already. He was a Sith, and Lumiya had sacrificed herself for him, and, just as compelling, he was a cog in the Galactic Alliance Guard, albeit an important cog. They were all brothers – and sisters too, with Lumiya and Vergere.

    Caedus had one tassel remaining, and this had two meanings, and he had never had it confirmed either way. The tassel was tan, and featured jagged black lines. He had recognised it from the statutory on Ziost, and it was imbued so that only Caedus could understand its message.

    When he had been Jacen Solo, the tassel had said ‘he will be drawn from peace into conflict’ or perhaps ‘his life will be balanced between peace and conflict’. The difference between the two was substantial, but Lumiya had preferred to focus upon other tassels while she was alive.

    Through his new Sith senses, however, Darth Caedus saw that there was a third meaning imbued in the tassels, hidden deep within the dark side. His life is the balance between peace and conflict.

    The meaning did not override the other two, but subtly existed between the other two. Caedus leaned forward, as if he could somehow divine the truth by increasing proximity to them. He took a cursory glance at the other twelve tassels, once more, and then reached into the Force, his eyes glowing yellow.

    The tassels began to disintegrate, collapsing in on themselves as he picked apart the threads connecting them, twisting at the fabric to rend and rip, until there was nothing more than a pile of remnants sitting before him. Standing, Caedus lazily pulled at the Force and tugged an illusion around him, eclipsing him from the holocams view. The Force beat with urgency, and several presences filled the Force – aggressive and murderous presences.

    He didn’t have time to ponder the last tassel. He had several traps to spring, and a new Empire to create. The title of Emperor awaited him. It was time to claim it. First, the fools. Next, the Moff Council.

    Darth Caedus looked to the short GAG officer who was watching him without a complete understanding of what he was doing. Ignoring the even shorter one, he nodded, and they both saluted, turning about to command their troops.

    So be it.

    ---

    Moff Lecersen scowled at the displays, as he watched Admiral Ark Poinard deployed the Imperial fleets. The Imperial position in-system was focused from Nickel One, two fleets deployed around the capital of the Verpine, and another two holding the outer system. Caedus had brought his own fleet, the Fourth, and that was deployed protecting the convoy of munitions as it left for the fronts at Adumar, Bespin and Bothawui – currently at the Perlemian, the second half of the convoy sitting in the loading docks waiting for the Fourth to return. Well, they had been.

    The Jedi were attacking the Star Destroyers near Nickel One, and the Harbinger was aflame, as were the loading docks. The situation was a complete mess, and Lecersen opened the channel to chide Admiral Poinard, a full-sized hologram appearing.

    “Don’t even say anything, Lecersen,” Poinard, sharply. The other Moffs in the Council snorted and laughed, and Lecersen scowled at the Admiral, who had, at very least for now, taken Pellaeon’s position in the fleet.

    Grand-General Sutt Ramic, in command of the inner Imperial Fleets, was also evident in hologrammic form, his arms folded. “Then allow me to say it, Admiral. Our forces are out of position at Nickel One, and we need immediate reinforcing to deal with Fett and Skywalker. I’ve moved elements of the Elite Guard from the Moffs to defend the routes between the wrecked docks and here – as undoubtedly the Jedi will take advantage. But if all of Skywalker’s ilk come for us, we’re dead. Your fleet should be protecting my position.”

    The Admiral’s response was cut off by the addition of several dozen icons to the display, painted yellow for ‘unknown’. Lecersen gestured at the Verpine techs to zoom onto the new arrivals, which resolved into Hapan Battle Dragons, Nova-class battle cruisers and the even smaller Beta-class cruisers almost a moment before they were painted red.

    “Two Hapan battle fleets,” reported Poinard, with some satisfaction. “I expected as much.”

    Lecersen could only allow his scowl to deepen, and simply nodded. He had his military experience, within the forces of Oversector Outer as a Rear Admiral, and, after that, within the sycophantic ranks of warlord Tethys. He knew how irritating politicians could be. He absently wondered when he had become such a politician.

    “Admiral Poinard, retain the deployment. Grand-General Ramic, prepare Nickel One for an outright attack. And find where Solo is hiding – if he intends us to fight his battle for him he can at least have the guts to be honest about it.” Lecersen sat back down, smoothing his uniform.

    Damn the Solo and Skywalkers. They will be the end of the Empire.

    ---

    Damn the Solo and Skywalkers. They will be the end of the Confederation.

    Admiral Traest Kre’frey sniffed sharply through his snout, a deep intake of air which he promptly released, allowing his fur to ripple with the exhale; in short, he sighed. Slumping back in the command chair, the Bothan waved a claw to his communications officer, who promptly opened a channel. “This is Ralroost to Kre’frey Command; the Harbinger has evaded us once again. Reform lines, recall fighters, and prepare to jump out before the Third converges on our position. Kre’frey out.”

    With that he closed his colour-flecked eyes and listened to his crew as it went about his orders, leaning on his arm to support his head. He gauged mood, and took stock of reports, twitching his ears over to conversations between the other Bothan crewmates - morale was low at the loss of the Fey’lya; the Bothan A9 Vigilance squadrons had emerged mostly intact from the furball with Alliance E-wings; the Verpine-built B-wings and Commenori K-wings were by and large depleted of torpedoes and concussion missiles; word had been lost entirely with the Corellian X-wing wing that had engaged the Harbinger’s deployment of the remnant Rogue and 181st Squadrons. As Kre’fry listened, he became aware of a low growl building, interfering with his ability to discern information – it took him a moment to realise that noise was him, the situation causing that same ball of frustration he had thought defeated to covalesce in the pit of his stomach once again, and he clawed at the padding on the arm of his command chair once again, closing his hand into a fist and ripping apart the fabric. Finding his hand full of the foam padding, he flicked his claws, the growl emerging again at the material caught in his hand.

    “More bad news?”

    Traest managed not to jump as he opened his eye to the holoprojector perched at the end of his chair arm; he supposed the comms office had informed him of the incoming transmission and had interpreted his motions as acknowledging and accepting the line being put through to him. From between claws he saw the miniature version of Supreme Commander Phennir, and Kre’frey sat up to acknowledge his superior. “Of course it is. The Harbinger escaped our trap, and instead destroyed the Fey’lya. Which is one less Assault Cruiser for my dwindling task force,” added Kre’frey, matter-of-factly.

    “I had counselled against a task force modelled after Caedus’ father to hunt down the Harbinger,” said Phennir gravely, folding his arms over each other. “Comparisons aside and morale lifting though it was, following the loss of Centerpoint, we can hardly afford to dedicate our best pilots and ships in this way; Caedus had yet to dedicate any particular amount of forces to his harassment of Bothan Space.”

    “I would have thought a Viscount-class Star Defender was quite enough attention.”

    “A deployment made by Niathal, and you’ll note Caedus only kept it in place to ensure the Harbinger was in no position to defect at Fondor.” Phennir’s voice was grudging with admiration.

    Kre’frey didn’t comment. He simply stood and wandered to his ready room, a non-specific gesture correctly interpreted to mean he wanted to speak to Phennir in private. His keen hearing picked up on the increase of conversation as he went to leave the bridge and Kre’frey paused, barking at them all before he left. “Just because I am out of earshot doesn’t mean you can lose focus; unless you want the Third to catch us with our pants down!”

    He slapped the doors closed behind him. “Sorry about that,” the Bothan muttered to waiting Phennir.

    “Morale down?”

    “Mine as well as theirs,” said Kre’frey, honestly. Phennir arched an eyebrow, and Kre’frey continued as he slumped on the couch, looking past the hologram towards the stars as they turned into the streaking light of hyperspace. “I was once more than what I am now, you must realise. I was once poised to be the successor to Sovv as Supreme Commander of the Galactic Alliance. Then I became the figurehead for the ar’kai movement, which I had only became invested in to simply rally the New Republic. I was politically untouchable, and bypassed. The token famous Bothan became Bwua’tu, and I was assigned to chase the Yuuzhan Vong down, and then, I was nothing but the ar’kai movement, dedicated to representing genocide… my strategic and tactical acumen be damned to starfire.” His tone verged on growling again, and Kre’frey waved a claw. “And now there is no True Victory Party for me to even represent, and Rehmwa died a pointless death as a terrorist at Denon – the crew of the Avengeance escaped from prison only to vanish into the Unknown Regions and never come back. There is no ar’kai movement– there is only me, who doesn’t particularly care for genocide at the best of times.”

    Phennir held out his hands, open. “What do you want me to do? Roll back time so that you can unmake your decisions? Where would Admiral Kre’frey be then? Fighting alongside the Alliance and Caedus, perhaps, or where you are now anyway?”

    Kre’frey smiled, baring his fangs. “Says the former Imperial who is now fighting his own people?”

    “Point,” said Phennir, who shrugged. “I am not interested in being a kingmaker, or rewriting the cosmos. I leave that to politicians after the war is over. I am interested in stopping the return of the Sith to the galaxy. I want order, and peace.”

    “Even though a Sith at least was partially responsible for founding the Confederation.”

    “Even though,” said Phennir, irritably. “The Empire was founded by a Sith, and it had, until very recently, evolved into an entity that represented order and peace. That is what I expect of this Confederation, once the war is over. We’ve had our purge. The Sal-Solos, the Gejjens, the Centerpoint-users, they’re all gone – the majority of the influence has been taken away from them not by the Jedi but by us, by reform and working together. Can the Alliance say the same for itself – no – the nutjob who pushed us towards this war, who was in league with one of the architects of this conflict, is leading the Galactic Alliance. He isn’t even concealing his Sith name.”

    Kre’frey turned back to the hologram as Phennir’s voice raised, nodding in approval. “Nice speech.”

    Phennir dropped his shoulders, once again the smooth ex-Imperial cloaked by a scarred visage. “Thank you. Was it sufficient to remind you why we’re still fighting?”

    “Yes,” said Kre’frey, smiling softly, his teeth not on view. “And so you wish for me to try again? With him?”

    “We’re at the tipping point. If you don’t reach him this time, then I do not know how we can win – any of us. Caedus will be what Rodan suggested – invincible. We can barely survive the Empire and the Sith – how can we cope with Thrawn as well?” Phennir pursed his lips. “Undo his vow of krevi before I have no choice but to undo him.

    And with that Phennir was gone and Kre’frey sat in the darkness for a short moment, before running his hand over his face in a human expression of agitation. Walking to the desk, he tapped in a code, scanned his retina, and pulled out the comlink, connecting it to the holoprojector and taking a seat at his desk, claws laced and his chin rested upon them.

    In a handful of minutes Nek Bwua’tu, Bothan Supreme Commander of the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances, was sitting in the opposing chair, a leg folded over the other, and his hands linked and placed on his knees. “Hello, fourth-cousin Kre’frey,” he started, in Bothan.

    Kre’frey responded in their native tongue. “Hello, fouth-cousin Bwua’tu. Are you ready?”

    “For another ill-fated attempt at a redemption attempt?” Nek was all but sarcastic, as he was always in these private discussions. Traest’s snout twitched; curse that uncle of Nek’s, who the Bothan seemed to have inherited his difficult nature, and, of course, his analytical mind. “Am I able to comment, again, that I in possession of my faculties, and am not subject to a mind-trick by Solo?”

    “You can, but I wonder if Solo is in possession of his faculties on a daily basis; becoming a Sith Lord, killing his aunt… conspiring to kill his family on a constant basis. A Galactic Alliance that makes use of Imperial genocide weapons and burns down planets on a whim.” Traest flattened his fur to control any wayward reactions, and pinned his ears back to his skull, keeping them from betraying him as he launched his opening salvo.

    Nek, for his part, made no effort to conceal the rippling of his fur, or to arrange his ears to obscure his emotions. He clearly was in control of himself, and understood what he was doing, which agitated Traest all the more. “Ah, yes. You attempt to undo my krevi by suggesting that I have made it to a dishonourable cause, and thus invalidating my initial dedication that I was defending an ideal worth such a declaration.”

    Traest nodded, slowly. “Exactly.”

    Nek leaned forward, quickly, and even Traest could see the blaze of anger in his eyes; that temper of his uncles to the forefront again. “Meanwhile your cause found it prudent to rearm the most dangerous superweapon in history and ally with former terrorists and war criminals such as Sal-Solo. For what? The purposes of escalation? Before the war had even started?”

    “Point.” Unruffled, Traest sat back, away from Nek. “But that is not the case now. Now the Confederation is leaning towards the correct ways. Insofar as much as your cause is dipping, we have less foibles and issues to suggest that we are now in the wrong. The Jedi agree with us -”

    “- but are not allied with you -”

    “- and now we are all opposing you.”

    Nek wagged a claw. “Not me personally. Darth Caedus. The sole reason that the Galactic Alliance is actually still in this war, at this stage.”

    “Despite the fact that his Sith master founded the Confederation… and slew enough members of the Bothan True Victory Party to drive our entire species to fight his evil… and it was this same Confederation which came to Kashyyyks aid? Despite the fact that Darth Caedus, with his Galactic Alliance Guard, and with Lumiya by his side, has personally been responsible for forcing this conflict towards war?” Traest fought, hard, to keep his voice even, as he drew his trap around Nek – that the war was perpetrated by Caedus, that it even now is being escalated by him… and that the Confederation, in comparison, was a lesser evil.

    For a long moment, Nek Bwua’tu was silent, and Traest wondered if he had actually managed to make his point, that, unlike the Solo’s and Skywalker’s, who had failed to save their kin, he would draw Nek back into the Bothan fold and together save the galaxy. And then Nek shook his head, and Traest instantly recognised the Bothan that was apparent to the galaxy at large – a cool-headed tactician and strategist whose ability to see through his opponents was legendary. His voice calmed, and Traest dipped his snout in acknowledgment of his authoritative tone, unconsciously.

    “Traest, I have spoken at length with Caedus about this, you realise. And he told me it all. I did not need to confront him about it, about the machinations. He knew. He knew that Lumiya had manipulated him, had pushed all of us into this conflict. Lumiya was a puppet master, and Caedus had gladly played his role. Because a galaxy led by the Confederation, by, in particular, Corellia, will never be one which brought peace. The Corellians were reaching out to the Hutts, to us Bothans, before the war had even begun… had elected Sal-Solo to a position of leadership… had decided to rearm Centerpoint and create a secret assault fleet.” Nek laced his fingers. “And he knew that a war where the sides were not drawn up, as clearly as could be possibly done, would rage for years. Have you never wondered why, in less than a year, Jacen Solo transformed himself into Darth Caedus and pushed the Alliance down this route with Niathal and Omas? Have you not realised that the war is poised to end now, rather than in the decades we all foresaw?”

    Nek shook his head into the silence. “It’s not because he wanted it. He saw it coming. The violence and the disaster, and all I can do is follow my vow of krevi and keep honour in the Galactic Alliance until we do not need him. Until we can survive this disaster that your Confederation has given us.”

    A stunned Traest eventually found his voice. “Caedus told you all of this?”

    “Not in so many words, but this is the interpretation I have concluded fits him best. Taking into context all of his decisions and betrayals, looking at his acts in the last five years.” Nek canted his head. “He served with you, didn’t he, during the war?”

    “On board the Ralroost, yes.” Traest stood, and turned to face the viewport. “He had little of Darth Caedus in him, as far as I can recognise. The same of Veila.”

    “Exactly so,” said Nek. “He knows something he has yet to tell us. A secret motivation that is behind his actions – deeper even than the existence of his secret child with Queen Mother Tenel Ka…”

    Traest looked back to his Bothan colleague – no, enemy, he had to conclude. “And what if you’re wrong?”

    “If I’m wrong?”

    “Yes.”

    Nek paused, and, for the first time in their entire conversation, he looked unsure of himself. “Then I will do my bit when the time is right.”

    “And if it is now?” Traest spoke softly, mourning the decision his fourth cousin was making.

    “Then I will be cursed. But that is the sacrifice I must make. The cause I fight for, peace and order, and justice, is not dead. It is certainly not alive in the Confederation, and even the Jedi realise that.”

    “Just because of Daala? And Sal-Solo and Gejjen? Because of Centerpoint?”

    Nek shook his head. “I am of the opinion that Daala's worst offenses were only a reaction to the psychological wounds the Empire inflicted upon her as a female… or maybe the physical wounds the Rebellion inflicted upon her at Horuz… but as to the rest. Yes.”

    Admiral Traest Kre’frey of the Confederation walked over to the holoprojector. “Well then, I guess that I should sign off, and we shall next meet on the field of battle.”

    “So it would seem,” said Nek Bwua’tu, Supreme Commander of the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances. “Unless I can convince you to return to the Alliance?”

    “No.”

    “Then it seems I cannot redeem you, either.”

    “Apparently not.”

    With that, Kre’frey cut the channel, and opened a line to Phennir, who was waiting. “You can send the assassins.” He unlocked another drawer of his desk, and withdrew a sleek holdout blaster. “You can send me.”

    ---

    Syal spun out, narrowly avoiding a Bes’uliik as it roared passed, and exchanged cannon fire with a Lancer-class frigate, the blastboat shaking as Corran and Zekk returned the dazzling twenty quad lasers with turbolaser fire. The shields shuddered for a moment, and Volu Nyth quickly redistributed energy to the forward screens, and then back to the rear again in time for the Starhunter on their tail to see his perfect shot splash against the shields.

    Tyria, as co-pilot, tweaked Syal’s movement, dipping the nose of the blastboat to widen the gap between the frigate and the Rakehells blastboat – designated Dry Ice today – so that Corran had the space to pump crippling shots into the frigates engines. The Defender hit the blastboat again, hard, and Volu cursed in Kuati for a moment, acrid smoke filling the cockpit until Tyria wagged a finger and dispelled it into the vents.

    The Starhunter was hugging them fairly tightly, and the blastboat was taking far too many hits, but Syal was enjoying herself. The StealthX’s had struck hard at the docks, and were even now dropping their remaining shadow bombs on corvettes and pickets. Mandalorian fighters were outlasting Starhunters time and time again, and the Harbinger, the primary problem for the Jedi Coalition flotilla, was in pieces.

    However, more than three dozen slate-gray and crimson hulled Star Destroyers were angling for Nickel One, supported by a few black armoured pocket destroyers. The Remnant seemed hesitant to deploy themselves to defending Nickel One, as if they were expecting a heavier hammer to fall somewhere.

    “Looks like the Hapans arrived as planned,” said Syal, to no-one in particular.

    Tyria, sitting beside her, smiled wanly. “To think they were so mysterious when I was your age. Now we can’t save the galaxy without them.”

    “Sounds about right,” said Volu, absently. “Hold steady for a moment, guys… There we go.” A torpedo sung out, hitting a Cutlass-class corvette on the nose, causing the ship to vomit metal. The blastboat shook, again, and Volu hissed, jerking in her restraints. “Zekk, can’t you do something about that Starhunter?”

    “Little busy with that squadron Corran missed,” said Zekk, half jokingly.

    Corran snorted. “Wouldn’t have had to miss them if you’d taken out that concussion missile – and you could have TK’d it into your shots, as well!”

    “Now, now, guys,” said Syal, a mild reprimand in her tone. “You Jedi should be setting the example about how to do this, right, Jag?” She glanced over at the man, who was staring intently at the comm. unit he’d been assigned to. He still wasn’t quite upto piloting the blastboat, apparently, but Syal simply knew he was worried about Jaina, just like Zekk – thus him missing that concussion missile. Syal lost the mans response as she nudged her way through the debris, twirling over the corvette and feeling rather than seeing the Starhunter hit the corvette, clearly nudged into making such a mistake by Tyria, who had her hands away from the controls.

    They were suddenly free of the firestorm as the squadron Zekk was firing at scattered around the corvette and attached destruction, and Syal looked back to Jag. “Sorry, missed that. Was too busy fixing the Jedi problem.”

    “We have a problem about to get here.”

    “Where?” Syal scanned the skies in front of them, not seeing anything that was likely to interfere any time soon. Nickel One was beneath them, just off to port, and they were out of range of the defence grid. The squadron of Starhunters was currently being chewed up by Fett and his Mandalorians, and everyone else seemed to be coping relatively well.

    Here, here.”

    All of a sudden more than three dozen craft decanted from hyperspace, popping into the gap in the battle that Syal had steered them towards. TIE Defenders. In other free spots in the blizzard of contacts, more such fighters were appearing, micro-jumping with atypical Imperial precision into the battle.

    Dozens. Hundreds.

    Syal nudged forward the blastboat, sharply, taxing the inertia compensator with her sudden thrust. She dove into the formation, expecting to hear a squeal from one of the Rakehells. Syal didn’t, simply because all the pilots in the ship would probably have done the same thing – diving away from the Defender formation would have only exposed her to its fire, and scattering it was the best option.

    Corran and Zekk lashed out with the turrets, and Volu fired the ion cannon over the tight formation, only now splitting in panic, flowering off in more directions than Syal’s single pair of eyes could account for. Syal gritted her teeth, wishing she was in her Eta-5, free to dart through the battle, rather than flying this blastboat, which was more like her Aleph than anything else.

    Syal felt a dissonance that she had attachments to such different fighter craft – the nippy Eta-5, and the bulky Alephs couldn’t contrast more. It was a new incarnation of old fears, that she would never escape the shadow of her father, and thus had moved away from X-wings, fighters that Syal could fly with a fairly hot hand. Instead, she was worrying that her identity was being scattered, lost within this war. When she should be making herself into someone, she was sacrificing her youth to do what was necessary, and nothing more.

    The young woman, tempered by loss and the soul-destroying backlash of her government betraying its hard-won principles, smiled. She couldn’t be happier. Syal might have been the outcast, but these omens of her past would pass. Content to drop the old Syal – Lysa, she could have said – in the abyss and step away from the embarrassed and uncertain girl that she had been since the beginning of the war, Syal Antilles dipped the blastboat on its nose, flipping the craft as she turned, so that Nickel One would remain beneath her, nodding at Volu to let loose with everything they had left.

    Corran grunted, and Volu actually gasped, her fingers hovering above the console rather than responding. The TIE Defenders had not been scattering into panic, but had in-fact moved in an orderly formation, concealing their intent within the complex flower formation, the force reforming and now pointing a full squadron at them, already singing out that Syal could see the lanes to avoid, but could already see that the next barrage would finish them off.

    The galaxy, it seemed, didn’t care for revelations.

    Then something else cut across space, a streak of white that darting across the gap between them. It eclipsed the blastboat long enough to take the brunt of the first position-controlling blasts, and Syal reacted quickly, turning the ship after the new arrival and redistributing the energy Volu was already handing her to the engines.

    The streak resolved itself into a disc, already on fire. It entered the semi-atmosphere of Nickel One, the weak field of gravity which the asteroids mass created, and spun, putting out the flames and revealing the Millennium Falcon in all its glory, shields raising and the two turrets unleashing a maelstrom of destruction upon the TIE Defender formation, and then upon the planetary defences.

    Jag grimaced, as if he would know the pain personally.

    “Han is not going to like that.”

    Sure enough, curses lit up the channels, the prissy Threepio cutting in to calm down Han and request ever so politely that he focus on flying before he got them all killed. Syal, not realising she’d been holding her breath since the TIE Defenders had reformed, released it into a short laugh, cutting it short when she realised that Han would hear her.

    There was no need, as laughter was running across the channels from the Jedi flotilla, the surviving blastboat crews all venting. Across the channel came Lando Calrissian, all charm and sophistication. “Sorry old buddy, but the old girl simply wasn’t getting enough attention from you. I had to take her out for night on the town, if you get what I mean?”

    ---

    Wedge Antilles shook his head at Lando as he continued to bait Han, taking them in past the scattered Defenders. The Falcon glided down, effortlessly avoiding the crippled defence grid and darting into the ruined docks. Detonating munitions had ripped open the facility to space, but the docks had been sealed off, preventing the destruction of the capital asteroid. Wedge had taken the controls of the Falcon for this dangerous manoeuvre, simply because Lando was far too queasy with it – he could say whatever he liked, but he had cringed for far too long over Endor and Mindor.

    Wedge cared little for such things, now. It was all about Tycho. Han would forgive him.

    Eventually.

    Wedge fired a concussion missile into the bulkhead, and spun around the Falcon, slamming the rear of the elderly transport into the breach, plugging it with the mass of the transport, and quickly extending the shields to secure any other gap. Slapping the ramp down, Wedge ran towards the aft section of the YT-1300, Lando close behind – leaving behind Myri to hold the ship.

    By the time Wedge made it down to the platform, Hobbie, Cheriss and Pash had more than a dozen Stormtroopers pinned down behind a smoking E-web cannon with massed blaster fire, while Valin danced out in front of them, catching any shots that could be taken by the Imperials. Wes Janson was taking shots and killing a trooper every time, and Wedge and Lando’s arrival finished off the last of the Stormtroopers.

    Without saying a word, Valin redirected his lightsaber into a wall-panel, while Lando tossed his cape over the holocam pointing down at them. From the short glance Wedge had of it, he could see that it was indeed of Verpine make, shaped like insectile eyes mounted on the wall. He idly wondered whether they managed to pull off the three-sixty degree view that the Verpine were rumoured to possess. Cheriss emerged from the ship, her blastsword hanging from a strap on her back, two short vibroknifes held ready in either hand. She took point, setting herself up as a distraction for any lurking Imperials along the way – creating the impression that they were heading for the Moffs, whom Wedge already knew the location of from Talon Karrde’s contacts. Imperial security was as lax as it had been three decades ago when it came to slicers – but the GAG files were nigh-impossible for even Karrde to slice into.

    And so Winter came down the ramp, her dyed hair tied into the classic Alderaan-style buns on either side of her head, dressed in a mock-up of Leia’s Jedi robes and with a ‘lightsaber’ dangling from her belt – just one more trick in their repertoire, to distract the Remnant soldiers that we even now probably panicking, and preparing whatever anti-Jedi countermeasures they had available. Wedge may have been on a crusade, but he wasn’t here to mess around with Luke’s plans for Jacen. He had messed up enough already – at Fondor.

    Moving over the blaster-scarred bulkheads which Valin had already cut open, Winter jammed a cable from her datapad into it, and quickly began hacking in. She received a response from the Verpine resistance network relatively quickly, and they began releasing control of areas of the surveillance network that would assist the team, having been forewarned by Karrde.

    Wedge allowed himself a humourless smile, at the memory of his initial suspicion of the man, over three decades ago. Now Karrde was a close friend, if not family – and his contacts were as ever impeccable. Wes had vanished, undoubtedly to follow Cheriss and crack some jokes.

    Winter pulled up the datapad, and an image of Tycho appeared, as expected. What wasn’t anticipated was the Embrace of Pain, and Wedge grimaced, reaching to obscure the screen in the vain hope that Winter wouldn’t see it – and remember it, forever.

    It was too late, but instead of her eyes wetting with tears, they grew hard, harder than any expression he’d ever seen on her face before. Lando cleared his throat, and Winter moved on wordlessly.

    “We’re secure. The Remnant are aware we’re here, but they’re expecting us to advance on the Strategic Planning Forum.”

    “Where the Moffs are,” noted Pash.

    “According to Karrde’s intel. He offered the information to the Jedi, but Luke foresaw no need for it, apparently.”

    Wedge didn’t comment. He rarely did, nowadays, when it came to Luke. They were quite separate from Luke and his efforts to restore the Galactic Alliance, which Wedge considered to be a government too corrupt to recover – and fully anticipated that the Jedi would suffer if it was restored.

    The veteran pilot paused at that. Maybe he was too involved – too old, and too cynical. Maybe Iella was right. Wedge began to wonder whether they should simply go home and leave Tycho to Jaina – he had no doubt she would save him if she could.

    Winter chimed in, all of a sudden. “I can’t find Jacen, Wedge – he’s vanished off the communications grid.”

    The entire team paused to look at Wedge, who once again felt a pressure upon his chest to flee – to run, to hide, and stay away from the violence that was sure to kill most of them. Wedge shook his head. “We’ve come this far.”

    “Good enough for me,” said Lando, grinning in that typically rakish manner that usually resulted in someone losing a lot of money; be it in gambling debts or in damage to their premises. Today it was going to be the latter.

    Valin thumbed his lightsaber, and Wedge looked at him. “Wes?”

    “In trouble.”

    Winter didn’t look up from her work. “No surprise.”

    Wedge nodded, readying his blaster, and, for the hundredth time since he’d set out from the Venture without her, thought of Iella. “No surprises.”

    ---

    Wes was in the middle of the wise-crack of the war, when the long and weaving tunnel they were standing was suddenly full of white armoured Stormtroopers. Wes would have reflected on how ridiculous using that colour armour was for the hundredth time – a tone of nostalgia to his thoughts – if he hadn’t dropped his sense of impeccable humour in exchange for his proficiency at shooting. The side-effect of said tunnel and its innumerable offshoots – thank the Force for the Verpine insect mentality - was that Wes and Cheriss could duck back and dance behind all manner of obstructions, so the advancing legion was could barely see them before they were shot.

    Not that Wes could see Cheriss, who was a small whirlwind of death and destruction in the chaos. Wes pointed, shot, killed, and then moved away, a pair of bolts drilling into the wall where he’d just stood. The white armoured soldiers were joined by black, and Wes knew they weren’t going to be able to keep this up for long.

    Where were the others?

    ---

    “What do you mean we’re cut off?” shouted Wedge over the firefight.

    A group of Stormtroopers had lunged forward, setting up a few metres from their impromptu hangar. The difficulty was not necessarily in surviving them, but instead all the toys they’d brought to play. Valin was dancing to avoid electrified cables and deflect concussion grenades, and Pash and Hobbie were just as busy firing at the swarm of Scarab droids that were trying to outflank them. Winter was still working on her datapad, trying to make sense of the myriad maze of GAG and Imperial outposts, and find Tycho. With Wedge snapping orders, Lando was the only one actually shooting the Imperials.

    Well this was going well.

    Wedge actually grinned. At any moment, Wraith Squadron would burst into the fray, and save them, Face Loran making some puerile speech while doing it. Or the Rogues would swoop in, bomb some part of the asteroid, and the Stormtroopers would panic, allowing them to regain the advantage.

    Then reality kicked back in.

    Wedge had actually led the squadron which had destroyed the Rogues – crippling them. He doubted they had recovered fully from the loss of the core of the squadron. For a sad moment, Wedge reflected that he had changed his mind.

    He didn’t wish Iella was here at all.

    ---

    As Wes pulled back, he could hear the firefight behind him, as much as the one in front of him. That was not good. The chaos was growing more and more unmanageable, and it was a matter of time before –

    The blaster bolt cut through the fabric of his flightsuit and scorched his skin, from behind him, and Wes pulled forward, narrowly avoiding a shot that he had no idea who had fired. The tunnel was filled, shoulder to shoulder, with black and white armoured opponents. Cheriss was submerged in the middle of it all, a dervish of blastsword and vibroknife, cutting down so many more troopers than Wes had shot.

    “Oh what the hell.”

    Wes pushed off the wall, popping a shot into a troopers chestplate. The plate caught the shot, but it still had kinetic power, and it pitched the Stormtrooper into his fellow comrades. Lunging forward, Wes placed his foot on the pile of fallen soldiers, and pushed off, clumsily falling over a GAG trooper who was just rising, but managing, despite the pain to his joints – a pain he would never admit to aloud – to roll up next to Cheriss in time to pop a shot in the gut of a trooper who had drawn a bead on her.

    Cheriss replied smoothly. “Nice move.”

    “Thanks,” said Wes, gritting his teeth as he fired again, hearing the blaster depletion alarm ring out. It was easy, however, to grab another pistol from a fallen trooper, following Cheriss as she pushed back, into the rear of the formation that had cut them off from Wedge and the others. The enemy was now having difficulty firing, their own trap turned against them.

    It was just like the good old days, Wes thought, with some amusement. All they had to do was make their way back towards Wedge, regroup, and then finish off the legion in some kind of retreat. Simplistic.

    Then a scream rang out and Wes felt Cheriss pitch onto his back, rebounding and falling between his feet, knocking Wes down. Wedge and the others let loose a barrage, and finally Wes could see them. He felt wetness on his shoulder, reaching for it and finding blood – but not his.

    He looked down at Cheriss, and saw the woman out, unconscious, blood pouring from an unpleasant looking head wound. Wes reached down for her, firing a shot using his peripheral vision which caught a Twi’lek in the head tail, sending the woman down with just a shrill cry. A shot from his own side clipped his blaster, sending it flying from his hands, and Wes turned to swear, before being abruptly cut off.

    “Wes, move!” snapped out Lando, using that voice which meant he was all business. Wes looked back down the tunnel, seeing his foes regrouping, and then, all of a sudden, realised that Lando wasn’t telling him to get back to them, but telling him to get out of the way. Wes’ eyes widened in complete shock – this was officially the worst ironic twist of a joke he’d ever experienced – beyond being tricked into walking around base naked.

    With a bloodied vibroknife between his teeth, bounding from the centre of the enemy formation on all fours, adorned in what Wes would have described as a cute black GAG uniform on any other creature of the same kind, was him.

    Tarfang roared, and threw himself at Wes.

    “Oh you have got to be kidding me!”
  13. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Nov 15, 2004
    star 7
    Chapter 9.5

    Syal swung around the nearest TIE Defender, somehow managing to gyrate around the ridiculously fast fighter. Her hands ached for her Eta, or an A-wing. It had been over two hundred days since she’d been transferred to flying Aleph-class starfighters – she’d been counting. Maybe she’d have a fit when it reached a full year. This was looking to be the shortest yet most vicious war in galactic history – and she had switched sides in the middle of it.

    In the centre of a furball between TIE Defenders and Starhunters against StealthX’s and the highly manoeuvrable Bessies, flying the brick that she had was infuriating. It’d be more of a fair fight if the Remnant had threw a couple of missile boats at them, but the likeliness of that happening was zero, especially with the Coalition capital ships at the edge of the system engaging the outer Imperial fleets.

    Daala and Niathal had blown their way through those fleets and were advancing on Nickel One, rather than let the Imperials pull back. It had been a costly move, and the Amerce had been crippled in the first few moments of the strike. But it was all going to be for naught when the Fourth Fleet got here; the Jedi strike force had to get out of here, and so did her father. Syal swore, loudly, as a Starhunter slipped past Zekk’s turret and planted a quad burst on their underside, rattling the blastboat.

    “Zekk, what the kriff are you doing?” Syal was trembling with anger, her leg bouncing with a mind of its own. She understood that he’d been distracted – like Jag – since the mission had begun, this was getting ridiculous. They’d just been informed by Master Skywalker that they were heading down to recover Jaina before the fire-fight became too immense to manage, but that didn’t mean Zekk had to completely phase out of the battle. “If you don’t get your act together I’m putting Tyria in your place and you can suck vapour -”

    And then the blastboat veered towards Nickel One, completely against her command, the joystick swinging of its own volition. Syal’s eyes widened in surprise, and Corran’s voice barked out with more authority than she’d ever heard from him in her life, a whipcrack that made her jerk. “Zekk! What do you think you’re doing?”

    Syal swore, trying to move them back on track, the same Starhunter hitting them on the rear as they presented it to them. The cockpit lights spluttered, and she knew, rather than felt, that the blastboats shields were down. Another hit on the stern and they’d be venting atmosphere. More curses rang out, from Volu and even Tyria, as the blastboat slew to port, listing badly; the engines must have been damaged in that last flurry.

    “Jaina’s hurt,” responded Jag, ice calm. “Isn’t she, Corran?”

    Corran didn’t reply, instead focusing enough to blow the offending Starhunter out of the sky. “Badly?” Jag ventured, carefully, though Tyria stiffened – Syal assumed that the Jedi had felt an unpleasant emotion from the former Chiss pilot.

    “Master Skywalker is on his way to help them.”

    “And if Jacen intervenes?”

    Corran still didn’t reply, and Syal began to feel her surprise subsiding into fury. She hadn’t used her personal circumstances to override their situation. Zekk had very nearly gotten them all killed, and over what? Syal was about ready to kick Zekk out of every space navy since the inception of the Old Republic, when a surprising amount of calm fell over her – adrenaline surging inside her as Syal took a deep breath, slowing the moment down and taking the controls anew.

    “Master Horn, I know that you’re the most senior Jedi commander with us, but this is my squadron, and my rules.”

    Syal almost saw the smile on the old mans lips. “Yes, Captain Antilles, ma’am. Orders, Captain?”

    “Master Skywalker is a liability to the service in this situation. If there is the possibility that he will lose it, we can’t rely upon him. The original mission protocols dictated that Master Skywalker would stay away from Jacen Solo. In light of Master Skywalker’s actions, we must adapt to fit them.”

    Said original protocols didn’t actually exist, so Syal was inventing some on the fly. But it felt like the right thing to do, and in a space navy where the rule of law was defined by your heart, and not by the rules, it was the thing she was going to do. Had she stayed with Tycho, maybe he wouldn’t have been captured in the first place. Had she stuck by her father and assisted him now, she certainly wouldn’t be worrying about him instead. Syal had spent a long time serving the wrong man in this war, and hadn’t actually joined the right one by her own volition – she’d been ordered here by Niathal, and by Tycho, on some technicality.

    Now she was following her heart.

    “So we’re not following orders?” came Zekk’s voice, hopeful. Corran’s snort rang out over the chuffing of the cannons. Volu laughed, a short exhalation that pierced the tension, the Kuati attempting to hold it in beneath a poise that was mostly kept up for appearance sake.

    Tyria rested a hand on Syal’s shoulder, reaching over from the co-pilots seat. “No, we’re following them, just the way that an Antilles would.” Jag seemed to be looking at her in a new way, a little smile at the corner of his lips.

    Syal grinned, gunning the thrusters and heading to catch up with the Skywalkers, who where playing games with the surviving screen of Imperial craft. “You’re surprised, Jag? Dad won’t be happy to hear you’re more Fel than Antilles.”

    “Assuming he survives Han.” Jag returned evenly.

    “Assuming that.”

    ---

    Gavin Darklighter, recovered from Tycho’s stun bolt, glared at the display screen, more irritable than anything at the situation in the Roche system. The Imperial fleets were being contained by the Hapans, Wookiees, Mandalorians, Niathal and Daala, said Imperials responding with less effectiveness than one might have hoped. StealthX’s, no doubt, were responsible for the damage to the docks and the flaming wreck of the Harbinger. With things as they were, Caedus was on the edge of defeat – unless Gavin followed through with his vows to the Galactic Alliance.

    And not a single Confederation task force was in sight.

    That was the more irritating thing, for Gavin. He was only going to cement Caedus’ position as Chief of State today. The Confederation was his enemy – not these elements that were still loyal to the Alliance, but not to Caedus.

    Jacen, even. Gavin found himself even more irritated, as he even referred to the despot in private by his Sith name. But really irritated him was that he wasn’t even on the bridge of the Trucemaker. He was in his ready-room, arms folded, hosting a conference between Alliance Command. Caedus had not called the meeting, but the various Admirals and Commodores had decided to confer by hologram while the Colonel was busy with the Verpine. They had met several times during the current crisis to discuss Niathal and Solo’s fall into tyranny, and now they met to sort out the mess that Jacen had left them.

    “We could let him and the Remnant die, in theory.” A’bath stated into the silence, even as the Fourth sped towards Nickel One.

    Bwua’tu’s fur rippled, noticeable beyond even battle static. “We could, yes. But then we’d lose the Fourth, the Imperial fleets, and probably most of the Jedi – all of which we need to give us the advantage against the Confederation.”

    “If Colonel Solo is killed…” said Eldo Davip, coldly, “in the process we could lose the Fourth, and the Remnant contribution, at the expense of the forces of this ‘Jedi Coalition’. That’s the Hapans, Wookies and the elements of the Third Niathal has under her command.”

    “In short, the only faction which wins this battle is the Confederation,” finished General Brand, folding his holographic arms. The former commander of the Megador didn’t have much else to add – his anti-Caedus stance couldn’t have been more clearer if he had shot the man himself. He was in the GA still by virtue of the sole fact that the Confederation was even worse than Caedus.

    Nobody else contributed. While it had long seemed that the Defence Force could simply wait out the Solo-Niathal coup, probably by restoring Pellaeon as Supreme Commander, that option had passed, and most of them were expecting a Trachta-style coup would be attempted by some of them at one point – and they’d held enough discussions about doing it. But every time they considered such an event, the Confederation would pull a skifter out of a sleeve and they’d have to support the Colonel. First it was the advance on Kuat, then Centerpoint being reactivated, and now it was the Battle of Roche. The military was ready to support Niathal at Fondor, but Daala’s return completely ruined that event – and the GA was too overstretched to actually fight a civil war anyway.

    Bwua’tu didn’t say anything, his hologram showing him sitting at the desk with his elbows on the table and his hands folded so as to provide a perch for his chin to rest, but Gavin felt his mind alive nonetheless. He was Supreme Commander, after all. But he was responsible for defending Coruscant, currently. Without Caedus to hand, the Bothan had to deal with protecting the heart of the Alliance with a steadily shrinking amount of vessels. With what was left of the Third and Fifth bearing down on Corellia and Bothawui, and the Ninth doing its best to defend Coruscant and also push from the Mid Rim on the various bastions of the enemy in the Outer Rim, the GA was still stretched. Had the Remnant not doled out the surviving fleet deployed to Fondor amongst GA targets, the war would still be at a stalemate. Caedus had personally achieved that, and now he was defending the GA’s success with his blood.

    “Kark it,” swore Gavin. “I’m taking the Fourth in. I’ll try and focus my efforts on defending our assets, and less upon pushing the Hapans out of the system. I’ve held off for as long as possible, and the Jedi and Mandalorians have had their shot. We either give them more time and lose the Remnant’s fleets, or I save the GA.”

    There was a murmur of approval through the Defence Force. They didn’t have a choice, at the end of the day. One by one, their holograms began winking out, but Bwua’tu stayed behind, staring at the displays through lidded eyes, as if seeing something that Gavin wasn’t. He’d been a lot more retrospective since Bothawui had entered the war, and moreso as of late. “Supreme Commander?”

    “You have my authority, Admiral Darklighter.” Bwua’tu looked to the Admiral. “I shall see you shortly.”

    Gavin frowned, but before he could say anything, the Bothan was gone.

    ---

    Dician, Lady of the One Sith, folded her arms and mused upon her choices, poring over data collected from minute Sith Eye droids launched from her now cloak-equipped frigate, the Poison Moon. Settled in the shadow of Carbos Thirteen at the very fringes of the Roche system, the conflagration was running clear from Nickel One all the way through to this planetoid, smaller in size than the primary hub but still substantial in size. Thus far the outer Imperial fleets were too heavily engaged with the Wookiee and Hapan fleets – the latter the former Galactic Alliance Eighth Fleet – to rescure this position. The complete annihilation of the planetoid Terenthium Eleven had caused a clear divide between the outer and inner battle, with four full fleets engaged in each theatre.

    Dician watched as reconditioned Commerce Guild destroyers and Banking Clan frigates – captured by the Wookiees some decades ago and resurrected in time for the Yuuzhan Vong War to end – fought tooth and nail with more modern Adz-class picket destroyers and Vindicator heavy cruisers, while Hapan Battle Dragons and Nova-class battle cruisers duelled Imperial II-class Star Victory II-class Star Destroyers. It was an interesting display; the older Wookiee vessels nonetheless overpower the smaller Imperial vessels, allowing them to support the mostly outmatched Hapan ships in engaging bulkier Star Destroyers. The damage between the two fleets was still minimal despite the initial raids by Wookie Owool heavy bombers, but the hulls of many fragile Strike-class medium cruisers and Beta-class light cruisers littered the fringes of the outer system combatants.

    The battle in the heart of the system was more matched, with Daala’s older Imperial designs complemented by powerful Fondorian Nebula-class and Rejuvenator-class Star Destroyers and then Niathal’s Galactic Alliance-in-Exile providing a smattering of ships that ranged from elderly Rendilli Assault Frigates and the modern Ocean, the Mediator-class battle cruiser the impressive centrepiece to a task force already complemenented by the Turbulent-class Star Destroyer Bloodfin, a black wedge that combined design elements from the Imperial-class and so-called Super-class series in a design smaller than the former. The Imperial central fleets included the majority of the modern Turbulent and Imperial II designs, but that left it lacking in smaller vessels needed to defeat starfighters, bar the Corporate Sector Cutlass-class corvettes, a vessel which was used by both sides in increasing numbers as the Corporate Sectors neutrality deepened.

    And that is where the Jedi and Mandalorians came in.

    Simply by devastating the defences of Nickel One, wrecking havoc against the central fleets fighter squadrons and by destroying the Harbinger, they had effectively swung the balance of the battle in favour of Daala and Niathal, a gap which they were eager to exploit. A gap which the red-hulled Errant Venture had increased and was increasing with every passing moment. Eventually, in a few hours or maybe a day, the Imperials would be defeated... just because of the actions of a few dozen Jedi and Mandalorians.

    It only solidified her opinion that this war would be decided in the Force, and, from that perspective, the Jedi would have obviously win; their foes were a handful of darksiders and they were hundreds strong – millions of Mandalorians being at least nominally aligned with them was only going to make that much worse. The ability of a few Sith and Dark Jedi to avoid their Jedi opponents, and force the hated lightsiders to use more and more resources to strike a small number of foes was a tactic that did not work in a straight-up fight. Darth Caedus, Tahiri Veila, Lumiya, Aurra Sing and Alema Rar had, with the aid of Ship – the accursed Ship, Dician mentally noted – had been able to effectively spread a war and scatter the Jedi, but they were now reaching the point where the Jedi knew they had to focus. And then the Jedi, and, by extension, the Skywalker-Solo clan and attached Antilles, Calrissian and Horn families all focused on a goal, there was no way in which Darth Caedus could be expected to win...

    ... it was all about numbers. Dician made a quick mental check of the numbers of the One Sith, and their agents – those that she was aware of - and came to the conclusion that their weight, precisely applied, could indeed stem the tide, but whether it could turn it?

    Even the One Sith could not know.

    “Captain, we have contacts.”

    The utterance of her sensor officer, Ithila, caused Dician to break her concentration. She almost rebuked the Hapan for such a thing, when the Sith made note of where the new contacts were appearing; beside the beleaguered inner Imperial fleets. The Fourth Fleet.

    And it was bearing down on the Jedi and the Mandalorians – or, at very least, upon the Errant Venture and blastboats they could detect of the Jedi deployment. Someone had clearly worked out who needed to be at least partially removed from the equation.

    Dician allowed her lip to curl in satisfaction, her momentary and fleeting doubt passing. Even the Jedi Order and their Mandalorian tools could not be expected, after hours of fighting, to fend off a full fleet, dozens of capital ships and hundreds of starfighters. And that was, at the end of the day the response – it was all about numbers.

