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PostPosted: Sun Sep 18, 2011 1:26 pm 
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Location: England
The Battle Of Nystera.

Colonel Kasen Moore barely flinched as the laser fire splattered ineffectually against her forward shields. Ignoring the minor light show, she dropped her crosshairs over the target and fired.

Her lasers cycled rapidly, spraying laser fire at the Vulture Droid that was her opponent. Most of the bolts burned away armour on the nose, but Kasen saw one of the Laser Cannons reduced to scrap and one bolt penetrated one of the Vultures ‘eyes’.

All firing and manoeuvring from the Vulture ceased –a sign that the bolt had penetrated to the druids CPU. Pulled back on the flight stick, she allowed the droid –now reduced to a ballistic object- to pass beneath her X-Wing.

Bringing her fighter around she angled back in towards the Ackbar and the rest of her squadron. So far, the Rogues had been lucky, they’d only lost one pilot, Galen Milstein had been forced to return to the Ackbar after a missile near miss and detonation had all but disabled his fighter and left him flying injured.

Kasen didn’t expect their luck to last. Fondor had claimed five pilots, Druckenwell had claimed then Rogue Squadron commander Arden Taken, Jenna Tarn had succumbed to mental illness following the battle at the Unyielding Hierophant and then Jaina Solo, Ganner Rhysode, Lowbacca and Zane ‘Oddball’ Irelon had been lost enroute to Mon Calamari –though she’d since learnt all but Rhysode were alive and well.

Her current roster had preformed well so far and the new pilots had integrated well in their first major battle as Rogues. But sooner or later, luck would run out.

She spotted a trio of Belbullab Bombers, “Two, form up on my wing” She ordered, “Got a few bombers sneaking through the back field”

“Acknowledged One” Shin-Wan Hawkes replied as his X-Wing pulled up off her portside, “Forming up”

Leading her wingman on an intercept course on the bombers, Kasen took a moment to check on the progress of the rest of her squadron. They were all holding their own, though Bradon Sorn and Seran Khyl were devastatingly effective in their TIE Interceptors. The fast moving fighters were charging back and forth through the enemy squadrons running rings around the slower droids and were acting as a ‘fire-fighting’ pair, racing to where they were best needed.

She saw no reason to micro-manage the Rogues. They knew where they could be most effective and didn’t need to be ordered around.
Like almost every Rogue Commander before her –apart from the politically appointed and late Wilhiem Rodan- had trusted the pilots under their command to be where they needed to be without having to micro-manage.

They were among the best and she was damn proud to lead them.

Picking the lead bomber as her target, she gently led it with the crosshairs before squeezing the trigger the moment she was in range.
The stream of laser bolts impacted along the Belbullabs top line, first eating at and then punching through the shields before stitching a line of damage across the bombers flank.
Damaged, but not critically, the bomber rolled to port and broke away from it’s wing mates even as one of them took a direct hit from Shin Wan’s proton torpedo and detonated into a mini sun.

Rolling her X-Wing onto its port wing, Kasen turned in the bombers wake and fired again. The shields of the bomber –already weakened- yielded easily and Kasen’s laser fire slashed at its engines. A small explosion signified the destruction of the port engine and the ship slewed to port as the starboard engine continued to thrust.

Kasen waited until the Belbullab began to fall into a flat spin and then fired again. Her lasers found the already damaged armour from her first attack and punched straight through.

The bomber was briefly lit up from within and then it began to break apart. No fire, no explosion, almost as if every weld and rivet had been flash vaporised.

Rolling her X-Wing, she avoided the expanding cloud of debris and sought out the other bombers. Shin-Wan had already dispatched one of the bombers and was dropping back on her wing as they turned towards the third Belbullab.

They found it diving towards the already damaged Corellian Corvette ‘Remembrance Of Manaan’. The Corvette had already taken damage to it’s engine block and was leaking drive plasma as it moved away from the Sabaoth Frigate that had inflicted the damage and was itself, fighting off a squadron of B-Wings off the Repulse.

Kasen glanced at her range finder; too far out for lasers and they weren’t closing with the bomber fast enough to get within laser range before the Belbullab fired its complement of torpedoes.

“Switch to torpedoes, single fire” She ordered, switching her own weapons systems over, “Fire as soon as you get a lock”

“I copy” Shin-Wan responded.

As soon as she dropped her reticule over the shape of the bomber, it began to dance around in an attempt to prevent her getting a solid lock. However, the Belbullabs –especially this bomber variant- were not known for being agile and it was a simple matter for Kasen to achieve a lock.

“Torpedo away” She called as she fired.

A second later, Shin-Wan echoed her, ‘Torpedo away”

The two torpedoes flashed from launch point to target in just over two seconds. Kasen’s torpedo hit off centre and blew straight through the portside engine pod, before bursting out the front and detonating a few feet in front of the bomber. The subsequent blast wave folded the front of the Belbullab in on itself.
Shin-Wan’s torpedo hit the bomber dead centre and the bomber was torn apart by the explosion.

Rolling her X-Wing, Kasen came around and earned herself a front row seat as the Star Destroyer Asio was hit by more missiles and torpedoes than she’d ever seen in a single salvo.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

Gamma Facility.
Nystera.

The security team –two dozen druids and a dozen flesh and blood troopers- moved to take up positions outside the main hanger bay. The report that had summoned them had stated that a ship had crashed into the bay following an explosion.

That had been ten minutes ago. There’d apparently been no activity since, but no one had tried to enter the bay since and the security cams were out, so no one knew what was going off in there, nor if the crew of the ship had survived.

Waving his hand, the squad leader signalled to two of his men and six of the druids to move forward to the doors to the bay. One of the men –a Rodian- tried the door controls and when his attempts failed, pulled out a datapad and a bundle of wires and began to bypass it.

At that moment, one of the droids stiffened into an alert stance.

“Explosive substances detected!” The droid announced.

“Dammit” The squad leader shouted, “Back away from the doors now!”

Unfortunately, no one had a chance to obey the order as the doors, a large section of corridor and everything within fifty meters –including the security team- disappeared in a fireball of destructive power.

--------------------------------------------------

It took a few minutes for the smoke to clear and for what was left of the fire suppression systems to extinguish the flames, but eventually visibility was clear enough for them to see the destruction they had wrought.

The blast had torn a massive crescent of destruction throughout the facility; several floors above and below the point of destruction were visible. Offices, labs and workshops were shattered and equipment destroyed. Water sprayed from shattered pipes and sparks erupted from torn cables. A few bodies were visible here and there and survivors were running or at least limping away.

Face stared in shock at Deven, who shrugged, “Guess I used too much Nergon IV” The Jedi shrugged.

Face’s mouth worked silently for a heartbeat or two, finally he managed to find the words, “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”

“It’s been twelve years since my last demolitions refresher” Deven grunted rising to his feet, “I’m rusty”

Shaking his head, Face turned to where the others were dusting themselves off. Corran had swapped his Jedi robes for a padded combat jumpsuit like those worn by Face, Deven and the others.
Donos had taken up a sniper position on the Sacul’s top hull, ready to cover any avenue of attack.
Rrovv and Void would provide additional covering fire using a pair of E-Web tripods they’d set up.
Katrin and Kai had delightful job of getting Sacul functional again. She was functional, but the landing had done a lot of damage to the hull and engine systems.

Katrin –all the while complaining that Octavia could do the repairs one handed- was confident they could get two of the engines functional and that they had enough spare plating to fix the rents in the hull. The repairs wouldn’t be perfect, but they’d allow the Sacul to get off planet and rendezvous with the Ackbar.
Sacul was less confident of the prospect of repairs, but her damage control systems were still offline. She had to take Katrin’s word on the viability of repairs.

“Okay people” Face called, “We don’t know what kind of time limit we’re operating on here. The three of us” He indicated himself, Deven and Corran, “Will head into the facility and see if we can stop Jennir and whatever his plan is” He paused as several eyebrows raised at his use of ‘if’, “If Katrin and Kai can get Sacul flying and remaining here remains unviable, then leave. We’ll send you a signal for alternative pick up if necessary”

From the expressions on the faces of his Wraiths, he knew they stay as long as possible regardless of the situation.