    Darth Caedus had secured control of more than half of the galaxy in under a year, and the sum total of his opposition was a dozen heavily armed and industrialised sectors. He was going to, as a matter of eventuality, win, if he could keep that control. If he could keep his hand under complete and utter control... if he could act with perfection.

    It was all a matter of perfection.

    With the perfection that Darth Caedus continued to be showing – with the reports of his expert ambush of a Mandalorian assassin squad filtering through the channels already showing an increased commitment by Imperial forces across the galaxy – then it was obvious that he would be, and remain, invincible.

    And Dician knew that she would do everything in her power to ensure that his control remained perfect.

    ---

    Iella Antilles folded her arms, staring into the morass that her husband had caused. She was aboard the Errant Venture, which was currently lancing fire into the Fourth Fleet, its few weapons effectively disrupting X-wing and E-wing formations enough that the elderly Star Destroyer could use the swarms of fighter craft as an impromptu shield against fire from the more heavily armed Alliance cruisers and frigates.

    But the situation was clearly hopeless.

    They were buying nothing more than seconds for the rescue team, dooming the Venture and its crew, Booster and Mirax, and every life the Venture managed to take out. Nawara Ven stood beside her on the bridge, leaning on the handrail and squeezing it tight, his hands even paler than usual as he clenched his hands, his braintails twitching in fear. They had no other choice but to die here, and now, and so they would do so.

    Shield alarms sounded and then broke down, and lights flickered with overload charge and the hull began to vent in a dozen places. The Trucemaker was nose on with them, and Iella found it mildly acceptable that Gavin was going to be the one who killed them. Better him than a stranger who simply viewed them as a war criminal, but actually understood what they were doing.

    Iella still found that she could not comm. Wedge, even in her dying moments. She could not forgive him for killing them all. He was doing what was right, even after the galaxy had turned on him. But at some point they had to stop, and look after themselves. Fresh fear, the memory of her duel with a YVH hunter droid aboard the Anakin Solo, filled her, but here, and now, she felt nothing. She turned away, even as Mirax placed a hand on her shoulder, squeezing it gently, having stopped barking orders at the crewers.

    Booster boomed across the bridge comlink. “I don’t believe this… I’ll never live this down!”

    A rich voice came across the speakers. “I don’t suppose you were requiring some assistance, were you Booster?” Iella flinched, the voice reaching across space and time, and looked back at the displays. Emerging from hyperspace came a dozen ships, then two dozen, all immediately opening fire upon the Fourth, scattering the fighter screen and then bursting off in every direction. Freighters, fighters and blastboats; a more motley force than even Daala’s Maw Irregulars, dancing through uniform Alliance formations and raking fire up and down the shields of corvettes and picket ships.

    Iella held her breath as the Trucemaker, its shields shrugging off everything the Smugglers Alliance threw at them, turned its nose back towards the Venture, focusing the few weapons that could be brought to bear on the bridge against it. Those bolts hit an invisible wall, and flickering into existence came a battered Action transport, aflame already.

    The Wild Karrde.

    Iella’s eyes equalised with the miracle, and it wasn’t on fire, but instead firing, three columns of destruction focusing upon the Alliance destroyer, even as another dozen freighters and small warships decanted between the Action and the Venture; the Starry Ice; the Kern’s Pride; the Etherway; the Idiot’s Array; the Amanda Fallow. Crev Bombassa. Mazzic. Ellor. Gillespee. Aves.

    All here for the finish.

    Iella smiled. “Talon, I could kiss you.”

    “Thank Wedge, Iella. He asked for some back-up.” Iella felt shame fill her; she should have anticipated that her husband would have had a plan in the works to save them all, or at very least to stall for more time. Iella finally understood why she’d been so afraid; Mara. Mara, Mirax and Iella had been incredibly close at one point, especially during the five years following Mara’s marriage to Luke. They’d adventured together, and it had made them friends. It was an old link, one that had fallen aside while Mara was ill, and since Ben was born, but it had been a rude awakening that even someone inside the extended Antilles clan could die. Her first husbands death had passed decades ago, and she had finally let her barriers drop – and Jacen had destroyed that peace of mind. Tears glittered in her eyes, and Mirax pulled her close. Talon, only on audio, simply continued, suave as ever. “I doubt Shada would let you kiss me anyway, my dear.”

    Iella laughed, a release of the burden she had carried for so many months, evaporating in a burst of humour. “Keeping you safe still, Karrde?”

    “Not at the moment, sadly not. I believe she’s in the progress of saving your husband from an Ewok…”

    ---

    Tarfang pulled the needle from his rump, chittering angrily as he stood, brandishing Wes’s blaster. He turned, swaying on his short legs, his nose dribbling blood from the vicious right hook that Wes had thrown at him. In the middle of the GAG troopers and Imperial Stormtroopers was a lithe woman, leaping from soldier to soldier, jamming a gauntlet-blade under a helmet there, and then slipping a needle into an elbow joint there. The humans were falling not long after being needled, and Tarfang felt a little woozy himself.

    Grinding his teeth, Tarfang readied the blaster, squinting at the woman as he tried to lift his arms. The troopers, their offensive scattered by what appeared to be a Mistyl Shadow Guard, were falling back, potshots from Wedge and the others hitting those that still fought. A bolt singed his fur, and Tarfang dove beside Cheriss’ body, knowing that the others wouldn’t have risked a shot around her. Tarfang pointed the weapon, growling in concentration.

    There.

    “What does it take to kill you?”

    Wes threw himself over Cheriss’ body, hands grasping for Tarfangs paws. The Ewok hissed, turning the blaster towards the pilot. Wes grabbed Tarfang’s ears, pulling down on them if only to avoid those claws of his. Tarfang squeezed the trigger, the bolt carving a furrow into the tunnel ceiling, and Wes scowled at Tarfang.

    Wes spoke, sadly. “This is going to mess up my face.” Tarfang blinked, and felt his thoughts running around away from his paws, pausing. Wes headbutted him, hard. Bloodying his forehead, Wes pulled back even as Tarfang collapsed, releasing a noise that was part contentment and part concussion.

    Releasing a breath, Wes looked up as the last of the troopers fled the battle. Valin stepped forward, brandishing his lightsaber to deflect the last few opportunists. Everyone was alive, give or take a few unpleasant wounds. Hobbie, for once, was completely unscathed, decades of bad luck seemingly passed by.

    “I gather that your poisons were human specific, Shada?” said Lando, as he kissed the Mistyl Shadow Guards hand in greeting. Wes grinned at that, despite himself.

    She shrugged, nonchalant. “It seemed like a fair bet with Imperials being around, Calrissian. Guess they simply knock out Ewoks.”

    “So they do. Remind me to thank Talon when I see him next.”

    “He’ll remember, don’t worry.”

    Wedge looked down the cavern, surveying the bodies for movement, and then turned towards the others. “We haven’t found Tycho yet, guys. Winter?”

    The Alderaanian was already looking at her datapad, even as Lando and Pash began to check on Cheriss. The Adumari woman was concussed, but fine. Shada moved forward, checking the corpses, making her way up the cavern stealthily. Wes idly wondered if she’d settled down yet; he couldn’t help himself. The deeper into the asteroid Shada went, the harder she was to follow; it appeared that the Imperials had shot out the lights as they retreated.

    “The area around the Moffs is a mess, it looks. A group of Mandalorians just wiped out a fair amount of the surviving Council. It looks as if a team is coming this way. They’ll be cutting across this cavern on their way to the Imperial medcenter, it looks. Heavy protection – probably a couple of Moffs are injured. We don’t want to be here when they arrive.”

    “So we need to get going.”

    Shada’s voice responded to Wedges, surprise lacing even her cool demeanor. “I don’t think we do, Wedge.”

    Turning back, Wedge saw a surprising sight when he followed her pointed hand. Tycho was being carried forward, naked and bloodied. Wedge saw Valin move, obscuring his view, and Wedge looked back to see Winter, her eyes wide not with shock but with confusion. Valin had just blocked her vision, on purpose, so as to protect her from this memory.

    Valin shirked off his outer robe and passed it to Tycho, swaddling him with it. Hobbie and Pash were there as well, helping Tycho off his savior. The Sullustan, looking quite horrendously cutted and with unpleasant sores across his face and ears himself, released a breath. Wedge spoke, cautiously. “Jae?”

    “That’d be me,” said Jae Junn. The Sullustan partner of the Ewok now laying unconscious at Wes’s feet. There was a meekness to him, as if he was still in shock. For a GA Intelligence agent who had fought the Killiks, it took a lot to shake him nowadays. “Will he be okay?”

    “I imagine so,” said Winter, stiffly, as she focused on administering to Cheriss while Valin dealt with her husband and his wounds.

    Jae didn’t continue to speak to her. “You’ll need to focus on Yuuzhan Vong poisons, Valin.”

    “Yuuzhan Vong?” said Wedge, still in shock.

    “An Embrace of Pain. I…” Jae looked back at his feet, embarrassed. “I cut him out of it. After Caedus told me that you were coming, and then I found out about Tycho -”

    “Mother?”

    The voice rang inside their heads, silencing their conversation, and Valin stood up, bolt upright. He threw out his hands, as if he could part the air molecules around him, his voice tight. “Jacen!”

    Wedge was already throwing himself for Winter, and latched onto her waist only a moment before she was grabbed, as if yanked with a terrible fist. Wedge saw her eyes widen, and squeezed his eyes shut as he they were pulled into the shadows. Wes cried out in shock, and then an inarticulate scream rang out from Tycho, hopelessness in his eyes. Wes grabbed him even before he tried to move after Winter, and then the shadows at the end of the tunnel began to detach themselves, resolving into black armoured Stormtroopers in the dozens.

    “We need to go,” snapped Wes.

    Lando looked at him in disbelief. “What about Wedge and Winter? And Shada? We can’t leave them all behind!”

    “We’re pulling out. We have wounded, and we’ll lose everyone if we stay.” Wes was firm, picking up lithe Cheriss and placing her over his shoulder, wincing at the pain. Jae was firing as fast as he could, but the bolts were flying thick and fast; they had no choice.

    Valin’s blade sung a deflection pattern, and he nodded. “It’s over. We’ll be back, and with more Jedi.” Valin’s voice dipped, but Wes heard it anyway. “With better Jedi.”

    Wes couldn’t say anything else – he was too busy dragging Cheriss away, firing bolts as fast as his trigger finger would let him and as many as he had gas left. Wes hoped Luke was up to rescuing his old friend, because Iella was going to be furious.

    ---

    Luke felt the swirling nexus of death around them as the exiled forces of the Galactic Alliance slammed into the Imperial fleets around Nickel One, and as the Fourth Fleet poured past the Smugglers Alliance, their momentum slowed by minutes, killing friends and allies that had sustained the Jedi in there time of need for more than three decades.

    Luke felt Zekk and Syal Antilles break off from engaging the fighter screens, and rush down towards the surface, Zekk already suiting up despite the reproachful glare of Corran and Tyria. He felt Volu’s intense concentration, Tyria’s calm confidence, and of course Jag’s durasteel determination.

    Luke felt Leia and Han unbuckling already, prepared to throw themselves from their respective positions and rush to the boarding ramp the moment that the blastboat dropped down. Artoo whistles worriedly about the shields, and Threepio debated surrendering with Saba one more time.

    Luke felt the Millennium Falcon, a restless teen aboard it, and Wedge’s team, retreating towards it, some wounded, some fearful, but with Tycho aboard, with a surprising comrade in arms, and missing as many. Relief flooded the Force, but worry nibbled at the edges of Lando’s distinctive presence.

    Luke felt all these things, but he didn’t respond to any of them.

    No, he was reflecting on the last words he and Jacen had exchanged.

    ---

    Luke moved, but was not there, for he was an illusion, separate from Jaina now that she was expended, now that the Roche system was an untenable platform, now that the war was over. He made himself solid momentarily, his lightsaber, an extension of his illusion, deflecting the blaster shots of the two remaining Elite Guard members. He was carving an exit from the room behind while he did so, pressing down on the molecules of it to make them explode out when he was ready to do so.

    Caedus was pointing with his free hand, demanding the Stormtroopers kill him. Luke’s eyes met, again, with the murderer of his wife, and he knew that Jaina was getting far enough away to survive, seeing it in the Force. He hadn’t been this open to the future since… since the Swarm War, before he was tied to his Grandmaster post, before he was lost in the haze of grief and rage that Mara’s death had caused.

    From that hand emerged lightning, and Luke felt the pain that he should have experienced as an echo, his eyes blinking in their lids, and his illusion faltered, the Luke before Caedus slipping down, as if he’d gone down on one knee, the shadows that Luke had drew around his disembodied legs concealing the moment. Luke drew himself back up, seeing in his minds eye how he looked. Smoke rising from him, the shadows of the corner of the Planning Room surrounding him, eyes piercing in their anger, and Luke felt himself speak, projecting the words straight into Caedus’ mind, pushing past his innumerable defences.

    You killed my Mara.

    Caedus seemed to pause, as if he was seeing this moment from another perspective, from another way or place – as if he had seen it all before. “She tried to kill me.”

    So?

    Luke felt the words before he intended them to emerge from his lips.

    “And that is why I must stop you.”

    The cost is too high.

    Caedus flinched, again, but he did not falter. “You know what I protect.”

    Luke dropped his illusion, letting the wall behind him collapse as the rest of the Elite Guard spilled into the room. Luke left behind his words.

    All I know that you’re still lying. But who to?

    ---

    Stormtroopers spilled into the room, dozens of them, if not hundreds, filling the back of the expansive hangar with their white armour, pursuing rebel Verpine who had placed themselves between the wounded Jaina Solo as a literal living shield. One Verpine was even carrying her, supporting the Jedi as her legs seemingly had a life of their own.

    Leia and Han rushed down the ramp, even as the second blastboat dropped down, depositing Zekk and Corran in an instant. Their blades ignited, and they rushed forward, joined moments later by Saba, plowing into the melee with a long hiss of glee. More and more Stormtroopers rushed in, setting up a firestorm that pelted the blastboats and the Jedi. Leia shielded Han as he took potshots around her, five years of experience of her as a Jedi paying off as he expertly popped bolts between her parries, taking out more Stormtroopers than she could by deflection.

    “Well this brings back memories, doesn’t it?” Leia said, gritting her teeth in concentration.

    “You said it, Princess.” Han ducked down, placing his blaster against her hip and squeezing off a shot. “Next time the Empire conquers the galaxy, remember to take the Jedi training more seriously, okay?”

    “Are you trying to flatter me, Captain Solo?”

    “I’m just saying that this would have made my life a lot easier. Remember Endor? I had to talk down an AT-ST just because someone got shot.”

    Leia laughed despite herself. “That was thirty seven years ago, sweetheart. Can’t you get some more references?”

    “I could, but the Tall One and Grim One are making their way over to Jaina, and this trip down memory hyperlane can wait until we get to Hologram Fun World again.” Leia nodded, seeing in her peripheral vision the same thing Han had.

    Jag had made his way over to Jaina, the Verpine who was carrying her struggling against her weight, as her head lolled to one side, and Zekk was over there a moment later. Leia stepped between the two of them, deflecting bolts even as Han did the same, without a word. Leia stepped back, forced back by the torrent, and began to overhear the soothing words Zekk and Jag made to Jaina as she babbled, tears and blood streaming down her face. A warm emotion filled the Force, and even Han’s cheeks reddened a little, to Leia’s surprise at the words tumbling from Jaina’s mouth.

    Leia should have been worried about the state of her daughter, but Luke was walking into the fray. Her eyes widened as he strode, slowly, into the firefight, letting bolts cut holes into his robes, while those that would harm him bent away as if they’d hit a shield. His eyes were blank, and he was clearly elsewhere.

    Because Luke could feel Jacen.

    And that was what he was focusing upon.

    His wifes killer was wounded, and now was the best time for Luke to kill him. To have his vengeance. Through the Force, Luke appeared a tendrilled beast, his shadow rippling out like a creature, the black sprouting from his heart. Leia blinked back tears; they had been here before, thirty years earlier. And they were here again, at the hands of her own son. All he needed to do was snatch his lightsaber from his belt, and he would never stop until he had Jacen’s head. Luke’s hand hovered over his weapon, edging ever closer as he advanced into the hangar.

    Saba and Corran tried to edge their way over, but the firestorm increased, and all they could do was retreat to their respective blastboats, ushering in the others who had come down the ramp to add blaster fire to the battle, or, in the case of Threepio, to calculate the odds they would make it out alive from here. Artoo rolled into the fray, and Leia had a flash back to the past, when she had left Luke on Coruscant at Han’s behest, and Artoo had refused to depart from his masters side.

    Leia felt herself being pushed back by the weight of bolts, the surviving troopers focusing on her more and more as they realised that Luke was, for all sense and purpose, untouchable. Beyond her help forever. Lost.

    But this time Han was making his way forward, keeping himself mostly behind Luke, shaking off a glancing blow on his thigh that nearly dropped the aging man. Another bolt zipped past his ear, and another carved a crease on his neck, nearly pushing him down and then into the stream of fire.

    Leia felt tears burst from her eyes, and finally Han rested a hand upon Luke’s shoulder. The Corellian stepped around in front of his best friend, and looked deep into his eyes, even as Luke deflected blaster bolts without thought or conscious reason. He placed a hand on Luke’s wrist as the Grandmasters fingers closed on the hilt.

    “Look, old buddy. It’s time for us to go.”

    Luke’s unfocused eyes looked at Han. “I could stop him, here and now.”

    “Sure you could. But if we lose you, we lose everything.” It was that simple, really. Luke may have recovered from Mara’s death, but it was going to take him time to recover from Caedus being the killer. Even Han could tell he was closer to the edge than he had been since the Emperor had returned from the grave. His son had done that, and it broke Han’s heart, shattered into a million pieces already, now crumbling into dust.

    And still he stared into Luke’s eyes.

    “Did you know, that Mara and I saw this, during the war with the Yuuzhan Vong? That Ben would fly a strange ship… and that she would be…” He didn’t say the word, but Han heard it, nonetheless. Gone. “But I didn’t realise it would happen like this… that vision never left me. I just buried it so deeply that even a true telepath would never have been able to pick it up. I didn’t think about it. Not once, after it happened. I thought I could change the future if we just…”

    Han wanted to help Luke, but there was reality rapidly approaching, and he carefully looked behind him, seeing the Stormtroopers setting up E-webs and even a few P-chip launchers. With fuel drums and munition crates running around the edge of the hangar, the blastboats could hardly open fire for fear of killing everyone.

    So Han did what he did best. He bluffed. “Of course, if you don’t think you would fall, you can go for it.” Han stepped aside, letting go of Luke’s wrist, and his eyes followed Han as he moved. The Corellian was barely inside the nebulous field of defence around them, but he didn’t let the near misses phase him – he simply kept his eyes on his best friend. “But you know as well as I that Leia can take you in a fight. She fights dirty. Even Tarfang admitted it.”

    Luke’s eyes softened, and life began to return to them.

    “It’s time for us to go, isn’t it?”

    “Well…” Han looked around. “Yeah, to be honest.”

    The Jedi Master gestured, upending the majority of the Stormtroopers with a single wave of his hand.

    “Well let’s get going, then.”
  14. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Nov 15, 2004
    star 7
    Chapter 10.5

    Han was beyond words now, though.

    He may very well have convinced Luke to pull out, but that had made very little difference in the grand scheme of things.

    The battle was beginning to reach its confusion point, with Jaina being extracted by the Coalition blastboats, and Wedge’s team by the Millennium Falcon. Han had moved over to the guns while Leia attended to their daughter, Luke taking over the flying for a moment. He silently seethed, converting his worry into anger and cracking open a missile boat with a sly shot through the drive nacelle as it tangled with a squadron of StealthXs, exposed by the chaff that the Alliance had scattered across the surface of Nickle One to discover them. Caught in a cloud of the adhesive material, a third of the Jedi Wings surviving StealthX’s had been exposed, and an Galactic Alliance MC90 cruiser was on its way from the Fourth Fleet to finish off the forces, caught in the midst of recovery.

    Nothing the Venture or the entire Smuggler’s Fleet had in their inventory could dissuade a vessel of that size, especially not with a screen of Ranger-class gunships and ten squadrons of X-wings and E-wings to act as support. The lead elements of A-wings, Eta-5 and Aleph-class fighters had broken up much of the Coalition formation, still tied down in battles with Remnant Starhunters and TIE Defenders and an ever-tightening cordon of small Imperial capital ships. With the Fourth rushing to defend the Remnant flotilla and Daala and Niathal badly out of position unless the Hapans stayed committed, the withdrawal was being dragged out and the equality of strength and numbers was turning what was supposed to be a simple hit and run into a meatgrinder, thanks to Daala and Niathals decidedly untimely intervention.

    Opening the internal comm, Han ground out a request between clenched teeth. “Threepio, patch me through to Niathal.”

    “Han, what are you doing?” Leia’s voice came across the channel.

    The Corellian grimaced. There was very little chance of him getting past Leia, and he had been absently hoping she wasn’t listening in. Of course, those omnipotent Jedi senses kicked in. Han shrugged, and just did what he always did when caught in the act by his wife. “I’m going to shout at her for screwing up our plan.”

    “Thiz one doez not think that iz a good idea, Han,” came Saba, joining in the conversation, and the erupting into hissing in a moment. Han glanced at the display; she’d just clipped a E-wing at maximum range and it had scattered an entire squadron as they tried to avoid it; no casualties among the Alliance squadron, but plenty of distractions.

    “I agree with this, Captain Solo. Shouting at Admiral Niathal is unlikely to convince her to remain on our side -”

    “I know, I know,” said Han, irritably taking out a Starhunter that was trying to sneak up on the StealthXs. “I’m just getting fed up of everyone playing each other. First Luke plays Fett, and now we are getting played by Daala and Niathal, and I have no doubt that Phennir is playing all of us into getting killed, and of course that means that Bwua’tu is playing him and Caedus is just sitting back and letting everyone do their work for him.”

    Silence echoed across the comm channels. “We can’t bring the Confederation and Alliance back together until Caedus is dead, Han,” Luke finally said. “You know this.”

    Han shook his head. “Doesn’t mean I’m not right.”

    “No, it doesn’t, but unless you happen to come up with a reasoned answer to the entire war right here, right now, that somehow involves Corellia accepting its place within the Alliance and the Alliance accepting Corellia requires some special treatment, we’re really not going to get any further with this.”

    “And, I know, as well as you, Han, that you’re just annoyed with Lando.”

    Han smiled at his best friend, despite himself. Luke knew just how to let him vent and then casually remind him of what was really bothering him. Damn Skywalkers. “Fine, you win. But can we swing past Daala on the way out and I can pump a few shots in that shiny new flagship of hers?”

    Silence came back to him, and Han wondered what he’d said. “Erm, please?”

    Luke came back, his voice heavy. “I’ve just heard from Valin. Wedge and Winter have been captured by Jacen.” Han’s heart sank, somewhere beneath his ankles, and he for a moment had no idea what to say.

    “We can’t go back to save them, Luke,” Leia came back instantly. “Iella needs to know that, or we’re going to have to leave them behind. We can’t get involved in a slugging match with the Alliance and Remnant. Jaina needs medical attention, and quickly.”

    “I know.”

    Han knew what needed to be done. “Luke, open a channel to Lando, I need to talk to him before Iella does something she’s going to regret.”

    He hoped Iella would forgive him.

    --

    Boba Fett, Manda’lor of the Mandalore Sector and former bounty hunter, swore in Basic, Huttese and Mando’ade. Swerving his Bessie to port, he and his wingmate – Goran Beviin at his side at all times – dive beneath a volley of fire from a TIE Defender and swung towards another Mandalorian fighter, allowing it to cross over his canopy, firing, while Boba fired on his tail, a Starhunter which came apart when Beviin’s fire joined his. Flicking an eye to his scope, he just about managed to divine from the bevy of intwined symbols that the Defender had exploded.

    Boba found himself, for the hundredth time, thanking manda for his new Mandalorian armour, complete with beskar’gam and, more importantly, internal cooling systems. The hours of fighting would have, under normal circumstances, had made him sweaty, adding to his exhaustion by making him unpleasantly uncomfortable, which, even for a man as stoic as him, was just one too many distractions. For the very first time in his life, Fett was becoming accustomed to his family going to war and how it could fray your nerves. In this case, his granddaughter, Mirtav Gev, who had not received word from since the mines had shredded half of the commando’s he’d assigned to assassinate the Moffs. He had no idea what had happened, and the Verpine Queen had been out of touch since the battle had commenced; it was almost as if Caedus had silenced her the moment they had committed. A trap?

    Fett slapped down that thought as he twitched the controls over, peppering a Cutlass-class corvette that was forming part of the web of smaller anti-starfighter capital ships seeking to net the Jedi and Mandalorian forces. Imperial Lancer-class frigates, which had previously been too afraid of Jedi blastboats and StealthXs were now beginning to be reinforced by the GA’s A-wing and Aleph fighters; Admiral Darklighter must have requested more faster fighters be rotated to the Fourth Fleet as the Jedi raids on the Roche supply train had increased – which was just another piece of bad luck.

    “It’s not your fault, Bob’ika,” came Beviin’s voice, a blunt recrimination as a pair of bolts spanged off Fett’s hull, a long-range shot from a Lancer which, had he been concentrating, he would have been able to avoid. “You trained Jaina to take out Caedus, and sent Mirta to finish off the Moffs; whatever has happened between those two events is out of your control. It’s a war – plans don’t always survive contact with the enemy, the Vongese showed us enough times last time around.”

    Fett ground his teeth, and fired his last concussion missiles in a massed wave which Beviin complemented with his own, causing the Cutlass to vomit its contents into space and giving them a clear run at the nearest Lancer. With a double tap of his comm, he indicated that all Mandalorian fighters should follow his lead – the tap code had been designed to be used in the middle of the engagement, when comm channels would have undoubtedly have been broken by the GA and Imperials and pre-arranged signals would be to their aid. A handful of double taps responded, but Fett had no time to dwell. He simply opened a channel to the first names to respond – a patched-up Ghes Orade, a Belok Rhal that Fett didn’t immediately recognise, and Jintar, Beevin’s son-in-law. “Ba'slan shev'la.”

    The Mandalorian for ‘strategic disappearance’ saw the three of them draw close to Fett and Beviin and open up with their energy-based weapons just long enough for the Lancer to draw a bead on them, and then launch every missile they had left, and every chaff weapon they had too, the latter of which Fett and Beviin launched as well. It was at this point that the five of them promptly split off in different directions, before looping towards the Lancer from different directions – the way that Mandalorians already did; fading away from a defeat like drops of liquid, only to reform and hammer their opponent later, be it years later or, in this case, a few moments later. The Lancer’s forward shields took the brunt of the barrage, and the rolling wave of explosions and chaff gave the five of them a clear pass, which allowed them to punch through the weakened shields and stitch apart sensor towers, comm attenae and quad-laser batteries. Fett looked back and saw a squadron of Bessie’s coming his way – the second part of the hammer, all of which were double-clicking to join the ‘disappearance’. Fett and the other fighters dove back that way, just as the squadron opened fire – on them. Too late – Fett realised that these were Bessie’s that bore Imperial insignia and pennant codes, fighters that he had, via Verpine intermediaries, sold to the Remnant, Confederation and other powers during Mandalore and Roche’s short-lived neutrality.

    Fett’s Bessie lost a wing, and Jintar’s burst into flame – eliciting a cry from Beviin. A buoy revealed that Jintar had punched out, causing the cry to become one of relief, but local space was thick with laser fire and Fett didn’t see how their sole remaining Tra’kad was going to be able to make it’s way through the fighting to pick up Beviin’s EV son-in-law. Fett cursed again, loudly, over the open channel. He was simply not concentrating. He had, once upon a time, been akin to a droid, and able to shut off his emotions for, well, years at a time. Now, freshly having spat in the eye of death and with a family besides, Fett was losing his edge.

    The Lancer finally exploded – the victim of a shadow bomb – and Fett directed his tattered fighters towards the gap in the cordon, ruminating. Despite his attempts to contain himself, his eye strayed to the convoy of blastboats coming out of the well of Nickel One. He opened the comm channel. “Solo, you best still be out there.”

    “We’re bugging out, but yes, we’re here.” His voice sounded strained, and Fett felt his heart rise in his throat. He ruthlessly, aggressively, seized control of himself, and snapped across the line.

    “And what of Mirta and the others?”

    “Can’t hear you, Fett. I’m busy talking to the Venture.”

    I bet you are. It’s all over the channels what happened to Antilles and his team. Fett knew, had he been able to see his knuckles through his gloves, they would have been white as he clenched them around the joystick. “I said, what of Mirta and the others?”

    “We’ve got to go, Fett. Catch you later.” There was a pause, in which Fett was going to comment but half-expected that Solo’s wife was nudging him to respond. “Thanks for the help.”

    And with that the braggart cut the line. Fett was speechless. Murderously so. Beviin’s voice rang out over the channel, the private one which was fed directly through his HUD; Fett could see Beviin had pulled his fighter close enough to Fett’s that their helmet comlinks could reach each other, and there was no way this could be overheard. “Manda’lor, we’re outnumbered, outgunned, and running low on practically everything.”

    “I cannot break my word to the Verpine.” He ground those words out, as rote, regardless of whether they mattered to him anymore, which they most certainly did not.

    Beviin shook his head – that much Fett could see through their canopies. “You are going to break your soldiers, first. We pulled back once before, and came back. We can do so again.”

    Fett looked up at Beviin. “That time we had setup for our return. We have people down there, we have -” Mirta is down there. His voice drew short, carried on in his mind. Don’t make me abandon my family again. Jango had never abandoned his family, not once. He was always there for Boba, and if Boba had failed his father in anything, it was in this. He couldn’t do it again.

    You’re no good to anyone dead.

    Fett blew out a breath, and managed, somehow, to simply nod and dive towards the gap in the cordon that the Jedi had created, through which they were now streaming as the larger vessels of the Smuggler’s Alliance lanced the GA and Imperial fighter formation with stutter-fire and the Hapans dropped mines to deter an ill-timed chase attempt. With a Mon Calamari cruiser and Ranger-class gunships on their way to reinforce the anti-starfighter screen, this particular part of the battle was, for intents and purposes, lost.

    So he may as well make it as difficult as possible for the Jedi to withdraw, and increase their casualties, if only to demonstrate the same amount of petulance as Solo had to him. “Follow the Jedi, match their coordinates and jump; we’re bugging out until we are refuelled and rearmed.”

    There were a few grumbles, but also a few snorts of derision which Fett chose to interpret as support – if the Mandalorians all launched for the exact same point then the GA and Imperials could triangulate, and follow them all to wherever they went. The more ships that were jumping, the easier it would be.

    Fett nonetheless waited until the last moment to leave, until Jintar had been recovered by their battered Tra’kad, him, Beviin, a reticient Orade and Rhal tangling with the elite Blackmoon Squadron until the very last moment.

    Nobody else would be left behind, at least.

    --

    Iella was inconsolable as Valin told her what had happened. Mirax held her hand, as Booster stared into space, his one eye grimly set in his face. Iella choked past her tears, words tumbling from her lips. “Booster, we have to hold here, take on the Falcon and put one of Karrdes teams on it. We can get Tycho off quickly, and we can go.”

    Booster nodded, mutely, staring at the task force approaching them at a slow and measured pace, taking everything Karrde and Bombassa and Mazzic threw at it, ignoring all efforts to distract or draw away its strength. Most of their efforts were aimed at the big cruiser, hoping that if they disabled it the GA would pull back, but its shields were just too strong, and for a short moment Booster felt a moment of sympathy for all those Imperial commanders who just couldn’t crack these Mon Calamari hulks.

    All of a sudden the disk of the Falcon spun about, diverting from its course to the Venture, and Booster jumped onto the comm. “Calrissian, you best not be leaving Wedge and Winter down there.”

    Lando’s voice was grim. “You know that we need to leave them, Booster. If we don’t pull back Caedus wins, because we’ll have trapped ourselves here, and thousands of Hapans and Wookies will die. I’m not having that on my conscience, and neither would Wedge.”

    Karrde cut across the channel. “You know as well as I that Phennir will be here any minute, to take advantage of all of this -”

    “- and Bwua’tu will be right behind him.”

    Karrde didn’t drop it. “And we don’t have the time or energy for Bwua’tu, assuming we can get around him. Look, he’s transferred his flag to -”

    “It doesn’t matter,” said Lando, sharply. “Don’t you get it, Karrde? Caedus is winning the war because everyone is at their throats. If the Confederation and Niathal made up, it’d be over in a week. If we can’t stay on goal then how can we expect them to?”

    All this discussion was allowing the Falcon to get further from the Venture and closer to the Hapan Fleet, and Booster decided to overrule the decision. “Lock a tractor beam on the Falcon.”

    Nawara Ven, laconically sitting at the post, as he tended to nowadays, shrugged. “It’s not working today.” Booster glared at him, despite knowing it to be true. He’d neglected the tractor beams and focused upon the guns and shields, knowing what they were going into.

    The Falcon met the Hapan Fleet, and vanished aboard a Battle Dragon, Iella breaking free of Mirax’s embrace to grab Boosters arm. “We need to go back, use another ship, or transport. We don’t need the Falcon.”

    Booster shook his head. “Nothing we’ve got is fast enough to pull it off. We’ll get trapped here, and we’ll die.”

    That truth seemed to cut her free from her panic, and Iella drew herself up. “Then I guess I’ll have to get planning a break-out.”

    “Iella, Wedge wouldn’t want this -”

    “I’m not talking to you. Don’t let Han or Lando anywhere near me. I don’t care if they’re right. My husband is in the hand of Sith with a perchant for torture resulting in death.”

    She looked back, from the end of the bridge, and Booster pursed his lips, taking the bile in her expression and letting it roll off him. Mirax followed her to the turbolift, staying quiet and out of the discussion.

    “I’m going to get him back.”

    --

    Niathal watched the elements of the so-called Smuggler’s Alliance disengage and pull back, and the exposed forces of the Jedi Coalition began to pull back too. A pair of Hapan Battle Dragons screened the lot of them, the surviving blastboats and the Errant Venture, and made their way for the edge of the battle, trading long range fire with the MC90 Calamari, and then suddenly the Ranger-class gunships were released from their posts, with the fighters also, to catch up with the fleeing Jedi.

    “Too late,” said Daala over the comms, interrupting Niathals thoughts. “Darklighter purposely let them go.”

    “What I wouldn’t give for an Interdictor about now,” agreed Niathal, as he watched them withdraw. It was their mission which had started all of this, and sure enough, Niathal had sought to take advantage of it, but if they withdrew now the Roche munitions industry would fall into Jacen’s hands.

    “They won’t withdraw entirely,” said Daala, clearly pleased with their deployment. “If the Hapans pull back as well, we’ll be wiped out – we’re far too dedicated now, and the only reason we’ve managed to inflict any damage at all is because Isolder’s keeping busy the outer fleets. Poinard always was a small-minded idiot.”

    It disconcerted Niathal that Daala was happy to kill Imperials who had served under her, but then again it was their two fleets which were attracting the majority of the fire from the Fourth Fleet, too. Gavin had chosen to instead deploy the Fourth to Nickel One, balancing out the battle here rather than reinforcing the outer ring and routing the Hapans. Which meant he was quite content to bleed the Imperials and avoid weakening the Hapans and Wookies, and then to focus his efforts on Daala.

    Niathal briefly considered retargeting the Ocean and having weapons take out the Chimaera, but if she did that it was likely that Niathal would not be able to extricate herself from this situation and the Roche system would stay in Jacen’s hands. Niathal nodded. “I had the same opinion of him. I, on the other hand, will focus on the Moffs flotilla for now. This would be a lot easier if Fett and his Mandalorians were still here, running interference…” Niathal let her voice trail off, the point in her tone.

    Daala flashed Niathal a smile, all teeth. “He’ll be back shortly. He needs to refuel and rearm, and he’ll be able to hit the Imperials best with some perspective anyway.”

    “We can’t win without him,” Niathal added, stressing this point. “We’re evenly matched for now, even if the Hapans remain. If you don’t hold up your end of things, we’ll be dead.”

    “Fett has never let me down,” Daala responded, her tone brittle. “You just focus on staying alive.” At that, she cut the channel. Niathal rolled her eyes, a particularly expressive reaction that she had learned from humans but was perfect for the situation. She still had a couple of cards left to play before Jacen called to gloat, and if she could use them this would be considerably easier.

    “Open a channel to the Trucemaker.” Turning, Niathal folded her arms across her chest arranged her expression into a stare which she expected would be taken as reproachful. When the target of her baleful expression finally responded, she spoke quickly, berating the younger officer. “Admiral Darklighter, I see you’ve chosen to hold Jacen’s cape for him.”

    “Admiral Niathal,” Gavin returned, just as much ice in his otherwise cordial tone. “I see that you’ve found your own megalomaniac to side with.”

    “I’m not going to debate the pros and cons of Natasi over Jacen, Admiral, when my ‘megalomaniac’ has been busy fighting the nutcase who you’re handing the galaxy too.” Niathal pressed her lips together. “If you order your forces to switch sides now, we can make sure that no more of our people are lost.”

    “We’re not your people anymore, Niathal. And remember, I wouldn’t be working for a nutjob if you hadn’t handed him the Chief of State post. You’re only unhappy because he managed to keep it, Darklighter out.” With that, he cut the channel, and as Niathal watched the Trucemaker rolled, bringing itself about to advance on Daala’s formation. Several other capital ships from the Fourth joined him, and Niathal saw that the majority of the Fourth was now focusing on Daala.

    Niathal absently wished them all the best, and was about ready to order the Ocean forward to attack Nickel One through the gap Darklighter had made, but the comms officer spoke up. “Call coming in for you, Admiral, from Nickel One.”

    That’ll be Jacen. Niathal decided to take a risk, and take the call on the bridge, and allow Jacen to make a fool of himself again, solidifying her position with the fleet. “Audio only, please.”

    “Admiral Niathal, how have you been?” The oozing tone of Jacen made her skin dry with revulsion, but the Mon Calamari calmed herself.

    “Solo, I’m doing just fine. Clogging up your plans, as ever, and making myself an irritant. Pity you can’t snap my throat any time you like.”

    “Indeed. Well, I have the pleasure of informing you that Tycho Celchu has been rescued by your Jedi friends, but in exchange I picked up Winter Celchu and Wedge Antilles. An excellent trade, would you not say? Now I have two people to torture instead of one, and I cannot imagine the juicy secrets that Mrs Celchu holds in her mind.”

    Mutterings rippled around the bridge, and Niathal grimaced. So Winter had sided with the Jedi, and had gotten herself captured, with Wedge, a former member of the Corellian military. What kind of coalition had Luke assembled? And why hadn’t he taken out Jacen yet? She could not imagine the information Winter had assembled about Fondor, about how weak this last showing truly was. She probably knew the exact amount of torpedoes and concussion missiles in their arsenal, or the exact amount of starfighters they had available, or even the exact amount of fuel the fleet had to run on – and definitely the encryption codes for Daala and Niathals comm feeds - it was an incalculable blow, all the moreso due to Winter’s celebrity as an associate of the Solo-Skywalker clan – her memory skills were known by everyone.

    She had to calm the ocean, and quickly.

    “I suppose so, Jacen, but don’t let me keep you. I’m sure you have some illusion to be distracted by, and I have a war to win.” Niathal cut the channel, clearly rattled by this all, and trying to keep it off of her face. Captain Nevil stepped over, face tentacles straight in concern.

    “Admiral?”

    Niathal didn’t have anything she could really say. The fact that Niathal had allowed Tycho to get captured in the first place would be something which would erode at her support, and slowly destroy her fleet from within, even if the fact that Winter was all that stood between Jacen and the fleets destruction.

    “Have our analysts begin drawing up new codes for the ships security systems, and cut the main computers on all of our ships until this is done. Run everything on emergency power for now, apart from the shields and guns. Shut down everything we don’t need to survive.”

    “Admiral, that’s going to make this battle a thousand times more complicated -”

    Niathal cut him off with a look. “I know, but we have zero choice. If we don’t do this, Jacen will be able to cripple the fleet anyway.” Niathal opened the comm, and prepared herself to give Daala the bad news.

    --

    Lando sat back as sensors told him that the Venture went into hyperspace, releasing a breath. The rest of the Coalition was clear of the fighters, and the Venture was the last element exposed. Swinging around in the cockpit seat he gathered his wits about him, arranging his face to convey every ounce of frustration that had filled the old gamblers body. Valin could sense it in its entirety. “What the kark are you up to, Jae?”

    The Sullustan was on the floor, his arms held by Pash as he thrashed his legs. “You were listening to the comms, Captain Calrissian. Winter Celchu cannot fall into Caedus’ hands. That’s not even recalling what Wedge Antilles knows about Corellia!”

    And they were off again. Jae debating with Lando, Pash trying to calm things, this being a microcosm of the debate, as the Falcon drifted and docked with the Hapan fleet, all the while Hobbie and Wes administered aid to Cheriss and Tycho. At one point in the conversation, Valin had what was becoming an all too familiar sensation; that he did not recognize these people- that they were people pretending to be those individuals he respected and loved as friends and family. He resisted the urge to shake his head, and accepted his elders arguing with Jae for now, while he kept an eye on the milling battle.

    He could have used the Force to calm everyone, but his interest in the entire conversation was zero. He was focused on his failure – another failure – another one to rack up against the death of his fellow Jedi. He knew very well that it was not his fault on an intellectual level, but it was as if some kind of external presence was leaning down on him, driving him down. There wasn’t, of course, as nobody else who used the Force had detected anything around him. Well, they hadn’t said anything, Valin thought, though they would have if they had sensed something, wouldn’t they?

    Shaking the paranoia out of his mind, Valin focused, absently wishing he could speak to his sister or father. Or his mother, even though she wasn’t Force sensitive. Valin had been feeling isolated for some time, he had to admit, and considered comming Jaden, his close friend. The two of them had, in their own manner, wrestled with their own darkness in these times.

    When he had the Falcon settled down – in a separate hangar to the rest of the Jedi forces, Valin absently noted, he turned around in the co-pilot chair – Leia’s chair - and the argument stalled as they remembered he was here. Jae’s ear flaps where rimmed pink with embarrassment, and Lando adopted a grave expression. “Thanks, kid. We were a little distracted, there.”

    Valin smiled, politely. “You had better help Hobbie look after Cheriss and Tycho. I doubt the Hapans can spare much medical help right now, and I know he has lost a few pieces of himself and acquired some medical knowledge that way, but if his answer to everything is to chop parts of people off, he shouldn’t be left alone with them for too long.” It was a poor joke, but it would serve to achieve his purposes. With sheepish grins, they excused themselves, and Valin turned back to the display.

    He called on Jaden, expecting to find him on Shedu Maad – he had not been present at the Roche, as far as he could sense, but that was not an issue, as several Jedi, such as Lowbacca and Ben Skywalker, had not been present. The data confirmed he was on Coruscant, which made very little sense. The channel was encrypted, as was to be expected, but it was no code that Valin recognised as Jedi in origin. Undoubtedly Jaden had tapped into his various underworld contacts to procure this. The fact that Valin had not been told Jaden was undercover made him wonder what was happening, and when Jaden’s haggard face came on to the screen, Valin knew.

    They all had their guilts, in this war. Valin had Thrann, Lowbacca had Kashyyyk, Jaina had Jacen… and Jaden had Centerpoint. Valin leapt into it, straight away. “Jaden, what are you -”

    “I’m exiling myself.”

    “On Coruscant? On Sith-controlled Coruscant?”

    Jaden shook his head. “I’ve been told its more like Imperial Coruscant, actually, just with less white armour and other nasty things.”

    Valin would not allow the dry humour his friend had inherited from Kyle Katarn deter him. “That doesn’t make much of a difference. The GAG will find you -”

    “Find me how? They couldn’t stop you and three other Jedi from making a capture attempt on Caedus on the steps of the Senate. I’m one Jedi and his astromech, and I need this time.” Valin could see Jaden had stopped looking at the screen, and was looking down, at his hands, no doubt. At the lightning licking around his fingers, a symptom for whenever he fell into that dark place inside himself – it had always troubled Jaden that he had an affinity to such a skill.

    Valin glazed his eyes over, recalling a quote from lessons at the Academy on Ossus, made by Jaden’s master, where the two of them had been lecturing about the nature of the Force. The lecture had become a debate, with Master Katarn and Jaden actually disputing each other‘s facts. In front of half a dozen students, the Jedi Master had said the following, words which Valin now repeated.

    “The Force is a tool, Jaden. Sometimes a weapon, sometimes a salve. Dark Side, Light Side, these are distinctions of insignificant difference. Do not fall into the trap of classification. Sentience curses us with a desire to categorize and draw lines, to fear that after this be dragons. But that is illusion. After this is not dragons but more knowledge, deeper understanding. Be at peace with that.”

    Jaden’s face froze, and Valin instantly regretted saying that. He felt embarrassed for lecturing the older Jedi, especially when Jaden carried on. “I wish you hadn’t said that.”

    “Stuck in your head, too?”

    “Yes,” said Jaden, neutrally. “I have to go, Valin.”

    “And slay some dragons?”

    Jaden reached for the screen. “Let us hope.”

    The screen went dark. Valin sat there for a moment, watching through the cockpit as a wave of Hapan medics rushed under the ship, and then he heard Lando and Jae on their way back, discussing Cheriss’ and Tycho’s state. Unhappily, Valin realised that he had gained nothing from speaking with Jaden, beyond the sensation that the two of them were heading in separate paths, and towards separate darknesses.

    He kept it out of his face, of course, when Lando turned the corner.

    It wouldn’t do to have them worry about him.

    --

    As sounds went, the igniting of a lightsaber was always a distinctive one. The snap of the ignition and the hiss as it emerged from the emitter, to the thrum of the blade as it cut through the air, to the clap of it meeting a blaster bolt, all sounds that were impossible to miss, especially for a Sith.

    When that sound was met with not the snap of a deflected blast, but instead the crackle of Force lightning being captured upon the blade, and the crease of another blade straining against it, it set off said Sith’s danger sense, because even though such noises were commonplace within these walls, this particular Sith and his particular chambers were so placed in the cloister of the One Sith Order that he should not have heard such sounds from the far-off training grounds.

    The Sith labelled colloquially as ‘White Eyes’ by Alema Rar pulled his cloak around his shoulders as he spun from his chambers, taking from the wall-hook the torch that rest outside and strode through the corridors. Other higher-ranking Sith, some tattooed, some not, went to emerge from their own rooms and paused to let him pass, especially upon seeing the expression set upon his face.

    The halls of stone were suddenly blocked by a wave of black robes, other Sith clearly coming to watch the violence, indicating to White Eyes that it was in all likelihood Sith-on-Sith in nature. As he approached, they parted, sensing the grimness exuding from him, as he strode with purpose forward. One younger Sith, enamoured with the display and clearly not supposed to be at this end of the cloister, failed to notice him in the Force, nor in his ears, and White Eyes dutifully made use of the flaming torch he had brought with him and rammed it into back of the man’s head.

    His robes and hair immediately burst into flame, and the man’s scream rang out, and White Eyes swept the man aside with the Force, the only movement visibly made being the flaring of his colourless irises. The act also served to draw eyes to him, and the two duelling stopped. White Eyes folded his arms, and drew himself up, tall as ever, eclipsing several of his colleagues in height.

    The two Sith responsible for the tumult, and for spoiling White Eyes temper, drew apart, their battle clearly having begun at the doorway of one of the rooms in the hall, if the blade marks on the walls where any indication, and having spilled into the central circle, itself studded with more doorways and corridors of the kind White Eyes had made use of. A smattering of Sith had gathered, but less Sith and apprentices had came to meet Alema Rar, and she had been infinitely more important than this little encounter. Such an audience underlined the events taking place here.

    White Eyes looked away from the Zabrak who was sporting sleep attire, his face evident and identifying him as one of the more loyal Sith, known under his adopted name of Rivyn, and instead focused upon the one with his hood raised, apparently the instigator of the violence. White Eyes said nothing, staring into the recesses of the shadows that shrouded the woman’s face – her sex he could ascertain from her robes and long, flowing hair – making it clear he was displeased by both the incident and her failure to respect him. She eventually revealed her face, showing that she was one of the younger ones, with some name that had to do with pained love, or something equally amorous – Ardeur, he recalled. She had, too, been present at the meeting with Alema Rar, her rasping voice undoubtedly making quite an impression on the late Twi’lek. Not that had stopped Rar from poisoning Morto, of course.

    She eventually bowed, and White Eyes spoke, not taking his eyes off her. “Explain.”

    “I have no need to,” was her petulant reply. White Eyes raised his gloved hand, actually going out of his way to make the threat, rather than simply crushing her, and she quickly began to speak, her fear giving way to her passion for the topic with speed. “We sit here in the shadows, building our numbers, while a single Sith Lord brings down the galaxy on his own. We should be there, swelling his armies, giving him the strength he needs to overwhelm the Jedi. Look where Dician is now, and tell us that the Jedi have been weaker since the Yuuzhan Vong War!”

    White Eyes said nothing, and whispers began to emerge around him. Some Sith said nothing, showing their loyalty to his judgment earlier, but more discussed it, more voicing their opinions than had those mere few days ago when Dician had made her play in the gathering, allowing her to escape Korriban with the Poison Moon on her fact-finding mission. It did not assist with the fact that she was nearly overdue, with the tracking beacon placed on all Sith vessels indicating that the frigate was at Carbos Thirteen, one of the Verpine colonies considerably closer to the raging Battle of Roche than had been authorised. The debate had fractured, with some Sith advocating more of their warriors be dispatched to secure her position, with others still suggesting that a group of Sith be sent to ensure Dician return to the fold. She was far too close to the war, but the longer she remained there the more she created the impression that the Jedi were indeed weak, and if they could not detect a Sith frigate, then how could they cope with a Sith Order?

    He had not taken the ‘pro-Caedus’ faction too seriously up to this point, though he supposed the mere fact that the information about the location of the Poison Moon having made its way around the Order showed that support for the group had penetrated the higher echelons. The Dragon had not seen fit to provide his edict in this matter, and with various One Sith currently serving in the Alliance and Confederation militaries, the affairs of the war were well known, which of course added weight to the theory that this was the time to strike. White Eyes re-evaluated the situation, judging the relative prestige of the silent Sith against those who were speaking, and concluded that the situation was such that it would pass – as long as he handled this situation deftly. A single spark, and the debate would slide, and the Dragon may be required to emerge from stasis to rule in person, and White Eyes, as the speaker for the Order at this time, would probably die.

    White Eyes focused upon Ardeur, whom had fallen silent herself. He saw that she was a pawn, being used to push the situation, and he realized that she was not his true opponent, politically speaking. Somebody else was. Perhaps even the Dragon himself; it was a well known fact that the Dark Lord had taken a Hand as his own agent while in stasis, although the identity of that person was unknown, even to Darth Wyyyrlok. White Eyes could sense the truth about her already; someone who truly believed in the Sith, but thought that she knew the best way to proceed, or, more specifically, that someone else knew the best way.

    He too knew what that sensation of righteousness felt like, even in his position – some days he caught glimpses of a man on a throne, unlike any he had ever seen, the only identifiable features of his black robes being a pair of eyes that burned like suns, white globes that drew the watcher into his madness. Sometimes the throne was golden, and White Eyes was unsure what it meant, but he knew it felt right, and, impossibly so. A black one, a white, a golden – he was not for such greatness. And so, White Eyes kept such a vision to himself.

    White Eyes had struck down Sith before, or had made use of the practice of striking down an unruly master as a test for a new apprentice, but Ardeur had no apprentice, currently, and had only just been elevated herself. Whomever the Sith was responsible for this confrontation, they had chosen their tool well. White Eyes smiled, in appreciation, as such an opponent would serve the One Sith well, by ensuring he, too, was serving their master to the best of his ability. Misinterpreting his amusement as a threat, Ardeur shied back a fraction, but only a fraction, her expression so focused upon White Eyes that he expected only he would have picked it up. So, she was a bluff, too. A purge, at this time, in the middle of a galaxy aflame and with the political landscape shifting so, with black holes of knowledge and new secrets forming, would be dangerous, and nobody would be able to ensure control of it all, least of all White Eyes or his mysterious opponent. If White Eyes struck, he would trigger a backlash. If Ardeur backed down, she would be dead, in a matter of days.

    He nodded to himself, lightly, and allowed his eyes to slide to Rivyn, breathing heavily and focused solely upon Ardeur. One of the breed of Sith whom aspired to take the names of greats and modify them slightly, they were simultaneously claiming the old ones while making it a One Sith concept, and the Dark Lord approved of it. White Eyes expected he would see all manner of Sith sporting ‘Ruyn’, ‘Kryssh’ and so forth in the future. He found it a little tiresome, but as aspirants, they served their purposes, usually loyal to the core, sometimes beyond.

    Quite malleable, as a rule, too…

    Rivyn felt White Eyes gaze fall upon him, and White Eyes felt him realize it, but he did nothing in the Force to suggest agreement with either argument. Dician had played an expert game, but she was due back soon, and should she go beyond her time limit it would be her who would be the focus of the issue, not Caedus and the Jedi. So all White Eyes had to do was allow this situation to resolve itself naturally, and muddy the issue for one more day, and it would be over.

    White Eyes chose his words carefully, neutrally.

    At the end of it all, Ardeur had tried to kill a loyal Sith, and said loyal Sith would want to kill her in return.

    “So be it.”

    Rivyn launched for Ardeuer, and she, focused upon White Eyes, reacted a hair too slow. His blade burst through her robe, but she was quick, and it missed her arm and she was able to twirl away, hopping over his feeble kick for her feet and into a roundhouse kick. Rivyn took the blow on the side of the head, rolled into it, and rebounded off the wall, straight at her.

    And Ardeur cut him half, at waist height.

    White Eyes hadn’t been watching. He’d turned away, and began walking back to his chambers. He hadn’t ordered Rivyn to act, hadn’t made him, compelled him, or otherwise suggested that he should do as he had. White Eyes had simply left. He had turned his back on the entire debate, elevating himself above it, elevating the Dark Lord above it, and rendered it moot.

    Well, not entirely moot.

    Dician would have a reckoning with him when she returned.

    Yes, she would.

    --

    Late in the day, Luke Skywalker met up with Isolder and Lady Astarta in the depths of the HoloNet, across a heavily encrypted channel that was so encrypted that the channel responded slowly, with moments passing between words and movements.

    He bowed slightly to Isolder in greeting, who returned the gesture, two men who had been friends for decades, and fought side-by-side – often via this medium – against numerous threats just as severe as the ones they faced today and succeeded.

    Luke started quickly. “I assume that Lady Astarta has briefed you on the situation in the Roche system.”

    “Evenly matched, the situation complicated by the advent of Daala and Niathal, and if we pull out they’ll be wiped out and the Alliance advantage solidified?”

    He smiled. “More or less, yes.”

    “So you’re asking me whether I should risk more Hapan lives to fight a battle which can’t be won, but if we do not fight it, we’ll lose anyway.”

    Luke started to nod, before realising how much lag that would cause and stpped himself. “All we need to do is wait until Phennir convinces the Confederation to come support us.”

    “You seem so sure that this will happen, Luke. Astarta here is not convinced that he will get involved. If the factions wipe themselves out at Roche, the Confederation are free to attack the Core.”

    “But a Confederation with that mindset probably wouldn’t have saved Kashyyyk.”

    Isolder regarded Luke carefully. “I know what you’re doing, Luke, and it’s a dangerous game.” Luke nodded, allowing Isolder to finish. “You’re playing dejarik with Jacen. And the entire galaxy is at stake if you’re wrong.”

    “I know that,” said Luke, nodding. “But I also know that he’s using the pieces that neither of us can control to stymie our efforts. We need to force him to play our game – or at least give him the appearance that we have the game in hand.”

    Astarta coughed to draw attention to her, and, fairly well known for her bluntness, scowled. “But it is Hapan lives that will pay the price of your dejarik game.”

    Luke looked saddened. “That is beyond my control. If the Alliance wins the war, it’ll exact a bloody revenge upon the Hapans for betraying them at Kashyyyk. If the Confederation wins the war, the Heritage Council will overthrow the Queen Mother and, again, a bloody revenge will be wrought upon those who were on the wrong side. At least with my way you have a fighting chance.”

    Isolder seemed placated by that, to a degree, but not fully. “But Luke, if you can be so merciless as to turn Mandalorians and Hapans and entire governments into your dejarik pieces and allow them to die in the thousands… what is the difference between you and Caedus?”

    Luke considered that, and dipped his chin in thought. There were other pieces – no, other people – close to him that he had abandoned, as they were not relevant to the galaxies fate. He had been trying to stay away from his emotions, to not be attached to his decisions, to sacrifice one person over another, and Luke absently realised that was where Jacen had gone wrong, at some point.

    He had put his goal above the people he was supposed to be serving.

    Luke answered, softly, quietly, but the audio nonetheless caught it, and carried it, emotion and all, across the galaxy. “By caring about the people I’m working to save, taking into account their needs, their hopes, their dreams, and coming through for them, one person at a time.”

    He felt a ray of light that was Ben’s presence in his heart, for a short moment, and then it was gone, but he recognised the sentiment expressed well enough to understand what it meant. “With that in mind, Prince Isolder, I need a favour of you.”

    And then, Luke resolved, he would recover his light by doing some good on the smallest level, in the hope that it would thwart the greatest of evils.

    --

    Sergeant Darb fired blast after blast, covering the GAG commando squad that had plugged the gap in the Corellian counter-offensive. Well, what was left of his squad. Three men, out of the eight that had been deployed to this particular juncture, and he understood that the entire battalion had taken similar losses across the board.

    The Corellian jamming had been expected, but the resistance to the attack not so. Periodic naval raids, surgical orbital bombardments and several pitched battles had battered Corellia beyond belief, but the citizenry just would not give in. The spirit of the people was indomitable, and the Alliance simply didn’t have a billion soldiers to police every street in the system. The Dens on Drall had united, and even the Selonians were joining in the fight. Even with the Corellian defences shattered following the destruction of Centerpoint, and the savaging of one of Corellia’s moons by the Hapans a little more than a month prior, the Corellians were fighting from town to town, from street to street, sometimes from door to door.

    It was that jamming which Darb’s squad had been assigned to take out, to allow the packages to be delivered, as the parlance dictated. But between the dozen Corellian soldiers and the pair of probots simply floating over whatever barricade they had created, they had been driven further and further back. The jamming was being powered by a top-secret military installation beneath the government district, enabling the Corellians to focus their defences around it. His earplugs activated as another barrage of sound-waves rippled across him, cutting off sound to his ears. He quickly covered his head as the transparisteel shattered, raining fragments down upon them. The lights above them went out, but that made very little difference to the combatants involved, all of which switched to night vision.

    But he wasn’t yet disheartened. Because Darb hated Corellia. Hated it with all of its soul. He didn’t care about how heavy-handed Coruscant had been in sorting this, or how a Sith Lord was running things now. He didn’t even care that most of the system had not even been involved in the decision to go to war. Darb’s father had been Welmo Darb, the great politician from Denon, and he’d been assassinated by the Bothans for speaking out against Corellia. Then the Star Destroyer the Welmo Darb, named for his father and being served upon by his wife as weapons officer, had been filling in for the Dodonna with the Second Fleet when Centerpoint Station destroyed it. Darb had nothing left of his family, and even less of his home system, devastated by continual Corellian and Bothan raids as their forces traversed the Corellian Run.

    So he would have his revenge, no matter what.

    Darb quickly propped his gun on the empty drum, snapping orders. “Deak, Farl, find me another way in. Sewers, air ducts, anything.” He snapped off a round, blinding one of the sensors on the closest probot before ducking, a splatter of firing returned which was so ferocious it partially melt the canister he had been hiding behind.

    “There isn’t anything, sir, the Corellians have thought of everything. Their underground bunker might just be impregnable.”

    “Which is what we always want to hear, isn’t it?” Farl grimaced, the Twi’lek glaring at Deak. “If we don’t take down the generator, the jamming won’t be able to lift, and the package won’t be able to go off.” Darb absently reflected upon the fact that he didn’t know what the ‘packages’ were; all he knew was that they had been designed so that if they received a signal from each other they would chain together and activate. He assumed it would be a simple blow at a turbolaser battery, or something, not that the Corellians had many fixed emplacements left at the moment.

    Down.

    Darb blinked for a moment. If this was underground, then what did it matter where they detonated their baradium? “Guys, we’re detonating the baradium right here, right now.”

    “Right here? We’re below a civilian district now, Darb. If we do that -”

    “We’ll bring down the entire surface on top the generator -”

    “And kill thousands of civilians -”

    Darb grimaced, and pulled his pistol, shooting Farl point-blank and then levelling his blaster at Deak. “Detonate the baradium. We’re not going to make it out of this alive, anyway.” Deak paused, and then threw himself to the right, hoping to avoid Darb and shoot him back. Darb took the shot on his arm, but had already fired his own return shot off, catching the Devaronian in the throat and taking his head off. Darb sagged forward, wincing. With a single fluid motion he yanked a grenade off of Deak’s belt and threw it, the explosion buying him a few moments of space.

    In that time he hooked up the baradium bomb on Farl’s back, and set its timer going. The latest in baradium technology, it was the size of a dozen thermal detonators and filled to the brim with baradium. They were only a few hundred meters from the generator itself, and he had no doubt that the jamming would be down shortly. Darb hoped that Lord Caedus had made it worth the while.

    But a few thousand dead Corellians would satisfy Darb.

    He wondered how they’d like being the victim this time.

    --

    The Confederation had not sat quietly while the fate of the galaxy was decided in the Roche system. Their forces had rallied, launching an attack on the harassed Bothan systems, which had been savaged by the remaining three-quarters of the Third Fleet. The Confederation inflicted blows against the retreating Fleet, even damaging the Harbinger, and the deployment jumped, pulling back, it was expected, to Corellia, to shore up the remnants of the Fifth Fleet that had been harassing that system. Adumar and Bespin had just surrendered, and the Ninth had swiftly crippled the majority of the surviving resistance – the guerrilla campaigns could run for years if need be, in a muted form – but the Ninth had pulled back just as swiftly, content to have disabled their opponents offensive capabilities, it seemed.

    Admiral’s Kre’frey and Babo had urged Phennir to hold off on attacking Corellia with their forces and being trapped between the Ninth, Third and Fifth, but the Council had overruled him, and the fleet had just arrived in the Corellian system…

    And found nothing.

    Supreme Commander Phennir paced the bridge of his aged Imperial-class Star Destroyer, the Master Stroke, shouting out orders for updates and reports; they had to find those fleets.

    Within a few minutes, scans and reports from the surface indicated that the combined fleets had launched a savage assault on the surface of Corellia, as well as almost all of the orbitals and shipyards in orbit, but the Corellians had pushed them back, killing thousands of GAG elites. It looked as if it had been a fullout push before they pulled back, mirroring the damage that had been done to Bothawui in recent weeks. But the troop battles had all resulted in GA routs, and Corellian forces were in the process of mopping up in orbit.

    Teppler was on the comm, aboard the Corellian flagship the Gejjen with Admiral Delpin, damaged but not crippled. The jamming had not influenced the Corellians in the slightest, due to the Corellians making use of the line of sight code that had been pioneered during the first Corellian Insurrection. With no ability to coordinate, the GAG had been divided relatively easily. “This may just be the battle that turns the tide, Supreme Commander.” The rest of the Council, collected en route for the final battle, was present, their hopes buoyed by first the victory at Bothawui, as battered as the system was, and now this.

    “Yes,” said Phennir, calculating absently. Between the vessels in the yards here and the fleets he had brought with him, the Confederation should be able to make a run at Kuat, and secure the shipyards there. With the damaged but still potent shipyards there, the Confederation would be able to dominate the Core and move on Coruscant, regardless of how the Battle of Roche went for the GA or the Jedi. Phennir stood from his chair, words forming in his throat –

    And then a speck of white rippled across the surface of Corellia, in the heart of the capital city, an explosion so large it was visible from orbit. Officers flooded him with reports –

    “A massive explosion has ripped up the civilian district to the south of the governmental district, sir -”

    “Sir, the explosion came from underground, and is causing massive subsidence of the region above it –

    “The jamming has been cut-off sir, I don’t understand how –

    “Numerous signals are activating in the shipyards and orbitals, sir, on the same frequency, it looks like a GA code-”

    “Scans suggest the bombed portions of the city have collapsed atop the generators underground, cutting power –

    “Sir, we have explosions aboard the orbitals! And the shipyards!”

    As Phennir watched, the bombs left behind by the GAG assault all went off, shredding apart the Corellian shipyards and orbitals, killing tens of thousands and crippling vessels mid-build, or vessels which had just docked after the recent battle. On the surface, explosions tore apart malls, and homes, former battlegrounds that had become enmeshed in the conflict, and now destroyed entirely.

    The system was a disaster zone, and, Phennir knew, with the losses to the military power of the Corellians, the people had been all but knocked out of the fight. All they had left was the assets aboard their fleet, giving the Confederation two fleets of strength left to offer.

    And that was it.

    Phennir slumped in his command chair, exhausted as the ‘successes’ were turned into dust. “We’re simply not important any longer.”

    Rodan shook his head sharply. “We can rebuild the shipyards at Corellia and Bothawui, and rebound from this. The GAG has been crippled by these sabotage runs, and we can attack Coruscant in a few months.”

    “Only if we survive that long,” snapped Kre’frey. “Intelligence has reported that the Fifth was not recalled to spite us, but to deal with issues at Roche. By the time we recover, the GA will have won the war there and we’ll be finished.”

    Phennir stared, glass eyed, into space. There was practically nothing that they could do here, and now. Even the damage they had inflicted to the Third here was nothing to what was happening now, and the gap between the Alliance and its opponents, as slim as it was, was slowly yawning open. With the Roche system munitions and the Remnant, it would expand beyond belief, and Darth Caedus would have won.

    He returned to the conversation, the entire bridge crew dumbfounded and watching the government of the Confederation squabbling and laying out their fate for all to see. Phennir sat up, refusing to let this be the end. He had one last card to play.

    “We’re still the stronger of the remaining factions. With the Hapans and Niathal crippling themselves at Roche, we can still act, and still win.”

    The Council silenced itself, the crew, too, dumbfounded. Admiral Babo found his voice first. “How?”

    Phennir stood. “Deploy emergency teams to Corellia, and get the situation under control. Gather the fleets together, transfer every last missile we have, every last canister of turbolaser gas, every drop of fuel we have left. We’re going to the Roche system.”

    Rodan went to say something, some last objection, but seemed to acknowledge that there was really no point. “It’s our only hope, isn’t it?”

    “We should have gone there in the first place, and done the right thing by the galaxy at large,” said Kre’frey, shaking his head, pacing the bridge. “I’ll head back to the Ralroost and ready the Bothan Fleet, Supreme Commander.”

    Phennir nodded. He could see what would happen, of course. He’d send his fleet into battle, and, inevitably, when Caedus concluded it was not a trap, he’d reinforce his position, and wipe out the resistance, all gathered into one place. They simply had to win before he did that.

    But how?

    How do you beat an opponent who is invincible?

    --

    In war, Corran Horn reflected, the last stages are a conflict which was filled with the most reversals. For every blow that each side inflicted, another was received from directions unseen. And the more personal the blow was. For although Tycho had now been saved, his wife had been taken in the confusion. And because he knew how determined Wedge was to remedy things by saving Tycho, and how guilty Iella felt for not being there quick enough, that his friends, who had made this one last effort to extricate themselves from the war, would make another effort to now save Wedge and Winter, and the Roche system was even more dangerous than it had been beforehand.

    Corran, watching an unconscious Tycho float in the bacta tank – more or less the sum total of bacta that was spare what with the Coalitions lack of supplies and what with a Remnant task force screening Thyferra likely to make further smuggling runs a long hope – knew that Iella would put together a task force in the next few days. Booster had already signed up, as had Corrans son, Valin, looking to make amends – something which Corran could understand, but was becoming concerned by. More and more of his friends were looking to become involved in this, and it wasn’t going to be long before events spiralled out of control. He could not become involved, though his presence would probably have made a massive difference to the success of the mission – Darth Caedus was his goal, and if he was gone, then everything else would fall into place.

    But they had to wait for Jaina to recover, and her battering had been far more severe than Tycho’s and even with her Force assisted healing Tycho would probably recover quicker than she. Sure enough, a presence like thunder coiled behind Corran, and Clighal and Tekli looked up from their administrations on other wounded pilots from the Coalition. Corran signalled for calm, and turned the face the rolling argument.

    Ever since Tycho had been placed upon the Battle Dragon, the Peacebringer, the vessel had been hopping into and out of hyperspace in an effort to avoid being intercepted by GA patrols around Hapan Space – the rest of task force having been forced to scatter by Fett’s retreat from the Roche system. A minefield was being erected at various access points, and the Hapans had been forced to divert the few vessels they had pulled back by extremely circuitous routes, especially as Caedus seemed to have been directing the deployment of these forces with his atypical precision. As such, Iella had been chasing the team that she intended to use to free Wedge, and had only just caught up with them after a rather terse discussion between her and Leia revealed where they were going to be during a very short moment out of hyperspace. Corran turned to face the door to the room and caught the voices of his wife and Iella in a full-blown argument.

    “- too dangerous Iella, and this time they’ll definitely know what’s coming!” Mirax was in tears, all but holding onto Iella’s arm, and Corran hadn’t seen her like this before, but then again, Mirax had never had the need to argue with her best friend.

    “Mirax, there is absolutely nothing that would stop you from saving Corran if he was in a jam.” Iella’s eyes were similarly wet, and Corran could feel how heart-renching this was for her, but also how she had no choice but to go on.

    “Corran can handle himself better than I could ever -”

    “- because he’s a Jedi Master, while Wedge is not. He may be able to escape from a few Intel goons himself, but a Sith? He’ll need all of our help.”

    They suddenly realised that Corran was there, and Iella looked at Clighal, avoiding his attempt at a calming gaze and cutting to her. “I need to know how long it’ll take for Tycho to be ready.”

    “Once we flushed the poisons from his system he was relatively unharmed apart from the bruises and contutions, and what with -”

    “Clighal.”

    The Mon Calamari held her hands out in front of her, clearly calming herself. “A day, maybe two, Iella, Tycho has gone through quite a lot.”

    Iella shook her head, “That’s too long, Caedus has already had a day, and giving him a second or third gives him plenty of time to -”

    Corran cut in. “I understand from the Intel decrypts that Bwua’tu has taken over Wedge and Winter’s interrogation, and they’re being transferred over to him -”

    “This came in just before we hooked up with you.” Mirax handed a flimsy over to Corran. “Karrde has found out that Bwua’tu is on his way to the Roche system. Hapan Intelligence will find out in an hour, too, we guess.” Corran read it, and looked back up, eyes narrowing. And of course they were currently in hyperspace, so he could not tell Luke yet. “This working at cross-purposes really has to stop, Iella. We’re all on the same side.”

    “But we don’t have the same goals, Corran, not at the moment.”

    Corran pressed his lips together. “Bwua’tu is going to be untouchable where he is. You know that he’s going to bring the -”

    “Yes, I know about the Megador.” Iella said, spinning on her heel to leave. “But we’ll be going as soon as we have gathered everyone together.”

    “Wait,” Corran, even with the Force, nearly jumped, and Iella definitely did. They all turned to look at Tycho, his eyes open, his voice coming across the comlink built into his rebreather. Corran felt, for a short moment, that Tycho would sort everything out and then they would be able to settle down.

    And then Tycho spoke. “Wait for me, Iella. You’re going to need my help, after all.”

    Corran grimaced. “If you’re going to go after Bwua’tu, then, I’ll need to make a few calls.” He pulled his cloak close to him, and walked out.

    There were only a few people he could think of who could break someone out of a Super Star Destroyer. And handing a few Jedi over to the cause would always help. And then his comlink chimed with an intra-system message, which was impossible over hyperspace, and he picked it up, opening it, and sensed by the Force presence reverberating through the comlink that it was Luke Skywalker.

    He gave Corran a message, and as Corran had no way of responding like this until the Peacebringer decanted from hyperspace, and, as he didn’t even have words to express the surprise he felt, he didn’t know what to say, either. He simply looked at Iella, and smiled, from ear to ear.

    “You won’t believe what Luke just told me.”

    --

    The Chimaera shook as another torpedo barrage detonated on the top hull, the shields overwhelmed temporarily. Daala’s fleet seemed to be attracting the most fire, and she had been forced to roll her vessels away from the Moffs forces to focus upon the Alliances – who she wasn’t particularly bothered about, personally speaking.

    Her Metal-Crystal Phase Shifter weapons were taking out vessels with relative ease, but Daala did not have an infinite supply of ships using this, and several of these units had been targeted by Jacen at Fondor and in the aftermath. By shifting and rolling her vessels, and passing around IFF codes, she had thus far kept the Alliance and Remnant from figuring out which vessels had the MCPS weapon, and the battle remained narrowly even, despite the need to take down the central computers on all the capital ships until the security systems were reconfigured.

    A slap-dash remedy might hurt the fleet more in the long run if the codes weren’t secure, especially with Zakarisz Ghent still on the GA side at the moment, and as such it was taking the slicers were taking their time about it, at Daala’s insistence. Seething at this waste of resources and time, Daala had sternly and angrily reprimanded Niathal. General Celchu’s capture obviously would have set off a chain of events that would have resulted in the Jedi getting involved, and something like this happening. Just another reason that the Jedi should be kept out of galactic affairs, Daala decided.

    Niathal, for her part, had simply focused on solving the issue and ignored Daala, using her Mon Calamari cruisers to outmatch the Imperial Star Destroyers in a replay of the Galactic Civil War. But the newer Imperial designs, such as the pocket Turbulent-class Star Destroyers that the Bloodfin was, were outmatching Mon Calamari battle carriers and MC90 cruisers. And with ships fully reprovisioned and crews fully combat ready, the first day of the Battle of Roche was drawing upon the stamina of the Alliance-in-Exile.

    The only good news was that the Hapans had, as Daala had predicted, stayed in-system, for the most part. The four fleets allied with Jacen were content to stand off for now and as such both sides were relatively unbloodied, but time was his ally, and unless the situation changed, the Alliance-in-Exile would be worn down. Compounding the issue was how the battle was split into two arenas, meaning Daala and Niathal could not dedicate their forces for fear of the outer Imperial fleets pulling back and trapping them between the inner fleets.

    Just as Daala had that thought, one of her officers chimed with a report. “Admiral, the outer Imperial fleets are shifting, pulling back.” As Daala watched, they began to disengage, clearly filing to launch into hyperspace, and she began to snap orders.

    “All vessels distribute shield energy back to face the new arrivals and roll the fleet so we can present a broadside to them! Pull us back so we’re caught between them for the shortest time possible!”

    Niathals fleet did the same, as they had discussed, and sensors chimed as the outer fleets jumped, the sensors officer suddenly panicked, just as Daala realised that the Chimaera had ceased its rhythmic shaking. “The inner fleets are ceasing fire!”

    Daala had a moment of realisation. “Shift all shield energy back their way, roll to present the smallest flank to the inner fleets! Now!” The two outer fleets emerged from hyperspace between the inner fleets and Niathal and Daala, almost immediately raised shields and opened fire, hammering their forces mid-maneuvre from point-blank rage. A pair of Daala’s Star Destroyers cracked open, and the Naritus, one of Niathal’s sister ships, burst into iridescent flame, damaging the shields on the Ocean; the inner fleets had not been leaving space between them and their opponents for fear of being overdedicated, but purely to make space for the outer fleets to withdraw when necessary.

    Daala cursed, loudly, and wondered when the Sithspawn that Fett was going to get back with the Mandalorians and take some of the pressure off them. She needed him, right now, as these losses had accounted for every advantage the Jedi destroying the Harbinger and strafing the defences of Nickel One had handed them.

    “Admiral, we have damage across the fleet, most of our ships were caught by the enemy attack, and we have an Mark II-class Imperial Star Destroyer en route for our position. It’s the Relentless!”

    The comm line opened, and in the hologram Daala recognised Admiral Dorja, the old man who had served beside Pellaeon for decades, reportedly with some disquiet about it. Rumour had long suggested that Dorja had wanted to lead the fleet after Endor, only to be upstaged by Pellaeon – and he had never gotten over living in the man’s shadow for his entire life.

    Dorja smiled a smile that conveyed that frustration across, curdled into a desire for vengeance. “You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to do this, Admiral Daala. To order the destruction of the Chimaera, once and for all.”

    The hyperspace chime echoed, and told Daala that the Hapan fleets had caught up, and sure enough, they began decanting behind Daala and Niathal before splitting to flank the Imperial fleets.

    “I’m afraid you’ll have to wait, Dorja,” Daala said, all acid. “All weapons fire!”

    It was then that the battle truly began. In those furious hours, the Maw Irregular Fleet and exiled Alliance fleet balanced themselves out, gathering themselves together and then countering – but the more focused Imperial formation won out, and the combined fleets were forced back, heading to the edge of the system, on the Core Worlds side, separating out and dispersing.

    As the second day of the battle came to a close, the combined fleets pulled back even further, attempting to encircle the Imperial and Fourth fleets, but were too few in number and amassing damaged ships by the minute. Shattered hulks dotted their retreat, a tangle of crippled vessels trailing from Nickel One to Graystone Seven. Daala, Astarta and Niathal could only conclude that the fleets needed to scatter, and they pulled back to the edge of the gravity well of the massive asteroid. Even though the slicers finally had her and Niathal’s forces back up and running again at full capacity, it was too late and the losses had been long taken.

    It was then that the battle began anew, with the Corellian and Bothan fleets looping around Graystone Seven and firing into the heart of the Imperial Fleet, crippling more than a dozen Star Destroyers. The Imperials and Fourth, caught out of position, gathered themselves and looked to survive the battle, less than three fleets remaining, against double of those in the combined fleets.

    Daala, drenched in her own sweat and exhausted, would have cheered if she had the energy to do so. But the battle was far from won, and the combined fleets were strung out, unable to focus and not coordinating their efforts. Even worse, Phennir would not return her hails, and the Imperials had been able to consolidate their position, even if they were outnumbered.

    Now the battle was a slog of long-range engagements and a wary encirclement being erected around the Alliance-Imperial fleets, reduced to three fleets to the six fleets fielded by the Alliance-in-Exile, Confederation and Hapans – but there at least there was a clear separation between the anti-Sith and pro-Sith forces, even if the former were unlikely to be able to take advantage of this. Letting Stele take command of her fleet, Daala returned to her cabin and collapsed, exhausted, letting sleep take her at last. She was so tired that she didn’t even have the energy to think of Ligeus, and she returned to her dreams; it was an abbreviated end to the day, for exhaustion sought far too much of her soul.

    Her last thought was one hoping that Fett would get back soon; otherwise she wasn’t sure whether they would be able to get through this.
    Bardan_Jusik and AzureAngel2 like this.
  15. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Nov 15, 2004
    star 7
    Chapter 11.5


    Turr Phennir, Supreme Commander of the combined forces of the Confederation, cupped his chin and crossed his leg, as he watched the Battle of Roche. He should have been participating in it, he acknowledged, but for now he had been content to sit back and watch, as his lesser Captains and Generals coordinated Strident-class Defenders and Bothan Assault Cruisers in a considerably less-coordinated effort to contain the Imperial fleets and Alliance Fourth Fleet in tandem with the Alliance-in-Exile and Jedi Coalition forces.

    That coordination was largely being hampered by Phennir’s order that no Confederation asset would make contact with any ship beyond those within their own armed forces, as he judged the way to throw this, because, essentially, the Confederation could have done either. Thus far the other anti-Sith forces were quite willing to stay neutral in the matter, and so no real violence had broken out. But the crew were nervous, and communication between the Council and the Bothan Admirals had been growing more and more frantic.

    He could have listened in, but Phennir would probably be caught out, and it didn’t truly matter what they discussed because they could always be played against each other and he’d win out, though said wrangling would cost them what little they had left.

    And so, instead, Phennir looked over the ‘Jedi Alliance’ forces, and the ‘Sith Imperial’ forces, his names for the two elements for ease of reference. Relatively evenly matched, now the Jedi and Mandalorians had withdrawn, the two forces had been drifting out towards the edge of the system, which would allow the Alliance’s inevitable reinforcements to not be hindered by the gravity wells of the expansive asteroid belt, however the arrival of the Confederation forces had pushed the Alliance back to Nickel One, reinforcing the defences around Darth Caedus, to the Bothan High Command’s displeasure.

    The Jedi Alliance represented something that, and Phennir admitted this aloud, occasionally, a Confederation victory would result in – peace, but one which was shallow, and uncertain. The Jedi Order, allied with the Hapans at least half of which hated the Jedi secretly, with Niathal, whom had handed power to a Sith, and Daala, whom hated almost all of her ‘allies’ only slightly less than her self-declared ‘enemies’. The Confederation itself formed Bothans, Hutts, Corellians and Commenori, many of which had fallen out in the past. The Bothans and Hutts frequently squabbled, and the Corellians and Commenori had argued for crippling sanctions against Bothawui during the Caamas Crisis.

    In short, the future was uncertain.

    The Sith Imperials, for their part, did not represent peace, but they did give Phennir a thought for order. Should Phennir side with them, Caedus and the Moffs would immediately fall upon Fondor, Hapes and Kashyyyk, ordering their surrender, and work their way rimward, bringing the galaxy to its knees and suppressing everyone. But Phennir, as with many former Imperials, saw that peace would be a long time coming. The Moffs would squabble against each other, the Sith would do the same, inevitably, lengthening and protracting any attempt at bringing order to the galaxy.

    Phennir thought of his children, and grandchildren, living in the galaxy he had been brought up in. As he did this, Phennir unconsciously brushed the scars on his forehead, inflicted so many years prior. Once, he had considered becoming a warlord, another Zsinj or Iceheart, and fostering more chaos on his own behalf. He absently supposed now he was the greatest Imperial warlord left, not that he had an ounce of Imperialism left in him, forty years after the fact.

    His love of Empire had been burned out during the reign of the Reborn Emperor, as he saw worlds burned to the ground, whole planets shattered, all in the name of a madman none too dissimilar to the one looking to run the galaxy now. Phennir’s conscience twitched at that, and he offered up a silent thought for Gilad, a friend of sorts, across distances, even if Turr had abandoned the Empire after the Bastion Accords.

    The crux of the issue was simple; how do you bring Order without handing power to the crazies?

    Who should be the ones to keep the peace in an Empire?

    A beautiful example was the efforts of Moffs Calron the Elder and Pualan, who had led the call for the invasion of Roche to the Moff Council, according to Intelligence reports, only to die aboard the Dominion when Fett threw - literally - Verpine B-wing and StarViper wings on suicide runs that had destroyed the flagship - a wasteful exercise, culminating in this meat-grinder of an engagement.

    It was this issue which had caused Daala to leave the Empire in the first place, and had killed Pellaeon. Madmen and women. The stronger the Empire grew the more of them would grow in the dark places of order, and the heart of the future would be poisoned, making it easier for men like Darth Caedus to use and abuse the noble cause. Playing said poison off against each other would only weaken the Empire, again, much as it did in the Confederation – which was more like the Empire than the Alliance, what with Phennir wielding autocratic power via the military... of that, he dare not lie to himself about. He was the Gilad Pellaeon of the Confederation... but if he his autocracy could not win in the long run... could it actually win against itself, at all?

    And until a solution to that situation was created, Phennir had no choice, really.

    Not if he wanted to ever look his children and grandchildren in the eyes again, anyway.

    He stood, and the crew shuffled, all of them focusing on their work. Phennir straightened his tunic, and nodded. “Open a hailing channel to the system. It’s time I told everyone what the Confederation is here to do.”

    --

    Darth Caedus was beginning to wonder if his life was nothing more than a series of torture sessions, whether internal and external, or mental and physical, to himself and others. He could see a chain of pain, running from Anakin to Vergere, to Ta’a Chume to Aliyn to Mara to Tebut to Tycho, all connected by the torture he had received, or dished out. Truly, pain was the ultimate diety of this domain, not the Force.

    Today it was Wedge Antilles and Winter Celchu, both standing straight and tall as they were led in to see him by a squad of GAG troopers, fully expecting to be put through all manner of pain – he hardly needed the Force to see that. Both had taken part in the impromptu rescue of Tycho Celchu, before he had personally intervened in their little attempt as almost entirely an aside – on his way to the infirmiary and having mistaken Winter for his mother in is pain.

    The flame of dissent and rebellion was one which required other approaches, some times, and, in seeing these two, he saw the opportunity which would end the war for him. One, a Corellian exiled from Corellia, and the other, a member of the Alliance-in-Exile, and seemingly acting on her own initiative, if his reading of her was correct.

    Chaos.

    His true enemy, in these troubled times.

    Well, not his true enemy…

    Caedus crushed his wayward thought, burying as deep as possible it, and focusing upon the situation at hand. Rather than allow himself to nearly lose control, as had happened at the Battle of Kashyyyk, Caedus had made sure that his command was more mobile than ever, and so no of his admirals would be scuttling their forces his absence, and the Moffs would not be running off on some crusade without him.

    His arm was gone, true enough, and a bacta cap was attached to it, but that would not stop him from keeping tabs on the situation. He needed control, to ensure that he would finally bring peace to the galaxy. He could not allow any loose cannons in his Empire. Darth Caedus sat up in the bed, folding his hand across his chest and fixing the two of them with a pleasant smile. He flicked a finger in greeting, causing their stuncuffs to drop to the floor.

    “You no longer need those.”

    Wedge simply folded his arms, “I hope you don’t expect us to bow.”

    “There is no need,” Caedus said cheerfully, swinging his feet off the bed and stepping into his boots. “I don’t have much time to see the two of you, so I thought formalities would waste our time.” His tone became authoritative, for a short moment. “Guards, leave us.”

    As he spoke, the guards moved behind the partition, leaving the three of them alone. Winter had, up to that point, been looking around the ward at the various screens that Caedus had set up, showing the various vessels under his and the Moffs control, and the disposition of the forces arrayed around him and Nickel One, his command post until the Anakin Solo returned from the Carida system. With his statement, however, Winter’s eyes returned to Caedus. “So you’re just going to kill us?”

    Caedus shook his head sadly, although he was having some fun with the dramatics. “Have I ‘just’ killed anyone?”

    Wedge held out his hand, and started counting off names, at which point Caedus raised a finger, causing his jaw to clack shut before he mentioned Mara. “All of those deaths were unavoidable, sadly, or necessary to prepare me for what needs to be done.”

    Winter narrowed her eyes, reminding Caedus so much of his mother that it nearly broke his heart. He did miss his mother, and their last encounter had hardly been pleasant. But Caedus was doing this so that no mother would ever lose a son again, and he passed through his pain, speaking more. The moment passed when an orderly parted the curtains, bringing his garments with her, and Caedus continued. “Admiral Bwua’tu has requested that I transfer you into his care, as I have more important matters to attend to, and, as he has noted, it is highly likely that your friends will launch another time-consuming rescue attempt.”

    “Wouldn’t it be easier to kill us, then?” Wedge scowled, and Winters expression flowered into open surprise. The medical staff flinched almost in unison, but continued dressing him.

    Caedus nodded. That was typical Wedge, trying to save lives at the expense of his own; an admirable quality in a friend, but an irritating one in an enemy. “Yes, it would, but then I would not have the bait for my traps, would I now?”

    “Bait?”

    The Sith Lord stretched, allowing a nurse to attach his cape to him, and he flexed his fingers. “Come now, you have all seen the holos. I’m the ‘villain’ in this piece, according to all of you. So I’m going to use my latest set of prisoners to bait my next trap.”

    “I don’t see how your first trap was particularly well constructed,” scowled Winter.

    Caedus allowed his smile to grow carnivorous. He caught his reflection in the metalwork of the bulkhead, and from this angle it looked as if it reached from ear-to-ear, and his teeth were angular. It amused him, and he turned the full expression upon Winter and Wedge. They did not need to know he had considered Tycho too worthless to construct a trap around, but it would satisfy his purposes that they may consider him so omnipotent. And, if not him, then his allies, he thought, as he brushed the curtain aside.

    Now I have Winter Celchu, with all the data and secrets of Niathal and Daala’s little dalliance to hand, and Wedge Antilles, whom had recently been assisting Luke and his little rebellion, too. In exchange for Tycho Celchu, who knew very little about anything of import following the Battle of Fondor.”

    Wedge scoffed. “Luke knows we won’t say anything.”

    “Yes,” said Caedus, and he gestured to the guards for them to be made to follow him, as he made his way to the turbolift. “But Niathal and Daala don’t trust you like Luke does; like I do. I know it’ll be a waste of energy to torture you. They don’t. So they’ll panic, and spend all manner of energy on rebuilding their computer systems, changing their strategies, and so forth.”

    “Energy which could have been better used against me.”

    An approving murmur ran through the troopers and aides that were walking with them, and Wedge and Winter were silent. Not because they hadn’t seen through his charade, but because he was holding their mouths shut with the Force. And so, the rumour of his invincibility would spread, and grow.

    They reached the turbolift, and held out his hand. An aide interpreted his nonspecific gesture correctly, handing him a comlink. Caedus nodded at the Ho’din, before speaking to the other GAG soldiers. “I shall escort the prisoners to the hangar bay myself. Have an escort meet me there. And make sure they bring stuncuffs, please.” Wedge’s face twitched, obviously having hoped Caedus would have left them so free even outside of his presence.

    Caedus and a single blue-skinned Omwati stepped into the turbolift, carrying a datapad. “My Lord, I have an update on the situation while you have been in the medbay.”

    “Excellent.” Caedus nodded, unconcerned that Antilles and Winter would hear the debriefing. “Is my shuttle ready?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “And has Ben Skywalker escaped yet?”

    The aide paused, clearly surprised. “Yes, he has. He escaped Lady Veila’s clutches and escaped with the traitor Shevu’s body.”

    Caedus managed to keep the dismay from his expression. Shevu dead? Much too high a cost indeed, he ruminated. Shevu’s betrayal had been something that Caedus had raged about, when his visions had revealed it to him, but control of that rage had allowed him to turn it into an opportunity. “And my apprentice is in pursuit, I would hope?” Or assume, more correctly.

    “Correct, my Lord.”

    “Also excellent.”

    The turbolift made it to the security hangar bay, and Caedus turned to his bodyguards, nodding to the twin row of Stormtroopers leading from the turbolift to the elderly dungeon ship the Moffs had lent him to contain Force users and high profile prisoners. “You can take them from here.”

    Antilles pursed his lips, clearly acknowledging that he didn’t have much of a chance. “We could, you know, make an attempt to escape and then get ourselves killed. No bait, then.”

    “True,” said Caedus, smiling softly, and flexing his gloved hand. “But I don’t need you conscious to be prisoners.” And with that, he waved his hand and they were froze, completely immobile. One of his bodyguards, the Nautolan, whistled, and Caedus snorted in amusement. “Take them away.”

    They had barely left the turbolift before he mentally slapped the controls, and the lift rose. “Continue, please.”

    And so she did, detailing the casualties to the standing fleets, about how they were effectively outgunned and outnumbered two-to-one by the opposing fleets but thus far there had been no coordinated moves and the combined armada was happy with having driven them back to Nickel One and fribbling away at the fleets resources. No one faction – the Jedi Coalition, Niathal’s traitors, or the Confederation – had the strength to attack the combined Imperial and Fourth fleets, being as the six opposing fleets were divided equally. Caedus found himself regretting allowing the aide to stay, and realised it was the selfsame Omwati who had nearly bored him to the point of murder after the Battle of Kashyyyk. Caedus reflecting that instead of responding with fury, his regret was instead because he had been unable, with the confusion and distraction of the past few days, to take these few moments to meditate and focus his thoughts. He was pleased that he had passed beyond such temperamental moments – and again reflected on how the Force was with him in allowing him to survive the Battle of Fondor after his complete miscalculation; the Battle of Roche was entering it’s fourth day, but the overall Grand Design was proceeding well, even with the loss of his arm.

    Surprisingly, the largest difficulty was Phennir, who was, as ever, not reacting as they had expected. His silence continued to cause the greatest of obstacles in his Empire conquering the galaxy.

    The Omwati continued to speak about Bespin and Adumar, and Caedus found his comlink was chiming and relishing the distraction. Withdrawing it from his pocket, he activated the holoprojector and saw the face of Supreme Commander Bwua’tu. “Supreme Commander.”

    “Chief of State.”

    A nice subtle reminder that Bwua’tu served the Galactic Alliance, and not him. Very nice.

    Caedus moved beyond the pleasantries. “I assume you are in position?”

    The Bothan did not nod, if only because he was undoubtedly seeing Caedus as a lone head and knew such an action would confuse the projector. “I am one jump away from the target, Chief. I do believe that moving me closer will cause Phennir to overreact, which will not assist in your strategy.”

    Our strategy, Supreme Commander. You came up with the most bloodless solution to this debacle... when I foresaw that the Moffs were going to attack Roche. And now, between the two of us, we are poised to end this war, once and for all.” Caedus did not expect Bwua’tu to respond, and, sure enough, he did not. “Your arrival will put you in position to take advantage, not to worry. Shadow Wing is positioned to launch, and the Imperial communications ships are also primed.”