Pride filled him as he met the gaze of each one of his team, “Whatever happens, it’s been an honour to serve with each and everyone of you all these years. May the Force be with us”

Corran rested a hand on Face’s shoulder, “Let’s not get all weepy eyed here. We’ve faced worse situations than this before”

“Damn straight” Donos nodded, “Go take care of the lunatic who’s brought war to the galaxy again. We’ve keep the LZ clear”

“Yeah boss” Kai grinned, “Go save the galaxy”

“Gladly” Face laughed.

---------------------------------------------------------

Command Bridge.
Nobility Class Star Destroyer Ackbar.

“Emperors Black Bones!” Octavia whispered as the Asio was consumed by fire. She’d never seen so many missiles in a single salvo, “Back track the solutions, find whatever fired those missiles” She ordered.

“Got it” Peri Hazen shouted, “Highlighting on Holo-tank display”

Octavia turned to Holo-tank, her eyes locating the now highlighted vessel. A wedge-like hunk of metal, twice the size of the Ackbar, the vessels bow was covered in the recognisable dimples of missile launchers…….hundreds of them.

And it was turning towards the Ackbar, bringing its launchers to bear on the port side of Octavia’s ship.

“Open fire” She ordered, “Whatever weapons we have to bear”

“Firing” Clarini nodded, “Turbolasers only until we can turn to bring our other weapons into play”

Without needing to be told, Laura Barnes on helm began to ease the Ackbar into a turn that would bring the ships heavier weapons to bear and narrow the Ackbar’s profile.

Vibrations trembled the deck as the turbolasers and heavy turbolaser batteries opened up. A storm of energy linked the Ackbar with the missile destroyer and Octavia was surprised to see the energy bolts striking the hull.

“No shields?” She frowned.

“That powerful a salvo, they probably felt shields were unnecessary” Piggy answered, “An opponent wouldn’t last long”

“A mistake” Octavia smiled, “Concentrate fire on the bow”

“Done” Clarini nodded.

There was a lull in the turbolaser fire as they recharged and the missile destroyer took advantage. The dimples of the missile launchers irised open in preparation for firing and Octavia knew the salvo would completely obliterate the Ackbar.

If the destroyer had a chance to fire.

The Ackbars turbolasers opened up again, lasers energy slashing across the bow and in some cases Octavia was sure she saw the bolts actually entering launch tubes.
The destroyer shuddered and for a moment, it seemed the attack had not been as effective as she’d hoped, but then the destroyers bow erupted into flame as it’s readied missile salvo detonated with reload magazines detonating in sympathetic response.

As they watched, the destroyer tore itself apart in a massive explosion. The shock wave tore apart a pair of Munificent Frigates that were too close and disabled a Republic Corvette. A number of fighters were also destroyed and the Ackbars crew staggered as the shock wave buffeted the vessel.

“Powerful ship, fatal flaw” Piggy nodded.

“Indeed” Octavia agreed, glancing at the holotank, “I think it’s time to take this battle to where it needs to be” She indicated the image of the Merciful Hand where it hung close to the planet, holding itself clear of the battle, “Signal Groups One, Three and Five. Let’s go play with Hertzog” She grinned.

-------------------------------------------------

Alpha Facility.
Nystera.

Jenna leapt above the lightsaber, twisting in a summersault and swinging her own saber at Jennir as she landed. The aged Jedi blocked her strike and made his own attack that she deflected with the secondary blade of her weapon, using the momentum of her swing to carry into a twirl that carried her away from Jennir.

“Shesh was right” Jenna laughed manically, a wild look in her eyes, “You’ve wasted your time for a piece of scrap”

“Appearances can be deceiving” Jennir smiled, “I’ll admit the damage is more severe than I was expecting, but it’s not so much the machine that’s important, but what can be learnt from it”

“What is so important about an oversized droid?” She demanded circling Jennir and twirling her lightsaber.

“I told you it’s less a droid and more a living suit of armour” Jennir answered, “A way of invincibility and immortality, of absolute power”

Thoughts penetrated the fog of Jenna’s mind, “And it destroyed this world. Whoever sealed themselves in that thing surrendered their very being and became little more than tool of destruction. Acting on instinct and a thirst for destruction” The face of Norikah rose to the fore, and Jenna realised who had sealed themselves inside the machine.

“They didn’t know what they were doing” Jennir said, “We can avoid their mistakes, knowing what went wrong”

“It’s a perversion” Jenna shouted, “They killed living people to create the means to link the pilot with the systems of that thing and even then, the psychic backlash burnt out her mind, leaving only a flailing, rampaging force of destruction, no way of recognising friend from foe, no way to even control itself” Visions and memories came to the surface, “It returned here after destroying this worlds enemies and continued its rampage, scouring the planet of cities, of life, of civilisation. Their most powerful weapons couldn’t stop it and it was only when the planet cracked open and swallowed it up, that it was stopped”

Jennir frowned, “You know a surprising amount”

Jenna laughed sardonically, “Your fault. Because of your unwanted surgery on me I’ve been having dreams and visions about this place, about what took place and what happened before and after the destruction”

“Unexpected” Jennir was surprised, “A useful ability”

“It’s a curse!” Jenna screamed and launched to the attack again, allowing her rage and madness to take control again.

She forced Jennir on the defense. High strike, low thrust, spin and block, even through the red mist she remembered her training. Deflecting Jennir’s lightsaber up and away, she twisted and kicked out at his knee, but the blow was hastily aimed and Jennir’s exo-skeleton resisted the attack and locked the leg, preventing it from being forced the wrong way.

Still Jennir was forced to hop away to prevent a second attempt.

Jenna came on, bloodlust driving her forward.

-------------------------------------------

The shadows parted slowly.

Awareness came first or maybe it returned first? Had it been aware before?

Memories began to surface. It remembered destruction, had it been responsible for that? Fire, death, a cleansing holocaust, carried out at its hands.

Why had it done that? Was that its purpose?

More memories surfaced. It vaguely remembered being smaller, more fragile. Then it became its current form, powerful, strong, unstoppable.

But it had been stopped? Something had stopped it and trapped it down here. Had hurt it, damaged it.

It remembered wakening other times, before. But there had been nothing of interest, no reason to act.

It brought its visual systems online. Strange that it was still so easy after all this time or was it merely programming?

Fuzzy, indistinct images formed themselves into forms that could be recognised. Two figures -very similar to those that had been the inhabitants of this world, but noticeably different in several ways- fought each other and wielded some sort of energy based sword.

It noted that one of the figures need seem to possess machine parts, though it was unable to ascertain it’s purpose.

The other one –with the dual bladed weapon- seemed to be acting out of rage, a need to deal death. Something it understood completely. It had to know more about that one.

Ancient gears and mechanisms creaked into action as it reached for the two combatants.

--------------------------------------------------

The horrific squealing sound of corroded metal against corroded metal startled Jenna and almost caused her to stumble onto her own lightsaber. She whirled on Jennir, anticipating a trick, but she was surprised to see he wasn’t focused on her.

The shocked look on his face cut through her bloodlust and offered an anchor of sanity that she latched onto and used to bring herself under some degree of self-control.

The sound occurred again, this time it sounded even more stressed, like ancient machinery moving after having sat dormant for millennia. With a sickening feeling, Jenna turned and felt her terror go through the roof in a single burst.

The thing, the Vortex, the Stormbringer as moving. It was still functional after all this time. Or was it actually alive? Through the force, she could feel a life force inside it. The life sense was corrupted, degraded by millennia of inactivity, warped and twisted far beyond whatever it had once been.

Just touching the life force through the force, made her feel unclean. It reminded her of the times she’d ventured into tombs corrupted by the Dark Side and old Sith Temples.

With its single hand, the machine lunged for Jenna and Jennir. Both leapt clear and the massive monstrosity overbalanced itself and belly flopped against the rocky ground, it’s metal claws carving great divots in the rock.
The impact sent a wild tremor through the chamber, shaking rocks and boulders from walls and ceiling and dislodging armour plates the size of landpseeders from the metal giant.

It let out a new sound as it struggled to raise itself up. A rage filled roar that was almost human to Jenna’s ears.

She swallowed her fear and sought out Jenna, where his jump had taken him to the far end of the chamber.

“Jennir” She shouted, using the force to amplify her voice and carry her words, “Did you expect this?”

From the expression on his face, she could see he hadn’t expected to find the target of his quest still functional, “No, not after all this time” He shook his head, “This is an unexpected boon, to find it till functional, still alive”

She advanced towards him, careful to remain out of range of the droids grasping reach, at one point calling on the force to carry her up and over one particular grab.

“This thing” She shouted, “Cleansed the galaxy of life once before and then returned to do the same to this world. What possible use can it even be to you?”

“It can be controlled” Jennir called back, “I can control it”

Jenna stared at Jennir. Could it be that he was as crazy as her? “You’re insane” She said, “I can’t believe you’re even contemplating it. What if you’re wrong?”

“I’m not wrong” Jennir responded, “I’ve been planning for too many years to make mistakes”

Jenna went on the attack once again, a rapid series of strikes to push Jennir’s defensive skill to the limit, followed by a twisting roundhouse kick that impacted Jennir hard in the chest, knocking the air from his lungs and driving him back.

“But what purpose can it even serve?” Jenna demanded aiming a strike, which Jennir picked off with ease before forcing her, defend his riposting thrust.

“A great one” Jennir smiled, “In any case, I don’t mean to control it as such, just guide it. Direct it” A sinister lock flickered across his face, “Under my direction, worlds will burn, a mass sacrifice that will appease the balance and allow for the Old Republic to be restored to its former glory”

Jenna was about to retort, when her danger sense lit off like a bomb and she flipped away just in time to avoid being crushed as the Vortex brought the remains of it’s left leg down on the spot she had been standing.
During the time she and Jennir had been fighting and talking, it had succeeded in getting onto its feet, or at least one and a half legs.

It stared down at Jenna, it’s smashed face grinning almost skull like at her.

------------------------------------------------

Ancient computer systems –though not as ancient as the world and artefacts they had been set to watch over- came alive. Chambers sealed millennia ago and not yet opened by the various excavation teams were lit with a riot of colour as screens burst into action.

The security programs that ran noted that a large number of sensors placed throughout the old facility were no longer operational, but enough were still functional to determine that intruders were on planet and were digging through the forbidden vaults.

The programs also noted that the seal into the deep chamber had been breached and that the artefact itself was functional.

Though age, seismic activity and moisture leakage had damaged many of the systems, enough of the databases remain intact for the security programs to understand the situation and match it with the variety of scenarios coded into their memory and select the appropriate action.

Though no one but a Rakatan –should one have even been able to access the chamber- could read the language of the writing that began to flash on all the screens at once. The meaning would have been clear, from the blood red lettering and the way they were painted on the screens.

‘Doomsday Protocol Activated’

---------------------------------

Command Bridge.
Imperator Class Star Destroyer Chimera.
Hyperspace enroute To Coruscant.

Rear-Admiral Gilad Pellaeon sat in his command chair, watching the swirls of hyperspace through the viewports. As the Chimera cut through the mottled whirlpools of hyperspace, Pellaeon reviewed the data he had of the situation at Coruscant.

Before he’d had the Chimera and the Ninth Fleet –minus the ships he’d sent with General Terah- jump into hyperspace, he’d pulled a data dump of the current situation.

The Liberty District destroyed by an atomic device and most of Coruscant in turmoil. A large portion of the planetary shields down. The Guardian destroyed. The sector defence fleet in disarray, but reorganising as reinforcements arrived and a massive fleet battling Republic forces in system.

Under his command he had just over eight hundred starships and several thousand starfighters under his command. With Kre’Fey’s First Fleet, the Coruscant Defence Fleet, the second Fleet and the Fourth Fleet along with his own Ninth, they would be at approximately three to one odds against the Neo-Seps.

He did have reports that both Jesmin Ackbar’s Sixth Fleet –including the Lusankya- was also enroute. He’d also heard unconfirmed rumours that the Hapen’s were dispatching a force to assist as well.

“Thirty seconds to reversion Admiral” Commander Adriff noted.

“Very well” Pellaeon nodded, “All weapons to stand by, all fighter wings to launch one minute after arrival. We’re dropping out clear of the main battle, that should give us time to ascertain the situation and move accordingly”

“Here we go” Adriff said as hyperspace collapsed into real space, “Sithspit!” He shouted as the Mon Calamari cruiser that was unexpectedly only a few hundred meters off their bow exploded into flaming debris.

Swarms of fighters looped around the burning hulk, some continued battling with the X-Wings and E-Wings that had been trying to defend the stricken ship, the rest peeled off and raced on attack vectors towards the new arrivals.

“Fire at will” Pellaeon ordered, “Launch fighters”

The Chimeras turbolaser batteries roared into life, spitting out high-powered energy at the incoming fighter swarm. To the port, Pellaeon could see the Stormhawk also firing and to the starboard, the Firestorm doing likewise as were other ships across the line.

A significant number of the fighters –a mix of Vulture and Scarab druids- came apart under the concentrated fire, the rest came on regardless. And met their destructive fate under the weapons of Pellaeon’s starfighters.

Pelaeon had mixed feelings as the fighters flew past the command tower of the Chimera, waggling their wings in respect to the fleet commander. On one hand he felt the pride of seeing those fighters flying past the viewports and showing such respect. On the other hand, he was still uncomfortable at seeing X-wings, A-Wings, E-Wings and B-Wings mixed in with the various TIEs. Once the Chimera had carried only TIEs, but when he and the Chimera had been brought into the war, Garm Bel Iblis had assigned what squadrons he could and the TIE just wasn’t a popular fighter any more.

Sure they were cheap, deadly and manoeuvrable. But they were also fragile, difficult to handle in atmosphere, rarely had hyperdrives and even more rarely had ejector seats. Pellaeon had to admit –despite a still deep-seated belief in the superiority of anything the Empire had used- that the fighters used primarily by the Republic and the Rebel Alliance before were a better class of fighter.

Still, he’d had some shield equipped TIEs assigned to his ships, for old times sake.

“Get me a situation report,” He ordered.

“Main battle appears to be close to Coruscant itself” The sensor operator replied, “Both forces are spread out across the entire system”

“That Mon Cal may have been trying to pull clear and was overwhelmed” Adriff pointed out. He pointed to the sensor board where the Neo-Separatist flank was drifting out to confront the Ninth.

“I have the Ralroost on the comms” The communications officer called.

“Put it through” Pellaeon nodded.

“Garm” Kre’fey’s voice sounded somewhat relieved, “Good to see you made it”

“Wouldn’t have missed it Traest” Pellaeon answered, “What’s the situation?”

“Mostly a stalemate at the minute” Kre’fey replied, his words punctuated by the sound of a console overloading somewhere on the Ralroosts bridge, “They’ve made no major pushes towards Coruscant itself and seem content to simply engage us. They’re letting themselves get spread out and allowing this thing to degenerate into a battle of attrition”

“Anywhere in particular you need me and my force?”

Kre’fey paused for a moment as he considered the question, “You’re drawing off a significant number of their ships. Suggest you hold position, let them spread themselves a little thin, let’s see if we can split them up a little”

“Done” Pellaeon answered grimly, “We’ll beat them yet”

--------------------------------------------

Alpha Facility.
Nystera.
Edge Of Wild Space.

Dropping prone, Jaina waited until the blaster bolts passed above her and then swept her lightsaber across the knees of the guard who’d fired at her at nearly point blank range.
As the guard dropped to floor screaming she stabbed her blade through the mans heart, silencing him and then flipped to her feet just time to deflect another flurry of laser bolts fired in her direction.