    This time Bwua’tu agreed. “Phennir’s honour will outdo him.”

    “And Niathal’s paranoia will outdo her, especially now she believes I can influence her and the ‘Alliance-in-Exiles’ systems.”

    Bwua’tu looked away, and back again. “It’s happening, Chief.” The Omwati aide was flicking through her datapad in a look approaching horror, and Caedus nodded at her to play the channel, stopping the lift with a glance at the control board. She pointed the holoprojector to the center of the lift, and a blue hologram came into focus, full sized.

    Confederation Admiral Phennir appeared in the lift, speaking. “- has come to me to explain why the Confederation is here. We, did, indeed, secede from the Galactic Alliance and caused the power struggle which had led to this day, with a shattered galaxy on the edge of being conquered by Darth Caedus, the Galactic Alliance, and their Imperial allies.”

    Caedus nodded. “Now.”

    The line flickered, as if with battle static. “And it is today that we have arrived to end that struggle, by announcing our intention to stand beside the Darth Caedus, for he has not brought the galaxy to the edge of conquest, but to the edge of unification.

    The Sith Lord mused aloud. “You were correct, Bwua’tu – he did use the word ‘conquer’ instead of ‘subjugate’, I owe you a drink.”

    Bwua’tu did not comment. They had not, nor ever would, share a drink at a bar, like old war comrades. The vow of krevi was the only matter between Bwua’tu and the Confederation, and Caedus found himself, withpit the ability to peer beyond the next few days of combat into the future, relying on him. And, of course, upon Phennir’s honour, Niathal’s predictability, Luke’s ability to intervene at the least helpful moment, and so forth.

    “And that is enough, I would say.” Bwua’tu said. “We will be in further contact when I arrive in-system. You can deploy the stealth-equipped Blur fighters now.”

    “Line of sight blink code,” said Caedus, a tone of reminder to his voice.

    “Of course.”

    Bwua’tu was gone, and Caedus opened a channel to Shadow Wing’s flight commander, Eldo Davip, one of his strongest supporters in the military. “Launch Shadow Wing when the line breaks. Make sure they intercept any and all attempts between the three groups to communicate. Have the Blur’s and StealthTIEs been equipped with additional fuel and provisions to survive the week?”

    “Yes, sir, to all.”

    “Excellent. You may proceed when ready.” Caedus nodded to the Omwati, and with that exchange, Phennir’s hologram, replaced by fake transmission boosted across the channels by the Imperial communication ships – a trio of larger Star Destroyer which had been responsible for keeping the Bounty at bay – was cut off by the same Destroyers, who blanketed the system with a jamming signal routed through the Verpine communications network and boosted by their own comm. towers across the Roche Asteroid Belt – the said network never actually in Mandalorian control, but always under Caedus’ personal command.

    While the Imperial and Fourth Fleets were well equipped and prepared with line of sight communications, which the three pairs of opposing fleets would also be able to set up relatively quickly, between the three of the factions they would be cut-off, bar attempts to send couriers, all of which would be destroyed. As such, the paranoia between the three groups, following the ersatz Phennir’s broadcast and the Mandalorian boasts that they controlled the Verpine communications grid, would deepen. While the Confederation knew their declarations were lies, they would not know about the jamming – and Niathal and Daala would be in a situation of vice-versa, while the Wookiee and Hapan forces of the Jedi Coalition would be in the dark as to both.

    Perfectly divisive.

    Caedus resumed the lift, which arrived at the top hangar with his shuttle – the selfsame shuttle that he had taken to Bimmiel before he had killed Nelani, the shuttle that had acted as his personal vessel on all manner of occasions. It was, after a fashion, one of the few items he owned that had belonged to Jacen Solo. He had kept it around as a reminder of the person he had been, insofar as much as he understood Uncle Luke had kept the Jade Shadow around to remember Aunt Mara by.

    There was no accompanied twinge of guilt to the thought of his late Aunt. He had long passed through such emotions. But perhaps he should detach himself from his shuttle. He had plenty of confidants; SD-XX, his journals, and of course lithe Tahiri, and an inanimate object was hardly necessary. He would take his shuttle up to the Erinnic, debate with the Moffs for a few more hours, and await the return of his Sith apprentice and the Anakin Solo. It would be pleasant to get back to forging his new Empire rather than micromanaging a war that Bwua’tu and he had already plotted to its endpoint.

    As he opened the turbolift and left the droning Omwati behind, he strode up to his shuttle and caught sight of the brightly coloured protocol droid waddling around the shuttle to meet him, a single datapad in its hand. Caedus stopped, a look of faint amusement on his face, as he flicked his fingers and blinded the holocams in the room; he felt no danger in the Force, nor in the ‘pad in the droids grip.

    “Do I know you?”

    “I have answered to the name Favvio, Lord Caedus. I have also answered to other names, in the service of the Sith, as an assassin droid or as a medical droid.”

    Caedus wrinkled his nose as recalled the name. “You were the name Lumiya gave to her asteroids computer system.”

    “Correct. I downloaded my mind to this... gaily coloured protocol droid when Lord Vectivus’ asteroid habitat was threatened with irreparable harm.” Favvio’s voice dipped as it considered the best word to describe its attire. “Subsequent to that the asteroid was destroyed.”

    “Destroyed?” Caedus inclined his head as he gestured the shuttle to drop it’s landing ramp. He had already concluded that he would need to crush this little loose end of Lumiya’s legacy into debris, and that the asteroid had been lost cemented that opinion, if only to destroy that garish colour scheme. “By?”

    “By the occupants of the Millennium Falcon at the time, during their assassination of Alema Rar.”

    Caedus nodded. “I had wondered where she was; a loose end to clean up later I really did not want to waste my time with.”

    “Yes, a loose end as you say.” Favvio stepped closer, and held the datapad out. “I hold one other loose end, a final order from the Lady should she be terminated.”

    “A will?” Caedus had wondered, when Lumiya volunteered for death-by-Skywalker, if she had left any instructions for him, or final words of guidance. He was curious about what she had expected of him. He took the datapad, and began to thumb past the initial screens, finding it blocking him from access. Before he could ask, Favvio responded to his question.

    “Not at all, my Lord. A gift, for your Sith apprentice.”

    Caedus paused, and looked up, gauging the expression on the droids expressionless face, and passing the datapad back before wasting any more of his time. “Ben Skywalker did not consent to being my apprentice.”

    “No, my Lord, this is for Lady Veila.”

    Smiling, Darth Caedus slipped the datapad into his pocket. “Of course.”

    “Indeed, my Lord. She also left a message for me as to the identity of the attackers on Toryaz Station.”

    Caedus had long decided that Lumiya had been responsible for the murders on Toryaz Station, and that she would choose to dangle such a piece of information before him after her death suggested she was continuing to manipulate him, as much as he had manipulated her while she had been alive.

    “I am sure she did.”

    “Yes.” Favvio paused. “Do you wish for me to convey her last piece of information? It involves the location of a second group of the Corellian soldiers who attacked the peace conference. She tasked me with investigating this information before her death.”

    “I am sure it does. However, I would like for you to take my shuttle and dock with the Ocean. It will accept your identification codes, if transmitted by line of sight.”

    “Yes, sir.” And with that Favvio took the shuttle of Jacen Solo and headed towards certain destruction.

    Caedus didn’t even bother to watch, he simply turned back to the turbolift and set it to head back to the secondary hangar; he would make use of a shuttle there, and proceed forward. He did not need a momento of Jacen Solo, nor did he need one of Lumiya. He was beyond them both, and crushing the last remnants of their influence over him did not elicit a single emotional response.

    He was Darth Caedus.

    He was his own reason now.

    --

    The planet Kashyyyk was, for lack of a better word, ablaze with activity. Not that any human, Mon Calamari or Duros would use any word connected with ‘fire’ within a parsec of the Wookiee homeworld, not after the actions of the Fifth Fleet roughly four months ago.

    Since the Battle of Kashyyyk the planet had became the unofficial capital of the anti-Alliance forces, despite the Rock Council having officially pledged its support to the Jedi Coalition. Confederation cruisers had been critical to containing the forest fires inflicted by Darth Caedus, and a pair of Hapan Battle Dragons had been orbit around the planet since the destruction of Centerpoint Station. Now, the system was surrounded by a minefield, and those two Dragons guarded the single clear route to Kashyyyk, supported by a trio of elderly Corellian Proficient-class light cruisers and single Fondorian Rejuvenator-class Star Destroyer, in the absence of the majority of the Wookiee fleet, supporting the Hapans at Roche.

    Tojjelnoot, head of the Rock Council, studied all of this in a burned out building in Thikkiiana, before looking at another screen to survey the reconstruction effort taking place at Kachirho and other bombed cities. The Wookiee world was slowly recovering from the destruction, but recover it would. The fires were still raging in parts of the forest, and they would continue to do so for many years, it was predicted. At that thought Tojjelnoot momentarily unsheathed his claws in his anger, before sheathing them and covering his paws, concealing the motion from the other occupant of the room.

    The Jedi Watchman for the system, Lowbacca, one of the rare Wookiee Force sensitive’s to be born out of the clans, would have undoubtedly noticed the action, but clearly chose to ignore the temporary loss of control by the old Wookiee – his response was entirely understandable. Even when the Clone Wars resulted in three long years of paranoia for the Wookiee people, even when the Empire enslaved them, or the Nagai, the forest remained untouched by the depravity of war. Kashyyyk remained. But not this time.

    [It burns the heart of an old Wookiee like myself to see our world aflame like so.]

    Lowbacca nodded, folding his arms over his chest. [It burns all our hearts.]

    Tojjelnoot heard the faint tone of disagreement within the youngsters tone. [But I expect you want to lecture me about the perils of the dark side, about now.]

    [I do not think that necessary, for you, Old One], said Lowbacca, faintly amused. [Our two families understand the perils of losing ourselves to our ancient nature, more than any other.]

    He was right. Both of their families had their darkest moments. Tojjevvuk had embraced his darker side, and it had gotten him killed, and started a decades long feud between their two clans. This had long passed, though even Tojjelnoot had never expected that he would be standing beside the nephew of Chewbacca, working together to resolve a situation.

    [True enough], conceded Tojjelnoot. Tojjelnoot turned, looking at the Wookiee.

    The formely massive building around them had been converted into an impromptu rescue center, the rotation of the planet meaning that this city had all but escaped the bombardment; the subsequent damage to the city had came from Trandoshan opportunists – pirate raiders – thus the minefield. Tojjelnoot had heard rumours of pirate raids as far Coreward as Kuat, undoubtedly based from Balmorra, the Hutt prize. Rescue operations had, since the minefield was erected, moved onto the still burning patches of Kashyyyk, and for all intents and purposes the building was out of use.

    As the former hub, the building had sufficient space to be surrounded by ships of all shapes and sizes, and as Tojjelnoot turned he could see only one, a black-hulled X-wing – a StealthX. Beside it, a shuttle was landing, one garbed in the black marks – blaster fire. Tojjelnoot narrowed his eyes. [You are to leave?]

    [The war grows deeper, and darker. I am needed. I can feel it in my warrior bones.]

    The elder Wookiee nodded, with understanding. [And you seek to amend for your loss, no?]

    Lowbacca was silent. Tojjelnoot knew the boys fears. He berated himself for failing to stop Caedus, for letting the man find him in the Force, and allowing the destruction that had followed to continued. Lowbacca had barely survived the Battle of Kashyyyk, and in that regard, he and the mother world were the same; wounded; betrayed; healing.

    It was compounded by it being a family matter. Lowbacca was related to a Sith Lord by lift debt. Tojjelnoot knew that pain, the pain of being related to someone who had more in kin with the Shadowlands than the forest. It added to the responsibility he felt. Darth Caedus was Lowbacca’s kin, and family had to rein in their lost children.

    Tojjelnoot laid a hand on Chewbacca’s nephew’s shoulder. [Go, child. You have atoned here, and now you must atone there, too. Help your kin, the Solos, and your clan, the Jedi. Stop Darth Caedus, and peace will follow.] Tojjelnoot had spied a shuttle landing, and knew that its occupant would only rile Lowbacca up.

    Lowbacca sensed he was about to miss something, sniffing the air, but nodded, growling a response. [Thank you.] He strutted to his StealthX, looking at the shuttle for a moment, canting his head in curiousity, a very Chewbacca thing to do, but the occupant had no interest in revealing himself to Lowbacca, either.

    The young Wookie shrugged, and the X-wing was gone, taking off. Tojjelnoot wished him well, and stepped out to greet his visitor. At a glance, it looked like an overly tall but bald human, complete with sandy robes, but as the newcomer closer, Tojjelnoot had no choice but to recognise it; it was the Wookiee Senator, Triebakk – but he had been completely shaven, from head to toe. Tojjelnoot barely managed to keep the surprise out of his eyes, to keep the horror from his expression. Triebakk’s shoulders were slumped, and his skin red in patches where he had been clearly violently shaven.

    Tojjelnoot involuntary reached for his old friend, regaining enough presence of mind to place his paw on the robes of the Senator, before speaking. [My friend, what – what happened?]

    Triebakk’s eyes were glazed over, as if he was elsewhere. [Caedus.]

    The Wookiee leader was unable to keep his patience; his claws unsheathed and he pulled away from his friend, roaring into the very skies and carving into the wood of the building he had just walked from with Lowbacca. He howled curses upon the very blood and soul of Jacen Solo and Darth Caedus, venting out months of frustration and anguish at the loss of so much. And now, their Senator had been returned, mutilated and looking more like a human than a Wookiee. Tojjelnoot found himself tempted to withdraw the Wookiee homeworld from the war, from the very fabric that wove galactic civilisation together – to demand his people, everywhere, return home, like the Mandalorians had, but not to combine their might and launch some genocidal campaign, like the Bothans, but to leave the galaxy to itself. He had heard rumours, of other nonhuman worlds sealing their borders and withdrawing their people – the Iktochi, the myriad water species of Iskalon, the Aqualish, Quara and Harch species – and it was simply tempting to join them and other species who had yet to emerge from the devastation the Empire had inflicted upon them, such as the species of worlds such as Skakao, Castell, Sy Myrth and Umbara.

    He crushed his paws tight and dropped to his knees, slamming his clenched fists on the ground and ignoring that he had just drawn blood from his own palms. There was no way for him to express himself beyond the complete and utter destruction of Darth Caedus. He was ‘awakening the beast’, as many Wookiee’s called it, the complete surrender of all logic and sense. Tojjelnoot knew now how his son had felt, all those decades ago, and it felt right, it felt pure, and good.

    Tojjelnoot felt a paw on his shoulder, and turned to snarl at Triebakk. [What?]

    His words were almost instantly robbed of his fury when he say the pearls of sadness in the Senator’s eyes. Tojjelnoot paused as Triebakk softly spoke. [You cannot lose yourself to the beast, my friend. You are our leader – the youngsters look up to you.]

    [Then you should be in charge, surely?] Tojjelnoot bit out, but Triebakk shook his head.

    [I have failed our people in keeping this war away from them. You are all your people have left now. I am a Wookiee no longer – and if you continue, you, too, shall be a Wookiee no more.] His growls were soft, and Tojjelnoot felt young, far younger than his centuries, and quite foolish.

    [How can you follow a Wookiee who lost his son to the beast, and himself hangs from a vine with it?]

    [Easily.] Triebakk bared his fangs in a smile. [Only one who has seen the beast take his loved ones, and has felt that loss, can truly understand how to resist it’s pull. Even if they appear to be on the very edge of succumbing, they will always pull themselves back. This is why Jedi like Luke Skywalker will never truly fall – because they have seen the beast first hand and what it does to those who claim to tame it.] Triebakk looked up to the sky. [The same will be said of Darth Caedus, and his kin, Allana. If we can survive her father, it is impossible to imagine little Allana following in her fathers footsteps – providing yet another ray of light in the forest of the Shadowlands.]

    Toojelnoot stood, retracting his claws, and sighed, softly. It had been fortunate that he had been required to meet Lowbacca at the edge of the city, for otherwise his display would have been witnessed. Lowbacca was a pariah of his kind for failing to curb the actions of his bond-relative, and now the privacy that had been required to advise the younger Wookiee had saved him, too. Toojelnoot turned to Triebakk to comment, when he saw the Senator’s eyes were still cast upwards, and now fear was cast within them.

    Toojelnoot followed Triebakk’s gaze, and saw it; the massive dagger, a grey wedge of a warship that could only be a Super Star Destroyer, surrounded by other smaller wedges and lumps of Kuati-built and Mon Calamari-forged battle carriers. Toojelnoot had followed the engagement at nearby Roche, and he and every other commander of the task force in orbit – Confederation, Hapan, Jedi and Wookiee – would know that ship.

    [The Megador, flagship of Supreme Commander Bwua’tu and recently attached to the remaining elements of the Fifth Fleet,] uttered Toojelnoot. From a strategic point of view, he knew exactly what Bwua’tu was doing – he was clearing out his rear defence before committing to Roche, and the small task force in orbit was insufficient in strength to resist his overwhelming might. Further, this deployment gave him enough power to counterbalance the entirety of the anti-Alliance forces in the Roche system – especially in their disorganised state.

    Toojelnoot could only hope Lowbacca had made it up the well and out-system, and that they could get word to Skywalker in time. As they watched, unable to do anything and also aware that Bwua’tu would not allow for another attempt on the world forest, the mine-field began to explode when touched by the red turbolaser fire, showing that Bwua’tu clearly intended to make use of all of the hyperlanes funnelling from Kashyyyk. Flares of light showed vessels of the Fifth Fleet jumping into hyperspace shortly thereafter – on routes that Toojelnoot instinctively recognised were not ones which were bound to Roche alone, and Triebakk started towards the shuttle, speaking briskly, his mind clearly ahead. [We must find where those vessels are going, and warn the Jedi. Without sufficient notice, they may be unable to respond before Bwua’tu -]

    And in that instant, there was a blaze of light and Toojelnoot felt Triebakk slam into him and then he himself crashed into the building behind him as it collapsed. Coming to a moment later, a severely burned Triebakk was unconscious, perhaps dead, and Toojelnoot knew that although Bwua’tu would never condone another burning of Kashyyyk, he would undoubtedly have had no control of Caedus and the GAG placing a bomb aboard Triebakk’s shuttle. Toojelnoot, in the middle of the burning wreckage of the comms center, threaded his paw into Triebakk’s robes to check his pulse before he felt the darkness clawing at the edge of his eyes.

    Before he blacked out, he convinced himself that he had found Triebakk’s pulse, and that he had palmed the call for assistance on the comlink attached to his bandolier...

    ... but then the Shadowlands claimed him, and that was the end.

    --

    As the Poison Moon decanted from hyperspace at the fringes of the Horuset system, near the assembly point for the other stealth-equipped vessels of the One Sith, Dician knew that she had played her game with White Eyes too far. No formal summons had been issued when she went completely overdue, but neither had support. The crew had simply ceased to be paid, and, as such, she had no choice to return to Korriban. A shuttle docked and met the Poison Moon when they arrived, and it turned out that the shuttle had been forwarded on autopilot, pre-programmed, and nobody was aboard. An automated message had been forwarded for her to board, and Dician had, by the virtue that several of her crew members, as Ithila had noted, had actually received payment to ensure Dician boarded the shuttle, simply accepted. White Eyes could have easily caused the shuttle to self-destruct enroute, but she also knew that in order to quell the rebellion she had been stirring up from afar that he needed to strike her down, and publicly – not martyr her.

    Or so she hoped.

    If everything went perfectly, that was.

    It took a matter of minutes for the shuttle to microjump to the far side of the system and to meet Korriban’s atmosphere, and the same amount of time again to land her at the spaceport, which was, for the first time in some years, completely abandoned and bereft of vessels. It would seem that the One Sith had closed down the system, perhaps in anticipation of White Eyes locking down any rogue elements following his confrontation with her. This was information that she quietly filed away, because it suggested that she did have support among the other One Sith that needed to have measures put in place. As expected, nobody came to greet her, and she took the sole working vehicle – a speeder bike – and crossed the distance from the spaceport, through the Valley of the Dark Lords, to the cloister in a matter of hours.

    Dread seized for Dician, but she was perfect, and, when perfect, nothing could touch that.

    And so Dician strode forward, into the centre of the cloister, and nodded in respect to the Sith surrounding her. They did not acknowledge her arrival, but had clearly left her a corridor between their bodies to the center of the gathering. Taking the silence as a sign that judgment was to be rendered, and thus that it was not a given, she loudly pronounced her next words. “I have identified what is necessary to support Lord Caedus’ efforts against the Jedi.”

    The white-eyed Sith didn’t respond, the cant of his head suggesting he was listening to something else entirely, and then he finally gestured, beckoning her to continue. Other Sith snickered, and Dician blinked, caught off-guard. It was a typical Sith tactic, to coordinate tactics to suggest a conspiracy was afoot, and Dician found herself suddenly on the defensive despite herself. No surprises there – her perfection was based upon her flawed decision at Ziost, after all.

    Grimacing, she stood, straight, and addressed her comments directly at White Eyes. “The four lynchpins to his Galactic Alliance are thus. Coruscant, obviously, makes up a large part of the heart of Caedus’ efforts. Coruscant is compliant at the moment, regardless of Caedus being a Sith, in part because they do not see where he ceased to be a Jedi and that their fear of another catastrophe such as the Yuuzhan Vong invasion makes them, by and large, supportive of a more militant state regardless of the connotations.” Dician took a breath, “We are unlikely to be able to change events there if someone can invade and successfully raise enough forces to do so.”

    “If? When, more likely,” snorted one Sith.

    Another cleared his throat. “Considering Caedus killed Mara Jade Skywalker, and survived a fight with Luke Skywalker, I think it’s about time you afforded him the respect he deserves – I doubt any of us could have achieved that.”

    “Lomi Plo did,” shot back the other. Dician turned, focusing on the Caedus supporter, who took the hint and didn’t continue baiting the other with an argument. The Sith were particularly fractious at the moment, and no doubt Dician had assisted in that. Turning back, she White Eyes was watching Dician, clearly analysing for something, but she struggled to maintain a staring match with his orbs. She left it after a moment, continuing to talk to the others.

    “Additionally, Darth Caedus’ life itself, and the well-bring of the Moff Council, appear to be key elements – it is unlikely that Caedus would be able to secure control of the Remnant without them, and equally unlikely that the Alliance would actively continue it’s autocratic stance without him, even considering that Niathal has left and notwithstanding my earlier comments about Coruscant – they are compliant no matter what government is imposed upon them, for, again, the most part.”

    Murmurs rippled through the Sith, a general disapproval that she couldn’t stem. They didn’t need lecturing on the obvious points. “There is a final aspect to the Galactic Alliance’s strength, which I believe is fairly clear, what with the events in the Roche system.”

    A few of the less military minded Sith paused, considering. The others simply glowered, and Dician hissed, mentally, making the rhetorical statement her own again, addressing White Eyes to focus the subject. “Supreme Commander Bwua’ta, my lord, has demonstrated that he’s capable of shifting the entire balance of the war with his presence alone.”

    “Just like the late Grand Admiral Thrawn,” said White Eyes, clearly considering.

    “Exactly so – and although Bwua’ta has shown clear acumen against Jedi beforehand, as demonstrated by his capture of Leia Organa Solo and Saba Sebatyne during the Dark Nest Crisis, if the Jedi or their allies make a concerted effort to capture him, I don’t believe he’ll be able to fend them off and win the battle at the same time – as we saw by the recapture of Tycho Celchu, the GAG still isn’t effectively equipped to fend off Jedi supported teams. And the latest reports suggest that Bwua’tu has requested that the latest of the prisoners - Wedge Antilles and Winter Celchu, be transferred to the Megador, which I understand is en route for Roche via Kashyyyk.”

    “So what are you suggesting, Dician?”

    “I am suggesting that we dispatch a group to infiltrate the Supreme Commander’s flagship and prepare a defence of him.”

    “A group?”

    “I was considering taking the remainder of Lumiya’s dead-Corellian soldiers we have available to us, and leading them myself,” said Dician, aware that there was a fairly high chance that White Eyes would deny this request, for fear of handing her more prestige than perhaps even he. The rest of the Sith fell silent, and Dician smiled mentally, knowing that she was about to be rejected and thus taking a blow in prestige – she’d finally be able to move as a normal Sith again. And everything would be perfect.

    “Approved,” said White Eyes, his eyelids blinking slowly, reminding Dician of a predator as he carefully kept his prey located.

    Dician was speechless, and a muted uproar began to gather around the gathering, the other Sith’s feelings pouring into the Force. Dician went to speak, but White Eyes cut her off with a sharp gesture. “You must leave anything else that will identify you as a Sith. You must remove your tattoos, additionally. In the meantime, a cloak-equipped ship shall return to take you.”

    And now Dician finally understood. White Eyes was just about to put her through an excruciatingly painful removal of all her tattoos, might even send her off without a lightsaber, and straight at what would probably be a team of individuals who, even without the Force, had defeated the Galactic Empire; in short, he was sending her to, at very best, complete and utter failure, and, more likely, considering the history of foes who faced anyone within the greater Skywalker-Solo clan, also to her death.

    “Of course, my lord.”

    She spun on her heel and strode off, dispelling the atmosphere of victory that now surrounded her, and replacing it with the acrid taste of her promised vengeance. She would succeed, and prove them wrong.

    For she was a Sith.

    And she was perfect.
    Bardan_Jusik and AzureAngel2 like this.
  16. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Nov 15, 2004
    star 7
    Chapter 12.5


    After hours upon hours of excruciating pain, consummate make-up and repeated dyeing of her hair, hair extensions and even the artificial replacement of her eye colour, Dician, Lady of the One Sith, was anything but her perfect self. Now with long black hair, and adorned in black Jedi robes, she looked very little like her self.

    There were several One Sith who had chosen not to tattoo themselves to match Darth Maul, and the members of the Brotherhood of Sith who had been taught in the Iridonian Academy – a particularly unified Order from the chaos of the New Sith Wars that had been founded by the Dark Underlord and spawned the Black Knights in their various incarnations – and had thus been able to ingratiate themselves into the various political, economic and military strate of the Confederation and Galactic Alliance alongside lessor Sith agents and tools, but the higher echelons were all tattooed in honour of their Dark Lord of the Sith, and, for several former members of the Imperial Inquisitors and Dark Side Adepts, as a way to show their complete loyalty to the One Sith and not to their former masters, be they Darth Sidious, Hethrir or Brakiss.

    For Dician to, thus, become anonymous once again was yet another chip to her prestige within the One Sith, and, thus, welcomed if only to end this focus of attention upon her. As she finished her dress and clipped the lightsaber to her belt – a blue bladed weapon with a hilt that was a perfect replica of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s weapon – she stepped from the refresher and went to walk onwards to the hangar.

    Instead a cloaked Sith was standing before her, the mysterious benefactor who had bade she remain in the Roche system for as long as possible. His name was unknown to her, but his agents, including the rasp-voiced Sith named Ardeur, were well known in the dissent they had engineered within the One Sith, a hitherto unknown concept, even at the height of the war, and following the recall of many of their agents from the galaxy following the Battle of Gilatter which had caused many a dispute with the ‘pro-Caedus’ Sith.

    And now the ringleader was before her, standing in the shadow-draped corridor. He waved a hand – a human hand, she noted. “I have blocked all listening devices. We may speak freely.”

    “So you say,” said Dician, carefully. “I did your bidding, and am now poised to die for it.”

    “And martyr yourself for our cause,” he said, a note of hope to his tone as he stepped closer to her, keeping his face concealed as he did so.

    Dician scowled. “Even if I am perfect?”

    “Most likely,” his tone became apologetic, though Dician cared little for it, false as it was, she imagined. “But you forced the issue at Ziost. You became prominent, and walked into the conflict between our two factions. You allowed yourself to be used, so as to avoid it. This ensemble, of course, need not go to waste. You have constructed it, after all, so neatly.” He waved a hand to indicate her garb. “Who are you procuring the identity of?”

    “A bounty hunter by the name of Zilaaash Kuh,” Dician said. “She is currently off in Wild Space on a mission for us – not that she knows it – and as such has plausible deniability should she be connected to the mission.We have used her identity – with her consent – on several occasions.”

    “How perverse,” he said. “Most bounty hunters object to people making use of their name and reputation. Fett and his honour-killing of Jodo Kast come to mind.”

    “Kuh seems to delight in the increase of prestige that comes with the role.”

    “Of course.” He turned, walking her down the corridor. “And now it comes to you to use her identity to fall in the defence of Bwua’tu, and give our cause the boost it requires. From here, I will be able to argue that more Sith would have defended Bwua’tu, and leverage will be mine.”

    “Perhaps,” said Dician, noting her benefactor had slid from the use of the plural to describe their cause to the singular. “Or perhaps I lured you here, to kill you.”

    A snap-hiss burst into existence, as if on cue, and she had half-expected to see a crimson blade in the Dark Ones’ hands, and at her throat, far too quickly for her to respond. Instead the blade had emerged from his stomach, and then withdrew, leaving the man to drop to the ground, revealing the features of a relatively young man, unscarred and untattooed and only just starting to show the signs of extensive use of the dark side, as he flopped, grimacing and gasping in obvious pain.

    Dician looked up from him to see the Sith known by Alema Rar as White Eyes emerge from the shadows of the wall as if he had been part of them, switching off his blade. “And so are revealed all traitors.”

    “Killing him will not resolve the issue. In-fact, it will create the martyr he wants.” Her voice did not have an ounce of emotion to it; she was stating, as she had said, a fact.

    “Correct. But my mastering of him, and perhaps reducing him to a wailing mess, will undo a great deal of the harm this young waif has inflicted upon the One Sith – yet another adherent of the old ways that we must constantly rid ourselves of.”

    Dician toed the twitching body with her boot. “Who is he?”

    “Unimportant, as are all the Sith who continue to aspire to greatness by the destruction of everyone between them and their selfish goals.”

    “So I do not need to go?” Dician allowed hope to enter her tones, mingled with a quiet disappointment and frustration that she had been required to undergo hours of what had been essentially torture to lure the ringleader of the anti-Caedus forces out of hiding. “The mission can be called off?”

    “Oh, now it is essential you go. Taking your mission back to the Debate would only serve to fracture us even further.” He waved for her to follow him into the hangar, leaving the young man to convulse and claw at the gravel as he tried to regain control of his body while there was a hole in him. “Even if we had not heard that the Kiffu Guardians had offered their psychometric skills to Darth Caedus to use on the first batch of Corellian soldiers that Lumiya had used to disrupt the peace process, that reason in and of itself would have been more than enough of a reason. It is essential, indeed, that you survive.”

    Survive?” Dician echoed. “Would not my survival suggest that I had actually succeeded in defending Nek Bwua’tu, thus ensuring Darth Caedus’ continued success and extending the discussion, and continuing to divide the One Sith?”

    “Not at all, which is why I chose the word survive carefully.” White Eyes stopped in front of her black-hulled assault ship, a cloak-equipped prototype that was all sharp angles with a bird-like quality to it. The invention of the technically minded Darth Fury, the class would undoubtedly bear his name if it were to enter production as an assault ship and starfighter duo, one large enough to carry several soldiers and the other a small fighter craft. “You are required to survive, not succeed.”

    Dician scoffed as she strode to ramp of the assault ship. “Then I may as well take a joyride around the Moons of Iego, no?”

    White Eyes smiled, a smile that, when his eyebrows rose to join the grin, made his eyes all the more hynoptic and unearthly. “You could, but that would be viewed as a betrayal of the One Sith, as an order given by the Dark Lord. And if you were to fail, you would be a martyr to Darth Caedus’ cause, and, indeed, continue to divide the One Sith. If you were to succeed, of course, you would also continue to divide us.”

    “And if I was to make anything less than my full effort – efforts which will undoubtedly be recorded and catalogued for all to view – then I, again, betray the One Sith.” Dician blew out a breath. “So I have to be perfect.”

    “I would suggest something different, Lady Dician,” said White Eyes, not unkindly.

    “Oh?” Dician said, looking back to White Eyes to see him turning away, the ramp beginning to rise at a gesture of a clawed hand.

    “Be more than perfect.”

    ---

    Iella Antilles looked at the resources that had been placed in her lap, and found herself wondering what Luke was doing. One moment, he had withdrawn from them to focus purely on Caedus, and the next he had given her a collection of the most dangerous beings in the galaxy, all to save one man.

    Corran Horn folded his arms and shrugged as she arched an eyebrow at him. Iella knew that she would find nothing in the former officer of the law if he didn’t want it, but Iella’s look to Mirax was more than enough. Mirax swiftly stepped closer to Corran and began to converse with him. That added a further layer to the conversations already filtering through the room, and Iella looked at them each in turn.

    There was the team which had initially set out to save Tycho – the so-called Lando’s Commandos, including Pash, Hobbie, Lando, Cheriss and Wes, all chatting in low tones, mostly centered around checking Cheriss and her newly healed wounds. The Sullustan Jae Juun, looking meek and ill at ease with his decision to betray the Galactic Alliance, was attached to that group nominally, as was Valin Horn, who was leaning on the bulkhead to the flag hangar of the Errant Venture, now stationed in the Transistory Mists.

    Further from them was the Jedi team known as The Unit, a collection of newly minted Jedi Knights who had distinguished themselves at Ossus and in a host of other Jedi engagements in the months since then; Valin’s younger sister Jysella Horn, the massive Ramoan, jade-skin and all, that was Bazel Warv and the Bothans Yaqeel Saav’etu and Kolir Hu'lya, ostensibly the new group of Jedi which had been assigned to Valin Horn following the death of the Thann Mithric at the hands of Darth Caedus on a mission involing Valin, Kolir and Master Katarn.

    And then, in addition to this, was the group of pilots formerly part of Rakehell Squadron, which had since been relegated to blastboat duty by the Jedi. As such they had that blastboat to hand, but it included Wedges’ daughter Syal and a host of other Jedi and pilots, including Tyria Sarkin-Tainer, the Kuati Volu Nyth, Zekk and Dathomiri-born Sanola Ti. Tyria, for her part was conversing with her husband, Kell Tainer, who had of course brought with him the Wraiths, including Garik ‘Face’ Loran, Shalla Nelprin, Elassar Targon, Voort ‘Piggy’ saBinring, Bhindi Drayson and Sharr Latt.

    This of course did not include her allies within the Smuggler’s Alliance, who had initially answered Wedge’s call for help at the Battle of Roche, and now stayed to ensure his safety, which included Talon Karrde, Aves, Ellor, Mazzic and a host of other mercenaries, pirates and smugglers. Nor did it include the various Y-wings, Howlrunners, XJ5s and E-wings scattered about the room which included a fair sum of the Galactic Alliance defectors who had sided with Luke rather than Niathal.

    Iella shook her head. “This makes no sense.”

    Kyp Durron, perched on the nose of his StealthX, his legs dangling in the air, commented. “It does if you consider that Grandmaster Skywalker is skirting the dark side dealing with Caedus.”

    “And is he?” Iella said as she looked up at him.

    “I don’t believe so,” said Kyp. “He may think it, but someone has to approach this with a certain amount of detachment. We’re fighting the Dark Lord of the Sith, complete with his own galactic government, a small Imperial armada in his pocket, and a divided galaxy that is so divided that it can’t put together a coordinated response to a sneeze, let along something like Darth Caedus. He cannot allow personal considerations to be involved. We win, or we die. It’s as simple as that, now, and Caedus will keep pushing until we’re dead.”

    “So Luke’s overcompensating here to assuage his guilt?”

    Kyp gave her a look. “Are you complaining?”

    Iella would have responded if not for the rustle which signalled the end of the various discussions. Kyp looked up and she turned, as Tycho strode into the hangar, in full military regalia, with Clighal and Nawara Ven flanking him. The former continued walking to join Kyp and Corran, Kyp hopping from the nose of his fighter to the hangar floor. Tycho turned his back on the three Jedi to address the others. He looked from each to the other, and Iella mentally took note of what Winter called, and could describe in detail, what she called the ‘General’ look, a look which Iella herself had seen on Wedge’s face a dozen times before.

    “We all know why we are here,” started Tycho, speaking strongly. “To save Wedge and my wife, Winter. Some of you, I know, and some of you I don’t, having been assigned by Master Skywalker to assist in our rescue attempt. And some of you were involved in the rescue of me,” he looked to the group including Lando and Valin, nodding to them. “I thank them and all of you for coming together to assist us.”

    “This mission will not be easy, and I do expect you all to be aware that this is a volunteer only mission. We will be heading to an engagement which involves at least nine fleets, and does not include the additional assets that will undoubtedly be brought into play by Nek Bwua’tu.” No comments were made, and not a single person requested they depart. None had been expected.

    “So let’s start with what we do know. We know, from Intelligence intercepts, that Bwua’tu has requested that Wedge and Winter be transferred into his care, undoubtedly because he anticipates that a rescue attempt will be made and it will also free up Darth Caedus should he wish to be. This plays into our role here, because the Jedi can support us better if we are keeping the Alliance and Empire from winning the Battle of Roche and ending the war.”

    The room went silent at that. Everyone, to some degree, knew that the war was going badly, but none of them, bar the Jedi Masters behind Iella and of course Talon, Booster and Lando, would have access to the kind of information to draw that conclusion.

    “What we also know is that Bwua’tu will inevitably head to the Roche system. Now, as the prisoner transfer has yet to take place, we can assume that it will when Caedus hands over command to Bwua’tu. Which means we know we have to be in the Roche system, preferably before Caedus makes whatever big play he has in mind.”

    Tycho held up his fingers. “Our mission will consist of three stages. One, our arrival, before Bwua’tu, which will consist of distraction, much like the way Rakehell Squadron distracted Rogue Squadron at the Battle of Centerpoint Station, until we are in position. This is why the Task Force will be code-named Rakehell.” A few nods of understanding there. “The second stage will involve knocking down the shields of whatever vessel that Bwua’tu commandeers, and then commando teams inserting aboard his ship. I shall be re-assigning some of you to different groups, and I know that Jagged and Zekk have been requested by Master Skywalker to return with Masters Clighal, Durron and Horn.” He waved to the Jedi again, indicating them. “We will be split into groups with different names assigned to their roles: Team Distraction, consisting of the majority of our space-based forces; Team Insertion, consisting of the Unit and Lando’s Commandos, for want of a better name, and supported by Rakehell Squadron, and Team Surprise, which will consists of Wraith Squadron, which will be responsible for giving us the opportunity to complete the third stage – extraction.

    Face raised a hand. “Yes, Face?”

    “Do we get discretion in how we can formulate our distraction? We heard that Bwua’tu may be bringing the Megador and it’s been years since we stole a Super Star Destroyer.”

    Tycho grinned. “Yes, you can have as much discretion as you want. Just don’t interfere with Distraction and Insertions missions, and remember that Surprise needs to take place after Insertion.”

    “Yes, yes,” Face said, waving a hand and dismissing him. “We promise not to blow up things until we’re told.”

    “That takes the fun out of blowing up things,” said Kell, deadpan. Tyria chortled and lightly slapped her heavy-set husband on the shoulder.

    “Anymore questions before I start giving you mission assignments?”

    “I have one,” said Booster, which a few of the gathered pilots laughed at. Tycho turned slightly to face the old smuggler. “Which one of those missions gets you? I don’t remember signing up to get bossed around by someone in uniform.” Wes snickered, and Tycho allowed himself a moment to glare in his direction.

    “Team Distraction is under my personal command, which includes you.”

    Booster pursed his lips. “Oh joy.”

    Iella shook her head at all of this, at the collected mirth at the launch of yet another suicide mission, this time to save the man who had ordered the last suicide mission she had vetoed. This one she had organised, and had brought more of her friends and extended family together.

    She looked at Corran as he laid a hand on her shoulder, trying to read the expression of her oldest friend, of the person who had been her partner in CorSec, four decades previously – the one person in this entire galaxy, apart from Wedge as her husband, she trusted more than herself. “Aren’t you worried that this is another Myrkr, and I’m taking your children to their deaths?”

    Corran didn’t smile, but he certainly didn’t look glum. “Valin and Jysella are older than Anakin was at Myrkr, and I cannot make their decisions for them. I have faith in Master Skywalker’s decision to help you save Wedge. If you distract or even capture Bwua’tu, it may very well turn the tide of the war. Your missions should not run parallel to ours; they are both aimed at undoing the situation that Darth Caedus has caused...” Corran shook his head. “It’s not even a matter of the logical thing to do, and that it helps the war end. Wedge, Tycho and Winter are our friends, and friends help out. It’s a volunteer-only mission, and nobody has turned away from that.”

    “We’re just doing our best, in a world gone mad.”

    Iella found some comfort in the honesty of her friend, who seemed nine-parts mysterious Jedi Master more often than not. “Alright,” Iella said, kissing Corran on the cheek and heading towards Tycho. “I just hope Luke realises that before he becomes the next problem.”

    ---

    Leia Organa Solo, Jedi Knight, former three time Chief of State of the New Republic and Princess of a lost world, went in search of her brother, Luke Skywalker, rather than the Grandmaster of the Jedi Order. He had, since the Battle of Roche had started and with the continued absence of Ben, withdrawn from the Order, requesting that he not be disturbed until Jaina was deemed ready by Clighal and Tekli.

    Hours had turned into days, and days were on the verge of becoming a week, when it became apparent that Luke was hiding. And so, Leia had divined that he needed to be brought back by his sister. Leaving Han to repair the Falcon with Threepio and Artoo, she had allowed the Force to lead her to a disused and practically abandoned part of Uroro Station. The entirety of the station had not been fully explored beyond the dispatch of YVH sniffer mouse droids to ensure that none of the Hapan nobles had left any surprises for the Jedi, had they someone gotten wind of the Order’s relocation here from Endor.

    Leia opened her eyes and found herself looking at a hangar bay, and the Jade Shadow. Her heart leapt in her throat at the sight of Mara’s former ship, which Corran and Kyp had insisted be recovered when the Jedi had broken with Caedus at the Battle of Kuat. Valin, Syal and the other members of ‘the Unit’ had successfully done this, and the ship had not been heard of since. Leia had mentioned it to Ben, and he didn’t even know what had happened to it.

    And now Leia knew.

    Luke had hidden it, so he could be with Mara, on his own terms. It was endearingly sweet, and she had no doubt that she would have kept the Falcon if anything where to happen to Han, so she would keep a small piece of her love nearby. Tears brimmed her eyes, and she felt rather than saw Luke behind her as he placed his hands on her shoulders. She took those hands and drew her brother close, tucking her head under his chin and closing her eyes.

    “I am so sorry.”

    “For?”

    Luke’s voice caused Leia to look up at him, and she saw a haggard man that just looked so very aged. She knew from Ben that her brother had found some balance after the duel with her son, the duel that had nearly taken both Luke and Ben down a dark path. Ben had rekindled hope in Luke, while Leia, Han, Zekk, Jagged and Jaina had all dealt with Alema Rar – the woman who they had all believed was Mara’s murderer. And for those weeks when they had believed that, Luke had been able to focus on Caedus, and foiled his plans for Centerpoint Station and destroyed the superweapon in an act that had given shape to the Jedi Coalition and given them all a major morale boost – Centerpoint was gone, Allana was saved, and Alema killed – a trio of victories that had buoyed the hopes of millions across the galaxy... and of course drawn the ire of every politician and military leader in the galaxy, but such things were unimportant to Jedi when they were doing the right thing.

    And then Mara’s murderer and Darth Caedus and Jacen Solo, Han and Leia’s son, had become one and the same, and Luke’s ability to fight the evil that their son represented had wavered. He had withdrawn from the physical world into his own, and while Han and Leia had tried to draw him back, they had not entirely succeeded, and until Darth Caedus was dead – and even in her own thoughts, Leia shuddered with sadness at such an idea – Luke would never be free of the burden he carried. The burden of Mara’s husband, of Caedus’s Master, of Jacen’s uncle.

    Luke needed to be the light of the galaxy more than ever, and he couldn’t always find the light in himself, now. Jaina represented that light more than ever now, but that light had been forged into a Sword, one which Luke needed to wield against the Sith once again, and, hopefully, for the last time.

    Leia stepped back from her brother and met his eyes.

    “Tell me what is wrong.”

    Luke looked at her, and then through her, and so Leia took his hands in hers, cupping them and speaking softly. “You can still confide in me.”

    “In the mother of my wife’s killer?”

    Leia winced, but nodded, wordlessly. “I am those things. But I am also your twin sister.”

    Luke’s gaze wavered, and he broke her grip to run his real hand down across his face in a gesture of weariness. “I am trying to find what makes me different from Jacen. We’re both playing dejarik with the very fate and future of the galaxy, even if it is for different ends.”

    “Iella would disagree with you about now, what with the resources you have given to her to save Wedge and Winter.”

    “Yes, and Isolder would have too, knowing that I asked him to go and retrieve Ben, when I could just have easily let him make his own way back to us.”

    Leia canted her head. “Those are decisions incompatible with you being a Sith Lord, who abandons individuals whenever it suits him.” She snorted softly, and added. “It isn’t even compatible with a certain Mon Calamari Admiral, who abandoned Tycho and caused that mess.”

    “Yes! Exactly!” said Luke as he stepped towards her, eyes momentarily wild, causing Leia some hesitation. “But my decisions will get people killed, and then they become selfish goals. I send Isolder to save my son; I hand Jedi and men and womens lives to Iella to save two of my oldest friends. How is that any more or less corrupt than the actions of a Sith Lord?”

    Leia steeled herself, and place her hands on Luke’s wrists, holding them. His hands closed around hers, and she spoke with force. “Because you’re human, and Jacen is trying to forget that. He wants every decision to be perfect and logical, but he doesn’t realise that it’s all coloured by him being human. He’s not a deity, and neither are you! Saving Wedge and Winter is a good thing to do. It is only incidental that such an effort distracts Bwua’tu at a critical moment.”

    “And Ben? What can a teenage Jedi achieve that a Prince of Hapes cannot achieve?”

    “What have you seen, Luke,” Leia said, as Luke stepped away from her, retreating as if wounded. And then she knew. “What have you done, that makes you feel so guilty?”

    Luke turned away, striding towards the exit. He stopped at the entrance and looked back at her. “Only what I have had to.”

    ---

    Supreme Commander Turr Phennir, leader of the Confederation of the governments of Corellia, Bothawui, Commenor, Nal Hutta and a host of other sectors, systems and worlds, watched with pained fascination as his two remaining Strident-class Star Defenders, Saxan and Bel Iblis exchanged fire with the Star Destroyers of the Fourth Fleet, be they the latest iteration of the venerable Victory-class Star Destroyer or the more modern Galactic-class battle carriers. The two most powerful vessels remaining in the Confederation repitoire of capital ships, beyond those of the Rendilli III-class assault frigates and Bothan Assault Cruisers he had available, were drawing the majority of the Fourth’s fire, insofar as much as the Bounty was doing the same with Imperial fire, while the words of his lost speech ran through his mind.

    I speak to you now not just as Supreme Commander Phennir, leader of the Confederation, but as a former Imperial and as a former soldier who fought beside you all against the Yuuzhan Vong horde. It has come to me to explain why the Confederation is here. We, did, indeed, secede from the Galactic Alliance and caused the power struggle which had led to this day, with a shattered galaxy on the edge of being conquered by Darth Caedus, the Galactic Alliance, and their Imperial allies.

    It was at this point that his words had been taken away from him, and the communications ships within the Imperial formation had allowed Darth Caedus to put words in his mouth, a beautiful piece of choreography that was pure Sith, Imperial and Bothan malice given birth, just like this entire engagement. It was at this point he had lost control of this war.

    Today is the day that this struggle stops.

    Today was instead the day when the Alliance-in-Exile, undoubtedly having heard enough from the Confederation leader, cut silent the channels which Phennir had been addressing, cutting off the ersatz Phennir also, but also severing the only chance this galaxy had to win this war. Now, Phennir was unable to influence the war, and his envoys had not returned, destroyed regardless of his efforts to send them – even those he sent on differing routes, to instead address the Jedi Coalition, had been lost.

    To think he had once held control of this entire war, in his very hands, and he had lost it.

    Today is the day when we offer our complete assistance to Admiral Niathal, Admiral Daala, President Vadde, Prince Isolder, Chief Toojelnoot and Grandmaster Skywalker in ending the scourge of Darth Caedus, and surrender ourselves to a new Galactic Alliance, a new alliance formed at this very engagement – our Battle of Endor, our Battle of Saijo, our Battle of N’Zoth, our Battle of Yavin 4, our Battle of Ebaq 9 – the chance for a new start.

    Some start.

    Fyor Rodan had dropped beyond desperation, and had to be confined to his quarters aboard the Master Stroke when his words had started to damage the morale of the crew. The Bothans had only lightly acknowledged his orders since the fiasco, and even internal cohesiveness was collapsing. If it wasn’t for Kre’frey, then Phennir doubted the Bothans would even be here any more. But even then, Phennir had not heard from Kre’frey for a full day, and he was starting to fear, as the Bothans became more difficult – like the Corellian had under Sadras Koyran – that Kre’frey had finally fell to Bothan intrigue. The handful of vessels contributed by others – Hutt chelandions, Bimm customs frigates and Commenori Carrack-class cruisers, Eriaduan Adz-class picket destroyers – were not sufficient to be considered politically, and the sum total war effort of the Confederation was starting to be picked apart.

    That start will commence here and now – and the beings of this galaxy will come together once more in peace and harmony, and we will resolve our differences not with our weapons, but with the acknowledgement that this kind of war can never ever be allowed to happen again.

    But of course, now, it would. Everyone would fight on, and on, even if they had lost, and the chaos would continue, until the stars burned out, and the cycle between Empire and Alliance, Sith and Jedi, Chaos and Order, would never end.

    This ends now.

    Yes, ‘this’ would – the Second Galactic Civil War.

    But the greater war?

    Never.

    But Turr Phennir would fight. He would fight, until he had his Order. Even if he had to kill Darth Caedus with his bare hands. To the Nine Corellian Hells with scheming Bothans and Corellians so full of bravado that they didn’t know when they had lost. He turned his mind back, and his heart and soul, forged into swords which would defeat those who sought only chaos, to war, and ending it once and for all.

    ---

    Admiral Nek Bwua’tu had half-expected to hear from Traest one more time before the final engagement begun. They had not parted on good terms, and he doubted that they would have opportunity to speak again if Traest insisted upon following the Confederation through this battle.

    He and Caedus had pain-stakingly – with the aid of his literal visions and Bwua’tu’s strategic vision – mapped out the entirety of the Roche engagement, starting with the inevitable decision by the Jedi to attempt to kill Caedus, to the arrival of Daala, Niathal and Fett to take advantage, and following from that the arrival of the Confederation to use the groundwork lain by everyone before. And so, they had used them all.

    The first actions of Caedus upon his arrival to Nickel One had been to surreptitiously install gravity well generators in all of the major planetoids of the Roche Asteroid Belt, and to pretend he had lost the sensors and communications network to the Verpine resistance network,with the aim of transforming the Roche system into a massive Centerpoint Station, taking cue from the first Corellian Insurrection over two decades prior, in a delicious irony that even Bwua’tu had appreciated.

    On top of that, Bwua’tu had strategically withdrew from engagement theatres across the galaxy after injecting Imperial strength into the battles, so as to create the impression that they were on the run, all while Caedus and his GAG left most of the Confederation a broken chain of isolated systems and sectors. Caedus had left out the details of the latter operations to Bwua’tu, undoubtedly because Bwua’tu would have made every effort to oppose such actions.

    The pivot in the entire scheme had been Admiral Cha Niathal, who Caedus had assured him would misstep in her decisions involving Tycho Celchu, and he would specifically target Winter Celchu during the follow-up rescue attempt. Captain Girdun of the GAG had arranged the former, but only the timely arrival of an injured Caedus had allowed the betrayal of Special Agent Juun to be mitigated. This then allowed Caedus to pressure Niathal to the point of no return, when the Confederation arrived and Phennir undoubtedly attempted to sermonise them all, the old style Imperial theatricality – evident at the Battle of Gilatter – very likely to betray Phennir as it had at Gilatter, when he had inadvertently allowed Caedus to warn the GA Ninth Fleet of a mine field.

    Bwua’tu rapped his claws on his chair as he ran his mind over this entire chain events, started by the decision of the Moff Council, lobbied by the two Moffs, Moffs Calron the Elder and Pualan, as a matter of principle. That bothered Bwua’tu for some reason, more than his concerns about Traest, and more than the inevitability of the discussion he was ostensibly hosting, during a layover before the allotted time for his arrival in the Roche system. Was it the sensation he had that Caedus knew about the Roche offensive... even beyond his visions of a Mandalorian attack on the Moffs?

    Making a conscious effort, he tuned back into the aforementioned discussion as Commodore Brand, an avowed anti-Caedus and militant in his solutions, slammed his fist down on the table, the hologram transmitter not picking up the noise, assuming it was background noise, but nonetheless causing the hologram to waver. “We are rapidly running out of time. The Battle of Roche is running exactly to Caedus’ timescale. In a matter of days, the war will be, for intents and purposes, over. Even the sudden arrival of the Hapan Home Fleet, either at Roche or on some Jedi-led assault on Coruscant, will not swing the scales once the Megador arrives.”

    “We can only rely upon the Jedi to kill Caedus before that happens,” commented aged Carlist Rieekan, in a small shake of the head. “We know they are waiting for Jaina Solo to -”

    My sources tell me that Jaina will take days to recover sufficiently enough for Luke to send her back,” came A’bath, short as ever. Bwua’tu’s sources within the Confederation had dutifully provided him that scrap of information, as well, and as such he could not comment. “And half the reason Caedus has stayed put is that he has had to recover from the fight he had with her and Luke.”

    “Which means that it is becoming more inevitable that we will have to act,” said Brand, standing and drawing the holographic eyes of the other military officers gathered here, including such names as Airen Cracken, Ethan A’bath, Firmus Nantz and Kir Vantai.

    Bwua’tu absently reflected that he was currently one of the few officers who had come to prominence while fighting in the Yuuzhan Vong War. Almost all of the officers here were those who had fought the Empire, and almost all of the officers excluded who were known for their pro-Caedus stances were those who had fought against the extragalactic invaders and had been elevated by that war – veterans such as Eldo Davip, Godt, Muun, Yeel, Rabb and Atoko - conspicuous among them being Krefrey, Ba’tra and Babo, all now Confederation supporters. Separate from these were officers who had no political stance and had managed to steer clear of the madness, officers with notable careers but were renowned for being behind the limelight rather than in it, officers who had rose following the Yuuzhan Vong War such as Stavin Thaal, Merratt Jaxton and Sallinor Parova.

    He was, as such, in the minority of those who seemed to understand that just because the Empire would have been a better suited government to fight the Yuuzhan Vong from a purely military standpoint, that did not make it a better suited government on a purely ethical basis. As such, there were three factions of Galactic Alliance officers – Empire, Yuuzhan Vong and post-Yuuzhan Vong.With a few rare exceptions, this was the way in which the higher echelons of the military had thus far separated, and often left Bwua’tu wondering if a military under the command of Sien Sovv would have fractured as it had under Gilad Pellaeon and then Cha Niathal – and would do so again under him.

    And so that was why this group of officers was meeting surreptitiously, one more time, before Darth Caedus won. Bwua’tu had understood that the Jedi had held such a meeting before the Battle of Kuat – parallel to his own with the Defence Force – and decided, on the basis of the death of Cal Omas, to leave mid-battle. The Defence Force, for it’s part, intended to act with considerable more precision – to strike the moment the war was won, and depose Caedus in a coup on Coruscant led by the Galactic Alliance Space Marines, including notable units such as the Katarn Commandos and the Void Jumpers, which would be pitted against the depleted units of the Galactic Alliance Guard – the Guard itself having been wounded by its recent actions on Corellia and now mostly gathered aboard the Anakin Solo.

    The Galactic Alliance did not have a traditional Army like the Empire or New Republic of old, despite the repeated assertions of Stavin Thaal that such a thing was necessary for any government, and as such the Marines were the sum total of the elite soldiers they had to hand bar the military police.

    Bwua’tu had not given his approval or even disapproval of the decisions of Brand and the others to meet, couching all of his terms in ones which were neutral. The Defence Force had eventually realised his vow of krevi kept him from actively working against the Alliance’s best interests, and at best he could, in the spirit of his vow, help guide it like a wayward child back to the correct path and do what was best for the Alliance as a whole. This had elevated him in the opinion of the military, who viewed him sympathetically, and also in the eyes of his enemies, who understood he was quite literally honour-bound to fulfil his pledge of loyalty to the Alliance.

    In this case, however, he enquired cautiously. “Have you met up with the relevant parties?”

    Brand paused, and glanced to his colleagues in a moment of surprise. “There were only a few politicians we could really rely upon, with credentials that spoke well for democracy. And so we have met with Senators Marrab, A’Kla and Ranth, among others, to propose that we select Ponc Gavrisom to be interim Chief of State.”

    “Giving him?”

    “A single term, four years, with emergency powers. We have managed to convince -”

    “- manipulate -” interrupted Nantz, stoic as ever.

    convince,” said Brand, straining to maintain his calm, “Haydnaat Treen, the Senator of Kuat, to circulate an Emergency Measures Act, as she is not associated with the more vocal commentators on Caedus’ excesses, nor those who support him, such as Senator G’Sil. We do not believe that Caedus will pick up on this, as it, by and large, would be poised to hand him more power.”

    “And we can trust Gavrisom with this?” Bwua’tu asked, if only to be the Sith advocate.

    Brand snorted. “The Chief of State who signed the Bastion Accords? Yes, we are sure.”

    “Though I am concerned that this plan, and manipulation of the Senate, relies upon, once again, a Senator from Kuat.” A’bath commented.

    “This is not Fondor again.” Brand was of course making reference to the manipulation of Senator Viqi Shesh of Kuat during the Yuuzhan Vong War, requesting she vote that Bothawui be reinforced rather than Corellia, so as to trick the Yuuzhan Vong into attacking there. Due to Shesh’s betrayal, the Yuuzhan Vong had instead struck at Fondor, all but inflicting a death blow to the New Republic’s war effort. “For one, it’s our only choice.”

    Bwua’tu retreated to his neutrality, looking back to the stars beyond the ready room. The various military officers represented by hologram looked to each other and then to Brand. He was a blunt as ever. “Are you with us?”

    The Bothan allowed his fur to ripple in consternation, an expression he could not control. He was not a kingmaker like Phennir. “I will follow whichever government reigns. I am not a politician. As I have said, several times before – I am not cunning enough for politics.”

    “But your support will be crucial,” commented A’bath, carefully.

    “And you will have it, should you be in a position to command it.”

    Rieekan sighed. “That is all we can hope for.”

    Bwua’tu’s chrono chimed. He did not look at it, and instead looked from one expectant face to the other. “And that, my friends, is all you can hope for from me. My vow of krevi means I must be loyal to the Galactic Alliance. I hope you understand that, as I now have a war to win with Lord Caedus.” He stood, allowing himself a faint smile. “Wait for me finish it, please.”

    Brand nodded, and signed off, as too did the others, one after the other. The Bothan stood for a short time, staring at the empty room, at the cause he was dutybound to hope would fail, but knew that it would happen again and again as long as Darth Caedus continued his reign. Perhaps whomever succeeded him Bwua’tu could get close to before they became a lunatic, and he could thwart another dictator like the one that Coruscant had happily embraced. His name to them, could have been Jabba the Hutt for all they cared, if he brought them security. The people had needed that, and wanted it. It was why they had voted Cal Omas back into office three times. It was they had embraced the Galactic Alliance Guard if it meant their homes were safe. It was why they had accepted a military coup, and then the rise of a Sith to power, less than three decades after the defeat of Palpatine.

    This entire war could be lain at the feet of the Yuuzhan Vong, and the fear they had caused within the galaxy. A renewed Empire in the systems most damaged by the invaders. A militant galaxy full of fleets led by powers such as the Hutts and Bothans, who had ordinarily relied upon intrigue and subterfuge as their weapons rather than martial might. A belief that might did mean right, and could not possibly lead to wrongs that would require nothing more than more might – in an endless cycle of violence and savagery that had resulted in a war which had gone from political skirmishing to full blown genocide.

    The scars of the Yuuzhan Vong War on the collective psyche of the galaxy would take years to heal, even as this conflict torn apart the physical wounds that the Alliance had made effort to recover. Bwua’tu estimated, generously, that the recovery from the Yuuzhan Vong War had been put back centuries. Only a concerted effort by powers of the galaxy – which had demonstrated recently and often that altruism was not their foremost consideration – in the form of some kind of mission would be enough. Bwua’tu had discussed it, once, with Han Solo, of all people, after the Killik Crisis, when they reflected on how Han would never have existed in this orderly galaxy with Jacen Solo present. Han had left the conversation looking concerned, while little Lord Caedus had seemed positively amused with the outcome.

    Yet another consideration that nagged at Bwua’tu’s mind.

    His chrono chimed again, the real alarm, the first simply an opportunity for Bwua’tu to clear his mind for the coming engagement. And so, with a quick check of himself in his mirror, to ensure that none of the stresses churning in him were even remotely visible to the crew, and with a nod to the sole bust of Admiral Ackbar that he had aboard, Supreme Commander Nek Bwua’tu took a deep breath.

    And walked to war.

    ---

    Moff Lecersen, aboard the Third Vengeance, one of the larger Star Destroyers in the Imperial Fleet, with the rest of the reduced Moff Council, looked to his colleagues as they surveyed the engagement yet again. The three opposing forces, the fleets of the Jedi Coalition, Alliance-in-Exile and Confederation – in order of the closeness of their deployments to Nickel One – had perched themselves above each of the closest major planetoids, and deployed what few ground troops they had in an effort to disable the jamming field surrounding them. This was where the Empire was in its element, and their scans showing elderly AT-STs and modern AT-AHTs bombarding enemy positions while Starhunters and TIE Defenders duelled with their counterparts. Planetary defence weapons, formerly under the control of the Verpine and now under Imperial command, were keeping back the majority of the capital ships that the orbiting fleets could afford to detach without exposing the rest to the fire of the Imperial and Fourth Fleets, some vessels of which were equipped with long-range turbolasers, and of course the supplies of Imperial fighters which continually harassed their forces.

    Neither the Confederation, Alliance-in-Exile or Jedi Coalition were well equipped for surface engagements, while the Empire was used to subjugating populations and exceedingly ready for such battles. In the days that the had followed the arrival of the Confederation and the initial jamming, the various factions had barely established a decent foothold on their respective planetoids, and the situation in the galaxy at large was far more likely to resolve itself before they won their ground battles. Underground, the local advantage in capital ships meant for nothing, and Imperial Stormtroopers had mired Bothan saboteurs, Hapan guardsmen and Wookiee beserkers at numerous points.

    Lecersen was, ostensibly, pleased, but they were no farther forward to winning the war it was unclear if the Alliance and Empire at large even knew about their predicament. Only factioning had kept them in this battle, but then again, factioning had started the war so it was unlikely the Jedi were going to mass forgive the Confederation for using Centerpoint and creating secret fleets, ditto the Hapans the Corellians for the attempted coup. Niathal was equally unlikely to negotiate with the Confederation, and Daala would hardly support a Jedi solution.

    “So our grand alliance with Lord Caedus has achieved little but a stalemate,” said Moff Vansyn, into the quiet of the Moffs as they poured over the few reports they had obtained from the stealth-equipped couriers.

    “A fairly useful one,” said Moff Travin, and Moff Wolbam nodded in agreement. “We have our enemies gathered in one place – bar the Hapan Home Fleet – and they have us outnumbered and outgunned – which they would have done in either case had Caedus and the Fourth Fleet not been here, I hasten to add - ” More grunts of agreement from the other Moffs. “- but they cannot agree on a common approach because they think they can win. The longer that Bwua’tu stays away with the rest of the war, the longer that confidence builds.”

    “Lord Caedus is allowing them to maintain that until they become overconfident, and make a foolish mistake.” Lecersen commented, leaning on the planning table and disrupting the edge of the hologram of the system. “Or until the paranoia gets to them.”

    “Paranoia?” joked Moff Malvek. “The fact that we’re all sitting here, waiting for Caedus to drop the other foot, is supposed to cause paranoia? I certainly feel paranoid.” Malvek jabbed a podgy finger at Lecersen. “You know very well that he anticipated this, and let us get overconfident and overextend ourselves. We have been manipulated ourselves.”

    “Unless you intend to blame Caedus for the motion tabled by Calron and Pualan, and then supported by ourselves in our entirety, I do not see how we can blame him entirely,” said Lecersen, a scowl touching his expression. “We wanted to punish Fett, and short of fighting a ridiculously long-winded war of attrition with him at Mandalore or incinerating the entirety of the Mandalore Sector to gain a few systems with little assets or resources we actually care about, this was the best way to do it – and net the munition factories of the Verpine too.”

    A murmur of assent rolled around the Moffs, grudging, as ever. “Besides,” said Lecersen, with mirth on his lips. “We have also consolidated the power inside the Empire beneath us, too. There were too many Moffs, and that did not benefit either of us. Pellaeon, bless his soul, was creating the stratification between us and him that we would expect of Palpatine. First Grand Moffs, and then what next? High Moffs?”

    The Moffs snorted as one. “All such actions did was divide us, the Moff Council, the true power in the Empire. And, soon, the Galactic Alliance, when we rebuild it in our image.”

    “Under Lord Caedus,” murmured Moff Rezer said, glumly.

    “We need a figurehead,” said Lecersen, a note of reminder to his tone. “And he can be the one who is deposed by us...”

    Rezer’s eyes lightened up. “And we can be the heroes who saved the galaxy from the Sith, and dispensed with the Jedi!”

    Lecersen nodded with conviction. “All we need do is win here, and the galaxy will be ours for the taking.”

    With a joint nod, and looks of greedy encouragement, the Moff Council turned its mind back to the war.

    ---

    Syal Antilles was, for her part, sick of the war.

    And, as wars went, it was a relatively short one, but probably, she had decided, one of the most confusing ones to boot. She chewed over that thought as the task force accelerated through hyperspace, more than three dozen freighters in various states of modification and overmodification that would have made the Falcon blush, supported by yachts, fighter squadrons and even a pair of Corellian Gunships, all surrounding the Errant Venture, complete with as many guns as a half a weeks of rushed preparation and the combined resources of Lando Calrissian, Crev Bombassa, Talon Karrde, Mazzic, Ellor, Booster Terrik and a host of other former crimelords who owed Wedge Antilles a favour, or owed a friend of his a favour. It was, after a fashion, a mirror image of the fleet that Natasi Daala had gathered, and had, in the past, been a counterweight to what Syal understood was a quite deranged terror rampage in the years after the final death of Emperor Palpatine, another Sith and the equivalent of the great-grandfather of Darth Caedus in Sith terms...

    ... Syal struggled to come to terms with how they had so quickly came to blows, and repeating the mistakes of before. Democracy had morphed into a dictatorship in fewer months than Palpatine had been in charge of the Republic in years, and yet Daala was considered a hero and had rushed in to defeat her former Imperial colleagues.

    Being on the outside of galactic government was one of the most perverse concepts Syal could work around. Did outlaws have lives? Did they get married, have children, or even have chance to be happy? Her father had retired twice, only to be dragged into the violence again and become an outlaw before he could retire a third time. And how did they cope with the feeling of being constantly on the back foot, or being on the run every day... of fighting for the right to breath air that was free?

    Syal Antilles had decided, several months before, that father was simply made of stronger stuff than her, but Tyria had repetitively disagreed. As had the other Rakehells. It was all a matter of making a decision, said Volu, and Sanola Ti agreed. Syal looked over to the spot where Jag had been – yet another pilot absent and focused on a personal goal to stay the course.

    And yet Syal ached with the loss of her fiancé, and would not wish it on anyone. Derek Klivian and Pash Cracken, aged veterans in the gun turrets, had both managed to marry once or twice and settle down, and thus far had managed to keep their loved ones out of the war. Perhaps that was the route to happiness? One of you leaving to fight while the other stayed back to safeguard the family? She shook her head – that didn’t sound or even feel right.

    “Calm, Leader,” said Tyria, as she looked over the controls for what was the fifth or sixth time since they had jumped from the Transistory Mists for Roche – a straight line jump adjusted a light minute from the system to account for long-range scans and then a quick hop back into hyperspace. “We have but a few moments before the battle commences and then you will not have time for questions.”

    “Two,” said Syal, slipping into combat talk swiftly. “You’re a Jedi. You can wish away your concerns and they are gone.”

    Tyria Sarkin-Tainer gave her a knowing smile. “I am not a particularly good Jedi, and in-fact am an even weaker pilot, but I know that carrying baggage into a battle will mean it slows you down... and gets your Squadron killed.”

    Taking the reproach to heart, Syal looked back to the pilots controls and took a deep breath, clearing her mind once or twice more before Pash’s voice came over the comm. “About time your wobbler leg stopped.”

    Syal blushed as she realised that her concentration had caused her old habit to start up, but keyed the internal comm. and allowed mock annoyance to flood her tone. “Your ears are playing up again, Four.”

    Hobbie’s snigger came over the line, and then he sounded mournful. “We’re being led to our death by children.”

    “Time,” snapped Volu, clearly more jumpy than the rest of them. “Decanting in five, four, three...”

    Syal threw her attention back to the pilots yoke and, the moment they burst from hyperspace yanked it to the left, away from the task force, bringing the blastboats nose around and taking stock of the situation. Static filled the comm. lines, but she waggled the wings of the blastboat to indicate, by line of sight, that all was right on her flank; before her was strewn out the capital ships of the Alliance-in-Exile, with the modern Star Destroyers of the Fondorian complement closest, and then the motley vessels of Daala’s Maw Irregular Fleet, and then, further out, Cha Niathal’s Mon Calamari vessels, the immense Bounty taking center stage to them all.

    Task Force Rakehell, named after the deployment which had been assigned as nothing more than a massive distraction for the Jedi mission to destroy Centerpoint, was itself a massive distraction, ostensibly a reinforcement of the gap between the Jedi Coalition and the Alliance-in-Exile, the former which was to starboard of the Venture and it’s ensemble cast of the Smugglers Alliance. Flanked by the Taanab Yellow-Aces, reformed and once again under Wes Janson, Syal led them and her blastboat to the fringes of the task force, picking at squadrons of Alliance E-wings and Imperial Starhunters as they buzzed the Alliance-in-Exile. There was a gap between the three fleets opposing the Fourth and Imperial Fleets, though not vast enough one to prevent them from harassing each other with light fire. In that expanse were hundreds of starfighters, seeking to secure the space between the other. And while Alliance and Imperial space superiority fighters were more than a match for Bothan A-9 Vigilances, Hapan fighter craft and even Wookiee Owools, in sufficient numbers, they were also hopeless outnumbered, even with the assistance of several planetoid-based wings of TIE Interceptors and Preybird fighters.

    It was a glorious stalemate, and one which Tycho – in command of the mission – had anticipated would be broken by none other than Nek Bwua’tu. And if they could get people aboard his flagship, the Megador, they could prepare to run interference when Wedge and Winter were transferred to his care, and even intercept the transfer, if they were lucky enough.

    Touring the fringes of the engagement, Syal actually found that this colossal stand-off, this limbo that the galaxy was in, allowed herself to find her purposes again – if she was caught between her conflicting emotions and unable to find her role in a galaxy in a mad war, a war which the entire galaxy was unsure of it’s rhyme and reason, in ways that the first Galactic Civil War and the Yuuzhan Vong War had never caused people to question, then why complain?

    She didn’t need an existential crisis to resolve herself – just the realisation that, when everything was in flux, all you could do was hold on to what was important.

    And that meant she was going to save her father.

    One way or another.

    ---

    Even without the ability to communicate beyond the boundaries of line of sight, Admiral Cha Niathal still had access to the full suite of sensors, from which she could watch the newly arrived Jedi Coalition fleet. It was not aligned towards the Hapan and Wookiee fleets, which suggested to her that it had an entirely different mission to reinforcing the push on the Imperial and Fourth Fleets.

    That, for its part, did not help her suspicions that there was something more to the Battle of Roche than a simple, all encompassing unification of the anti-Caedus forces at the last possible moment. Niathal was starting, for example, to become suspicious of Daala’s motives in this engagement. One moment, the Mandalorians had control of the Verpine communications grid and were using it to feed them tactical information and detailed analyses of the Imperial fleet’s status, which had been running through the Verpine network to give the Moffs full control of the battle, and the next, that self-same system is jamming all transmissions and giving the larger Destroyers, complete with their own communication jammers, the ability to blanket transmissions throughout the system.

    They could hardly withdraw, either, as the system simply could not stay in Caedus’ hands, and their withdrawal would mean that the Hapan, Wookiee and Confederation forces simply could not hold Caedus here. What had originally been Daala and Niathal’s big gambit to lure the competing factions to the cause, had been turned into a trap for them.

    And then consider Phennir’s aborted speech. He had declared his loyalty to Caedus, and then the channel had been cut. It hadn’t been cut by Niathal, so who else? It made sense for Daala to cut the line, to prevent them from linking up. And now, without the communications, it could be suggested that Confederation offered had been rebuffed – what other reason could Phennir have for staying in-system then the fact that he, too, had everything to gain in remaining.

    Could they both be lies?

    And could Niathal risk the quarter of the Galactic Alliance Third Fleet – complete with the Bounty – on which one was a lie? Caedus was still in-system, when he could have pushed out, or even called in more reinforcements – had he been responsible for the jamming - and every day the engagement dragged on the Roche munitions industry was being more and more damaged...

    ... and her envoys to the Hapans and Wookiees were being constantly going absent without leave, and she didn’t simply have ships to spare to withdraw, what with their stalled offensive on the fourth planetoid in the system...

    ... she simply did not know who to trust, and after over four weeks of being on edge, of working, and fighting, and these last few days of intense warfare and the twists and turns attached to Winter’s capture and Phennir’s betrayal and the jamming...

    ... and now, a motley array of vessels launching for the heart of the system but not directly, as if they, too, were waiting for something to happen and were not actually here to tip the balance of the engagement in any direction in particular.

    Admiral Cha Niathal was on the edge of making a decision, and forcing the galaxy towards its destiny. All of the fleets of the Confederation and Jedi Coalition were in range of those of the Alliance-in-Exile... ditto the forces of the Imperial and Fourth Fleets...

    She looked to the viewscreen that had Phennir’s fleet, which had been responsible, all but entirely, for this stalemate, if Daala was to be trusted – and notably had only fired into the Imperial forces when they had arrived... Was Phennir simply cementing Caedus’ control over a reduced Moff Council and a reduced Imperial Navy? Admiral Poinard had not been heard from since that first surprise barrage from the Confederation, after all... had Phennir been in league with Caedus all along? If Phennir was gone, then the Corellians and Bothans would have no choice but to support the Alliance-in-Exile...

    She had to make a decision. There was a sense of urgency to the galaxy, and she could not get it out of her. She simply had to do something.

    Now.

    ---

    Darth Caedus withdrew from the presence of Admiral Cha Niathal, and took a moment to reassert himself in his own body, releasing a breath he had not realised, in his deep and meditative state, that he had been holding in. He lowered himself to the floor, placing his feet down and opening his eyes, his cape flowing to the ground and settling on a thin layer of dust, indicative of how long he had been in his trance, aboard his private chambers on the Relentless, with the rest of remaining Moffs. Taking a mental check that his troops of bodyguards were outside the room– Bothan assassins were as numerous as ever, after all – he allowed his mind to drift to his efforts.

    The Mon Calamari was an incredibly strong-willed individual, and he had been forced to lean on her for the entirety of the Battle of Roche to influence her will. The analogy of a wave, eroding at a piece of land, was not too far from the truth, and it pleased him that a water analogy could be applied to the situation. After days of battle, with little rest and chance for her to recuperate – chances he had ensured were taken away from the battered Ocean, as it was sidled up beside the mammoth Bounty, at every opportunity – he had been able to finally slip through the cracks and push on that aggression and paranoia.

    A few more pushes, and she would be exactly where he wanted her.

    It was all a matter of timing, delicately mapped out by him and Admiral Bwua’tu before the Moffs even advanced on the Roche Asteroid Belt. After a certain number of days, the Bothan would arrive, and the battle would be joined, and, finally, his trap would be complete.

    Darth Caedus had everything right where he wanted, actually, bar the Jedi. That, more than anything, was niggling at his back. With the Hapan and Wookiee forces he knew were here, he knew that there was a final, unassigned element to be dealt with. The Confederation and Alliance-in-Exile had been lured here by situation, and the Mandalorians were about to have some sorely needed retribution visited upon them. But the Jedi were still at large, complete with the Hapan Home Fleet. Their presence here would have made him happier, but Caedus knew, fundamentally, that they were unimportant, and he had to convince himself of that.

    He had taken on all manner of combination of the best the Jedi Council had to offer, and triumphed over them all separately or as groups. By his simple survival, he had won every engagement they had fought. From his duel to the death with Kyle Katarn to his desparate evasion of Kyp Durron, Corran Horn and Luke and to his survival of the assassination attempt by Luke, Ben and Saba Sebatyne – and even the efforts by Luke and his very own sister to kill him. They were unimportant, and best forgotten.

    Assuming it was, in-fact, Luke who had cut off his arm.

    That was agitating him in a way unlike any other, and every time he pushed himself into the myriad futures, it was always dominated by Luke. And that concerned him. Before he had been in league with Lumiya, he had believed Luke was the only way to save this galaxy, but now Caedus knew that he was yet another symptom that had made the war more inevitable, and worse – had he fully supported the Alliance, and the Guard, this mess could have been avoided and his rise would not have been so necessary to save the galaxy.

    Darth Caedus found himself, as he thought, turning the datapad that Favvio had given him over in his hand, as if he was fiddling with a credcoin. He knew, by now, that Tahiri would be arriving in-system shortly, if their timetable was being kept to, and he knew that Lumiya had specifically requested that she pass it to Tahiri... anticipating that Ben would not prove pliable to Caedus, Lumiya had seemingly divined that Tahiri would be his next choice, in more ways than one, especially now she was all he had left.

    He thumbed the pad, and it activated, showing a transcript from... Yavin 4?

    The Dark Lord of the Sith recognised the voice of his tutor, Vergere, confiding in… Tahiri? Darth Caedus leaned closer to the pad, as if he could discern more from the words that he was scrawling past. A connection between Vergere, familiar of Elan, the Yuuzhan Vong assassin who had attempted to wipe out the leadership of the Jedi with the bo’tous poison, Mezhan Kwaad, the Master Shaper who had, with the assistance of the heretic Nen Yim, replaced the mind of Tahiri with that of the entity known as Riina, and Ngaaluh, the deception priestess who had aligned herself with the rogue Nom Anor to tear down Yuuzhan Vong society by invigorating the Shamed Ones to rise up against their masters.

    Three women who had, in their own ways, contributed towards the destruction of the Yuuzhan Vong, and to the victory of the Galactic Alliance over the extra-galactic invaders… efforts that had, seemingly, begun with little Tahiri Veila.

    Darth Caedus sat back, and mused, impressed by the subterfuge of it all, of how Vergere had undoubtedly manipulated the two other women into assisting her… a triumvirate that had worked behind the scenes and assisted in the mass-betrayal of their masters.

    It was very Sith.

    Flipping the datapad between his fingers, he absently mused on the best way forward from this point. Lumiya had obviously obtained this recording, in some shape or manner, either as further evidence of Vergere’s Sith heritage, or to assist in turning Tahiri to the dark side. He had not required such assistance, but, if she was to reach her full potential, she had to find her own Sith name…

    And this recording would allow her to realise her anointed name.

    He resolved to pass it to her when it suited him best.

    Sufficiently rejuvenated from his brief break, Darth Caedus checked the chrono on his wrist and resumed his meditations, filling his heart and soul with the memories of all the betrayals he had visited upon his family, and they had visited upon him in turn. The insubordination of his sister, the rejection of him by his father, the quiet disappointment in him from his mother… the murderous intentions of his aunt and then uncle… and finally the loss of love from his nephew, lover and, eventually, undoubtedly, what with the untruths that would now be filling her mind, his precious daughter.

    He took all of those betrayals, and passed the horror of them all to Cha Niathal.

    ---

    Admiral Natasi Daala knew that matters had gone awry – well, more awry – when the Ocean pivoted beneath the overlapping shields provided by the Bounty and the other vessels of her particular element of the combined Fondor-Maw Irregular-Third Fleet – the Vortex Wind, Orthavan and Dauntless –shifted to clear lanes of fire, dropping below or rising above the Bounty. No such abandonment of the defensive grid had been agreed, and the Nebula-class warship Equity lost the front half of itself when the Relentless and a trio of other Star Destroyers in the Imperial fleet took advantage of the Equity’s sudden exposure.

    “Get me Niathal on the line right now.” For those few moments, Daala took the opportunity to curse the Moffs Calron the Elder and Pualan – the architects of this military disaster of an engagement, as she watched a full third of her assets go rogue.

    “No response, Admiral.”

    Daala crushed the guardrail and looked to her communications officer as if he had completed a full-blown metamorphsis from Umbaran to Devaronian to Chagrian before her very eyes. “Do we have any evidence that the GA elements in the fleet have had their systems compromised?”

    “None, at all.”

    “Fire from the Bounty, Ocean and supporting vessels, Admiral!”

    Swinging her face back over to the port viewport, she saw the full broadside that the five capital ships had just launched into the Confederation formation. A Bothan Assault Cruiser was engulfed in flames, a Corellian Providence-class light cruiser snapped in half and a tangle of lesser medium frigates and Corellian corvettes vanished in the debris.

    And that was only the first barrage.

    Another followed immediately, cutting through the debris field that was blocking them, flames licking at the shields of the Master Stroke – the flagship of the Confederation fleet. A Bothan Assault Cruiser rolled down, taking the brunt of the tail-end of the barrage, and then the Confederation fleet began to open fire in return. Daala blinked her eyes in disbelief, her mind ablaze with orders. Fire on the Bounty? Move her forces away, and allow them to be pulled apart by the Imperial fleets? Move around the Bounty and try and disable the Ocean and her support ships, so as to show to the Confederation that the betrayal was not universal? Pull back, and run away from yet another defeat – a defeat inflicted, once again, by an Admiral from the watery world of Dac?

    The latter decision seemed the best one, and she opened her mouth to issue commands when Sensors called out. “Contact! It’s a big one, Admiral, to starboard!” Between them and the motley squadron that the Jedi had fielded, then, she thought.

    And then she gasped as the Super-class Star Destroyer Megador burst from hyperspace, its shields rising before the Fondorian forces remaining to her could even launch a full broadside – a delicate hyperspace jump that could only have been completed by a powerful Force user. The Megador opened fire – but not at the Nebula-class and Rejuvenator-class vessels that Fondor had donated to the cause, but to specific ships in her own formation. Her mouth gaped open in surprise as the massive vessel successfully pinpointed every single vessel in the Maw Irregular Fleet that had the Metal-Crystal Phase Shifters – the superweapons that had enabled her to penetrate the shields of capital ships and create weak points and structural damage to the very molecules holding the hull together; to turn durasteel hulls into powder.

    While Daala had managed to – or so she had thought – successfully make use of swapping pennant codes and strategic plays to conceal more than half of the vessels using such weapons, and had ensured that, even now, there were three frigates that yet to be even authorised to use their weapons, as a final card to play, every single one of those vessels was crippled; the frigates had their backs broken, her Crusader cruisers vanished in a crease of green turbolaser fire, and a pair of Imperial-class Star Destroyers evaporated under the focused fire of the Megador and, it became very apparent, a coordinated burst of fire from the Galactic Alliance Fourth Fleet that left no illusions as to who had just arrived in-system.

    Nek Bwua’tu was here.

    The crew was astonished, and those who had been more heavily involved in the tactical planning knew that the Bounty, a similar sized warship to the Megador, had by and large had its size and power counter-balanced by the presence of the larger Star Destroyers in the Imperial armada which were even now jamming all communications. The Megador’s arrival, and the destruction even now being inflicted upon Niathal’s forces and the Confederation, including the decimation of the advantage of the MCPS, was a turning point. As Megador fired through the complete collapse of the Maw and Fondorian formation on the Bounty, and as the Imperial and Fourth Fleets rushed forward from their defensive position, the entire battle just might be lost.

    As such, Daala, with little further thought, continued with the order she sought to issue beforehand. “Full withdrawal! Get us out of here now!”

    ---

    “Get us out here now!”

    General Tycho Celchu, still thin and haggard around the edges despite his bacta dip, stood in full Galactic Alliance best, the only uniformed officer on the bridge of the vessel. Actually, he was the only uniformed officer on his ‘flagship’ the Wild Karrde. The utterance was issued by Aves, Talon Karrde’s number one, via the haphazard link they had formed by keeping the ships close enough to use line-of-sight laser transmissions, and Tycho raised a hand to forestall an order from Talon.

    “Disperse the force and rake that Super Star Destroyer from stem to stern. Have all fighters form at the edge of the furball, and torpedo-bearing freighters withdraw the quickest. I want all other ships pulling in tight around the Venture, as she’ll draw the majority of the fire.”

    Talon grinned. “And you all wonder why I didn’t join the military.”

    He did as he asked, ordering the ships of the Smuggler’s Alliance to follow the pre-agreed plan. The Megador had clearly expected resistance on its port-side, and not its starboard, and definitely had not expected to be caught up in an engagement with smaller ships so early. Explosions rolled up and down the starboard side of the dagger-shaped ship before the shields were raised; a quick scan by Tycho, who had fought such behemoths in the Thyferra and Zsinj campaigns, allowed him to see the damage was minimal. The guns began to react, but was unfocused.

    Mazzic came over the line, explosions ringing in the background. “Freighters in position, Celchu.”

    Lady Luck is taking in Rakehell, Yellow-Aces and Silly Squadron on their attack runs,” replied the basso tones of Lando Calrissian. A variation of the strategy Tycho and Wedge had devised at the Battle of Thyferra, the freighters had slaved their telemetry to the fighters, so as to conceal that they were also stocking torpedo launchers.

    Tycho nodded when the Wild Karrde shook, and he glanced at the screens to check matters. He had taken the Karrde as his command ship as the Venture would have attracted too much attention, but there seemed to be an abnormal amount of fire being hurled his way considering the Wild Karrde was indistinguishable from the other elderly Action transports that Karrde, Bombassa and Calrissian had roped into this mission.

    “Celchu!”

    Talon’s voice was one of surprise, as the Megador’s gunners went from uncoordinated to very coordinated and lanced out a barrage at all of the freighters at the edge of the collecting cordon. Most were damaged, and a few, in particular the personal ships of Ellor, Mazzic and a host other veteran members of the Smugglers Alliance, were hit hard by ion fire and torpedoes.

    “Crev! Mazzic! Ellor!” Talon was on the line, trying to get a hold of any of his old friends, outlaws who had, time and time again, stepped up when the galaxy needed them – against the Empire, the Yuuzhan Vong, and now Darth Caedus.

    Tycho didn’t pay him attention, for a moment, as he watched Lando and his fighter wing launch torpedoes – and not a single freighter followed up their barrage. As such, less than forty torpedoes slammed into the shields of the Megador, and the ensuring wave of energy did little more than tax the defences of the behemoth, especially as they had been unfocused in their attack, being as Lando had been expecting considerably more support than he had received.

    “How did they possibly know we were coming?” Tycho was almost wordless in surprise. “It’s the only explanation.”

    “It’s Caedus.”

    Tycho shook his head. “It’s Caedus and Bwua’tu.”

    “No,” said Talon, the urgency in his tone causing Tycho to look, and follow the stab of his finger at the viewport. “It’s Caedus’ hand in this.”

    Sure enough, the Anakin Solo had materialised in-system – from behind its cloaking device, Tycho thought bitterly – and was lacing the Smuggler’s Alliance formation with fire as it advanced. Behind them the Hapan and Wookiee forces, battering off barrages from suddenly-active defences of the lessor planetoids of the Roche Asteroid Belt, were advancing to attack the Anakin Solo and Megador as Imperial forces looped around to catch them from the rear.

    The Megador advanced forward, having successfully crippled the Niathal-Daala fleet and beaten off the assault of the Smuggler’s Alliance, towards the advancing Imperial forces, the Anakin Solo sidling up beside it. The Fourth Fleet was making progress against the disorganised Confederation forces, which were withdrawing, along with Daala’s fleet. Tycho grimaced as the whole engagement began to fall apart, and he could see Caedus and his forces securing the system and then launching for Corellia, Bothawui and Fondor, dragging out the insurrection for months long.

    But neither Caedus nor Bwua’tu had such thoughts in mind.

    On cue, gravity wells began to erupt all around the system, centered around all of the major planetoids of the Roche Asteroid Belt as their masses were effectively doubled, an overlapping field of gravitc anomalies which effectively sealed the system shut. Short of the combined Confederation, Daala and Jedi Coalition fleets making their way by sublight to the fringes of the system, and effort that would take days with a running battle, short of someone managing to break free of the entire engagement, that was going to be impossible.

    Tycho blinked, completely wordless. This was worse than Endor, Mindor, Yuuzhan’tar and Kuat all combined. Between the blanket jamming and system-wide interdiction, Caedus had recreated the abilities of Centerpoint Station, and led his foes here in the selfsame plan that the officers of the New Republic had attempted with the Yuuzhan Vong before the Battle of Fondor – albeit wildly successful.

    Talon softly uttered a single set of words as he shook his head gravely. “It’s a trap.”

    Tycho could only think about how he not just failed to save his wife or Wedge, but had also managed to kill Wedge’s daughter and wife, and Corran’s father-in-law and wife, Corran’s children, and Tendra’s husband… and so, so many others.

    He had failed.

    Actually, he hadn’t, but he and the crews of their flotilla would fill the Force with their dismay and concern...

    ... just long enough to make a certain Dark Lord of the Sith and Alliance Supreme Commander overconfident.

    ---

    Her Fury-class vessel emerged from hyperspace and immediately activated its sensor suite of jammers as the cloak activated, the Cronau radiation so minimal that the Dician was completely sure that none of her foes would detect her. Wrapping that belief around her like a blanket, she drew her presence in the Force down to the size of molecules, so as to ensure her arrival was hidden. Her attempt at secrecy was almost completely broken when her vessel, barely decanted from hyperspace, shuddered as a massive gravity well engulfed the system, to the point that the chime to inform her she was nearing a gravity well while in hyperspace was so confused it continued until she slapped it off. Concentrating to cover her instant of distraction, Dician quickly sought to shadow herself again, to prevent any Jedi or even Sith eyes from sensing her.

    Not that many eyes would be diverted her way.

    The chaos of a battle was strewn out before her, dozens if not hundreds of capital ships in the death grip of combat. What seemed like thousands of smaller light darted between them, flashes of fire cresting where starfighters winked out, as a cacophony of colours – Imperial green, Alliance red, ion fire blue and torpedo pink – all creating a venerable display that would appear to be fireworks to the distant eyes of Carbos Thirteen. That battle, she could see, was going badly for the various forces arrayed against Darth Caedus, with Corellian cruisers and Bothan frigates firing on the Fourth Fleet while Imperial vessels moved to flank a Super Star Destroyer as it moved away from being caught in pincer grip with a beleaguered Viscount-class Star Defender and Hapan and Wookiee capital ships as they abandoned their position above the second major planetoid in-system. Nimbused around those were the wrecks of modern Fondor-built warships, and two motley task forces, one trying to pull away from the engagement and being pursued by four Imperial Star Destroyers through the rocks of the third-most distant planetoid, and another, smaller force, centered around a crimson-hulled Star Destroyer, attempting to make for the Hapan and Wookiee screen but running parallel to the Super Star Destroyer.

    Pennant codes assailed her sensors, but even with that cursory glance she could distinguish the two smaller groupings of vessels as those being in turn to Admiral Daala and the team which Intelligence had suggested was most likely to make an assault on Bwua’tu while launching a raid to save Wedge Antilles and Winter Celchu. What her sensors also told her was that while the Megador and the Anakin Solo were extricating themselves from what had to be a sneak attack on the Alliance-in-Exile forces, Imperial forces were also seeking a long-range pincer movement and drawing around the fringes of the engagement – a strong force of pocket Destroyers was looping around on either flank, pushing the Confederation forces from their position above the fourth planetoid and closer to a continuing and running bombardment from Niathal’s forces, and chasing the Hapan and Wookiee forces as they rushed to stem the damage to their nominal allies.

    All in all, she could only see Bwua’tu’s handiwork, reaffirming her judgment. Between him, Darth Caedus and the timely arrival of Tahiri Veila with the Anakin Solo, the combined forces of the Confederation, Alliance-in-Exile and Jedi Coalition were in severe dire straits. With the throng of hulks of vessels that were littering the system, especially within the formation of Alliance-in-Exile vessels, nearly half of their combat firepower had been lost or severely damaged in what must have been only a few moments of intense combat.