Two of the bolts impacted harmlessly against the ceiling, but the third struck the second guard in the meaty part of his left thigh. She didn’t wait to see him fall and instead threw herself in a roll across the lab counter, scattering test tubes and equipment.
A macro-analyser exploded a few inches from her head as the third guard opened up on her, but her sudden move had thrown his aim off sufficiently to miss her. She did hear the scream of the second guard; apparently the third guard had claimed the second as collateral damage.

Finishing her roll and landing firmly on her feet, Jaina slashed out with the saber, cutting through the guard’s rifle and taking both his hands with it. Kicking the screaming man through the doorway, she stepped out after him into the corridor.

Outside, the corridor was surprisingly empty. This was the third ambush, she’d run into and she was getting tired of putting guards down. They weren’t even a challenge. Even the most incompetent stormtrooper had been more professional that this guys.
She figured the majority of the guards were down-on-their-luck mercenaries, rogues and scum, the sort of degenerates that would sign up for anything as long as they got paid and fed. That would explain the general level of training and talent –or lack of it- that these guys demonstrated.

“Guess you get what you pay for” She smirked, delivering a swift kick to the head of the still moaning guard and knocking him unconscious.

Further down the corridor, a pair of lab techs poked their head out of a doorway, saw her standing there and fled back into the room they’d been hiding in, sealing the door behind them.

With a smirk, Jaina took a few moments to reorient her bearings. She knew Jenna was somewhere below her, but finding the route down was tricky. Cortosis laced security doors blocked many of the routes and the other paths led to carefully placed ambushes like the one she had just dealt with.

It was strange. She knew they were herding her in a particular direction. The carefully blocked and open routes as well as the pathetic ambushes told her that. She just couldn’t work out why.

Was she being directed towards some sort of trap?

----------------------------------------------------

From his vantage point, Jaden watched the guards move down the corridor. He’d already had a run in with one of the patrols and the blaster burn on his thigh was a reminder that he wasn’t in a hurry to run into another one yet.

He waited until the patrol moved into one of the empty storerooms, then dropped down out of the vent and slapped the door controls. The rearmost guard saw him and was turning to fire when the door slammed shut. The gimmicked lock immediately locked the door down and scrambled the unlock code with a four-hundred digit code.

He’d already jammed the other door out of the storeroom, so he had no fear that they’d be getting out anytime soon.

He’d realised that he, Oddball and Jaina had been expected before he’d run into the first patrol. It was too easy to move through each of the facilities and key doors had been sealed in such a pattern as to divert him down a particular route.

That was a game he refused to play. He didn’t like being told where he could and couldn’t go. As well as this patrol and the first one, he’d also dealt with two others trapping one in an elevator and taking out the other with a set of stolen stun mines.

He’d also hacked the computer systems and learnt that a ship had crashed into the hanger bay of the Gamma Facility. He’d managed to pull some images from the database and the ship ‘looked’ like it might have been the Sacul. The quality just wasn’t good enough for him to be certain.

He’d also discovered that a Republic fleet was in system and battling with the Local Neo-Sep fleet. To that end, he’d made a detour to the main power generators and shut down the power transfer to both the shield generators and the planetary ion cannon.

“Anything to give the good guys an away game advantage” He mused.

Moving to a data terminal, he opened up the back door he’d sliced into the system and pulled up a map of the entire base, all five facility structures.

Maybe he’d go find his old man.

---------------------------------------------

Command Bridge.
Devastator Class star Dreadnought Merciful Hand.

General Krim Hertzog scowled as he watched the display of the Ackbar and three-dozen other vessels breaking free of the main battle and making a run towards his ship.

He’d already dispatched a portion of his fighter screen to harass the incoming ships and those fighters were engaging in a furball with the fighters that had moved forwards with the Ackbar and the other ships.

“An interesting move” Commander Courtney Whitmore muttered from beside him, “But we still outgun them”

“Yes” Hertzog nodded, “However, have the ever heard of the Ta’kalian Blood Spider?”

Whitmore frowned, “No, but I don’t see the relevance”

“Bear with me Commander” Hertzog held his hand up, “The Blood Spider is unique to a very specific area of a very specific continent on Ta’kalia. It’s barely larger than a couple of millimetres in size, almost invisible to the naked eye, yet it’s bite ha so potent a poison as to fell an adult human with death likely in eighty percent of cases” He glanced at her, “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Yes” Whitmore nodded, “That the smallest, most insignificant threat can still hurt you”

“And those vessels are hardly insignificant” Hertzog said, “They could still hurt us severely”

As if to punctuate his words, the Ackbar opened fire with its Magnetic Accelerator Cannon, as did the three Ceaser ship killers that were also mixed in the approaching force.

A half dozen MAC slugs hammered into the portside bow shields, reducing their power by a third, but failing to penetrate. A light tremble went through the deck as the slugs still imparted enough kinetic energy to buffet the ship.
A few moments later, the leading edge of the incoming force opened up with more conventional weapons. Turbolasers, ion cannon, missiles and torpedoes lashed the Merciful Hands shields. The shields glowed a sickly yellow under the rolling firestorm and Hertzog saw a handful of missiles and turbolaser bolts penetrate the shields and hammer against the hull.

“Damage is negligible” Whitmore said. A massive White Shark missile broke though the weakened shields and slammed into the hull, penetrating the armour before exploding and blowing a hole the size of small yacht in the Merciful Hands hull. Whitmore winced, “That could be more noticeable”

“Return fire” Hertzog ordered.

-------------------------------

Coruscant System.
Battle For Coruscant.

Luke Skywalker shoved down hard on his port rudder, slewing his X-Wing around and onto the tail of the fighter he was pursuing. A single press of the trigger sent four linked laser bolts into the target with deadly force-assisted accuracy.

The Vulture droid shuddered as the four bolts stabbed deep into its fuselage, then with a flash of light its engines shut down and the droid fighter continued on its ballistic course, completely devoid of power.

Continuing the turn, Luke found himself facing the newest flank of the battle. The front ranks of Gilad Pellaeon’s Ninth Fleet had formed a firing line and were moving across the bows of the Neo-Seps and were delivering devastating broadsides that the targets wouldn’t be able to reply to as effectively until they too were able to turn to deliver broadsides.

Despite the hideous damage Pellaon’s forces were inflicting, the Neo-Separatist fleet still held a massive numerical advantage over the New Republic defenders. The entire system from the orbit of the second of Coruscant’s moons all the way to Coruscant itself was littered with disabled vessels, shattered wrecks and debris.

Thus far the Second Fleet and the Coruscant Sector Fleet had managed to prevent the Neo-Separatists from making any major strikes against Coruscant, but had suffered heavy losses in the process. And with the Neo-Separatists practically blockading the planet, the New Republic had been able to get reinforcements through to them.

Eldo Davip –breveted to Lieutenant-General by an Advisory Council vote- had managed to organise the CSF and the Second following the destruction of the Guardian. Currently, he had his less damaged ships forming a perimeter with smaller faster ships running point to point as ‘firefighters’ whilst his damaged ships retreated to the umbrella of the orbital defences to make what repairs they could.

Thus far, Randolph Deegan –the Neo-Sep commander- had refrained from pushing too hard at Davip’s forces, instead seemingly content to slowly whittle down Davip’s ships and maintain his own advantage.

That needed to change.

------------------------------------

Chief-Of-State’s Office.
Imperial Palace.
Coruscant.

With a snarl of anger Vorsk Kel’lya swept his hand across the top of his desk, knocking datapads, files and a desk lamp to the floor.

“How dare they?” He shouted, “How dare they?”

His aide, Porshk Vo’Han, winced and took a step back to avoid the flying debris, “Sir, the vote hasn’t taken place yet, there is still time to affect its outcome”

“In case you haven’t noticed,” Kel’lya snapped, “We have an invasion fleet above our heads, the Liberty District is lost and all the Senate can see is my failure to do anything about the situation”

“The call for a vote of no confidence was brought by Cal Omas” Vo’Han said.