    As Dician watched, a sole bulb-nosed Star Destroyer withdrew from the rear of the Fourth Fleet as the Megador began a ponderous turn back towards the battle which was moving away from it, releasing a storm of fighter craft to cover its act. The Megador, the Anakin Solo and the third Destroyer held position over Nickel One with one of the larger Star Destroyers of the Imperial fleet – a communications ship - at which point the Fourth and Imperial Fleet assault temporarily stalled as the Hapan and Wookiee fleets joined the center of the engagement in a confusion of engagements in which Niathal’s vessels moved to allow the Hapans firing lanes on the Confederation, which interpreted the move to suggest the Hapans were joining the Alliance-in-Exile in their fight; a pair of Strident-class Star Defenders immediately opened fire on the new arrivals, who had no choice but to withdraw – but not before the captains of several of the more exposed Nova-class battle cruisers returned fire before they burst into flames, thus starting another cacophony of retribution, misunderstanding and violence...

    ... and giving time for the Imperials to catch their breath and advance...

    ... and seal the cordon with the assistance of the twelve squadrons of fighters from the Megador, which by now had completed its ponderous turn and was coming about...

    But Dician was not interested in all of that. She advanced through the melee towards the source of the threat to Bwua’tu, around the third planetoid and through the fringes of the Wookiee formation, deftly avoiding the most destructive engagements until her scanners could get through to recognise a ship which had not been automatically registered to her because it was not ordinarily attached to the Fourth Fleet, and instead should have been attached to the Fifth – the Admiral Ackbar.

    Which meant that Darth Caedus had plans for the Megador, or Bwua’tu had just anticipated that his Chief of State would have need for it elsewhere...

    ... and that Bwua’tu would be transferring his flag to the Admiral Ackbar...

    ... sure enough, the Megador held position and began lancing the Confederation, Alliance-in-Exile and Coalition furball with long-range weapons that nobody was aware it sported. Dician flicked her eyes to her sensors as she moved away from the engagement and saw, miraculously, that the Errant Venture had managed to dive behind the second planetoid in the confusion and was even now holding position, out of sight of the main engagement and kicking up some kind of screen of debris by moving the Venture close enough to the planetoid that it kicked up dust behind it’s engines – a smokescreen.

    Dician piloted her vessel towards the Admiral Ackbar and amused herself with the knowledge that she had been right, and, with this massive a brawl going on, there was little way that Bwua’tu could anticipate a direct assault on him.

    She had been rendered perfect.

    That pleased her more than enough.

    Isn’t destiny a miraculous thing?
    Bardan_Jusik and AzureAngel2 like this.
  17. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Nov 15, 2004
    star 7
    Chapter 13.5

    Nek Bwua’tu was not nearly as sure as Darth Caedus, but he submitted to his Chief of States reasoning. He had foreseen that it was almost inevitable that the Jedi and the Alliance would be forced to engage each other again, even if the Jedi had thus far managed to avoid directly harming Alliance forces. Nek grimaced at that, as he reflected on how many soldiers had died at Centerpoint, or at the Battle of Fondor, simply because the Jedi had ‘protected civilians’ and as a side-effect hid much of the Fondorian fleet from Darth Caedus’ senses.

    He nonetheless held his hand out to Darth Caedus and shook it to bid the Chief luck in his campaign, as he personally handed over the prisoners Wedge and Winter. “Keep an eye on them,” said Caedus, with a note of reprimand in his voice. “I wouldn’t want to hear that these two have escaped before the war ends.”

    “Can I lower the jamming field to allow us to transmit offers for their surrender?”

    “No,” said Caedus, swiftly. “They have had plenty of opportunities to lay down arms, or simply choose not to resist me. Further, I want your efforts to be focused upon wiping out the Hapan and Wookiee forces, as they are the most unified command structures at the moment.”

    Nek nodded, trying to ignore the burning gaze of Wedge Antilles, who looked as if he wanted the ability to fire energy beams from his pupils, for that precise moment. He had turned his muzzled face to peer out the shuttle that had brought the Moffs to the Megador, if only so he could glare at Bwua’tu. The Bothan acknowledged just how it would look as he conversed with Caedus, while his Sith apprentice stood beside him. Looking to draw the discussion to a close, Nek Bwua’tu drew himself up straight and saluted.

    “I formally accept the prisoners from you, Lord Caedus.”

    Caedus returned the salute, grinning. “And I formally accept command of the Megador from you. You flag can be transmitted to the Admiral Ackbar. Mine will be transferred to the Anakin Solo.”

    “Yes, my Lord.”

    With that Caedus spun, his cloak flowing, as he lead the Moffs and Veila to another shuttle, with the intention of transferring them to the Anakin Solo. Bwua’tu marched up to his own shuttle, and waved off the guards and lone pilot.

    “I can fly this shuttle on my own.”

    Confused, the soldiers simply acknowledged his order, even as the guardsman glowered at the Supreme Commanders decision to have some privacy with the prisoners. Most of them had arrogant smirks, if only because they undoubtedly knew that the shuttle was bugged. And if the shuttle was bugged...

    ... then Caedus had reason to suspect his loyalty.

    Nek Bwua’tu kept his fur calm, and emotions tightly under control, as he boarded and raised the ramp. With a quick turn, he released the muzzles on the two humans, and walked to cockpit. Wedge shook his head to allow the fabric to drop down, calling to Nek. “Aren’t you going to untie our hands?”

    “No,” he said, as he settled in the pilots chair, watching Lord Caedus’ shuttle lift off. “I don’t want you to misunderstand my intentions. I am still taking custody of you.”

    “So why speak to us?” said Winter, more calmly than Wedge.

    “Especially when we can bite our way through each others restraints,” added Wedge, a jibe which showed just how short his temper was at this point in time.

    Nek looked back into the passangers cabin, grinning with a mouth full of teeth. “In the minutes it’ll take for me to dock with the Admiral Ackbar? I doubt that.” With that, he turned back, and activated the repulsorlift, pushing the shuttle up and then out of the hangar. “I don’t have anything to fear from you two.”

    “I repeat my question, then,” said Winter, all diplomat at this moment in time. “Why speak to us?”

    Bwua’tu took a deep breath as he steered the shuttle between its honour guard – a pair of Aleph-class starfighters and four E-wings. “Perhaps it is because I know that your friends will make an ill-advised attempt to save you. They launched an abortive assault on the Megador the moment I decanted from hyperspace, using a variation of the strategy you and Tycho created at the Battle of Thyferra. Such an attempt was obvious, and so I struck at the modified freighters of the Smuggler’s Alliance as soon as I could – and found that many of them had been modified yet again so that their shields were strong enough to survive my scattered barrage.”

    “Meaning that Tycho anticipated you would expect him to revert back to old strategies to take down a Super Star Destroyer, when he doesn’t have a fleet to hand.” Wedge said, clearly thinking aloud. “Meaning that you’re telling us you’ve worked this out and you want us to warn off our friends.”

    “Yes.” Bwua’tu said.

    “Before your vow of krevi requires you to kill them all.”

    Bwua’tu gritted his teeth and tightened his hands in the controls. “Yes.”

    Winter took up the reins of the conversation again. “So don’t kill them. Let us go, and we can link back up with them and convince them to leave.”

    “And then do what?”

    “Pardon?” Winter could not keep the surprise out of my tone.

    “I have abandoned my vow of krevi, and you are free to inflict more damage to the Galactic Alliance. All of you are. And you do not share my concern for the welfare of the men and women under my command, and nor will my successor. If I betray my vow for you, then who will keep honour to the Navy? Who will keep Caedus in check?”

    “The only reason he’s winning is because of you,” said Wedge. “I have no doubt you helped him put together some convoluted scheme that Thrawn and Palpatine would have loved, all of which will allow him to win the war and then he’ll get rid of you.”

    “Why?”

    “Why?” Wedge repeated, also surprised.

    “Why would he get rid of me?”

    Winter’s voice was even. “Because you’re respected, and represent one of the last officers in the Alliance who has any sort of power to keep Caedus from burning down everything.”

    “So we’re ignoring the other honourable members of the Defence Force, or even the Senate, who could do the same?” Bwua’tu resisted the urge to mention names, reminding himself about the undoubted bugs in place, recording every word he stated, so Caedus could decide whether he needed to be removed... to, by omission, protect their cause.

    “They could, but they don’t have the power or position to counter the Dark Lord of the Sith,” said Winter. “You do.” Bwua’tu didn’t respond, and neither did Wedge, and Winter looked from the cockpit to the Corellian. “Tell him, Wedge.”

    “No,” said Wedge. “Because that’s not why he removed our gags. He wanted to talk to me about duty. A conversation that I once had with Teren Rogriss, just before he abandoned the Empire. He wants to know at what point you cannot do your duty by simply subverting the letter of his orders to keep to the spirit of them. He wants to know why I left the New Republic over Thyferra, how I told Pwoe to stuff his orders out of an airlock at Borleias, or how I left the Corellian military without looking back. Because Bwua’tu is in the same position as I was, and we are similar in our worldview. He isn’t all like Thrawn. He just happens, like me, to be very good at war... to the point that he can do very little else but contribute because he considers it his duty to do so.”

    Bwua’tu still didn’t respond, simply directing his shuttle under the bump-shaped nose of the Admiral Ackbar, towards its hangar bay. Wedge didn’t expect a response, and he simply continued. “I said no to Pwoe, and to Gejjen, yes, but I didn’t leave. They fired me. Pwoe attempted to, anyway. And that was the point where my government took that responsibility away from me. Sure, I can keep trying to be responsible of them, but I might start off a chain of events that I need to be ready for, because everyone who dies because of my decision will be on my head, including everyone that they kill for me.

    “If you’re going to take responsibility, you have to take it to its very end.”

    Winter blinked. “It’s like having a child.”

    “Exactly. You cannot abandon your burden, all you can do is let it go for a time, and, if it wants you, then you come back for it.”

    “And the Galactic Alliance is Bwua’tu’s child.”

    “And yours, too,” said Bwua’tu, to Winter. “You and Tycho both served to the very last moment... and had Niathal won the Battle of Fondor, I, too, would have served under her. I serve under the government, however it be elected. I am not a kingmaker like Phennir.”

    As he spoke, he let the shuttle settle down, as a Galactic Alliance honour guard rushed to take positions either side of the ramp. “I still assume that you will not allow me to get word to your friends to stay back?”

    “I wish I could,” Wedge said, letting out a sigh. “But they’ll come anyway.”

    “Just like you and they came for Celchu.”

    “Yes.”

    Bwua’tu unclipped himself and strode over to them. “I see.” With that, he regagged them both. “I can only be sorry for what will happen next, then.”

    ---

    “We are going to be sorry for what happens next.”

    Admiral Keyan Farlander, frowned at his colleague. Captain Madurrin, an Anx, was shaking her head as she watched the displays. Over hesitant line-of-sight laser-comm channels, Lady Astarta, who had returned to command the Hapan fleet in the Roche system, cut across any of Keyan’s possible responses.

    “What do you mean?”

    Madurrin was pointing.

    “The Megador, Anakin Solo, Admiral Ackbar and the communications Destroyer, Third Vengeance, are advancing towards our position in the centre.” By ‘in the centre’ Madurrin was referring to the loose collection of vessels, including the remnants of Niathal’s task force, off to the edge, and the Confederation and Jedi Coalition forces, both battered beyond belief and withdrawing from the system behind Daala’s Maw Irregular Fleet, which was fully turned about and being harassed by the sum total of Imperial fighters in the system – with more joining as Daala neared the outermost planetoids. The Confederation and Jedi Coalition were unable – and unwilling – to coordinate a holding action to prevent the Fourth and Imperial fleets from chasing them, even if they still had local tactical superiority. The route from Nickel One and the sixth planetoid in the Roche system was littered with the broken hulks of dozens of capital ships, many of which had been initially damaged by Niathal’s suicidal betrayal, but also including a fair amount of Imperial vessels and newly damaged Hapan Battle Dragons, Nova-class battle cruisers, Wookiee light destroyers and former Banking Clan frigates, who had drawn the majority of the fire from the Fourth and Imperial fleets since the initial arrival of the Megador.

    “Which means they’re going to be focusing on us, again.”

    Farlander looked to the rest of the display. Four Imperial II-class Star Destroyers were in the midst of harassing Daala’s remnant to oblivion, while Cha Niathal’s fleet was towing the Bounty – nothing more than a massive immobile battle station now – to give them the ability to fend off the pack of Turbulent-class Star Destroyers nipping at their heels. The Confederation for its part was having an almighty engagement with the Fourth Fleet, prepped by a network of smaller Imperial capital ships that were surrounding the Corellian and Bothans as they attempted to flee. The Hapans, for their part, were fighting a ferocious battle with everything that was left – a full Imperial assault fleet complete with Vindicator-class heavy cruisers, pocket Turbulent-class Star Destroyers and a network of Lancer-class and angular fast frigates, supported by an array of Cutlass-class corvettes and Strike-class cruisers. The latter two vessels were at the front of the engagement, outmatching Beta-class cruisers in firepower and Nova-class battle cruisers in the ability to outmaneuvre the mostly forward-firing weapons on the pitchfork-shaped warships.

    In short, the battle had devolved in a series of engagements as each of the four elements of the resistance attempted to flee the system by sublight, all while fending off a fleet which was actually slightly smaller than the combined numbers it was hunting. The Imperial fleets were rapidly being reduced, but slower still than the fleets of the resistance... with the Admiral Ackbar and the Third Vengeance in play, the rebels were slightly outgunned... with the Megador and Anakin Solo, as well, the rebels were heavily outmatched.

    As a former Jedi, there had been no doubt that he and Madurrin, another former Jedi attached to the Mon Adapyne and often paired with Farlander, would have withdrew from the Galactic Alliance when Luke Skywalker left with the Jedi at Kuat. Farlander and Madurrin, career officers, had formally left the Order when Luke had requested that all Jedi either withdraw from their careers or leave the Order during the Swarm War, and as such Luke had not made any request of them, but both of them had agreed it was time to abandon their post in the Ninth Fleet, out guarding the territory between the Empire and the Core, and support Luke, thus becoming the magnet of other Alliance soldiers and pilots who chose the Jedi Coalition over Niathal’s Alliance-in-Exile.

    But now, Keyan was starting to doubt that decision as the best one. He had survived the Battles of Yavin, Hoth and Endor, and joined Luke’s praxeum at the close of the war with the Empire – Pellaeon’s Empire, that is. Yet, for all his valour against that Empire, and the subsequent Yuuzhan Vong threat, all he had successfully done was to lure more of his old friends and comrades to this engagement, and to their subsequent death. He remembered the lives of those he knew that had been lost - Breth Gart, Tan'tro and Ahsmar – and his own personal struggle with the dark side, goaded on by Darth Caedus in a thankfully brief encounter with him before the Battle of Kuat, bubbled up inside him.

    Madurrin placed a hand on his, linking their fingers and smiling at him. Warmth filled him, and Keyan tacitly returned her nod, remembering the love and support that she had shown him through the years. The act, below the range of the projector as it was, was a private one, and Keyan returned the emotions through the Force, steeling himself for what was to come.

    “Every moment we hold Bwua’tu here, is another moment that Luke has to stop Darth Caedus. That’s what needs to happen. Even a day or two will be long enough for the Sword to recover. Even we know that, stuck in this system as we have been for the last week.”

    Astarta gave a scowl. “You know that we are not going to be able to hold a Super Star Destroyer for long. Hapan Battle Dragons may be able to give Star Destroyers cause for concern, but nothing that powerful. We took down the Iron Fist by numbers and numbers alone.”

    Keyan reached for calm in the Force as the four capital ships reached firing range, his MC80B cruiser already shaking as the Megador’s long-range weapons struck home. He looked to Madurrin, who smiled encouragement, even though Keyan could sense that she, too, was worried, now he was not focused on himself. That she would give him her strength and confidence when she herself was running as low as he, made him even more resolved to fight this battle to the last possible chance.

    He would resist the rise of the Empire with every fibre of his being. And, as he looked around to the rest of the staff on-board the bridge, he knew they, too, felt the exact same way, and he looked back to Astarta.

    “I’m just a simple man from Agamar. Don’t quote me the numbers. Open fire as soon as we are in range. Advance at them the moment that happens. Let’s give Caedus a surprise for once!”

    ---

    On-board the hangar deck of the Errant Venture, Syal Antilles and the battered remnant of the Smugglers Wing – the three squadrons of fighters they had brought to assault the Megador – watched the unfolding carnage, all still suited up and ready to launch. Hapan Battle Dragons and Wookiee Lucrehulk-class battleships were rushing forward, carving into the front of the Imperial fleet they were facing. Beta-class cruisers and Marauder-class corvettes were vanishing every few moments, as the Anakin Solo and Megador joined the fray – plowing through the engagement. The Megador was cutting through the Hapan forces like a lightsaber would durasteel, and as they watched more than a dozen capital ships were torn apart in a matter of minutes. The Hapan formation collapsed, political intracacies flaring up as nobles opened fire on each other to placate Caedus, only for the Anakin Solo to pounce on such engagements. The Mon Adapyne took several hits, as too did the Song of War, before a screen of Nova-class battle cruisers launched a savage wave of fire that tore open the majority of the Strike-class and Cutlass-class warships between them and the Megador.

    Seemingly uninterested in engaging a screen of such organised vessels, the Megador accelerated, with the Anakin Solo and much of the Remnant fleet to hand, a full fleet detaching itself from the engagement and advancing away from the engagement. The few remaining vessels screening Farlander and Astarta’s flagships – saved by nothing more than personal loyalties and the determination of the Hapans. The Third Vengeance and Admiral Ackbar joined the engagement, seeding the remnant Hapan formation with fire, while starfighters worked over the crippled vessels of the Wookiee fleet. And then, in a moment which was no longer than a few minutes – and completely timed to ensure Farlander was out of position – the gravity well generator of the closest planetoid to this engagement, which was the second, cut off to allow the Anakin Solo, Megador and a Remnant assault fleet to jump to hyperspace. Within moments, it was back up, and the trap once again shut.

    Lando whistled over the channel. “That was... intense.”

    “We could not have done anything to assist, and we need to keep our vessels intact.”

    Syal shook her head, and bit out a response over the comm. “Like how we launched an attack on the Megador and lost half our fighters? Or how several of our freighters were torn open like cans?” They had been kept to their fighters, on high alert and the maximum amount of caf, stims and sleep as and when they could grab it, as Errant Venture circled the second outermost planetoid.

    The line was quiet, until Mazzic came across. “You’ll see, Antilles. It’s all part of Tycho’s master plan.”

    Volu, sitting beside Syal, leaned over and tapped the comm. “Really? Because I don’t see it. We lost the entirety of the remaining YVH droids Lando had available. The rest? Under Caedus’ command.”

    “Hey, I can hardly stop him nationalising my company’s facilities on Metalorn, can I?” Lando said, unhappy sounding. “I did my best to keep the majority of them on lockdown, but he has had control of them since the Battle of Kuat. It was inevitable I’d run out of the few we managed to smuggle out.”

    “And we haven’t lost them,” said Tycho, durasteel in his voice. “I acknowledge that the last few days have been difficult for you all, but you will be launching in no less than five minutes. So get ready.” The announcement came over the hangar channel, and techs and pilots began to rush about, either getting out of the way or to their ships.

    Syal, strapped into already with the rest of the Rakehells – whom she had not let leave the blastboat for the duration of the engagement – simply watched the engagement. The Farlander-Astarta task force was retreating as quickly as it could, and Bwua’tu seemed content to let them go, back towards the main engagement, as Farlanders last charge had driven this portion of the battle back towards Nickel One.

    Farlander was withdrawing around the second planetoid, threading through the wreckage of the Alliance-in-Exile towards the flank closest to the third planetoid, which they were rounding. Syal absently wondered whether this had been coordinated, so that the Venture and the Smuggler’s Alliance would hit Bwua’tu’s reduced formation in the rear as it passed the second planetoid. The Third Vengeance was taking a wider route around the engagement, keeping the third planetoid between them and Farlander – ensuring that Farlander would be driven back to the main battle, which continued to go poorly for the remnants of the Maw Irregular Fleet, Niathal’s forces, Corellian and Bothan fleets. Syal had herself started referring to the Confederation fleets as separate entities, now the Fourth had divided them and they had seemingly allowed it. The Battle of Roche had separated into five separate engagements, none of which seemed to be going the way of their respective combatants.

    Despite the Third Vengeance being well within range, Farlander was focusing his and the Song of War’s fire on the Admiral Ackbar, the modern Star Destroyer taking several hits in as little as a few minutes. In turn, the smaller vessels of the Alliance-Imperial force were hitting the surviving Nova-class battle cruisers hard, and as Syal watched one broke up. Syal thought that Farlander was doing a very good job of getting his ships destroyed, a cold thought that didn’t benefit her. With a deep breath, Syal tried, objectively, to view the engagement as the Third Vengeance continued to take shots at Farlander’s remaining vessels through the debris field.

    The debris field.

    With a quick scan of her charts, she saw that the Admiral Ackbar was a few kilometres away from straying into the location that the Megador had arrived within, and from where it had wrecked the Smuggler’s Alliance forces, and halved the number of fighters they had available. Bwua’tu was nudging his vessel behind the bulk of a destroyed Rejuvenator-class Star Destroyer, as Farlander’s fighters attempted to bring down the vessel’s shields, supported by focused fire from the Song of War. The shields dropped just as Bwua’tu slipped behind the broken wreckage of the Memory of Ithor II, and then the Admiral Ackbar focused its fire upon the attacking Owools and Hapan X-wings, causing a staccato of smaller explosions to surround the bump-nosed Star Destroyer. The fighters withdrew, all in one direction, and the Ackbar re-orientated itself to fire after them. The remnants of Farlander’s task force, for their part, threaded between the debris of Daala’s Keldabe-class battleship and a tangle of Scimitar-class corvettes. The Third Vengeance ramped up the fire, a concentrated barrage that began to swiftly burn through Farlander’s impromptu shields, which the Agamarian seemed to have hid behind only because Bwua’tu had done it first.

    All of these tactical choices and strategic moves left the Ackbar perfectly out of position when a hundred signals kicked in. They promptly began swarming the Star Destroyer, and the Ackbar seemed to pause, gouts of flame bursting across its hull, before opening fire with all of its sixty turbolasers on the swarm that had appeared around it.

    Syal grinned, as Lando’s YVH droid army, which had faked its destruction and lain in wait for this precise moment, made quick work of the various defences of the warship. A rumble caused Syal to look back to the location of the Errant Venture and it’s escorts, all of which had slingshot around the planetoid and had made use of its gravity well to hurl themselves across the system. The pilot idly reflected that the gravity well generators that had doubled the mass of the planetoids of the Roche Asteroid Belt from Nickel One to Carbos Thirteen had finally found a use – the increased gravity had enabled Booster and Tycho to slingshot an entire task force at speeds that had allowed them to cross the distance between the two planetoids in a matter of moments.

    Tycho’s voice didn’t show an ounce of smugness when he issued the order. “Launch!”

    Syal kicked her blastboat forward, bouncing out of the hangar bay of the Venture before anyone else, eager to launch herself at the Ackbar and save her father. As she watched, a wave of Jedi-flown XJ5 X-wings followed her, followed by the Lady Luck and other of the insertion teams vessels.

    She allowed herself a grin. A grin that her father had, reportedly, used many a time when he had an enemy in his sights; a slight upturning of the corners of his mouth, the pursing of his lips, and the narrowing of his eyes – a feral grin.

    Syal gunned her thrusters.

    Time to go to war.

    ---

    Tycho Celchu allowed himself a tight smile as the Wild Karrde soared past the Ackbar, pumping turbolaser shots into its upper hull. The YVH hunter droid swarm had focused, after the initial strikes, on the nose of the Star Destroyer, seeking to secure the area around the hangar to allow for the arrival of the strike team. In a moment, the Karrde had passed the Ackbar, travelling at the speeds it was, and Tycho turned back to the viewscreen to see the souped up Action IV transport dart past the hulled Orthavan and then, latching on to the mass of broken MC80B cruiser with tractor beams, turning at a right angle, and redirected itself on a straight-line course towards the Third Vengeance, which was repositioning itself to assist the beleaguered Ackbar. All around the Karrde other vessels in the Smuggler’s Alliance were performing similar actions, pivoting around the shattered hulks of much larger capital ships and launching for the Third Vengeance.

    The larger Star Destroyer opened fire on all of the vessels, which were only travelling marginally slower than the barrage of proton torpedoes proceeding them. A wave of energy rippled across the vessels shields, and then the Smuggler’s Alliance was outbound, the Third Vengeance turning to bring the maximum amount of weapons to bear. It could not focus its shields towards the frighters and attack ships of the smugglers, however, as the shields on the other side were quickly taxed by fire from the Song of War and Mon Adapyne. Imperial and Alliance starfighter squadrons were just as disorganised, and Tycho saw squadrons being decimated by the conflicting instructions.

    Tycho skimmed the battlefield for any indication that the Wraiths had moved into position, noting that he hadn’t managed to find them since they had initially assaulted the Megador in the preceding days. Well, half of the Wraiths, he mentally amended, and Piggy, the ex-Wraith, who had come out of hiding due to the severity of the threat... though he had yet to mend matters with his squadmates. The other half of the squadron – the newer and ostensibly younger half – was working its way across the worlds of Bothan Space very publicly and loudly, pretending that the Wraiths in the Roche system were burrowing their way into the Bothan Spynet and accounting for the near omniscience of the new Wraiths by feeding them advance information. The reality was that the Wraiths currently sabotaging facilities on Moonus Mandel had actually broken the codes of the Bothan Spynet – a feat until itself – and were using them to create the appearance that the two separate halves of the squadron were operating in-system. As such, and without publicly denouncing Darth Caedus, the Wraiths were able to operate with impunity within the Alliance.

    That being said, much of the Intelligence community, even when sidelined by Darth Caedus, had stayed within the Alliance until Niathal left if only because they had been the source of the ominous information about the variety of threats the Confederation had cooked up; Centerpoint Station, the Corellian assault fleet, the arming of three Bothan fleets, the deployment of viruses by Commenor – all threats which, to those in the know, had, until Fondor, seemed terrifying enough that they should remain with Caedus. The Wraiths were lying with much of the truth of the situation; the Confederation represented a kind of chaos that made this confrontation in the Roche system a minor piece of inconvenience on the way to a resolution.

    Tycho just wished he knew where Face and the others were. They were the skifter that he needed in-place if he was to pull this off, in-case Bwua’tu did something unexpected.

    As Tycho watched the Errant Venture, complete with operable tractor beams, sidle up to the rear of the Admiral Ackbar, locking it in place, and with the majority of its guns pointed forward, that unexpected event occurred, when Booster reported that the Ackbar had locked tractor beams on him. Tycho ordered the Smuggler’s Alliance vessels away from the Third Vengeance, shedding their speed as they curved around to join the Venture, and watched in surprise as a cloud of YVH battle droids emerged from the Ackbar, throwing themselves through space towards the Venture.

    “Kark it,” said Karrde. “Bwua’tu kept his own YVH’s close. He’s going to exchange Star Destroyers with us, assuming we can even take the Ackbar with those numbers of droids to hand...” The silver-haired man, slightly older than Tycho, glanced over from the readout. “Booster doesn’t have his own army to hand. He’s going to get overrun.”

    “Unless we get back and help him,” said Tycho, grimacing. Bwua’tu hadn’t simply countered them; he’d forced them to act according to their tune, unless they abandoned the Venture, which they could do... Tycho shook his head. An evacuation of the Errant Venture would cost them more than they would save, when the Smuggler’s Alliance had no choice but to hold position and collect escape pods. “Get us there – now.”

    It was a slugging match, now – and one which would take place in the walkways and corridors of two Star Destroyers. Tycho cast his eyes to the rest of the engagement, as the Third Vengeance accelerated back towards the Song of War and Mon Adapyne, both of which was on the retreat, but not to the point that the Vengeance could detach itself from the battle and relieve the Ackbar... which meant, to stop Farlander from being destroyed, he had no choice but to issue an order.

    “Have all ships locked tractors and start towing the Ackbar into the main battle. We need to keep the Vengeance close, but Farlander can’t keep it keen. We need more variables to hand – and to keep the Vengeance close enough that it can’t wipe out Farlander.”

    Talon frowned. “Tycho, the battle isn’t going well. Daala is barely fending off Dorja and the fighter swarms that keep joining her part of the engagement... the Confederation is broken, and Niathal is just about holding position near the Bounty. The original plan was to avoid the battle or we wouldn’t be able to control the outcome of our own attack.”

    “We’ve already lost, Talon.” Tycho glared at the man, for a moment, more angry with himself for being outmanoeuvred, rather than the smuggler. Tycho wiped down his face in an expression of disbelief, and dropped his hand. “Sorry, but now all we can do is decide by how much we have lost by.”

    Talon wasn’t paying attention, he was looking at the tactical readout, a look of horror on his face. “Syal’s blastboat is gone.”

    Tycho was dumbfounded. “Where?”

    “It vanished in a turbolaser burst from the Ackbar.” He jabbed a finger at the screen. “She’s that flame.”

    The Wild Karrde and the rest of the returning flotilla, locking tractor beams on the Ackbar and having raked its hull clean of the majority of its weapons – insofar as much as the Venture now had more guns than the smaller warship – were now close enough that Tycho could see that flame, a comet trailing debris... right up to the point that it slammed into the bridge of the Admiral Ackbar.

    Tycho didn’t have words, for a very long time.

    And then, he had to focus on the war, knowing that there was no point continuing on.

    That Wedge and Iella would never forgive him.

    ---

    “Down!”

    Lando’s snapped command was reacted to by Wes a hair before the YVH battle droid fired through the space the pilots head had just occupied, and Lando pumped a pair of bolts into the droids photoreceptors. The droid wavered, and then simply began spraying fire forward, knowing very well that all that was before him was enemy combatants. A bolt creased Iella’s hair, burning a lock off, as she rushed past, Valin driving his lightsaber into and through the droids chest. YVH 1-1A, Lando’s personal bodyguard, bounded over her as she cringed to the floor, slamming into the next two droids and pulling them down by their throats. Cheriss, blastsword on her waist, had a blaster in each hand, firing as quickly as her trigger fingers could go, a storm of fire that dug into the chestplate of the third droid, as Wes took precise shots and removed a component at a time from the droid.

    Iella muttered to herself. “And to think that I nearly died fighting one of these things.”

    “Don’t blame me!” Lando said, over the battle. “I made them to fight Yuuzhan Vong.”

    “Well you should have stopped building them when they were gone!” Iella dropped to the floor, leaning behind the smoking hulk of one of their friendly droids, using its remaining armour as a shield from the storm of fire rushing overhead. Bwua’tu had sealed many of the exits, diverting them down a single corridor. The corridor did in-fact lead the way they wanted to go – towards the prison deck – and as such there was no point in even taking an alternate direction. But, Bwua’tu had also locked open all the bulkheads and doors between here and the prison deck, and so his droid army was able to fight a full-blown pitched battle through the corridor. With little to take cover behind, and yet another battle droid behind the next one, the strike team was in a difficult situation. Even the Unit, the Jedi Knights that they had to hand, was taxed just surviving the fire of further back droids. A half-decent estimate by Lando put the number of droids holding the distance between the prison deck and the hangar bay at around a hundred, which was less than half of the complement of droids that Lando had been unable to hijack before shutting down the factories on Metalorn.

    Which meant there could have been, for all they knew, another hundred battle droids somewhere else aboard the Ackbar, or completing some other objective of the Bothan Supreme Commander. Iella and the strike team had concluded, fairly early on, that the space-battle had not gone as planned, as the Star Destroyer rumbled with movement. Without sight of the stars, they could not even guess where the warship was going, and nor could they guess if they would have an escape route before this was all over.

    Gritting her teeth, Iella knew it was only a matter of time before one of them died and this all went terribly, terribly wrong. YVH 1-1A was already leaking critical parts, Lando had a broken rib where one of the droids had managed to kick him – a death blow had Natua not managed to weaken the blow with the Force – and Iella was sporting half of the hair she had started this battle with, complete with an impressive blaster burn running from her eyebrow up. Even the Jedi were struggling, with Jysella’s robe holed in too many places to count, and the Bazel was suffering from a handful of blaster wounds on his green hide.

    Iella didn’t want to fight GA crew members, either, and so it made sense to keep to these corridors, and fight it out with droids – impersonal machines, who were not related to, or friends with, anyone she knew. But then again, the GA wasn’t willing to play by those rules, was it? It was more than happy to invade her homeworld, and torch the forests of Kashyyyk... even as it killed her friends and kidnapped her husband.

    Enough.

    Iella turned and unclipped the thermal detonator on her belt. She went to thumb the button when a furred hand laid his on hers. She looked up, and was surprised to recognise Traest Kre’frey. “Don’t, Iella. We can do this our way.”

    And with that, he launched himself into the fray, shoving a vibroshiv into the innards of a thrashing battle droid and then pushing it forward, using the heavy-set droid’s own armour as a shield and bowling over another droid with its mass... all before using a knee-knife to poke out the droids photoreceptors and deftly avoiding fire from both droids – and the others besides – before he flicked his wrist and a needle-thin blade popped from the sleeves of his dark combat uniform and embedded itself in the droids skull – a wave of electricity bursting from the droids head as the needle sliced into the battle droids systems and crippled it. Recognising the needle as a tool ordinarily used by slicers, Iella was unsurprised to see that Kre’frey, with the Bothan Spynet to hand to scout ahead, was armed with anti-droid weapons. Glancing back to her, and with a grin, the Bothan pushed off, bounding forward and calling over the noise.

    “Two down!”

    Iella shook her head in amusement, and lifted her blaster, steeling herself with a breath before rushing forward. They could still do this.

    And they would, no doubt of that.

    Not just because she wanted her husband back, safe and sound, and not just because she wanted to save Winter, either. But because resisting Bwua’tu, right here, and right now, was necessary, and right.

    And she would do it with her morality and ethics intact.

    ---

    The planet Mandalore was under siege.

    This had, of course, occurred more than once during its time as religious, politicial and economic hub of Mandalorian Space, and undoubtedly would happen again. The Jedi, the Sith, the Empire, the Nagai and Yuuzhan Vong had all made attempts to subjugate the populace of the planet and now the Galactic Alliance was making its own attempt.

    Admiral Atoko, commanding the battered remnants of the Fifth Fleet, complemented by vessels scavenged from the vessels of the First, Second and Sixth Fleet, was hanging in high orbit, hurling turbolaser fire down at the planet, burning apart structures in Keldabe in a wave of destruction. Much of their destructive might, however, was reserved for defence, as hundreds if not thousands of small one-person and two-person fighters, all crewed by stubborn and tenacious Mandalorians fought.

    From modern Bessies to ancient Aggressors to modern Gladiators, all supported by Pursuer Enforcement Ships and Firespray-class heavy fighters, the Galactic Alliance was feeling the full might of Mandalore. Boba Fett, Manda’lor of the sector, could not have been more proud, right now, even if that pride was tinged with the regret of having lost Mirta to his revenge.

    Now he was alone again, and all of Boba Fett was focused on breaking the spine of the Galactic Alliance, and making it so that Darth Caedus never ever harmed him again. Caedus’ rise had been more crushing than the Battle of Geonosis on Boba Fett, being as he had seen a family dangled before him, only for Caedus to destroy it. Even if Sin was flying beside him now, in the Slave I, she was not his, and so he was, again, alone.

    He had left Venku in charge of Mandalore in his absence, the younger man an ideal backup heir should anything happen to him or Goran. In that time Venku had prepared the defences of the homeworld, and the other systems of the Mandalore Sector, although Atoko had managed to successfully launch punishing assaults on Concord Dawn, Ordo and Gargon. Even the sacred world of Shogun had been hit, all as precursors to the final assault on Mandalore. Commanding from the Dodonna, the Galactic-class battle carrier that had been in drydock when the rest of the Second Fleet had been destroyed, Atoko had expertly divided Fett’s standing military – the Protectors – before striking at the homeworld.

    What he hadn’t bet on was Venku unifying the clans in ways unheard of in recent years. Fett was fighting beside a menagerie of clans – Ordo, Awaud, Carid, Bralor, Tenau, Vevut – even exiled clans such as Kryze and Vizsla, and forgotten clans such as Skirata, the latter headed by Bardan Skirata – formerly Bardan Jusik, Jedi Knight – the man they had all known as Gotab.

    Bardan had command of a motley array of clones and hardened soldiers from the frontiers of Mandalore, and they were tearing their way through Alliance E-wing and X-wing squadrons, even as they assaulted the capital ships of the Fifth Fleet. An early kill had been in the Yald, the one remaining Majestic-class Star Cruiser in the Galactic Alliance Defence Force, which had raised hopes, but otherwise the battle was dragging on, and the Fifth Fleet was, and Fett knew this, only really here to keep them from intervening at the Battle of Roche.

    Even then, Atoko’s strategies had upto this point been flawless, and for him to simply hold position and take everything that Mandalore had to throw at it struck Fett as wrong. Either Bwua’tu and Caedus had been responsible for his genius upto this point, or he was waiting for something. The Dodonna was being well screen and attempts to launch boarding parties with Trakad’s and supported by Crusader-class cruisers had gone badly, with Alliance ships activating their self-destruct the moment the vessel seemed poised to be even remotely lost.

    “Jusik, you’re probably the closest we have to an expert on auretiise strategy,” said Fett, as he dove his Bessie below an approaching E-wing squadron, letting his comrades pull it apart while he and Beviin made another vain attempt to penetrate the central defences of the Fifth and reach the Dodonna. “Do you have an idea what Atoko is upto?”

    “None, Manda’lor. At best he’s waiting for something, but you’ve heard the reports about unrest on Coruscant, and how the Battle of Roche is going... and we have plenty of intel suggesting Caedus has gone to Hapes.” Fett thought as much. Atoko was waiting for something else, beyond reinforcements.

    And whatever that was, neither Jusik, Goran or Fett’s intel networks were able to find what.

    A creeping sensation that Fett didn’t recognise was creeping within him. He had fought Jedi and Sith, in his time, and had lost a lot to both of them. But he was starting to find that even he was believing the rumours.

    Maybe Caedus was invincible?

    Fett shook his head. He was just in shock from losing Mirta. Ice still ran in his veins, and he had a responsibility to his father, to Shysa, to fight for his people. He ground his teeth, and refocused himself to become the cold man that everyone knew.

    “Well, let’s make sure whatever he’s waiting for doesn’t happen.”

    ---

    Admiral Daala turned to the her crew, haggard, exhausted, and on the edge of a mutiny that would serve nobody but Darth Caedus. Stele had vanished, leaving Daala with Captain Remal, the former commander of the destroyed Victory-class Star Destroyer Scylla, her former flag. Remal had thrown himself into commanding her flagship, and she appreciated that. With the Venator-class Star Destroyer Intrepid, the Acclamator-class assault ship Majestic, and the Republic-class cruiser Spritespray to hand, and of course the Bloodfin, she would normally be able to hold her own against the four Imperial II-class Star Destroyers that were pursuing her, but Caedus and Bwua’tu had concealed a wing of fighters on each of the planetoids of the Roche Asteroid Belt, split evenly between E-wings and Starhunters, and each planetoid was contributing squadrons to keeping her in-system as she advanced for the edge of the gravity wells that encompassed the system.

    With those odds, her task force was severely outmatched and, being as they were retreating, unable to take advantage over the local situation at any one point. Vitor Reige, Pellaeon’s former adjutant, was excelling himself as a battle field commander, positioning the Bloodfin perfectly at every instant to prevent the Relentless and its sister ships from outflanking Daala as she took the Chimaera throw wave after wave of fighter craft.

    The rest of the Battle of Roche was going just as poorly, with the scattered elements of the anti-Caedus resistance being thoroughly picked apart. As Daala watched, the Bounty was rapidly becoming too damaged to even be towed to the fringes of the system, and the Niathal was about to lose the only way in which she had been able to fend off the Turbulent-class warships nipping at her fins. The two Corellian Strident-class Star Defenders were long gone, and the Fourth Fleet seemed to have taken very little damage, a testament to the skills of Admiral Darklighter.

    Daala could only shake her head, and come to the realisation that she had no way to survive this engagement. Fett had still not came back to her aid, which meant something had gone wrong at his end, too. Without him, she could not make any headway against these fighter swarms, and her remaining vessels would be picked apart. Short of doing something surprising, Daala had no chance of surviving. She couldn’t win on her own. None of them could, and if she had reached the point to realise that she could not triumph alone, hopefully they had too.

    And so... she wouldn’t.

    Clapping her hands together, Daala came to a decision, the crew looking to her, a mixture of haggard faces that were equal parts derision and hope. Her crew still had its spine, but it was focused on blaming her. Into the silence, Captain Remal, eyes bloodshot from having far too much caf, spoke. “Admiral?”

    “Bring about the Chimaera, and the rest of the Irregulars. We’re heading in-system. It’s time to show Bwua’tu how to win a war.” The crew was surprised, which was a start, but she could feel them tacking their hopes on to her. “No, this isn’t over. We’re going to stick a needle in the GA’s eye, and rejoin the main engagement. We still have work to do, and to show up a Bothan.” She took a deep breath. “All non-essential crew to the escape pods now, to launch on my orders. The rest of you – target the Chimaera at the Relentless.

    “And get ready to abandon ship.”

    ---

    Supreme Commander Nek Bwua’tu had moved his command centre and auxillary bridge to the prison block that Wedge Antilles and Winter Celchu were imprisoned. Doing that made it very clear that he would be involved in the firefight with Iella Antilles and her strike team, but it also allowed him to concentrate his defences.

    So far, everything was, in-fact, going as planned.

    The Errant Venture had been locked into place, and thanks to the Third Vengeance the Smuggler’s Alliance had been required to tow the Admiral Ackbar into the Battle of Roche to prevent the Vengeance from destroying Farlander’s task force, or from it intervening and saving Bwua’tu before the strike team was in place. The three elements were in a delicate balance, each counter-balancing the other, but with the Ackbar being towed into battle, in order to keep the Vengeance close by, Bwua’tu had more assets to hand. Line-of-sight laser-based comms were notoriously difficult to aim, but they were also impossible to intercept and decrypt, targeted as they were. As such Bwua’tu was able to coordinate the rest of his fleet, and with such direction the Fourth was dominating the Corellian and Bothan fleets. Once those engagements were won, then he would be out of harms way.

    The resistance to the Galactic Alliance numbered only slightly more than a fleet in strength, drawn from five separate command structures which were not coordinating. Bwua’tu, on the other hand, had much of the Fourth Fleet, the Third Vengeance, four Imperial II-class Star Destroyers and three Turbulent-class Star Destroyers – a clear win was shaping up, and that advantage would increase as time went by. With a full fleet and the Megador enroute to Hapes, the war was, for all intents and purposes, over.

    Bwua’tu nodded to himself once more.

    And then caught sight of the Chimaera turning about, hurling what few fighter craft, corvettes and frigates that were available to the Maw Irregular Fleet at the massed wings of fighters harrying the elderly Star Destroyer, and then the Chimaera lurched forward, diving past the other four capital ships of the task force towards the Relentless and its sister ships. One, the Empire, was holding position slightly behind and above the Relentless, while the other two were strung out on the flanks, firing inward on the Maw fleet. In short, Daala was running into the guns of four capital ships that were of equivalent strength to her.

    The Chimaera, somehow martialling the strength to keep her shields up, plunged forward, past the Bloodfin,seemingly pulling up from the engagement to attack the Empire. But Bwua’tu could see that would not happen. The Chimaera’s nose brushed the upper hull of the Relentless and then plowed through the bridge, advancing on the Empire even as it was aflame. Escape pods burst free of the suicide ship, the Bloodfin and the other capital ships following, hammering the dying hulk of the Relentless and pounding on the Empire. The Empire fired on the five advancing ships, seemingly unsure on which target to focus on, and was hit with the combined weapons of all five, caught by surprise. The Empire went up in flames, but not before the other two Star Destroyers, moving themselves to launch a broadside at Daala’s ships, hit the Chimaera hard, the elderly Destroyer listing badly and then settling, heavily damaged. Escape pods were scooped up by the passing ships, which had already marshalled their tractor beams in readiness, and then the Maw Irregular fleet was free, rushing towards the main engagement even as two Star Destroyers sought to array themselves to give chase. Behind them, the wings of fighters were still engaging Daala’s corvettes, frigates and squadrons of fighters as they dispersed, seeking to deal with them before they coordinated into an attack that could flank either of them.

    Bwua’tu grimaced. Daala had a mind that was erratic. It jumped when it shouldn’t, and didn’t when it should. She was the one tactician here that he was unsure of, and he had thus focused on defanging her superweapons first, before ripping apart the Hapan and Wookiee fleets. He would simply have to make some adjustments, though. He was still unsurprised.

    He had them now.

    ---

    The recently-promoted Jedi Knight, Seff Hellin, was exercising his skills in not being paranoid, as he drifted in the void at the fringes of the Transistory Mists, complete with his StealthX. It wasn’t Seff’s fault however. It was his Jedi partner, Qwallo Mode, a Duros, who was causing Seff to feel such paranoia. Qwallo seemed to be all but panicking, and through their Force bond Seff was taking the brunt of it.

    Seff leaned his fighter towards Qwallo’s, in an effort to see into the cockpit and reassure him, as they were operating under strict communication silence. Turning his blond haired-head, Seff tried to wave at the the Duros, but Qwallo was not paying attention. Seff grimaced and sought to send reassurance through the Force, but Qwallo withdrew from their bond. He even withdrew from the Force, causing Seff to momentarily blink in surprise.

    Had his sensors not chimed at him, Seff would have made a further effort to communicate with his partner, but instead he had no choice but to focus upon what could only be a fleet, from the mass being attributed to it. Sure enough, there it was, an Imperial assault fleet, supported by the Super Star Destroyer Megador and the black-hulled Anakin Solo. Seff’s ice ran cold at the display of military might, and he nudged his fighter up, off the plane that they were currently occupying. Qwallo, at least, followed, and Seff concentrated on keeping himself hidden in the Force.

    A dark and powerful presence seemed to spread out into the system, a hyperspace junction when one wished to enter the Transistory Mists that surrounded the Hapes Cluster, a presence which Seff knew to be Darth Caedus, as he sought any Jedi hidden in the system, or whether the Jedi intended to ambush him here.

    The Imperial fleet promptly dispatched the automated mines surrounding the hyperspace egress points, their efficiency causing them to suffer zero casualties. Seff felt a ripple of fear burst from him, which he promptly clamped down on, but not before a great darkness seemed to surround him, and Seff heard the sound of laughter in his mind. Seff jinked his StealthX, half-expecting the position he had previously held to be filled with unerringly accurate turbolaser fire.

    Allowing himself to come to a stop kilometres from his position, Seff found that the Imperial fleet had not deviated from its course in the slightest, pushing through the minefield towards the next jump point. The Anakin Solo lingered for a moment in the centre of the system, and Seff felt himself tense, but there was no reaction.

    His light skin flushed with indignation as he realised that Darth Caedus was toying with him, and Seff ground his teeth in frustration. And then, his channel picked up a single transmission from the black-hulled Star Destroyer, over an open-channel, and directed for Coruscant.

    “Commence the Final Protocol.”

    Seff Hellin felt a chill fill his bones, and reached out with the Force to bid Qwallo follow him. The Duros did, and they rushed for the hyperspace jump point, completely ignored by the Imperials and Megador as the armada rumbled forward.

    Grandmaster Skywalker had to be told what was coming.

    And that something bad was about to happen on Coruscant.

    ---

    Commodore Turk Brand, former Captain of the Majestic-class Star Cruiser Yald, reflected upon, of all things, the weather. Coruscant was a venerable web of darkness and storms, all generated on the orders of Darth Caedus. The weather of the capital of the galaxy had long been artificially stimulated, and, since the beginning of the Battle of Roche, the Dark Lord of the Sith had bade Coruscant be surrounded by darkness, with perpetual cloud cover and a steady drizzle of rain pouring from the heavens, adding an air of oppressive negativity to the planet and its denizens. Brand noted that the use of the weather to control a populace was something he had not previously considered, but it really was a matter of keeping an already docile population in place. Finding that docile populace was the key.

    As a soldier, Brand could sympathise with the people of Coruscant, who had been shocked by the gratuitous violence used by the Yuuzhan Vong in their surprise assault on the galactic capital. Although over a decade ago now, such fear was deeply ingrained in the populace. It had made them look back upon a more militant galaxy fondly, if only because Coruscant had not particularly suffered under the demonic reign of Emperor Palpatine. The battles for Coruscant during the first Galactic Civil War had been largely small-scale, with the first accomplished with minimal bloodshed, and the Imperials more than happy to allow a large scale evacuation when they returned. The subsequent Imperial Civil War was, for the population of Coruscant, an exercise in horror in hindsight when they returned with the New Republic to a devastated world. Such events had not been personally viewed or experienced, and the New Republic had managed to rebuilt much of the capital in as little as a decade, thanks to a unified galaxy at the signing of the Bastion Accords.

    All of this was not the case when the Yuuzhan Vong came, and many ordinary citizens had suffered terribly under them. Even those that had escaped only managed to flee to Alsakan, Corulag or other worlds down the Perlemian Trade Route, and even those that made it to Kuat all eventually felt the genocidal madness of the extragalactic invaders.

    In short, Darth Caedus had taken advantage of the situation, and expertly so.

    His opposition was, as such, made up of an ever-shrinking pool of veterans and politicians who had fought the Empire, many of which had given up positions of authority to retire or simply passed away from old age, especially those who had served the Old Republic. Those few politicians that had retained authority had been on power-trips, such as Sal-Solo and Fyor Rodan, and started this conflict, which, again, had played directly into Darth Caedus’ hands, as he manipulated his way through the generation of politicians and soldiers who had came of age fighting or surviving the Yuuzhan Vong, all who had that selfsame fear the citizenry of Coruscant now had.

    And then, of course, there was a galaxy more militant than it had been under any previous democratic government – be it the Old or New Republic, or the Galactic Alliance. A heavily armed democracy with no appreciable external enemy was only inevitably going to revert to its indecisive self. An entity could only remain on watch for so long before the threat was considered to have passed.

    In that situation, how could the galaxy not have walked back into Civil War? And how could the Sith have not taken advantage? Brand considered this all to be the Legacy of what had come before – the end of the war with the Imperial Remnant, the First Corellian Insurrection, the continued war with the Second Imperium, anti-human alliances and Black Sun, hell, he considered it to be the Legacy of the Force, as the sole surviving Sith managed to unravel a galaxy that had been rudely interrupted from its business by the Yuuzhan Vong.

    Turk Brand scowled, batting aside such repressive thoughts that seemed to come to him as second nature, since this oppressive weather had taken hold of the planet. He would remedy it the moment he was in control of the planet. His colleagues had taken up positions around the planet, while the Galactic Space Marines had been moved to defend the Senate – or encircle, when the call was made.

    The Commodore nodded to himself. When Ponc Gavrisom arrived, they would head towards the self-same Senate and declare, with their allies, the Senate disbanded for the duration of the crisis and that they and a coalition of Loyalists would be taking the reins of government. A handful of Space Marines in command positions had been informed of the plan, but they could not be called upon until the Senate was secure. As such Brand, A’baht and Nantz were providing security for this gathering.

    Brand tapped his comlink to Nantz, who tapped back, only once, an indication that everything was clear. He did the same to A’baht, who promptly did the same. So far, so good. Brand had elected to meet the Senate committee at his apartment in the peaks of 500 Republica, itself located in the Senate District and as such an ideal location for a rendezvous. He had a shuttle to hand, piloted by the selfsame leaders of the Marines who would be calling upon the loyalty of the Corps, which would come to the landing pad atop the tower on his orders.

    On cue, the turbolift opened, and the wiry Calibop that was Ponc emerged with Senator’s Ranth of Antar 4 and Releqy A'Kla of Caamas flanking him, the two Senators looking nervous but with conviction to their strides. Brand held out a hand for Ponc to shake, squeezing the hand lightly. “Senator Gavrisom.”

    “Commodore Brand.”

    The greeting was warm, even though most Senators were as distrustful of the military as the military was of Senators, although the Senate had many more recent examples of the military over-stepping the mark in recent months. Brand gestured to the other turbolift, the one within each of the apartments that led directly to the roof. “If you would follow me, Senator.” He promptly tapped his comlink, a single click being returned by the shuttle crew – they were on their way. If everything went according to plan, the shuttle would arrive at the pad the moment they did, minimising their exposure to any GAG interference.

    “For the last piece of ‘action’ before words can take over once more?”

    Brand smiled at the Senator, renowned for his ability to talk. “To be frank, I cannot wait until the only casualties of the day are a few angry words. It will be a pleasure, as a matter of fact.”

    Releqy smiled. “It warms me that you would say that, Commodore.”

    “Only a little further, Senator, and we can finally bring this terrible war to an end.”

    “With Bwua’tu on-board?” said Ranth, soundly grave as ever. “I have not heard that the fighting in the Roche system has abated any further, let alone that at Mandalore. In-fact, I understand that Darth Caedus is heading for Hapan space even now.”

    Brand pursed his lips, acknowledging such questions were to be expected. “Once we have Coruscant, Bwua’tu will have no choice but to acknowledge Ponc as the legitimate Chief of State. From that point onwards we can expect many of the fleets gathered above Coruscant to also join us – which was Bwua’tu’s reasoning behind withdrawing those fleets back to here. Apart from the Fourth and remnants of the Fifth that Caedus has in the field, the majority of Alliance assets are here, and will not be in position to storm the planet. They will have no choice but to acknowledge you. Several of my comrades have taken command of elements of the Third and Ninth in orbit, so the transition should be momentary.”

    Ponc nodded. “With a hopefully bloodless coup, we can cement our support amongst the populace, as well.”

    “Exactly.”

    The turbolift came to the pad and opened into the howling wind and rain, the Senators drawing their robes close to them and Brand drawing his blaster, taking point. Nantz was already there, waving to an approaching shuttle. Brand pointed to Nantz with his free hand. “Come on!”

    The turbolift doors closed behind him, and they rushed forward as a group, as the shuttle came to settle down. Nantz had already slapped the control pad to drop the ramp, which it promptly did – releasing a wave of black-armoured Galactic Alliance Guardsmen.

    Brand skidded to a halt and fired at the first trooper, dropping him, as Nantz was bowled to the ground by two GAG members. Another trooper fired, and Brand dodged to the left, decades-old training kicking in. A smell of burning came to his right, and Brand looked with dread to see Ponc had taken the blaster shot on his shoulder and was down. Blaster fire stitched the ground before him, a clear warning, and the Commodore simply dropped his blaster. Twelve soldiers had emerged from the shuttle, and Brand knew he could not defeat the surviving eleven – and as Ponc needed medical attention, there was really no point.

    The lead Guardsman lifted the visor of his helmet, revealing Captain Girdun, who grinned. “I would suggest a rain-check on that bloodless coup of yours, Commodore.”

    Brand drew himself up to his full height – he would not be intimidated by this slime. “You will tell me who betrayed us.”

    “Betrayed you?” Girdun laughed. “Lord Caedus foresaw your treachery, Commodore. Who needs traitors when you have the Force?”

    ---

    The fact of the matter was that Darth Caedus had been anticipating that the Senate would try something. He had also anticipated that Bwua’tu would give his tacit approval to an endeavour. Which is why Caedus had recalled the Bothan from Coruscant as the Alliance’s strategy began to dictate the consolidation of the military around the capital. That consolidation he had dangled as bait, and the Defence Force had been unable to resist. It had been a relatively simple matter to deduct which politician the military would turn towards, and Caedus had, as matter of fact, done it all without a single Force vision.

    No, his Force visions were occupied with other matters.

    And so, across the Third and Ninth Fleets, across the buildings of Coruscant, and in the very halls of the Senate, politicians and officers, traitors all, found themselves surrounded, captured, and caught, in the moment they incriminated themselves.

    Not a single one was captured or attacked before they committed treason.

    Caedus gave each and every single one them the chance to redeem themselves.

    It was just, in his opinion, a shame that none of them took it.

    And so the spine of democracy was finally, completely, and utterly, broken.

    ---

    Darth Caedus felt the ripple in the Force that signified that events were underway on Coruscant. He lamented that such actions had been necessary, because they simply were not. Had the military just accepted that he knew what was best for all of them, then they would never have had to come to blows.

    The Imperial Fleet had yet to reach the jump-point at the fringe of the Transistory Mists when Captain Girdun – the ever faithful and loyal leader of the Galactic Alliance Guard in his absence – returned his order. Darth Caedus took the hologram in full-size, in the centre of the bridge. It would do his crew well to see yet another display of his abilities. While he knew very well that he was not omnipotent – the incident with a Mandalorian at Fondor showed him that very clearly – he knew that there was merit in making his crew believe it, so that they would continue to fight for him even when common sense dictated otherwise.

    Captain Girdun saluted as he came into focus, and Darth Caedus returned the salute, his cloak rippling. Caedus greeted the man. “Captain Girdun.”

    “Lord Caedus.” Girdun dutifully shifted from his salute to one knee, looking down.

    Caedus managed not to grin at the mans actions. “Rise, Captain, and provide me with a report on the Final Protocol. Have we captured the insurgents?”

    “Yes, my Lord. I can confirm that we have captured Commodore Brand as he sought to transfer Ponc Gavrisom and other Senators to the Senate, in coordination with commanders of the Galactic Space Marines and other Senators and officers. We have Brand and his companions, the leaders of the Marines and also Admiral Kir Vantai under guard. The only minor point was that General Rieekan evaded capture, and has hid within the underworld.”

    Caedus kept his displeasure from his face. The mission had been wildly successful, and even Rieekan’s escape did not change that. An entire host of treacherous Senators and members of the Defence Force had been secured. Which meant that Coruscant, and his Empire, was secure. The crew rustled with conversation, and Caedus raised a hand to forestall this.

    “You have done well, General Girdun.”

    “Thank you, my Lord.” Girdun could not have felt happier in the impression he presented in the Force, but his expression and body language did not show this and was entirely professional. Caedus approved, and his apprentice, standing at the back of the bridge, gave a similar impression in the Force. He allowed himself a smile.

    “The fleet is advancing into the Hapes Cluster to put an end to the interference of the Jedi Order, at which point we will return to the Roche system and declare an end to the war.”

    “And what shall I do with the prisoners?” Girdun was of course making reference to the situation with the prison system, which was overtaxed beyond belief. Much of the Anakin Solo was dedicated to handling dangerous prisoners, which is why the most dangerous and important convicts, including Prince Isolder, Aurra Sing, Mirta Gev and Byalfin Dyur, remained on-board.

    Caedus waved a hand negligently. “Place them in carbonite, and hide them somewhere. Somewhere where only the government would be able to find them.”

    “Of course, my Lord.”

    He would hide the traitors, and then forget about them. In a few decades, maybe he’d let them out. They could hardly be released at the end of the war with the other prisoners, after all. Lord Caedus refocused upon Girdun. “And your other orders?”

    Girdun was, as ever, short in his response. “With regards to the Moffs?”

    “Yes.”

    “They remain in force, and no information has come to light to deal with.”

    As in suppress, Darth Caedus knew. Girdun had been tasked with ensuring that all reports of the Moffs and in particular their deaths were suppressed, to limit the damage such reports would cause within the Empire.

    That was a lie, of course, but Girdun did not need to know that.

    A question bubbled in Tahiri’s mind, and Darth Caedus knew it was finally time to take his apprentice in his confidence, and reveal it all to her. He still had the datapad for her, apparently connecting her to Vergere. There were a few painful truths yet to come, but they were all necessary to complete the transformation of Tahiri Veila into a Sith Lord.

    Caedus nodded to Girdun, and saluted.

    “Caedus out.”

    ---

    Valin Horn was a dervish, whirling through and around battle droids. His every action was perfection, his attention laser-tight as he expertly cut down the YVH droids that stood before him. Jysella and the other Jedi were on defensive duty, and were allowing Iella, Jae, Lando, Wes, Cheriss and Kre’frey to take down one droid after another with concentrated fire. For the most part, the engagement was going well, and they were making headway – dozens of droids behind them evidence of their success. YVH 1-1A was gone – long gone – but they had been able to organise a line and advance, quick enough that the droids had been unable, seemingly, to adapt. Lando was checking the wrecks of broken droids and making a running tally, seemingly secure in his numbers to state that he could confirm the remaining numbers of droids available. This knowledge also gave them the ability to anticipate counter-attacks and flanking moves, and more than once a sealed door had opened to deposit a battle droid, which was promptly taken apart. They had taken damage, all of them, but it was not the confusing and frantic engagement it had been at the start of the long day.

    Before they knew it, there were eight YVH battle droids with their backs to a wall, pouring fire forward, and they were poised to break into the prison block. Solitary, Valin led the charge, and within a few violence-filled moments the eight droids were in pieces, and the Jedi were carving apart the bulkhead, half a dozen blades making short work of the durasteel barrier.

    Valin knew that he would be exenorated today, and redeemed. He would not need his doubts to keep him going, for he would know that he had succeeded, and saved Wedge and Winter, and repaired the harm he had done by failing.

    With a flourish of telekinesis from Jysella, the bulkhead dipped and hurled inward, and Valin and the others burst through.

    And then it was over.

    ---

    Iella Antilles pointed her blaster at Nek Bwua’tu and his prison staff, which looked like his bridge crew. She realised that the wily Bothan had consolidated his forces here, and his command staff, so he could present a unified front – a front which had failed, and was now poised to be broken in two.

    Nek had his blaster to the head of Wedge, who held his manacled hands up to his wife for calm. They exchanged a smile which made her heart lift – a smile exchanged purely through his eyes, as his mouth was taped shut - and Iella firmed her grip on her blaster. “Let my husband go, Nek.”

    “Happily, Iella,” he said, unruffled by the disparity between his forces and hers. A few lightly armed officers were standing near converted consoles, as technicians and aides worked to keep the Admiral Ackbar going. “Though you yourself don’t have a way off the ship, and I have forced your task force to move us into the Battle of Roche.”

    He gestured with his free hand, and screens became apparent above them. Iella caught a glance at a tactical feed showing the Third Vengeance, Song of War & Mon Adapyne and the Admiral Ackbar & Errant Venture occupying the points of a triangle to each other, Smuggler’s Alliance ships all docked with the Venture. “So that’s where the rest of the YVH’s are?”

    “Sieging the Venture, yes,” said Bwua’tu, in response to Lando’s question. “I can withdraw them from the ship in exchange for your surrender.”

    The massive Bazel Warv rumbled a response. Bwua’tu raised an ear to listen, and one of his Sullustan crewers diverted its gaze from Iella to the Ramoan. Yaqeel Saav’etu placed a hand on his shoulder. “Now, now, Bazel, the Admiral doesn’t deserve such language.”

    “Thank you, Jedi Saav’etu.” Nek smoothly ignored the insult. “We are, for the most part, at an impasse. Which, consider the track record of those who have opposed the Antilles clan, is fairly impressive, I would say.”

    “Don’t congratulate yourself yet, Nek,” said Lando, flashing a smile. “Do you think you can hold us here forever? The battle might fall apart without you, and Caedus will hardly forgive you for letting Wedge and Winter come between you and his ‘victory’.”

    Nek bared his fangs. “Valid point. But you are, fundamentally, beaten. The battle has turned my way.” He pointed. “See, Traest? The Bothan forces have been reduced significantly, and the rest of the battle is going my way. While you have been hiding out aboard the Ackbar, I have destroyed much of the Hapan, Wookiee and Confederation fleets.”

    Iella glanced to Traest, who was fixated upon the various screens, clearly calculating numbers. She followed his gaze, and saw a mass of contacts labelled ‘Daala’ making a run at a trio of Turbulent-class Star Destroyers, pursued by two other Star Destroyers. A massive contact named the Bounty, flanked by a contact labelled ‘Niathal’, was holding off, and coloured red to indicate massive damage. “Is this the pivot point of the battle, Traest?”

    “Yes.” Kre’frey’s words were softly spoken. “The Confederation is splitting along faction lines, but if Daala breaks the cordon around Niathal they can link up with the Corellian and Bothan fleets and perhaps repel the Fourth.”

    Nek’s voice was sleek, and Iella spied his sad smile. “Which will not happen.”

    The contact with the Bounty suddenly became diffuse, spreading across the gap between the three Turbulent-class Star Destroyers and Daala’s fleet. Daala’s fleet was encompassed by the Bounty, which was splitting into a dozen pieces, all four contacts to her command suddenly flashing orange and red with damage. “Tractor beams on stressed hulls function fairly well, as you can see.”

    Traest’s snout dipped, and he lifted his blaster at Iella’s head. “He has us, Iella. We cannot hold him here long enough for the battle to turn in our favour. We need to get off, and unify the remaining factions. Bothawui needs me. It doesn’t need Wedge Antilles.”

    Bazel lowered his own blade to the back of Kre’frey’s neck, so close the hairs were strating to crisp while Kolir Hu'lya, towards the entrance to the room, a circular dip which led off in three other directions towards various prison cells, looked straight to Nek Bwua’tu, raising her hand to him.

    “You will let us all go.”

    Nek snorted, professional pride eclipsing his attempt to remain impartial and seemingly not gloat. “I am not going to fall victim to a mind trick, Jedi Hu’lya. Your family would be ashamed to hear you had tried it on a Bothan.”

    Kolir grinned, stepping forward towards the group and bolstering the groups defences, less Bazel now his attention was on Kre’frey. “It was worth a try.”

    Iella pursed her lips, watching the positions of her friends and the Alliance officers play out, and where the battle would start and, simultaneously, end, in a flurry of fire which could be planned out from where everyone was now standing and directed – in short, she could, for a brief moment, see where any firefight would go, less any skifters Nek could bring to play. “This is going to come to blows, Nek, and although I clearly cannot guarantee how many of my friends will survive, I can guarantee that you and your crew will not, even if we try our very best to keep the casualties to a minimum. You have pushed us to this point, and you wanted us to be here, right now. All you needed to do was publicly denounce Caedus, or not take personal responsibility for Wedge and Winter... and we wouldn’t be here.”

    “If you allow me a bit of conceit, Iella, only I could handle you all. Any other attack launched by you would have cost Alliance lives. And, so far, you little escapade has cost a small amount of lives, or no more lives than would have been lost in the Battle of Roche anyway.” Nek’s eyes glanced to a chrono on one of the displays beside him, a chrono which Iella noticed, only now, had been counting down , and he shifted his blaster, pressing it into Wedge’s skull. “I need an answer, I am afraid. Because otherwise, it is over.

    Iella watched the chrono hit zero, and levelled her blaster, targeting Nek’s eye. “Says who?”

    Snap-hiss!

    A lightsaber blade, blue as sky, burst from Kolir’s chest, and she dropped. The Jedi, clearly completely surprised, changed positions to face the traitor – no, the newcomer. A woman in a black version of the Jedi robes, she held her blade nonchalantly, a smile to her lips. Iella didn’t recognise the woman, but she didn’t have time to muse when the prison cells opened in unison, depositing a force of soldiers all in black armour of their own, each carrying over-sized cannons and with their faces completely concealed.

    A look of dismay covered Lando’s face, and the Jedi shifted positions to face the new threat. Iella took a step back, towards him, and she saw Kre’frey step back away from them, and the soldiers all levelled their weapons at the group, now at a sizeable disadvantage. Who in the Nine Corellian Hells?

    “Han told me about these guys,” Lando answered, to the strike teams unspoken questions. “If my guess is correct, these are the soldiers are the ones which were used to break up the peace process at Kuat, before the war started. They are all dying from fatal diseases, so they are unable to give off a danger sense for our Jedi friends.”

    “That’d be correct,” said Jysella, grinning tightly. “And their weapons are anti-Jedi in design. But that doesn’t explain the black-robed woman, though.”

    “Oh,” said woman chimed. “I’m doing a job for Lord Caedus. I don’t have any ill intentions towards you.”

    Nek Bwua’tu stepped away from Wedge, who was gripped by a burly Alliance officer that Iella recognised as Titch, the man who absconded with Wedge when the Second Fleet launched its abortive attack on Corellia. Standing beside him was Tarfang, who promptly began to throw insults at Jae. She filed the information about the two of them away, but focused on Nek Bwua’tu as he pointed his blaster at her.

    “I believe she says it is over, Iella. I will accept that surrender now.”
  18. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Nov 15, 2004
    star 7
    Chapter 14.5


    Iella took step back towards Lando, back-to-back, her strike team so close together that she could feel the thrum of the various Jedi lightsabers running through her body. None of them balked for a second, and none of them offered a comment.

    Traest Kre’frey walked around the edges of the cordon, the dark-armoured soldiers holding position while the bounty hunter who had introduced herself as Zilaash Kuh held the exit. He stood in front of Nek Bwua’tu, completely in his sight, and levelled his blaster at Iella, just like the Alliance Supreme Commander.

    “Surrender, Iella,” stated Kre’frey. “We have no reason to fight any further. Look at the screens above us,” he said, indicating the screens covering a portion of the circular ceiling to the prison block. They showed Daala’s fleet making its way through the wreckage of the Bounty as the Ocean was hammered by the five Star Destroyers that had surrounded the two of them on one screen, and half the Fourth Fleet tasking the remnants of the Corellian and Bothan fleets on another. The Venture, Song of War and Mon Adapyne were being hounded by the Third Vengeance towards the Corellian formation, the Ackbar towed by the three of them and so heavily supported by Alliance E-wings and Imperial Starhunters that it was hard to pick them out. On a fourth screen was a running feed from two engagements - Darth Caedus’ Imperial assault fleet, showing it on the edges of the Shedu Maad system – he had found the Jedi base – and also the remnants of the Fifth Fleet blockading Mandalore.

    Iella looked up, eyeing those screens, and then back down. “Which makes it all the more important that we resist Bwua’tu here and now. Either we take him down, or we lose.”

    Bwua’tu waved his hand. “The war is about to be won. The Corellian and Bothans are about to be trapped, and Niathal’s fleet destroyed. Even though the resistance has made it the fringes of the Roche system, they will not make it beyond Carbos Thirteen.” As he spoke, the final wing of Alliance E-wings and Imperial Starhunters launched, gunning for the remnants of the Confederation.

    “And that is that.”

    Iella grimaced. He was correct, but she could tell that not a single one of them were willing to give up. Not just because they were here to save Wedge and Winter, both of which were being marked by Titch and Tarfang respectively, but they were here to stop Bwua’tu from winning the war for Darth Caedus.

    Steeling herself to die here, and now, if only to take out Bwua’tu, she squinted one of her eyes to focus her aim on the Bothan. Any moment now…

    “Admiral!”

    Iella nearly opened fire in surprise, but when she opened her eyes Bwua’tu was looking at the viewscreen above them, his mouth half-agape. The Third Vengeance had just exploded, for no apparent reason. Iella refreshed her memory, and recalled that the vessel had been shaded fairly green, indicating it had shields up and was intact. Yet, it had just been destroyed.

    The Wraiths, Iella absently realised. They had beenTycho’s skifter in the deck of the Battle of Roche, after all.

    Bwua’tu was suddenly down, and Kre’frey’s hand drew back, showing that he had just decked Bwua’tu with the butt of his blaster, and Wedge threw himself backwards at Titch, causing his blaster shot, trained on Iella, to go wild, zinging past her ear, even as Winter turned and swung her wrists into the side of Tarfang’s head.

    This all took half of a second, and the strike force dutifully split up, the oversized blasters of the armoured soldiers launching solid bolts of energy and entrapping webs at them. From the ceiling dropped down a mass of shapes, through the holograms displaying the Battle of Roche, and Iella half-expected to see a third wave of Bwua’tu’s reinforcements, but instead she was greeted by the sight of Tyria Sarkin-Tainer being followed by her daughter, Syal, as well as Hobbie and Pash. The older men dropped to the ground heavily, rolling to arrest their motion, and began popping shots off into the armoured soldiers.

    Iella didn’t have a moment to work out how her daughter was here with most of the crew of her blastboat, and she didn’t ask. With them here the battle was going to shift direction. GA soldiers and officers were opening fire all around, and in this confined space Iella had no idea how matters were going. All she could do was glimpse the battle; a bloodied Nek Bwua’tu wrestling on the floor with Traest Kre’frey over a single blaster; Bazel Warv, bereft of his lightsaber, attempting to throttle one of the soldiers; a web encompassing Lando and Jysella and knocking them to the ground; a massive bolt of energy impacting beside Valin and the backwash sending him flying; Yaqeel Saav’etu exchanging furious lightsaber blows with Kuh.

    Iella, crouched with her back to a command console and looking towards the exit, fired a bolt at Kuh when she kicked Yaqeel away, but the bounty hunter expertly deflected the bolt back at her. Iella was pushed aside by a mass, the bolt spanging into the metal where her head had once been. She looked up to see her husband, still manacled and with his mouth taped shut, who raised his eyebrows at her. She quickly ripped off the tape, and he worked his jaw at the sudden pain. “Ow.”

    “I missed you, too.”

    “No doubt.” Wedge leaned back, and Iella began working at his manacles. “What’s the new plan?”

    “Get you out, and run back to the hangar – or find escape pods. We hadn’t planned upto this point.”

    Wedge flinched as another bolt rebounded off the console. His hands free, he grabbed a blaster from a fallen GA officer, and pointed at Kuh. “She’s stronger than our Jedi, Iella.”

    Iella turned to look, and could see the blue-bladed dervish fending off Valin and Jysella, holding Kolir’s lightsaber in her free hand and driving the brother and sister Horn children back. Syal landed down beside them, and popped another bolt off at Kuh, which caused the three of them to dive down. “Yeah, that doesn’t work sweetie,” said Iella, grinning. “How are you here?”

    “We crashed into the bridge, but managed to abandon ship before we hit – as the ships shields were down, we were able to survive in or evac suits for the few minutes it took to get aboard.”

    “Volu?”

    Syal shook her head, looking grim. Iella felt a pang of regret that her daughter was being forced to deal with death so early on. But Syal wanted to be a pilot, as much as Myri would be forced to face the dark world of Intelligence before long. Instead Iella settled on being proud of her two children, and drew Syal into a hug.

    “We need to get going, before Bwua’tu or Kuh calls more reinforcements.” Wedge stood, risking a glance into the firefight to find everyone. “We’re pulling out, people, let’s get going.” Iella stood with him, firing a bolt through the visor of the soldier that had trapped Wes. The soldier toppled, and then Wes returned the father by shooting a GA bridge officer who had drawn a bead on her.

    Iella began snapping orders over the tumult. “Kre’frey, bring Bwua’tu with you – don’t kill him. Everyone else, we’re pulling out. Bring Kolir’s body, Jysella. Valin, Lando, Hobbie, you have point.”

    Iella turned back to face Kuh, the three Antilles family members pointing their blasters. Wedge called out to the bounty hunter as she swept her hand, throwing Valin into the wall – a particularly insulting use of the Force as Valin didn’t have the skill of telekinesis, and then Kuh battered aside Jysella’s blade and kicked it from her hand, just as Cheriss rushed in with a two-handed blow. Kuh could only barely move out of the way as the Adumari swung down, her metal blade clanging on the ground as it graze the bounty hunters arm, slashing through fabric. Kuh turned to cut down Cheriss, who simply smiled, and emptied the charge from her blastsword into what was pinned beneath her blade – Kuh’s flowing robes. They promptly caught fire, and Cheriss kicked out, hard, catching Kuh in the stomach and flipping her back with a grunt of surprise and pain.

    With a clear view of her, and no other combatants in the way, the Antilles family fired at Kuh, who promptly began battering their shots back, and Yaqeel -landed in front of them to divert the returned shots. Bazel, with his lightsaber to hand again, rushed forward and swung at her legs, Kuh flipping over him, slashing down at the Ramoan. Yaqeel leapt up and into the air, intercepting the blow, and then Kuh landed in-front of Wedge, Iella and Syal. Wedge stepped forward as Kuh readied to swing a decapitating blow at the three of them, and then screamed out. Wedge shot her, a blaster bolt taking Kuh in the chest.

    She stumbled, dropping Kolir’s lightsaber to reach for the needle protruding from her back. Wedge looked at his blaster, and Iella realised that he had actually pumped a fully powered bolt into the bounty hunter. Shada D’ukal, whom Iella admitted to having completely forgotten about during their mission, emerged from a shadow and waved another of her poison needles.

    “I have more where that came from, Kuh.”

    Zilaash yanked the needle clear with the Force, and hurled it at Shada with a scream. “Enough!”

    Shada dodged, and Wedge leaned in, getting a fairly decent right hook across Kuh’s face that sent her spinning to the ground. The lightsaber at Wedge’s feet flew away, into Kuh’s hand, and she ignited the two blades and Iella readied herself for a brawl, but Kuh leaped over them, and as Iella turned she clashed blades with Tyria and kicked Kre’frey to the ground, relieving him of Bwua’tu and rushing forward. Kuh’s face glanced at one of the fallen black-armoured soliders – all of which were finally dead – and one of the massive blasters levitated, firing a massive bolt of energy at the rear wall to the prison. The explosion rocked the room, and dust flowed outwards – Iella guessed that Kuh had blown her way clear through so she could run.

    Coming to her feet, Shada placed a hand on Iella’s shoulder. “We have to go, now. Bwua’tu has left the route to the escape pods unguarded.”

    “He has?” Iella said, surprised.

    Winter shook her head, sadly. “Bwua’tu had been doing his best to offer us a way out, even when he knew you would be coming. He sincerely wanted to avoid a confrontation, although he could not shy away from such a battle.”

    “His vow of krevi demanded he stop us, which was why he took us in. He knew that Fett would assume Mirta was dead, and left her to Caedus. But us? We had more people who cared about us, and saving us would prove a drain on resources he could keep near him.” Wedge sounded unhappy with the outcome, somewhat. “People have died saving us, because I didn’t stop Caedus from intervening.”

    Iella gave him a kiss. “These people were here to stop Bwua’tu and Caedus. They would have tried to capture Bwua’tu no matter what. Kre’frey was already on his way to assassinate him.” The Bothan shrugged, noncommittal, and collected blasters. The entirety of the bridge-prison was full of dead officers and soldiers, though Jae had gone out of his way to only stun Tarfang.

    Shada’s voice was insistant. “We need to go.”

    “Yes,” said Iella. “Valin, take point.” When he did not immediately respond, she looked over the others. “Where is Valin?”

    Tyria answered. “He’s gone after Zilaash. Leave them to me. I’m his senior, after all.”

    Iella could have commented that she, too, was in charge, but Tyria was referring to Valin’s role within the Jedi Order. Tyria was a Jedi Knight, but had been for years before Valin had. In point of fact, Tyria was largely self-taught, and as such she held a special place in the Order.

    Iella nodded. “Go.”

    ---

    Valin Horn rushed after Zilaash Kuh, and caught a glimpse of her as he rounded the corner, metres from the hangar bay. She had belted her and Kolir’s lightsaber, and had the unconscious Bwua’tu slung over her shoulder. Valin pointed his blaster and fired as soon as she was in sight, and Kuh spun, igniting her own lightsaber to deflect the bolt into one of the walls, the long corridor practically featureless and lit by emergency lighting.

    Kuh looked at Valin, lightsaber to the ready, as he advanced towards her. “You’ve come alone? I would have thought your merry band would be running away now. You have won, after all. The Dark Lord will not be pleased with me.”

    Valin pointed his blade at her. “You have something that does not belong to you.”

    “Oh?” Kuh’s voice was playful, and exaggerated, as if she was enjoying herself beyond belief. “Ah, yes,” she added, as if she had just remembered something of minor import. “I have Kolir’s lightsaber - the same Kolir who was a member of your team. I remember now. You, Kolir and Thann Mithric were all part of the same group, assigned on missions before and during the war together. Very sweet. And now Thann is dead, and Kolir, I imagine, did not survive my blade.”

    “Yes.” Valin ground out his word.

    “That’s not very Jedi of you, boy,” said Kuh. She placed Bwua’tu on the floor, and drew Kolir’s lightsaber, igniting it with a flourish as she strode forward. “Perhaps you would do better in the service of the Dark Lord of the Sith?”

    Valin lunged for her, and Kuh easily caught her blows and deflected them, binding his blade within hers, crossing them to prevent him from easily retreating. She drew back her lips into a grin. “Ever considered changing sides?”

    Kuh pushed forward, and Valin spent most of his subsequent retreat looking to prevent his own blade from killing him. “I could peer into your soul, and draw out your darkness, if you wish. Join me, and I shall show you the perfect side of the Force.”

    Valin felt the darkness reaching into him, and Valin, distraught over the death of his friend, was unable deflect her. But, just as suddenly, Kuh made a sound as if she was winded, and he felt her thrust free of his mind. She stumbled, allowing Valin to break free of her bind, and when he looked at him she had an expression of bewilderment to her face, as if something had surprised her within him. All of a sudden, she flew backwards, slamming to the ground, and Valin turned to see Tyria Sarkin-Tainer standing in the corridor, her hand extended, revealing the source of the telekinetic blow.

    “Zilaash Kuh, you called yourself,” said Tyria, taking slow steps forward, her blade humming loudly over the silence. “A lie, no doubt, which you do not want to be revealed to the greater world – I wonder if you would want everyone to know that someone masquerading as Kuh is wandering the galaxy? What would Kuh think?”

    Tyria stood beside Valin. “Valin, you are dangerously close to being unbalanced, here and now. I know you want to prove yourself, and to undo the harm that Darth Caedus has done to you, personally, or indirectly through this bounty hunter.” Tyria readied herself. “But you will not defeat either Caedus or Kuh with the darkness. You will need your light – and the love of those around you – to save those around you.”

    “He was using the light when Thann died, Sarkin,” bit Kuh, as she stood, both blades ready.

    Tyria nodded. “Yes, but it was Thann’s own darkness that caused him to be killed. He was aggressive, in his last moments, when he should have not been. He was afraid, because Master Katarn had been wounded. And that fear caused him to die.”

    “And Kolir?”

    That belongs to Kuh. And killing Kuh will not bring back Thann.”

    “So what should I do?” Valin said, aware that he was treading old ground, insofar as much as his raw emotions were flowing from the exact same wound that Thann’s death had caused on his psyche. “Not get close to anyone so I cannot be hurt again?”

    “No,” said Tyria, firmly. “Then you are not letting go, you are surrounding yourself with your pain. You need to understand that you are a warrior, Valin, and not just a guardian. We are Jedi Knights because we fight a personal war against the darkness in ourselves every day. And if we lose that fight, we do not find that we are free – we just become slaves to that darkness and despair.”

    “This slave will prove you wrong! The dark side is perfection!

    Zilaash Kuh could seemingly take no more of this sermonising, and she lunged forward, flicking her lightsaber to telekinetically throw Valin into the wall. He slid to the ground, and watched as Tyria deftly caught, deflected or blocked all of Kuh’s attacks. Tyria took a step forward, shoving her elbow out to catch Kuh’s death strike at the wrist and causing her to drop Kolir’s lightsaber, and then kicked out, catching Kuh in the chest and sending her stumbling back. With a flicker of her wrist, Kolir’s lightsaber landed in Valin’s hand.

    “Kuh, you’re going to need to be more than perfect to beat a Jedi.”

    The sentence seemed to slap the bounty hunter in the face, and she screamed. “Enough!” Spraying her fingers, a bolt of lightning burst from her fingertips and Tyria’s lightsaber spun from her grip. Kuh leaped forward, and Valin made his decision – to protect – and stepped in, catching Kuh’s slash and then driving her back. Kuh’s attacks, with a single blade, became desparate, but Valin doggedly defended his position, using the twin blades to send aside her bolts, centering herself in the Force so she could not yank the weapons from his hands, and keeping himself in the battle so she could not push him back.

    He heard Tyria collect her lightsaber and ignite it, and Kuh’s desparate glance flickered over Valin’s shoulder. He made that glance cost her, and headbutted her, driving her back a handful of steps. Tyria stood beside him, and Kuh screamed at them through the Force, a wave of energy that buffeted them, and with a yank Kuh pulled at the light fitting above them, dropping it on them. Valin and Tyria made short work of the distraction, but in that time Kuh collected Bwua’tu and rushed down the corridor.

    Valin watched her go, and deactivated his blades.

    He looked to Tyria. “Let’s go.”

    “Yes,” she said, smiling.

    ---

    Admiral Daala was just as surprised by the destruction of the Third Vengeance as anyone, but she was also one of the first to understand what it meant. The larger Destroyer had been responsible for much of the jamming flowing through the system, and with it gone it became apparent that they had actually managed to inflict damage to the Verpine communication systems during the Battle of Roche – suddenly they all had access to comm channels.

    Now aboard the Bloodfin and in command of her forces, Daala immediately hailed the remaining ships of the combined resistance, such as they numbered. The destruction of the Third Vengeance all but evened the numbered in the Roche system, and Daala intended to take advantage of it. The Alliance and remnant Imperial forces in-system had effectively driven the resistance together, which continued, in some places, to take potshots at each other, especially between the Bothans and the Hapans. Daala knew just what she needed to do, and had channels open to the Master Stroke, Ralroost, Song of War, Mon Adapyne, Errant Venture and Corellia Antilles within minutes, all collected on her command table.

    The collected officers, rogues and smugglers promptly began shouting at each other, at which point Daala snapped across the channels. “I am not here to play a game of recriminations. Bwua’tu is either dead or too busy to command. I don’t care about the details, but we have a chance to do something.”

    “I have six Metal-Crystal Phase Shifter weapons left aboard the Bloodfin, secret weapons that I kept to fire at the Anakin Solo or Admiral Ackbar when I had them in my sights.” Daala looked down at the collection of small holograms, all looking to her. “And I have trained them all on your bridges. And if you do not start working together right now, I will fire them all. Either we come together right now, or we are going to die. And I’d rather take my death in my own hands than lose the battle in a few hours from now because you’re all too idiotic to acknowledge the truth – your war has handed the Dark Lord of the Sith the passcodes to the galaxy.”

    “Grow up, and pick someone to command this little coalition.” The Bloodfin shook from fire, and alarms signifying damage activated as quickly as they were shut off. “I don’t care who does it.”

    And, as they were all looking at her expectantly, Daala realised they were expecting her to lead this little disaster to its end point. Even if her speech had been rehearsed, and her solution, a tried and tested one – she had gassed Imperial warlords who couldn’t agree – she hadn’t expected it to work.

    “Well, then, gentlebeings.” Daala grinned tightly. “Let’s get to work.”

    ---

    On the fringes of the Shedu Maad system, following the blood trail he had fixed to Jaina, Darth Caedus paused to take stock of the situation before dedicating himself to the final engagement. He was sitting alone in his meditation chamber, having left Tahiri to manage the Moffs until they arrived here.

    He was suddenly flooded with a series of reports from the Roche system, which caused him some concern. The Third Vengeance had been destroyed, which had allowed such reports to be issued. Bwua’tu had taken command of the Trucemaker, and had promised to regain the initiative. Darth Caedus was not concerned as to that, but the concept of the galaxy unifying against him was one which did.

    That was, ostensibly, a good thing, as the factions in the Roche system had not been able to agree on much during the war, and that had caused and expended the conflict, so from a purely objective point of view he was pleased that the galaxy was unifying. Of course, he wanted it to be unified under him – so he could take the dark throne to the galaxy and bring peace to the galaxy. A peace which, unlike the haphazard one Cal Omas and his uncle had imposed upon the Galactic Alliance, which was all too easy to pick apart by the Sith.

    The channel for General Girdun chimed, and Caedus immediately accepted the incoming transmission. A miniature Girdun appeared, and Girdun would have only seen Caedus’ face, cloaked in Sith robes. Girdun’s reaction was noticeable, but he recovered swiftly. “Yes, General Girdun?”

    “I have a report to tender, my Lord.”

    “Then serve it,” said Caedus, his eyes boring into Girdun, impatience evident. Why was everyone seeking his attention now? He was poised to deploy and sweep the Jedi from the history of the galaxy, and he could hardly be expected to focus on the Battle of Roche, or the progress of the burning of Mandalore. “Now.”

    “Yes, my Lord. As requested, I have intercepted any and all reports of which Moffs have been killed at the Battle of Roche. However, I had a report from Bastion that you may want to hear about.”

    “Is this a report which you have suppressed?”

    “Yes, my liege, and it concerns Moff -”

    “Calron the Elder, I know,” finished Darth Caedus, impatience showing. “His body has been found on Bastion, instead of being atomised with the Dominion at the opening stages of the Battle of Roche, in a cellar on his estate.”

    “Yes, my Lord,” said Girdun, who was not surprised that Caedus had divined the nature of the report. “And, of course, the same report applied to Moff Pualan, though there was variation to that report.”

    What?!” Darth Caedus’ uttered, surprise in his tone. “Explain, now.” Caedus knew that Calron was dead, because he had personally killed Calron, before attending the Moff Council session that had decided on the attack on Roche, with an illusion drawn over him to conceal the reality. The selfsame illusion he had continued, and even detached from him, to take command of the Dominion with Moff Pualan, who had insisted on joining Calron aboard the Dominion, as the Moff who had loudly supported the invasion.

    But if Moff Pualan was also dead on Bastion – then who had Caedus met with?

    Darth Caedus allowed his mind to wonder, and realised the only answer that could be true.

    Caedus waved off Girdun mid-sentence, uncaring what his final words and report was. He stood swiftly, and rushed to the bridge. They were still a day away from Shedu Maad, and in the middle of enemy territory at that. He would be anticipating it.

    Caedus caught a glimpse, yet again, of him sitting on his throne, and scowled.

    The galaxy would not belong to him - not to some Jedi who stole the prize at the last minute. Caedus had worked, sacrificed and fought for this.

    Caedus deserved it.

    ---

    Jaina Solo was the Sword of the Jedi again, at last. Healed, ready, and able, she had effaced herself of doubt, had put aside her emotions for Jag, Fel, Kyp... for anyone, and narrowed her focus into a razor.

    She had taken a long road to this point, from the praxeum on Yavin, to her lessons aboard the Jade Shadow, on again to the halls of intrigue on Hapes, to the life-changing Battle of Borleias... her teachers and mentors ranging from Uncle Luke, Aunt Mara, the cunning Ta’a Chume, to the hardened Kyp Durron; lessons in life, in war, in betrayal, and in hope.

    All of those lessons had led to the Force naming her the Sword of the Jedi – the new Chosen One, some whispered – and from there her new focus had been honed by her court-martial at the hands of Darth Caedus, and the death of Aunt Mara. With that focus she had fought Alema Rar, but some lingering shred of self-doubt had kept her from confronting her brother. Though she had lied to herself, and argued that Fett would be able to teach her skills that Caedus didn’t have – which was ostensibly true, it had turned out – Jaina had really sought out the Mandalorians to find a mentality with which she could kill her brother... and, in the wilds of Mandalore, she had found it, preached to her by an ex-Jedi.

    She had to kill Darth Caedus out of love.

    Love for what he had been, and not allow that love to prevent her from doing what had to be done. Jedi did not condone assassination, but they had been given no choice. In-fact, in the week and a bit since the Battle of Roche had started, there choice had been narrowed even further, with reports from Mandalore, Coruscant and Roche itself showing that Caedus had the galaxy itself on the very edge of oblivion. Suggestions that Daala had been causing Bwua’tu problems had lived some spirits, but morale was low here on Shedu Maad with the announcement that the Imperial Fleet was enroute to Shedu Maad.

    Grandmaster Skywalker had, for his part, withdrew to meditate once again, as he had done almost constantly during the week she had recovered. Leia had confided in Jaina that she was still worried about the Grandmaster, and so had the individual members of the Council, personally. Even Ben had spoken to her with concern. They had all came to her, as if Jaina could snap her fingers and bring Luke back.

    Jaina wouldn’t be doing that, however. Not yet.

    But she had realised something, and knew she had to speak to Luke, to make him understand why he had done it. She found him with the Jade Shadow, just as her mother had said she would, in an abandoned portion of Uroro station. He was cross-legged before the cockpit of the Shadow, tears running down his face. And, Jaina could see, talking to the blue-hued form of Mara, of late Master, and beloved aunt.

    Jaina paused at the threshold of the hangar, aware that she was on the edge of a deeply personal moment, but also wanting to speak Mara. Mara had appeared to Leia and Han, and also to Ben and Luke, but Jaina had yet to speak to her beloved aunt, to say goodbye in person. Mara looked over her shoulder to Jaina, and smiled, gesturing her overm whispering to her. Thank you, Jaina. I could not be prouder of you, right now. And then, she placed a hand on Luke’s lowered head, and vanished.

    Luke opened his eyes, and looked around. “Mara?” His gaze became frantic, and his face turned to Jaina, eyes impeaching her. Jaina, for her part, took her emotions, bubbling as they were to the surface, and threatening to cause her tears, and concealed them with the skills Luke himself had taught him, and dropped to her haunches in front of her uncle.

    “I know what you did, incidentally.”

    Luke jolted, eyes widening. For a moment he was not the Grandmaster of the Jedi Order, nor was he even Uncle Luke. He was just Luke, and Jaina found that he had no defences up, whatsoever. It was not too dissimilar to the moment Jaina had shared with Mara on Borleias, during the Yuuzhan Vong War, when Jaina had a brief moment of access to Mara’s anguish about raising her son during a war, and letting him leave for Shelter.

    Jaina sat down, cross-legged, and took her uncles hands in hers. “It was necessary.”