“Spearing me with the same weapon I used on him” Kel’lya sneered, “There must be a way to head off this vote”

“Perhaps if you were to take direct charge of the situation, show that you can lead” Vo’Han offered.

“Don’t tell me how to do my job!” Kel’lya snarled, “But you are right. I must show that I am the only choice to lead the New Republic through this crisis. In the meantime, I must consolidate my support” He scowled, “The loss of the Guardian cost me Girdun as the Supreme Commander and two of my strongest supporters on the Advisory council” He picked up a datapad from the floor, “I need to build up support among those who are undecided. I think a few rebuilding contracts after this war is over should bring a few over to my side”

“Assuming we win” Vo’Han pointed out.

Kel’lya stared at his aide as if the thought had never occurred to him that the Republic could lose the war, “We will win, we must” He said quietly.

----------------------------------------------

Command Bridge.
Skye Warship Warrior’s Hammer.
Fringes Of The Skye System.
Eleven Hours Ago.

Thrawn –though he still considered himself as a mere shadow of the original- looked up as the doors at the rear of the bridge opened to admit Queen Trinity Oslo-Tarn and head of the Skye Royal Guard, Jonah Levin.

“Highness” Thrawn nodded, noting that Skyes ruler had chosen to eschew her usual elaborate dresses and robes in favour of a simple paramilitary style uniform. He was also pleased to note that his bridge crew didn’t jump up and fawn all over her as an Imperial crew might have done during the height of the Empire.

“Admiral Thrawn” Oslo Tarn nodded, “Are all preparations complete?”

“They are” Thrawn replied, “All crew are aboard and all systems checks completed. We’re ready to go as soon as you give the word”

“The word is given” Trinity smiled, “How soon can we get to our destination?”

”Approximately twelve to thirteen hours” Thrawn responded, “I’ve had a course plotted that passes through a number of uninhabited systems, that’ll cut travel time down AND keep our passage somewhat unnoticed”

“Very good” Trinity said, “Time is of the essence here, by the time we arrive any combatants will be deeply engaged”

Thrawn nodded, then turned to the helm officer, “Take us out to the hyperspace point, all possible speed”

On Thrawn’s command, the Executor Class Super Star Destroyers bank of thirteen sublight engines ignited, pushing the Warrior’s Hammer clear of the docking arms of the massive station that had served as a maintenance facility for the great warship.

Easing in a long and surprisingly graceful turn despite its size, the Warrior’s Hammer cleared the orbit of the Skye systems outer most planet and moved towards the jump point.

There was a war to win, and the crew of the Warrior’s Hammer didn’t want to miss out.


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Command Bridge.
Sovereign Class Super Star Destroyer Mist Lynx.
Coruscant System.

Neo-Separatist Supreme Commander Randolph Deegan frowned as he watched Gilad Pellaeon’s Ninth Fleet push at his flank. Unlike Traest Kre’Fey’s subtle thrusts and encirclement tactics, Pellaeon’s tactics were typically Imperial.

His Star Destroyers, Assault Frigates and largest Mon Calamari Cruisers had formed a heavy ‘artillery’ line and were combining their overlapping fire arcs to pound his ships into scrap, whilst his lighter starships pushed through holes opened up in Deegan’s defensive line to capitalize on the damage the larger ships had done.

Standard Imperial tactic. Put your forces in the position where hey could unleash the maximum amount of damage against an opponent.

Except, Pellaeon was hardly standard Imperial. He’d been the protégé of Grand Admiral Thrawn and had over the years displayed an impressive grasp of non-standard tactics and strategy.

“Have Group Twelve move in towards the Chimera” He ordered, deciding to test a theory.

His order carried out, Deegan watched his screens as Group Twelve –thirty ships in all- broke free of their positions and charged the Chimera and it’s battle group. Though continuing to fire at their attackers, Pellaeon’s ships broke formation and began to scatter. As his own ships turned to pursue, they were caught flat-footed by the five wings of Scimitar Assault Bombers and three wings of TIE Bombers that had been hiding in the sensor shadow of Pellaeon’s ships.

Most of the group he’d sent after Pellaeon took heavy damage in the first salvo as they struggled to reorient. Seven were destroyed outright, another fifteen with various levels of damage. In return, they claimed four of Pellaeon’s ships –including two of his Star Destroyers- and nearly a full wings worth of bombers.

“Interesting” Deegan mused as his executive officer moved up beside him, “Rare to see the A-Wing Slash used from a defensive position like that”

“Begging pardon, Sir” His XO, Commander Col Farn frowned, “I’m not familiar with the tactic”

Deegan sighed, save him from fools, “A surprise based tactic developed by Garm Bel Iblis during the period when Grand Admiral Thrawn led the Empire. Send a squadron of fighters, X-Wings usually, at a target. The break off at the last minutes and as the target turns to track, a fast moving squadron…”

“A-Wings?”

“Yes, A-Wings” Deegan nodded, “They come charging through on the X-Wings original vector and surprise gets them a free run at the target. Not a tactic you’d be able to use more than once in any given battle, but it can make a lot of difference” He shrugged, “Can’t say I’ve even seen it done with Star Destroyers and Bombers before”

“Effective though” Farn pointed out.

“Indeed” Deegan agreed, “Still Pellaeon’s forces were forced to scatter, that buys us time to reinforce that flank” He glanced at the screens displaying the battle, “I think we may be approaching the time to initiate Operation Hammer”

“I’ll start detailing the orders” Farn nodded eagerly.

“Good” Deegan smiled, “Soon Coruscant and it’s people will feel the full taste of this war”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Senate Halls.
Imperial City.
Coruscant.

“We live in difficult times. For almost a year now, we have been at war, fighting to protect ourselves against those who would destroy civilization”

Vorsk Kel’lya, New Republic Chief of State allowed himself a slight pause, to give the Senate time to absorb his words and for the translator druids to do their duty.

“Many of you come from worlds ravaged by war. Whether it be this war or one of the many that have preceded it, you all understand the horror and destruction that is inflicted on our peoples” He glanced around, they were listening intently, “These Neo-Separatist cloak themselves in nobility they do not possess in an attempt to justify their destructive nature. They though us weary of war, that Palpatine, Thrawn, Daala, Nil Spaar, Zeev and Shiva had beaten us down, left us so tired of war that we became timid. They are wrong”

He saw quite a few heads nodding in agreement there and heard the calls of those who were more verbal.

“They were wrong! We fought back, winning victory after victory and now in an act of desperation, they have attacked Coruscant. Their fleet is even now battling with our valiant forces”

Some voices of outrage joined in this time, directed at the Neo-Separatists in general though he did hear a few slurs directed at Palpatine. Interesting.

“They have already struck at Coruscant before in this war. Several terrorist attacks during the first weeks and then the recent bombing in the Liberty District”

More calls of outrage.

“The loss of life so far has been great. Yet we have still refused to give up, even now we continue to fight back” He glanced around the Senate Hall again, “However, even now, some among you seek to remove me at a critical juncture, they seek to create turmoil within much the Neo-Separatists seek to destroy us from without”

That created an awkward silence and a lot of glances between Senate members. As he’d hoped, his words had created a current of suspicion that some members of the Senate were working for the enemy.

“To those members of this august body, I must ask that you leave such talk until after we have achieved victory. Then you may call for whatever votes you wish. Until then such actions will only serve to divide us and hamper our ability to fight”

He saw some agreement in the chamber. He also saw some sour looks from supporters of the No Confidence vote; they knew a victory over the Neo-Separatist could swing any vote in Kel’lya’s favour.

“On that point, we must bring this war to an end and soon” This was the big moment, “However, bureaucracy is slowing down our efforts to direct our forces. To that end, I ask that the Senate vote to grant me emergency powers to allow me to cut through the red tape and get our troops where they need to be. At the wars conclusion I will of course return them”

This time there were a few angry shouts of denial and some calls of support for him, but the prevailing emotion was surprise and the majority seemed to adopt a wait and see posture.

“I ask to be recognised” A voice called.

Kel’lya smiled, “The chair recognises the honourable Senator Garth from Anaxes”

The Senator, an Imperious human was cadaverously slender and with his hook like nose and the way he stooped, he reminded Kel’lya of a vulture. He was also one of Kel’lya’s supporters, despite his Old Imperial leanings.

“Thank you” Garth nodded, “I too feel that causing turmoil here and now would only hurt our war efforts, therefore I motion that the Vote of No Confidence be deferred until at least after the conclusion of the war. I also forward motion that the Chief-Of-State be granted emergency powers to help fight this war”

As Garth sat down to a smattering of agreement and an equal amount of shouting, Kel’lya turned towards his other major ally, Tras Fel’kan of Bothawui, ready to recognise him when the Bothan asked for it.

Before Fel’kan could stand however, somebody else spoke up.

“President Kel’lya, I would be recognised”

“The chair recognises the Senator from Skye” Kel’lya said quickly to cover his surprise.

The senator from Skye, Hassid Ricol, was a large man, the very opposite of Garth. Tall, well muscled and ramrod straight, Ricol was clearly ex-military and even during these Senate sessions wore the crimson generals uniform that had earned him the name ‘The Red Duke’.
With his long, but neatly trimmed beard and his piercing blue eyes, Ricol appeared to be he cold aristocrat Garth was, but Ricol was far more intelligent and dangerous and couldn’t be controlled with promises as Garth was.

To Key’lya’s surprise, Ricol nodded to Garth in agreement, “I agree with my learned colleague from Anaxes and with the Chief-Of-State. A vote of no confidence now would only divide us and paralyse us at this time of crisis” Ricol’s voice was deep and rumbling, reminding Kel’lya of the engines of a heavy cruiser during an atmospheric flyby, “At the very least it should be delayed until the completion of this war. I second that motion”

“The motion carries” Kel’lya smiled, “I call a vote”

It took just over an hour for each Senator to cast their vote and for the Senate Computer to tally the totals. To Kel’lya’s satisfaction, the vote passed, the vote of no confidence would be delayed. That bought him time.

He didn’t like that his margin of victory was so slim. Enough Senators had voted against the motion, that had Ricol not swung a few Senators, Kel’lya would still be facing a No Confidence vote.

That unnerved Kel’lya. Ricol had with that little statement, swung a considerable amount of votes in Kel’lya’s favour. Almost four hundred senators. Ricol hadn’t been so eloquent as too sway them with words. Was this further evidence of the power base Trinity Oslo-Tarn was building up?

Once again stepping up to the podium, Kel’lya glanced around the senate chamber, “The vote passes. Any Vote of No Confidence will now be delayed until after the war” He took a deep breath, “Now to the second matter, the granting of emergency powers to the Chief-Of-State. I open up the floor, one may speak up for granting the powers, one may speak up against”

This time it was Kelso Dawit, his Twi’lek supporter who stood, “This is a difficult decision, but I agree we must take steps to hasten victory in this war. Granting emergency powers to the Chief-Of-State will do this” The Twi’lek gazed around the chamber, “We all know first hand the way red tape and bureaucracy can hinder our efforts to send messages, requisition supplies and of course, move troops around. In a time of war, such as this, that can be a dangerous hindrance”

Some nods of agreement along with calls of the same around the chamber.

Dawit continued, “If granting the emergency powers will help our war effort by letting Chief-Of-State Kel’lya give the orders he needs to, then I say, We must do it” He waited for the cheers to stop, “Debate we must, but time is of the essence. Let us do this”

Dawit sat down and Kel’lya fully expected Cal Omas of Alderaan, Templeton Peck of Corellia or the Bith Senator Nara G’ont. Instead, it was once again the Skye Senator Hassid Ricol who pulled his immense frame to his feet.

A feeling of dread settled in Kel’lya’s stomach as so called ‘Red Duke’ gazed coldly around the Senate Hall.

“Yes, we are at war, it would take a special kind of stupid to miss that” Despite the rumbling nature of his voice, his remark elicited some titters and good natured laughter around the Hall, “And I won’t argue that red tape is a hindrance and bureaucracy a necessary evil. Filling out forms in triplicate just to replace a broken monitor can certainly slow down the process. But we should deal with those problems the correct way, by streamlining the process and eliminating superfluous points in the line” He voice went colder and he stared directly at Fel’lya, “What we should not be doing is granting someone –even a Chief-Of-State- the ability to circumvent the process. The red tape and Bureaucracy is there to provide a buffer against the misuse of the system, and in the case of the Chief-Of-State to prevent a misuse of power”

“Now just a minute…!” Kel’lya started, but Ricol spitted him with a stare that stopped him cold.

“I know some of you were here in this very hall almost sixty years ago when Senators of the Old Republic granted emergency powers to the Chancellor of that time for the duration of the Clone Wars” He waited until the angry shouts and shocked whispers petered out, “Yes, I was not here myself, but I know history, I have seen the recordings of that day. Palpatine too promised to return to emergency powers at the end of the Clone Wars. Instead he used them to rewrite wars, curtail freedoms and even rewrite the very constitution of the Old Republic and at the wars end, did he hand them back? No!”
He shouted, his voice booming, “Instead, he sent troops to attack the Jedi Temple here on Coruscant, to kill children. He had members of the Senate arrested on trumped up charges and threatened the family members of others to keep them in line. He swept away the Old Republic and replaced it with his Empire, a twisted and corrupted this that brought order at the cost of freedom, safety at the price of oppression and fear instead of hope”

Kel’lya slumped back in his seat. This was not going well.

Ricol continued, “I’m not suggesting that Vorsk Kel’lya is another Palpatine, but the powers of the Chief-Of-State were deliberately restricted preciously to avoid the situation of another Palpatine. If we allow the Chief-Of-State to make far-reaching decisions with involving this body, without involving the diplomatic process, then we attack the very foundations on which this New Republic is built. Melodramatic perhaps, but we should not just hand over those emergency powers simply because some asks us to do so and points out there’s a war on” He scowled, “At least Palpatine manipulated the Old Republic Senate into handing them over, he didn’t go on his knees, pleading like some beggar for the powers to be given to him”

His voice dropped to a near whisper, “We must not do this”

---------------------------------

Chief-Of-State’s Office.
Senate Halls.

Fury still bubbling inside him, Kel’lya stood at the observation window of his office, looking down on the foyer of the Senate Halls. A few senators and their aides still milled around, though the threat of the fleet above had encouraged the majority to retreat to shelters.

With the emergency session out of the way, Kel’lya was supposed to be heading his own bunker, but he wouldn’t go out there until his anger was under control.

Not only had he been outmanoeuvred, he’d been humiliated. Hassid Ricol had not only turned the Senate against Kel’lya’s request to be granted to him, he’d also undermined his credibility with the comparisons to Palpatine.

Half the senate thought he was trying to seize power completely and make himself the new Galactic Emperor. The rest simply thought he was politically inept.

The power base he’d built up, the alliances he’d made, even the deals he’d struck with the more unsavoury lobby groups. All of it for nothing. The Vote of no Confidence had been delayed, but now he had insufficient support to defeat it when it came around again.

And with the block on his attempts to claim emergency powers, he couldn’t even use his streamlined attempts to deal with the current situation to curry public opinion.

If Trinity Oslo-Tarn was planning on unseating him and having herself elevated to the Chief-Of-States position, then with the efforts of her representative in the Senate, she was well within reach of that goal.

He couldn’t block her attempts now. Instead, he had to find a way to undermine her.

“Sir” His aide appeared at the door, “We have to get you to the bunker now”

“Alright, alright” He growled, “I’m coming. After what happened in the Senate, I wanted to avoid the crowds”

He’d barely made it two steps to the doorway when the air was filled with the droning, ear splitting wail of an emergency siren.
Immediately reversing his direction of travel, Kel’lya moved to the comm unit.