    “What?” Luke was not himself, pushing himself to excise the last of Lumiya’s dark taint. But he could never do that unless he forgave himself.

    “I was wondering at which point you had started playing dejarik with Caedus. At which point you had begun to withdraw. We all noticed a change when Ben revealed that Caedus had been the one who...” Jaina’s voice trailed off, and she moved on. “But then I realised that the Battle of Roche had not just benefited Caedus, it had also started the collection of events that would lead to the Council’s decision to kill him, and to the various factions of the galaxy rushing to confront him at Roche. And then, again, I saw that your decision to dispatch Jedi to assist Iella was another strategic play, none too dissimilar to the constantly swapping of the mission priority on Nickel One, when you and Fett, and Mirta and me, butted heads over our true objectives.

    “You wanted to do the right thing, and support your friends, and prove you were not just like Caedus, manipulating people to the point that they were no longer people to you, which is why you asked Isolder to save Ben...” Jaina sighed. “Not because you wanted Isolder to lead Caedus to Shedu Maad, to a final confrontation, because you had the blood trail for that, but because you wanted to, again, do the right thing... and now Isolder has been captured, and you blame yourself for that...”

    “And on top of all of that, you blame yourself for luring the Moffs to attach Roche, triggering this entire chain of violence and the deaths of thousands of pilots, soldiers and officers.” Jaina held out a datapad, an intercept from Ben’s remaining contacts in the GAG. “I know you replaced either Calron or Pualan. Most likely the latter, as there was little evidence of struggle, which suggested Pualan left you no choice, and you had attempted to convince him with words.”

    “Yes.”

    Luke’s answer was so quiet, so spoken through the Force rather than the air, that Jaina thought she hadn’t heard him correctly. But she did not press, and simply let him speak.

    “So, Sword of the Jedi,” said Luke, softly. “What is the difference between me and Jacen?”

    Jacen. There it was. Not Darth Caedus, as her father and mother insisted on calling her brother, but Jacen. Jaina had, mere hours ago, finally realised that her brother was gone. But that did not mean that it wasn’t her brother that she would be facing, aboard the Anakin Solo. But if Jaina cared for her brother at all, she had to stop him.

    Jaina spoke, just as softly. “A wise Jedi I once knew told me that there are times when the ends justify the means. He also said that if you construct a whole philosophy around such instances, you may find you have constructed a philosophy of evil.”

    Luke’s eyes begun to refocus, and she acknowledged that he was, in some shape or manner, understanding. Jaina looked into his eyes. “Uncle Luke. There will be times when the compassion you have built into this Order can apply. And there will be times when it cannot, when we need to be more like Yoda and Windu’s Jedi Order. The strength you have is not in your abilities with the Force, or your skills with a lightsaber. It has, and always will be, in your ability to, even when the Sith drive you to the very edge of your limits, to find the strength to turn around and say no. Say no to Palpatine, to Exar Kun, to Brakiss, to Shimmra, to Jacen.”

    “Just like you always have.”

    Luke took a deep breath, and let it clear out. “Well said, Jaina.”

    “I have the strength to confront Jacen now. We will go together, and stop him.”

    Jaina shook her head, slowly. “Jacen is still fixated on you. You need to keep him focused on him, and I will stop him. You and the rest of the Jedi need to stop him from winning the war – because if he does that, it doesn’t matter if I win the battle. He is just one man, yes, but he is one man with the Empire in one hand, and the Alliance in the other. Let’s keep our oaths to the latter and do what you do best to the former.”

    Luke smiled, a weak smile that was nonetheless a smile for her. “Alright. There is one vision left I have interfered with, and then I cannot see any further forward – the future is too tangled, and I have no doubt it is the same for Jacen. So I’ll be needing that fighter that Fett left you.”

    “Luke Skywalker, flying the most advanced and heavily armoured fighter in the galaxy?”

    “It’s going to be fun, isn’t it?”

    ---

    Queen Mother Tenel Ka, undisputed ruler of the Hapan Consortium, was clothed in her Dathomiri hide bodysuit, sitting cross-legged with her daughter, Allana. The child of Darth Caedus. Her granddaughter.

    Leia walked across the room, as Tenel Ka, who had undoubtedly sensed her arrival, continued to play with little Allana. The child looked up at Leia and beamed at her, a burst of joy filling the Force. Struck by how much she looked like Jacen, and reminded her of her own three children when they had been young, Leia’s choked back tears. Tenel Ka, for her part, simply looked up to Leia, tears already in her eyes.

    Wordlessly, Leia embraced Tenel Ka in a hug, before drawing back. Allana looked at them both in confusion, and began to cry. Laughing despite themselves, Tenel Ka and Leia drew back, and smiled down at Allana. “Don’t cry, Mommy. Here’s Jacen for you.” Allana held out her toy, the little furred creature that Jacen had given her on his last visit to Hapes, before the Battle of Kuat.

    That made Leia’s heart ache even more, but she suppressed her emotions as tightly as Tenel Ka now did, so as to protect Allana from them. “Thank you, dear. I need to speak to your Grandmother now, so can I keep Jacen until I have finished?”

    Allana nodded, vigorously. “Jacen will look after you. I don’t need looking after because I have you!” The little girl grinned, and turned back to her toys. Tenel Ka nodded to Trista Zel, standing off to the side politely, who came across the room and sat with Allana.

    Tenel Ka took Leia to the Drawing Room of her chambers aboard the Dragon Queen, and looked to the viewport, which showed Uroro Station, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a fleet preparing for war. “Jacen will look after you,” she said, repeating her words.

    Leia smiled to the woman who could have – who should have – become her daughter-in-law, slipping an arm around her shoulder. Tenel Ka, taller than Leia, looked down to her and smiled, weakly. “I’ve been dreading this conversation, incidentally.”

    “I’m not here to censure you,” said Leia. “My own mother was placed in a position where she would have had to keep my birth a secret, after all, to keep her husband in the Jedi Order. Your situation was considerably more complicated – you’re the Queen of a highly political realm, which is predisposed to dislike Force users. You used your status as a single woman to patronise the nobility, and Allana’s birth risked all of that.”

    Tenel Ka nodded. “I had to protect her.”

    “Yes, and so did Jacen... he just took it a bit further than any of us would have expected.”

    “He tried to wound me, by taking Allana,” Tenel said, her utterance coupled with a burst of pain so sharp that Leia winced. “But he left me no choice. I would have loved for us to lived happily ever after.”

    “I know,” said Leia. “But you had responsibilities to your people. You could not abandon them to civil war between the Houses.”

    “No,” said Tenel, softly. “I could not. I cannot, even now, when all I want to do is run away and hide with Allana, until Caedus is gone.”

    Leia pursed her lips. “I did, too, but my role as Chief of State interfered with that. Han asked me, of course, and more than once!” She shook her head, amused. “But deep down we both knew that only I could lead the New Republic during its formative years, and keep it on the right path...” Leia trailed off, as she reflected on how badly ‘off path’ the Galactic Alliance had gone.

    Tenel broke the hug, and turned, gripping her hand. “We cannot be expected to secure the peace forever. Every generation has their challenges to overcome. Your mothers generation had the Separatists, you had Palpatine and the Empire... my generation had the Yuuzhan Vong and now Caedus. If the Sith returned in a hundred years time, we can hardly blame it on Luke!”

    Leia smiled. “I know that. And Jaina understands it, too, and is starting to face the same decisions I did, as she grows up.”

    Tenel nodded. “I do, however, wish it would calm down for a few decades, so we can fully take the torch from your generation, and let you have a rest!”

    “Me too!” Leia laughed, and Tenel did with her. Growing thoughtful, Leia mused aloud. “At the end of the day, the Republic and Jedi Order, which had stood for millennia, were both destroyed. There has to be consequences for that. As terrific as the struggles my and your own generations have faced, Palpatine did so much damage. It is a miracle that we stopped him, and we have to accept that it is going to take time for the galaxy to recover from his re-introduction of war into the equation.”

    Tenel peered off into the stars and the Mists, as if coming to understand something. “This conflict is about our legacies. I want mine to be one of peace, but I can only do my best. You did the same, and we all know that. It is about surrendering our legacy to the future, not trying to take control of it, like Jacen is.”

    “Well,” said Leia. “Let’s stop him, here, and now, because he would want us to, and save him from Darth Caedus and his desire to turn that future into one which none of us want.”

    ---

    The future I want... is it within my grasp?

    Darth Caedus was lying down in his chamber, his arms folded behind his head, as he stared at the ceiling. He had never been closer to achieving peace than he had now – in creating a world which could never again be taken advantage of by madmen and puppet masters. In his future, the Sal-Solos, Gejjens, Lumiya’s and Skywalker’s would find their efforts stymied by the very people they were trying to manipulate, and the strength of the government structure before them. They would be beaten, and there would be an eternal peace.

    Tahiri Veila, his Sith apprentice, was staring out the viewport at the streaking stars of hyperspace. “I worked it out, you realise?”

    “Oh?” said Caedus, pleased that she had finally come to speak to him about what had been playing on her mind. He could feel it in her, in more ways in one. The way she felt in the Force, and in the way her body moved. He reached for his robe, checking with his hand that the datapad that Favvio had passed him was still there. “Go on.”

    “It was you, all along.”

    Sitting up, Caedus gestured with his stump for her to continue. “When?”

    “You replaced Calron the Elder, and manipulated the Moffs into attacking the Verpine, so you could force the war to this conclusion – the various factions of the galaxy all gathered in a handful of places for you to undo them at the same time.” Tahiri looked back, over her shoulder. “I suspect that you may even have been aware of Lumiya’s activities in creating the Confederation, if only to take advantage of the chaos that she was engineering.”

    Caedus affected an expression of innocent, and touch his hand to his chest. “I am hardly responsible for the Sith surviving.”

    “No, but you suspected something. Which seems to be why you wanted the Galactic Alliance to be looking inwards, until it found a spark to argue over... to lure the Sith out of hiding?” Tahiri’s face was questioning, searching Caedus with her eyes and the Force. “Which is another reason why you were so adamant that the Killiks be wiped out as soon as possible... and, I wonder, if you were responsible for Formbi discovering Leia and Han’s plans at Tenupe?”

    The Dark Lord of the Sith still said nothing, but allowed how impressed her was to filter into the Force and his expression.

    Tahiri walked over to him, slowly. “In-fact, the Killik Crisis played into your hands, because it forced the Senate to enact the Sector Defence Limits... because of how corporations and factions in the Alliance were arming the Killiks... and because of how an Alliance member state dragged the entire galaxy into a Chiss dispute...”

    Darth Caedus allowed himself a smile as he finished her sentence, “... when I convinced Tenel Ka to send a Hapan fleet to Qoribu.”

    “Yes.”

    “And now you wonder who suggested the Sector Defence Limits to the Senate, or nudged the Senate towards voting to enact it?”

    “Yes,” said Tahiri, trembling a little as his hand cupped her chin.

    “If I told you it was all me, what would it mean?”

    “It would mean that your father was right,” said Tahiri, eyes open in wonder.

    Darth Caedus rocked back on the bed. “What?”

    “Jacen did die fighting Onimi, and Caedus came back...” Tahiri seemed to be having an epiphany. “All Lumiya did was add the title ‘Darth’ to your new title.”

    “Well done, my apprentice.” Caedus sneered, and she withdrew. He held his hand in place, keeping her close, and levitated the datapad from the innards of his robes to her. “And what does that mean?”

    “That we missed something. Something that had happened -”

    “- to you,” finished Caedus. “And I have the answers here, in a datapad given to me by Favvio, one of the droids in Lumiya’s service.”

    “What?” Tahiri’s eyes glanced over to the datapad, and she reached for it, only to find that Caedus had nudged it just beyond her fingertips. Her eyes returned to him, blazing in a brief moment of anger. “You know something – tell me!”

    “I do not want you to seize upon this information lightly. It will reveal something about you that you may not wish to know. That while I may – I emphasise the may – have manipulated Lumiya to choose me as the next Dark Lord of the Sith, I may also not have been their first choice.” Tahiri’s eyes filled with uncertainty, and he placed the pad in her hand with a telekinetic movement.

    Her fingers closed on the item, and Caedus released her chin, gesturing with his hand to rebuff her with the Force. She stumbled to the floor, her back to the wall. Caedus stood, and gestured. She looked up at him in wonder, and the Dark Lord of the Sith looked at himself in the mirror – him eyes glowing golden, her, behind him, scarred in ways none too dissimilar to him, in addition to the scars that he was even now inflicting upon her.

    The Anakin Solo rumbled as it decanted from hyperspace, and then, with a further rumble, repositioned itself. For a brief moment the Mists reappeared, the Anakin Solo making a minor adjustment to allow itself to jump on to Shedu Maad. The Anakin Solo, which had been named for his brother.

    The brother who had loved Tahiri, and with whom he had broken Tahiri once again, to remake her in his image. He allowed himself a smile as he looked down at Tahiri, gazing in wonder at the datapad, not able to bring herself to play its contents, and Caedus realised that Tahiri was no longer Anakins. The fleet leaped into hyperspace, and in the mirror the flash of light was momentarily reflected in his eyes, which burned white for a brief moment.

    Mine.

    ---

    Why?

    Why…

    Why did you fall?

    Why.

    Why!

    Why is always a question deeper than its answer.

    Sitting up, Tahiri Veila swore, the Yuuzhan Vong language spitting from her lips. They echoed in Caedus’ chamber, again and again, deeper into the bowels of the Force. Swiping at her eyes, she blinked herself awake. Tahiri cleared her throat, and spoke, irritably, reflecting that Caedus had left her on the floor of his chambers and gone.

    “The same dream again.”

    Again?

    “The why one. Anakin’s voice, and then Lord Caedus’s.

    Jacen.

    “Whatever, Riina.” Tahiri stood, feeling her feet on the blanket, thrown aside in her sleep – but placed upon by Caedus as she collapsed into a dazed sleep. She hadn’t slept well for days. Weeks. At very least since she was attacked by Jaina and that insane Mandalorian. She shivered, again, her hand unconsciously touching her scarred thigh. It was wet. Tahiri looked down at the scar, and saw it had split again, in her sleep.

    “Riina?” Tahiri growled.

    It wasn’t me.

    “It’s always you.” Tahiri pulled back on her jumpsuit, and looked down at her thigh. She wasn’t sure why it wasn’t healing properly. Perhaps Caedus had put something in their shared water supply which prohibited healing, and thus they scarred more often. As a Sith, Caedus supplied his own water, and food, as he didn’t trust the crew.

    “Where’s the water come from on these things?”

    I have the memories of a Yuuzhan Vong shaper. Not their plumbers.

    “Yuuzhan Vong have plumbers?” Tahiri snorted, buckled her lightsaber to her belt, and began walking out, not even taking to put a bacta patch or use some of her tattered blanket to stem the dribble of blood. “So, why don’t you ask me?”

    Ask?

    “Why did I become a Sith?”

    We already know that answer, don’t we? Tahiri hissed between her teeth, battering her lengthening hair away from her eyes. She continued through the chambers, towards the refresher. She leaned forward as the shower spewed water at her, liberally dousing her blonde hair.

    Well? Why do you have a nearly twenty year obsession with a teenage boy? Why did you fall to the dark side just to see him? Why do we dishonour his memory with such sordid actions, with murder, with genocide?

    “Fondor wasn’t my fault.”

    Nor Kashyyyk? You told Jacen about the Jedi attack, about the location of the Jedi after Kuat. Remember?

    “I remember.” Tahiri gritted her teeth, shaking her hair about, water dribbling down her neck and jumpsuit. “Remember what they did, though?”

    Redemption wasn’t offered, I remember.

    Tahiri seethed. During the Yuuzhan Vong War, she’d had to amalgamate her two persona’s – Tahiri Veila, part-Tusken, part-Jedi, girlfriend of Anakin Solo – and Riina Kwaad – part-Yuuzhan Vong warrior, part-Yuuzhan Vong shaper, part-fiction, part-real – into one entity. She’d taken the name Tahiri Veila on afterwards, though she truly wasn’t that person anymore. That may have been a mistake. The real Tahiri became more prominent during the GA-Confederation War, and the fragile balance was shattered by Lord Caedus, dangling so much in front of Tahiri.

    Tahiri, whom had been cut short a year after the death of Anakin Solo, became dominant, and Anakin Solo became her obsession. Tahiri took control, and Riina only became able to reassert herself in spurts. Those moments when she became a merciless Yuuzhan Vong. For the most part, she deteriorated, until she was nearly unrecognisable to the Tahiri she had been before she sided with Lord Caedus just before the Battle of Kuat, nor the Tahiri whom she had been before balancing Riina. She had become something… else.

    He shattered us.

    “Yes he did. But we hadn’t come together properly the first time.”

    Says you.

    Tahiri growled, chewing on a bowl of what could only be described as goop, deposited by a creature half moulded into one of the walls. Her hand was burning even as she scooped it out, typically, but she quickly regained her train of thought. “But they never offered me redemption, did they? Didn’t try to stop me falling, at the start. Hypocrites.”

    Leia and Jaina tried to kill you. Jaina nearly succeeded.

    That had been the shatterpoint. Where Riina and Tahiri, the Tusken Sith, had began to separate entirely, just like they had last time. But this time, they grew together, side by side. Tahiri was prominent, but Riina was at her side, recognising that, as a Sith, the Yuuzhan Vong in Riina would be able to express itself, and Tahiri would be satisfied. The moment that the two of them had been that close to death had seen her collapse. Caedus had saved them, but she had never recovered the shadow of balance they’d managed. Now there was Riina and Tahiri, side by side, until a new concept was formed.

    Tahiri glanced at the datapad through the open door to the refresher, laying discarded beside her blanket. It hadn’t been a dream.

    All of the revelations had been true, and it all had happened.

    Jacen Solo had broken the galaxy for his own benefit.

    Riina snorted. And you are, again, forgetting what you are dreaming about.

    Tahiri reflected, as she dried herself. “The why.”

    Correct.

    Tahiri leaned down, bending her knees and sitting on the balls of her feet, as she picked up the ‘pad. She was not ready to listen to this, but, at the same time, she knew that she had too. A decidedly Sith thought crossed her mind. “Does there need to be a why?”

    What?

    “The Sith don’t need a why, do they? They do what they do just to collect power. Power is the means to the end, which is the end itself – collecting and maintaining more power.” Tahiri reflected, aloud, if only because she could not hold a running conversation with Riina inside the walls of her mind. “Jacen could have very easily lied to me just then.”

    So that is your answer to your dreams? To your life? To your fall?

    Tahiri allowed herself a grin, and allowed herself to embrace the Sith inside – the wild nature of the Tusken, the alien aggression of the Yuuzhan Vong, the violence of the Dark Nest - “Why not?”

    ---

    Supreme Commander Nek Bwua’tu sat and watched Admiral Darklighter command the Fourth Fleet. Although he could not have asked for more from the engagement aboard the Admiral Ackbar – the capital ship now completely abandoned and derelict – he was despondent as to the battle. He had been defeated, and Zilaash Kuh was the only reason he had survived. The GA crewers that had defended him were all dead, and he had lost the totality of Lord Caedus’ YVH-1 army when the strike team returned to the Errant Venture and promptly, with the aid of the embattled members of the Smugglers Alliance, destroyed the remnant YVH-1 hunters. He had, also, lost his prisoners, who were now poised to wreak havoc throughout the Galactic Alliance.

    The Battle of Roche had turned slightly in the rebels favour, with a unified front forming. While the coalition of military assets represented by Niathal, Daala, Farlander, Astarta, Phennir, Kre’frey and Delpin had unified, they had ironed out their command structure by attacking the one target they could, in the short term, agree about. Fielding enough assets to hold back the Fourth Fleet, the coalition had turned on the Imperial assets that had been originally battering Niathal and Daala, and crippled them. Five Destroyers, lost, and now the Fourth Fleet was engaging a fleet that was equal in number and firepower and exceeded it in determination. The only advantage they had was in the supply chain, but munitions were hardly being funnelled upto the Fourth as it was sieged. The Verpine industries had been heavily damaged, and the few supplies that could be brought in from the planetoids had to fight their way through Wookiee and smuggler teams determined to steal them and supply their own forces.

    Admiral Darklighter, a competent commander, was simply being outflanked by fighting a force that was made up of dozens of differing strategies and tactics, with each commander leading with their own irreplaceable style. As Bwua’tu slouched in the Captains Chair, he watched the tide slowly, but surely, turn.

    And Supreme Commander Bwua’tu simply watched. He had heard about how the coup on Coruscant had failed, and how Darth Caedus was poised to wipe out the Hapan and Jedi resistance. Darklighter had spent a few hours trying to convince Bwua’tu to take command before their shrinking advantage was gone, and now it was. Zilaash Kuh, the bounty hunter who had introduced herself as an agent of Lord Caedus’ upon her arrival aboard the Ackbar, had simply stood beside Bwua’tu, waiting with him, until she finally spoke.

    “They’re here.”

    “Oh?” said Bwua’tu, neutrally, raising his ear to indicate he was listening, but not moving from his pose otherwise. “Who?”

    “Antilles and the Venture have returned from their position at the fringes of the system.” Zilaash Kuh pointed to the screen. “Antilles has realised that the most good he can do is here. He cannot turn the tide at Shedu Maad – by the time he makes it through the Mists the battle will be long over. So he comes here, to help speed up the turning of the tide, so this fleet can ambush the weakened Imperial fleet when it finishes at Shedu Maad.” She leaned close to his ear, and whispered. “As you planned, your neglect of the battle reinforcing their perception that you are still unconscious, and that this engagement can be won.”

    Bwua’tu sniffed, and waved her away from him. “And what of you?”

    “I have done my part. You are safe, and now I can collect my fee,” she said, softly. He looked up at her.

    “And will you tell me what Jedi Sarkin-Tainer was referring to, with regards to your identity?”

    Kuh twitched, having clearly though Bwua’tu was unconscious during her duel with Tyria and Valin. “I would not know how Sarkin would have come to such a conclusion.”

    “But not incorrectly?” Bwua’tu said, looking to her, but also keeping one eye on the Errant Venture and its escorts as it rushed to join the battle. Kuh backed away, towards the exit, smiling at the Bothan. “I could have you arrested, bounty hunter... or whoever you are.”

    Kuh didn’t even waste their time citing that Lord Caedus would have disapproved. Communications had been up and running for nearly a day, and Bwua’tu could have confided in Caedus at any point. He hadn’t, but Kuh knew that he could have done easily and she had only stayed to ensure his protection. “You wouldn’t succeed.”

    “I doubted as much. Get off my ship, and away from my fleet. Scurry back to whomever your master really is. Before I tell the Jedi that I have a rogue darksider to hand.” Bwua’tu’s voice was pure durasteel, and Kuh – or whoever she was – smiled.

    “Confident little Bothan... I could snap your neck, now.” She placed her hand on her lightsaber hilt, her grin becoming more malevolent.

    “You could, but we’d shoot you,” said Gavin, his own blaster pointed at her. By ‘we’, he was referring to the collection of officers and security personnel scattered around the bridge, all who had readied their weapons.

    “And, you wouldn’t, anyway,” said Bwua’tu, raising a hand to his crew. “You’ve spent a lot of time and energy keeping me alive, after all.”

    Kuh bared her teeth. “So I have. Well then, Supreme Commander.” The hunter bowed. “May I take my leave of you?”

    “Go, now.” Bwua’tu turned back to the battle, and watched the rest of the crew’s reactions to see when she had left. Darklighter looked to him. “Yes, I’m letting her go. I have no interest in having the crew incur unnecessary casualties by trying to apprehend her. Whatever faction she represents clearly have yet to show their hand, or have done so already, by the presence of the soldiers that accompanied her, and I will speak to Lord Caedus or Grandmaster Skywalker – whichever triumphs at Shedu Maad – about her shortly.”

    “It’ll just end up being chalked up to a mystery – a loose end from the war.” Darklighter stated, softly. “She had left forensic evidence for six different people behind. Her hair belongs to one person, her skin cells to another... her fingerprint to a Zabrak, her saliva to another... even her teeth do not match any one set in the system.”

    “Someone went to extreme lengths to keep her identity secret, yes.” Bwua’tu dismissed the mystery. “It is unimportant. To attention please, crew, we have a battle to win.”

    Admiral Darklighter saluted, as did much of the bridge crew, and Bwua’tu leaned forward in his command chair, threading his fingers.

    “Let’s divide this little coalition, once and for all.”

    ---

    Dician was unimpeded as she made her way to the hangar bay, and to her Fury-class assault ship. The crew watched her warily as she strode back. She had done her bit, and protected Bwua’tu from the impeding assault. While it was true that there were enough Jedi in system to launch a second assault, it was unlikely that such a mission would be launched until far too late – when the coalition of forces here came to the inevitable conclusion that Bwua’tu had strung them along.

    She launched without preamble, and was unsurprised that the Trucemaker did not open fire upon her. Promptly, she activated the various stealth systems she had in place, and wrapped herself in a cloak of the Force as a matter of course. It would not serve the Jedi in-system to sense her presence.

    The combined fleet had driven the Fourth Fleet, which was shedding its smaller capital ships and fighter craft by the ones and twos every few minutes, back towards the twelve planetoid of the Roche Asteroid Belt. The gap between the two forces was small, but growing larger, and the battle was continuing to drift towards Nickel One.

    Dician was tempted to board one of the capital ships of the combined resistance, and go on a rampage. Decapitating one faction after the other, she would gut the resistance, slowly but surely. From the few snippets of communication she had been able to pick up and run through decryption suggested that Daala had, by threat, unified the resistance under her command. She would, as such, be her first target.

    Bwua’tu’s first action, though, showed just how the remainder of the battle would go.

    The gravity well field surrounding Carbos Thirteen promptly began to fall away, and Dician watched the collective waver in the combined task forces. Smaller vessels began to peel away from the engagement, and Dician felt rather than saw the Jedi StealthXs rush from their respective battles to the fringes of the system – the Jedi had to have been briefed about the fleet that had been advancing on Shedu Maad, and, with the Megador and Anakin Solo to hand, it heavily outnumbered, outgunned and outmatched the Jedi and the Hapan Home Fleet. The smaller vessels represented those commanders who had lost faith days ago, and, now they had the opportunity, were fleeing.

    The collapse of the system-wide gravity well was such that it had, for a bare instant, divided the resistance once again. It was not the kind of division that would result in them shooting at each other, but it was sufficient for Bwua’tu to order the Fourth to surge forward and outflank the resistance forces, driving them back towards Carbos Thirteen.

    As explosions rippled across the Corellian and Bothan contributions, and the Ocean’s few remaining support ships were engulfed in fire, a concentrated barrage that took the forces of Phennir, Delpin, Kre’frey and Niathal by surprise. Such a coordinated response only served to divide the resistance further, and the Fourth moved to surround the combined fleets.

    Dician nodded to herself.

    It was, for the most part, over now. And, it seemed, the conclave on Korriban was equally confident, as she received a message from the One Sith.

    It is over.

    And so it was.
  19. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Nov 15, 2004
    star 7
    Chapter 15.5

    Events had reached that point.

    Finally.

    Cha Niathal’s crippled ship, the Mon Calamari cruiser Ocean, which was really nothing more than a hulk with functioning engines attached, made it to the rendezvous. But she was not going to arrive as a hero. Not in her eyes, nor in the eyes of anybody else. She had unleashed a monster upon the galaxy, and had failed to put right her error. Even now, she could not see the point where she had made the wrong decision, could not see where she had missed her opportunity to stop him and still do the right thing.

    She supposed that made her irredeemable.

    What was there for her now?

    Captain Nevil had not spoken to her for many days, now, and most of the crew, those that had survived, had taken orders from him directly. Makins was gone, his vessel destroyed; she didn’t know if he had survived. Niathal relooked over her decisions, again, for the hundredth time since she had opened fire on the Confederation fleet. She had saved the galaxy... by handing it to Darth Caedus, the invincible madman.

    And so, as she surrendered herself to the Mon Calamari Space Defence Force, to the flagship, Home One, specifically, she resigned herself to support whatever followed. Niathal knew that she still had supporters, and she need to put them to good use. She could undo some of the harm she had done, and ensnare the last Imperial Warlord, perhaps, if she could get word to Bwua’tu.

    Yes, she could do that, Admiral Cha Niathal nodded as she was led to her cell.

    She would live out her days here, until called upon again, a disgraced politician and Admiral, having succeeded in saving the galaxy from chaos. There was little else she could do, and so, at long last, she would be free of the responsibilities she had failed to meet up to, so that others could take the lead, while she found her redemption.

    It was, in her opinion, all a matter of causation, from this point onwards.

    She would be the eternal outcast.

    --

    Events had reached that point.

    Finally.

    Admiral Natasi Daala stared into the face of defeat.

    This was not the first this had happened, and, in that respect, it was surprisingly comforting. She had fought the forces of chaos for decades now, using whatever resources she had to hand, if any at all. With ships and weapons. Or, without, as she mused over the Yuuzhan Vong she had managed to kill barehanded.

    But she was resolved that it would not be the last time, either. She had lost before, and, she would survive. As such as she had survived the Battle of the Maw; the Battle of Yavin 4; the Battle of Columus. She had not spent all this time defeating rogue Imperials and Yuuzhan Vong marauders to die here and now. She knew she had made mistakes, that she had been misdirected; but she had always fought against chaos, and for order.

    The Battle of Roche, above Carbos Thirteen, was continuing, raging, unabated. It was also being lost by the combined forces of the Confederation, Alliance-in-Exile and the Hapans. But, finally, the galaxy had unified against Darth Caedus, and the Jedi were nowhere to be seen at long last.

    To Admiral Daala, that was the best part of losing this particular battle; the Force had been side-lined at long last, and the galaxy did not, really, see any difference between the cursed Jedi and the Sith. They just fought against them. Even when the Alliance won, there were still those who hoped that Caedus could be overthrown when the war was over. They’d all heard the rumours, of how officers in the military had been the target of a menagerie of HoloNet Reports in the last few days; A’Baht, Brand, Rieekan and of course Celchu. The galaxy was slowly but surely turning on the Force.

    It was, in her opinion, all a matter of causation, from this point onwards.

    She could not wait. They had reached that point where the war would end, and the Jedi and the Sith would, finally, be defeated. And in that thought she demonstrated that she would be defeated, but never stopped; even in this hopeless engagement, she found a good omen.

    --

    Events had reached that point.

    Finally.

    Sitting at the top of Indigo Tower on Coruscant, the famed restaurant that served the very richest and most glamorous Coruscanti in the galaxy, the elderly-but-not-bad-on-the-eyes Senator Treen of Kuat could see it, quite clearly, a demarcation between those officers supporting the regime and those that were not, as she peered over the HoloNews, and in the reports of her retinue of spies and aides. She sipped her drink, and peered over her cup to note that the elderly Senator Bramsin of Coruscant, who also represented the planet in the Senate, had nodded off.

    She smiled, softly. Nobody commented because, of course, it was after hours, and the staff had actually gone home. Treen had simply used her wealth to purchase the use of the whole building for the evening. Of course, the Galactic Alliance Guard had been suspicious, and had screened the place, thoroughly, violently, even. But, fundamentally, there were two Senators who had entered the Restaurant, alone, and the GAG had grown bored and, delightfully, left them to their meal. Treen had even brought her own droid staff to serve the food.

    Returning to her datapad, she returned to her musings.

    The Senate was similarly separated, and the Galactic Alliance Guard was merrily collecting data on them all; Treen knew as much. Some Senators, representing those worlds who could not contribute to the fighting but disapproved, were simply attending meetings, and were generally considered the ‘neutral lot’. Senator Treen had ensured she, and her fellow Senator Bramsin, were members of that group, because they would be the ones who inherited the aftermath, and by aftermath, she meant ‘after Caedus’. For the purposes of the Senate, however, they were not pro-Caedus, but nor were they against him either, supporting him nominally because they had no choice. Treen was very, very vocal about simply following her obligations, if only because Senator Shesh, whom had held office as the Senator of Kuat for a mere two terms, had given Kuat a terrible reputation when it was revealed she was a Yuuzhan Vong spy. Not even a liberator, who could attach herself to a noble cause. Just a treacherous spy.

    Most unpleasant.

    Of course, there were other Senators who were members of the ‘neutral lot’. Luewet Wuul, for example, and Gron Marrab, all ostensibly loyal Senators who had not been fully committed, but similarly had done nothing even remotely seditious. That, too, served her purposes. Putting down the datapad showing the HoloNet, she pushed the datapad across the table to the third member of their retinue.

    The Umbaran plucked it from the table, cautious to use those invisible fingers of his, and called up the displays. He said nothing, and neither did Treen, as she sipped her drink quietly. The first Umbaran looked to the second, the female one, the twin to the former, and nodded. Treen did not even bid them adieu, she simply looked back down at the first datapad, and continued reading the reports about those delightfully Loyal Senators, and those ‘evil’ Senators. To a woman who had lived through the first Empire, it was all highly amusing.

    She did not see or hear when the two Umbarans left, or note how they merged with the shadows and vanished, or how they waved their hands to flash the cams. Treen simply sipped her drink, nodded at the quips and the puns in the Galactic Times, as her droid staff returned to the room with her meal. She nudged Bramsin, who woke, and Treen promptly pretended to have not noticed. Fost Bramsin undoubtedly scowled, but didn’t comment. All he did raise was as such; “Didn’t I bring in a copy of the draft Emergency Measures Act? I am sure I did.”

    Treen arched a manicured eyebrow. “I do not believe so, Fost. I doubt it’ll be a problem. Lord Caedus will undoubtedly approve of it anyway.”

    “And place his sycophants in those keys roles. At best we’ll slip Thaal into the role of Chief of the new army – he is the only real choice bar Rieekan, and I don’t see Caedus picking the General his mother served under...”

    Treen shrugged, neutral to the last in her reactions. “No doubt, my dear.”

    It was, in her opinion, all a matter of causation, from this point onwards.

    She smiled to herself, and turned her head as the sunlight dipped out of sight through the transparisteel view. “I do love a good sunset on Coruscant.” Bramsin grunted noncommittally, midway through his canapé. As the light retreated from the towers, and withdrew from the room, watching as the darkness enveloped the world. For a brief moment in time, the world was caught between twilight, before the lights of glowpanels and street lamps overtook the darkness and pushed it back. At this precise moment in time, it would be impossible to tell whether the world was leaning towards dawn or dusk.

    The Senators smile deepened as the shadows elongated off of her face, before the lights activated. Little did the citizens of Coruscant realise that their twilight was most definitely a dusk, and an eternal one at that; they were poised over the abyss.

    --

    Events had reached that point.

    Finally.

    Fyor Rodan, in his mind, saw it as a matter of inevitability. That the Yuuzhan Vong War was about to, finally, repeat itself. As the Ralroost quaked under the wave of more cannon fire, and he strapped himself into an escape pod with the other Councillors, he was sure. The Jedi would be finally, and truly, backed into a corner, and strike back with everything they had.

    And then everyone would finally, utterly, see, that if the Jedi had just struck down that shenbit Jacen Solo a year ago, when he had started them down this path, that the galaxy would have been saved this destruction. That they had left it far too late.

    He could hear it, in the Confederation crewers voices, as they muttered about how ‘if they’d still had Centerpoint’, this war would have been over, or in the GA intercepts, as the military bristled about how the Jedi had ‘abandoned them at Kuat’. The Jedi had effectively set themselves up for enough anti-Jedi vitrole that Rodan would end this entire war if only for the chance to select an anti-Jedi candidate to rule the galaxy, principles of self-determination and independent be damned.

    It was, in his opinion, all a matter of causation from this point onwards.

    It was just what was to be expected; a backlash.

    --

    Events had reached that point.

    Finally.

    Moff Drikl Lecersen glared at the displays, seeing the Imperial assault fleet hitting and engaging the last asset in the known galaxy that could oppose them. Every other fleet asset opposed to the Alliance and the Remnant – well, he may as well call it the Galactic Empire, now – was caught in battle at Roche, or crippled and unable to assist. The battle was about to end, and the war with it. Moff Lecersen remembered the Rebellion, and he knew that a hundred worlds would resist and they, eventually, would need to be coerced, but then the war would shift into a pacification. Everyone the Empire of sufficient age remembered the first few years after the deaths of Count Dooku and General Grievous; an enemy broken and defeated but unable to accept it, a crushing wave of campaigns.

    The Battle of Shedu Maad was that battle.

    As soon as the battered Anakin Solo and Megador dealt with the pesky Jedi, that was it for the Hapan resistance. As artfully as it had been launched, the ambush would be broken as soon as the Megador swung into the engagement. The Imperial Super Star Destroyer, the reconditioned veteran of some of the greatest clashes of the last Civil War, would triumph this one.

    And so, Moff Drikl Lecersen could put his final plan into motion.

    He had not lied when he had suggested a New Empire, or that his support of Darth Caedus was anything but sincere. As, too, was his dedication to the approach that the late Grand Admiral Pellaeon had taken towards expansion, the slow and steady rate of goodwill Pellaeon brought to the galaxy towards the Empire in the wake of the New Republic’s abysmal showing against the Yuuzhan Vong.

    But, equally, he had to launch the final steps. It was a simple plan, taken from Lord Vader’s memoirs, such as they were – his original plan, before his immersion in lava on Mustafar; that he would have allowed Emperor Palpatine to unify the galaxy again, and unify it against him, so that the Hero With No Fear could launch a coup and save the galaxy.

    It could be said, and Lecersen considered this with some irony, a Sith version of the Jedi plan ‘Let the enemy do the work’. And so Lecersen would allow some of his plots to simmer, and prepare them for the day when Darth Caedus was so hated that he and his fellow Moffs and, if he could find them, Alliance Senators, could rise up and take the Empire for themselves. For him.

    It was, in his opinion, all a matter of causation, from this point onwards.

    He was but a couple of years away from being Emperor, and he lacked but one thing, an element that he was very capable of procuring; allies.

    --

    Events had finally reached that point.

    Finally.

    As he dreamed, lying in his stasis chamber on Korriban, Darth Krayt absently wished that Caedus had been able to shed his skin, so to speak, and abandon the tenants of the Rule of Two. But Caedus had shown little to no inclination to do such a thing; in-fact he had seemed relatively uninterested in the vagaries of Sith cults and philosophies, if Krayt’s discussions with Ship were any indication – directing Ship and Lumiya to act as nothing more than distractions, and similarly relying on Alema Rar to do the same. Had they merged his fate with their own, surely the future would have turned out differently.

    Events were spiralling away from the Battle of Roche, from the final and forced conclusion to this war. Lumiya had insisted that it was necessary to keep the Jedi off-balance, but Darth Krayt caught glimpses of a future shifting away from the darkness that he had worked tirelessly for a decade to achieve. In all of his visions, he felt the interfering presence of Luke Skywalker, the lightsider pulling the future towards him in a manner which would have delighted Darth Krayt if the thought of a Luke Skywalker on the dark side didn’t chill the blood in his veins.

    Darth Krayt lived in the futures that Luke Skywalker was attempting to draw attention away from, to refocus what would undoubtedly be the efforts of Darth Caedus to peer into the future, forcing a final confrontation between the two of them. Krayt’s mind coursed through other, untouched avenues, and he had given instructions out to Darth Wyyrlok with regards to them, who would be passing them to an intercessor Anzati momentarily. But there were other, conflicting visions, all of which had common themes, but the individuals attached to those scenes were ever-shifting.

    Sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, sometimes a monster that was beyond definition...

    ... all with eyes the colour of suns, all with the terrible utterance of ‘mine’, all sitting on a throne. He had, once, glimpsed himself upon a golden throne, but now it was unclear; sometimes it was Darth Caedus, and other times it was Luke Skywalker... and other times it was individuals he did not recognise, the aforementioned monster, a young woman he had barely enough time to glimpse, with a streak of white running through her auburn hair... But the vision was definitely about to change, and there was a sensation of terrible permanence about it.

    It was, in his opinion, all a matter of causation, from this point onwards.

    And that was why he had sought to remove the Sith from the war, though it would undoubtedly have allowed for innumerable opportunities for him to divide and destroy the Jedi; the Force was in flux and he could not guarantee that the emergence of the One Sith now, a handful of decades early, would secure the future... they were heading towards an uncertain future... as if all of their fates were being drawn into a maelstrom... into a vortex!

    --

    Events had finally reached that point.

    Finally.

    The treachery was finally, nearly, coming to a close.

    She had betrayed more than others; her family, her friends, just like Jacen. But she had gone even further than that; she had betrayed the dead. Her love, in whose name she had ostensibly fallen. Tahiri Veila mused that perhaps she take a cue from the Sith of old, and take one of their names – Traya, for betrayal... Caedus had not yet commented, and she still craved definition. Yes, she was a Sith – but who was she. Jacen seemed to have taken his Sith name, in his mind, many years before he became a Sith; he had reinvented himself before he had returned from his sojourn, she saw that now. Perhaps Han was right; Jacen had died fighting Onimi, and Caedus had been born then – all Lumiya had done was bequeath the title of ‘Darth’ upon him.

    For her part, all she could do was wait, wait until Riina and Tahiri were resolved, and respond to ‘Lady Veila’. Until that point she had to find her own resolution – she had to face her pain. She pawed through the datacards that she had been passed by the Moffs and other Alliance offices, slotting one into her ‘pad. There it was, a reconstructed audio of her time with Mezhan Kwaad. A gift, Lord Caedus had said.

    And so, she listened.

    It was not in perfect quality, but she knew by the end that she, too, had been chosen by Lord Caedus’ Sith Masters – Vergere and Lumiya. The two of them had shaped her, in more ways, perhaps, than even Lord Caedus, and more than a year beforehand. And then she remembered that Mezhan Kwaad had given her the memories of Nen Yim… and that had been the true name of her Yuuzhan Vong alter-ego… and that meant…

    Riina was her Sith name.

    She knew it to be so.

    And if that was the case, Vergere had been shaping her to not only join Jacen, but to succeed him. Which she would do. She would take the power from him to change time, and then she would be done with him and his intrusions into her soul and body.

    It was, in his opinion, all a matter of causation, from this point onwards.

    And so Lady Veila, soon to be Darth Riina, smiled, and strode from her room to the bridge with not just resolution, but conviction.


    --

    Events had finally reached that point.

    Finally.

    Ship had spent months scouring Sith worlds for the possibilities, for the answers, for the way forward. It engaged with the ancient technology in the citadel on Drommund Kaas, communed with the hsiss on Ambria, and even struck up a discussion with the remnant spirits in the debris of Malachor V, collecting records and taxing its databanks with the sole aim of the restoration of the Sith.

    With the tireless and methodical mind of a semi-sentient machine, the vessel took up position over the world of Asha Ree, the so called waypoint between the Sith and the greater galaxy. It was here where the Dark Jedi Exiles were rumoured to have pierced the Stygian Caldera, the hyperspace sinkhole that surround the Sith worlds, in the Esstran Sector. It was also here where Shar Dakhan had announced his new Empire, and here where Freedon Nadd found his way into the worlds of the Sith, and gave birth to a new Sith regime. Having collected data on the former purse worlds of Darth Sadow, Ship found, between Shar’s meticulous record gathering and Sadow’s intense distrust of anyone bar himself, that he had a full view of the invasion force which had triggered the Great Hyperspace War, five millennia ago.

    And, he found an anomaly. Something, two things, actually, which had gone missing. Something that, at the time of their disappearance five millennia ago, would have made significant difference. Something that no record, Sith or Alliance, could account for. Even on a carefully calculated insertion into Obroa-Skai, Ship had found no reference on the Vongformed library world to this tantalising secret.

    And so, Ship found a world that there was no noticeable record of, and a miasma of the dark side that caused his sensors and senses to expand a dozenfold; and there it was. A signal. In a code it recognised...

    It was, in its opinion, all a matter of causation, from this point onwards.

    The mechanical mind of Ship glimpsed, in it’s mind’s photoreceptor, a darkness that was not hollow or impure, that would Ship would lead to the inevitable end; to the Sith ascension.

    --

    Events had finally reached that point.

    Finally.

    She could only lick her lips in anticipation, of being reunited with her loved one. She had been so, so, so lonely. None of the words in the multitude of languages she knew covered such pain. Hunger. Longing. Terrible fear of rejection.

    She would not stand it any longer.

    But she could see it, all coming together, once again, as it always did. The decision that would change the future had already been made by Darth Caedus. It had been made many years ago, now, but it was now that he was about to make that final action. It had already happened, even if he did not realise it, even if the vision was about to determine that action. The decision of the others, some of those were being made now, but had been shaped by everything that had happened since the emergence of the Sith at the Battle of Naboo, but all those decisions were coming together to create a situation that would have been unthinkable at any point in the last five millennia.

    The perfect situation for her.

    It was, in her opinion, all a matter of causation, from this point onwards.

    Until the end.

    Until the apocalypse!
    Last edited by Sinrebirth, Sep 15, 2012
  20. Sinrebirth SWC and EUC Forum Moderator

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Nov 15, 2004
    star 7
    Right, I have now reposted the entirety of Invincible up to where we last were, plus the additional chapter. Two left, and we're done!

    As noted previously, the additional chapters take a step back for the finale, and this chapter is designed to tie up threads in time for the next main chapter, where Darth Caedus sees the future changed at last.
    Last edited by Sinrebirth, Sep 14, 2012
    AzureAngel2 likes this.
  21. Sable_Hart Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Nov 28, 2009
    star 4
    That was a fantastic chapter; my favorite excerpts were the ones featuring Krayt and Abeloth-- getting their perspective on these pivotal events is delicious. Can't wait for the next installment!
  22. JackG Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 15, 2011
    star 4
    Triebakk! Rieekan! A'baht! Ponc!
    Also I'm loving that the military characters that appeared in Fury have reappeared in your missing chapters. Great stuff.
    Last edited by jackg1, Sep 14, 2012
  23. imiller Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 26, 2004
    star 3
    Oh. My. Goodness.

    The sheer stylistic bravado you have here is phenomenal. Was Allston's tendency of mirroring scenes with the same setup and the same phrases an inspiration?

    Not to mention the way you managed to setup Fate of the Jedi perfectly - I noticed around the third section. Bravo, bravo!

    And even using a structure almost as rigid as formal poetry, you manage to move me with the Tahiri section! And it was the Conviction section as well (probably my favorite of the FotJ novels)!
  24. AzureAngel2 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 14, 2005
    star 6
    Sorry, that I did not catch up with this before the weekend. You write interesting and sinister sith characters. Love it!

    =D=

    I was not very found of the Jacen books, but you lured me in here, because you make me understand him better.
  25. spycoder9 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 23, 2008
    star 4
    Wow! The way the chapter was set up, with the titles of the upcoming fitted it. . .scary and awesome at the same time. Gives me chills, which was a lot better than the almost nothing I felt in the actual finale of the series. :D
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