“Planetary Defense. This is Chief-Of-State Kel’lya. What is the meaning of the emergency siren? Are we under attack?” He demanded.

“Not yet Sir” The voice of the PD comm officer replied, “But the Neo-Sep fleet is making another big push and we’ve been advised to sound the alert. There’s still a large hole in our shield coverage”

“Why wasn’t I informed?” Kel’lya demanded, ”I should have been informed as Chief-Of-State”

“Forgive me Sir” The comm officer responded in a frosty tone, “There wasn’t time to inform a politician before the thousands of civilians in this city. Planetary Defense out”

Kel’lya stared at the comm unit in shock. No respect at all.

-----------------------------------------------------

Coruscant Orbit.

The push came with little warning. Over two hundred vessels broke free of the Neo-Separatist fleet and launched themselves against the already battered and as yet, unreinforced Coruscant Sector Fleet.

Eldo Davip attempted to marshal his forces into forming a defensive line, but they were quickly and brutally swept aside. Davip himself attempted to put his own Mediator Class Cruiser –the Avalon- in the path of the lead vessel, a Providence Class Destroyer.

The Providence simply rammed the Avalon, turning both vessels into a fiery conflagration that claimed a dozen ships on either side and a greater number of stafighters.

Those watching, the other fleet commanders, the Jedi, pilots and crewers, could only watch in vain, knowing they couldn’t break through the Neo-Separatist lines in time.

They watched in numb horror as the Sector Defense Fleet was crushed and it’s ships left drifting and lifeless. Pushing through the destroyed and disabled ships the Neo-Separatist attack force –still a hundred and seventy strong- dove in towards Coruscant itself.

The mine fields that surrounded Coruscant claimed dozens of ships. Almost every ship being struck by multiple packages of high explosive. The massive Magnetic Accelerator Cannon platforms claimed another dozen more. Turbolaser platforms and missile arrays picked off starfighters and hammered smaller vessels mercilessly.

Yet still they pushed on.

A Lucrehulk Carrier, holed in more locations than an observer could count rammed one of the MAC platforms. It’s magnetic coils shattered, the platform discharged its charged energy in a single explosion that shattered two Recuscant Cruisers and set a huge swath of the minefield off in sympathetic explosions.

Hideously damaged and leaking drive plasma and atmosphere, less than twenty ships broke free to threaten Coruscant directly. Settling into orbit and weathering the sporadic fire from the few weapons platforms, began to launch fighters.

The squadrons were somewhat incomplete, losses had been suffered during the heavy fire they’d been under, but between them, nearly a hundred starfighters were inbound towards Coruscant.

A Flicker of light flashed up at one of the largest surviving vessels. A pair of Ion cannon bursts cored their way up through the atmosphere at a Lucrehulk Carrier. The first struck the unshielded bow sending lighting arcing across the hull as systems overloaded and half the vessel went dark.
The second ion burst struck a Vulture Squadron, evaporating them in a blink and discharging its energy uselessly into space.

As the starfighters dove down through the gap in the planetary shield, turbolaser fire began to lance up from ground based batteries, but with the hole in the shields above what was left of the Liberty District –where there were no batteries left- the planetary fire posed little threat.

More Ion Cannon fire reached spacewards too. But like the turbolaser batteries, they were too far from the breach in the shields to get a good angle.

By now however, two of the closest MAC platforms had turned on their manoeuvring thrusters enough to fire on the starships. Even so, the number of wrecks that littered local space from the Neo-Seps charge hindered the MACs fields of fire.

Both fired at the single remaining Providence, both slugs slamming into the ships engine block. Armor shattered under the impact and one slug tore a gaping hole clean through the plasma lines, the resulting plasma eruption kicked the Cruiser into a flat spin that ended with it slamming against a smaller Recuscant.

The impact crushed the bridge of the smaller Recuscant and sent both ships dropping towards Coruscant. The Recuscant struck the shields, obliterating itself against the high-energy fields. The Providence began to glow across its bow as it dove into the atmosphere at an angle that was steeper than its heat shielding could tolerate.

As it cut through the atmosphere, air rippled from the sonic booms and the nearby fighters were scattered, though almost all were able to maintain control, splitting off and heading to find targets.

Burning and approaching its terminal velocity, the Providence dropped towards the still burning radioactive crater of the Liberty District.

----------------------------------

Mariska Savage’s Apartment.
Republica One-Twelve.
Senate District.

Lyn Kargin stood at her window watching as the Providence dropped towards the planet. She didn’t know that it was a Providence Class Destroyer, or that it had gone under the name ‘Bulldog’. She wasn’t aware of the circumstances of how it came to be diving through the atmosphere or even which side it had fought for.

Instead, she saw it as a disturbing sign. She knew there’d been a hole in the planetary shields caused by the destruction in the Liberty District, but hadn’t considered that a ship that size could slip though.

She knew she should be in one of the shelters, after all, if a cruiser could slip through the hole in the shields, then so could fighters and bombers. But her information hungry nature forced her to remain, to observe, to record.

She had to see for herself what was happening.

A tremble ran through her building and for a moment, she thought it was another tremor, but then a pair of Corellian Gunships passed over her building. They were part of the Planetary Defence Force and with the three squadrons of X-Wings and A-Wings accompanying them, they were racing to deal with the incoming starfighters.

The falling starship, visible from this distance as little more than an oversized star, dropped below the horizon of buildings. A few moments later, there was a flash of light and a boiling mushroom cloud climbed back up above the horizon.

Another fire now raged in the Liberty District.

With a sigh, she returned to her personal terminal, powered up the emergency power pack and started reviewing the data she’d gathered.

------------------------------------

Hanger Bay Seven.
Imperial Palace.

Leia grimaced as she watched the holos of the falling Providence crashing against Coruscants surface. Fortunately, it had come down in the already devastated Liberty District.

She watched as the bow of the vessel crumpled, explosions erupting from the sides as torpedo racks exploded with unspent munitions. Then the engine block telescoped down through the remaining hull. A second later, the reactor ruptured and the wreck was consumed in a hellish conflagration that blew apart the remnants and shattered more of the already ruined cityscape.

Turning from the screen she glanced back across the hanger bay towards where the Falcon sat. From this distance, she could hear the dulled sounds of shouting.

Once again the temperamental Falcon had shown characteristically bad timing, it’s power converters burning out. Han and Chewie had replaced them and then something else had gone wrong. For whatever reason power was no longer going through all the repulsors at the same rate, a situation that would flip the Falcon over if the repulsors were used for takeoff.

Leia shook her head and smiled. The Falcon was almost a hundred years old, having rolled off the Corellian Engineering Corporations assembly lines at Orbital Assembly Facility 7 in 60BBY.
Infamously unreliable from the first day it had worn many names over the last century. YT-492727ZED, Corell’s Pride, Fickle Flyer, Meetyl’s Misery, Hardwired, Wayward Son, Stellar Envoy, Second Chance, Gone To Pieces and finally, the Millennium Falcon.

Leia had heard an old spacers superstition about never changing a ships name again
after changing it from the factory designation. That to do so would leave a ship with conflicting souls and would be cursed and a source of bad luck.
In such a case, the Falcon possessed a whopping nine souls and though it was a source of bad luck, it also seemed to be blessed, surviving some of the worst situations a ship could ever be involved in.

Of course, those nine names were the names that had been entered in the Official Vessel Registries. The ship had also carried dozens upon dozens on false names, especially during it’s smuggling days.

She remember when a three year old Anakin had found the device hidden aboard the vessel that had led them on a quest to piece together the Falcons history. They discovered the identity of many previous owners Corell Industries Shipping, various smuggler groups and shipping concerns, the Republic Group –an organisation of Old Republic Jedi and Senators working against Palpatine during the Clone Wars and crime lords before being acquired by Lando Calrissian, who would then lose it to Han in their now infamous Sabaac game.

The aged and venerable light freighter had been stripped to the space frame numerous times, sometimes after the most hideous damage had been suffered. It had under gone more modifications and upgrades than any ship could realistically take, yet despite the odd, unpredictable foible, the Falcon continued to function well.

Leia knew Han could have upgraded to a newer ship at any time. When he’d been a General, he could have requisitioned any of CEC’s newest vessels or even a battle cruiser. Lando had for a few years offered to trade a brand new YT-2400 or YT-4000 for the Falcon, an offer Han had always declined and one Lando had given up on making years ago.

The Falcon had always been Han’s first love and Leia had to admit that despite their marriage, it was strange to share her husband with a ship, but it never bothered her.
Too her, the Falcon was his lifeline. It had gotten him and Chewbacca through so much that she couldn’t see him ever letting the ship go. It was his freedom too, when he wanted to get away from everything, he simply leapt into the Falcon and let it take him wherever it went.

As she approached the Falcon, the shouting rose in pitch, punctuated by an occasional Wookie roar. Then a hydrospanner bounced its way down the boarding ramp and rattled on the hanger floor, a second later her husband came tumbling out after it.

Approaching him as he rolled into a sitting position, Leia looked down at him with a smile.

“Chewie won the argument,” He said dryly in answer to her unasked question.

“That much was obvious” Leia smirked.

“Damn stubborn furball” Han muttered getting gingerly to his feet.

Chewbacca’s face appeared at the hatchway. The subsequent roar rattled Leia’s teeth and echoes around the hanger.

“Ok, ok” Han winced as Chewie moved back into the Falcon, whuffing gently to himself, “How’s the situation outside?”

“Bad” Leia sighed, “Han, I feel so helpless. I’ve been out of the higher echelons for too long. Years ago, when I was on the Council I could do something. When I was Chief-of-State I could have an influence. Now…” She grimaced, “Kel’lya wouldn’t even take my call”

Han shrugged, “Different times Leia. Back then; we were still at war with the Empire. Having an Alderaanian princess in charge gave them a figurehead, someone they could follow and know they were doing right. You and the other Alderaan survivors, Tycho Celchu, Winter, even Threkin Horm reminded people of the evils of the Empire. Gave them a reason to fight”

Leia nodded, “And as the war wore on and the Empire changed its tactics, stopped the atrocities and the wanton killing, people found it difficult to maintain that impression of Palpatine’s Empire”

Han smiled, “And then as the war waned and other foes came up, the focus shifted even further. Not to mention, as the New Republic shifted further into democracy, guys like Borsk Fel’lya, Pwoe, and Brom started building alliances and taking power”

“Are you saying democracy is a bad idea?” Leia raised an eyebrow.

“No” Han shrugged, “But like anything there are bad points. In the Republics case, there’s too much back patting and political greed. We both know you, Cal Omas or Doman Beruss would have been able to lead us much better through this war” He rolled his eyes, “Instead, Kel’lya used his power base to take leadership and everyone wanted a bigger share so they backed him and now they’re running around trying to unseat him since he’s botched the job”

Leia was about to respond when a prissy, tinny voice shouted from across the hanger, “Mistress Leia, Mistress Leia!”

Leia and Han looked up to where Threepio was approaching from across the hanger, his gait flustered and hurried as he followed in the wake of a young woman.

“Mistress Leia” Threepio said, “This young lady wishes to speak with you, she doesn’t have an appointment and would not wait”

“It’s ok Threepio” Leia held up a hand, then turned to the woman, “Can I help you wish something Miss?”

“Princess Leia” She held out a datapad, “My name is Lyn Kargin, I have something you may be interested in seeing”

------------------------------------

Command Bridge.
Nobility Class Star Destroyer Ackbar.
Nystera System.
Edge Of Wild Space.

Octavia found herself blinking her way back to consciousness. She was surprised to find herself lying on the deck. Somewhere she could hear the sounds of frantic shouting and the drone of emergency alarms.

Despite the aching in her head and the feeling that her right arm was on fire, she rose into a sitting position. The wave of agony that erupted from her arm and that side of her ribcage almost made her scream, but she fought it down.

By this time, she was able to focus and looked around the bridge. Smoke hung low, creating an eerie fog lit by the red glow of emergency lighting. The bridge crew –many of them bleeding from cuts- swarmed frantically. Medics ran between the more seriously hurt and several crew members lay far to still for her liking.

Still trying to remember what had happened, she tried to focus through the jelly that filled her head. Her attempts to climb to her feet were hampered by the pain in her arm and she couldn’t quite achieve it until a medic slipped an arm around her and helped her up.

“General” The medic said, “How do you feel?”

“Lousy” She answered shrugging off the medics help, “Report” She rasped, and then coughed, “Report!” She repeated louder.

Piggy looked up from where he had been bent over the sensors screens, “That last salvo blew through our shields and allowed about a dozen missiles to impact the hull. Two hit the bridge bulkhead”

“Damage report?” Octavia grimaced.

“Multiple hull breaches along the portside midline, eighty percent of weapons in that sector are offline. Bridge bulkheads held, but we suffered a lot of internal damage. At least four internal fires, fire suppression systems getting them under control. Multiple casualties reported across the ship. Shields at twelve percent” Piggy replied, “I’ve got us pulling back, Carrier Intrepid has taken up position between us and the Merciful Hand too soak off any fire”

“What’s the battle situation?” Octavia asked as the medic began working on her arm. Octavia looked down and almost felt sick at the sight of a bone poking through the bloodied flesh.

“Not good” Piggy replied, “The main part of the Neo-Sep fleet has been destroyed or has been forced into retreat. But our own forces took a lot of damage. As for the Merciful Hand, we just aren’t doing enough damage”

Octavia looked at the sensor screen for herself, wishing the holotank hadn’t been knocked out. Her ships were scattered and holding their ground, but they were also nursing a lot of damage. It was becoming a battle of attrition. Even as she looked another green blip –the Corvette Crossfire- winked out of existence.

She swallowed before giving her next order, “Pull back, order the fleet to pull back. We need to get some distance between us and the hand”

----------------------------------

Stroking the trigger on her control yoke, Kasen Moor sent her last torpedo launching at her target. Fired in haste, the projectile actually missed her intended target, but instead hit the other Vulture Droid that was flying in formation with it. The subsequent blast blew apart both fighters and shattered the two behind.

Rolling to avoid the fire from a Scarab, she looped around and dropped onto its tale, stitching its rear with laser fire. Its engines blew apart in a flash of light and as she looped away again, the fighter itself came apart.

Faced with no targets for a moment, Kasen took a moment to assess the situation. The Republic force was pulling back from the immense shape of the Merciful Hand. The Ackbar –despite the hideous damage that marred the portside- was unsurprisingly the last to begin to do so, Octavia Terah unwilling to retreat ahead of her forces.

For the moment, the Merciful Hand wasn’t pursuing but that could change soon. It’s own forces had been savaged terribly.

Her own Rogues weren’t much better. Shin-Wan Hawkes had gone first, torn apart when he drifted into the sights of a gunner aboard the Merciful Hand.
Samantha Coleman and Galen Milstein had died within moments of each other, a missile blowing apart Milstein’s X-Wing and causing enough damage to Coleman’s fighter that she was easily picked off before help could arrive.
Kevin Ross had fallen next, a Vulture ramming his X-Wing in a suicide run.
The Ryn, Neldor had been hit by a missile that had blown his X-Wing apart and thrown him into space. Fortunately, a rescue shuttle had been able to reach him and despite a little exposure and some bruises, he was at least alive as was the Bothan Koss Fe’lan also forced to go EV and subsequently rescued.

The Kel’Dor, Torin Dol was still in battle despite the loss of one laser cannon and –Kasen suspected- some minor injuries.

The rest of her Rogues were still intact including Bradon Sorn and Seran Khyl in their far more fragile TIE Interceptors. But nearly fifty-percent losses was hurting them, though losses were mounting throughout the Republic force, though not without inflicting serious damage themselves. Her pilots had, between them, accounted for nearly fifty enemy fighters and a Recuscant Cruiser. Saren Khyl had despite her lack of combat experience, made triple ace in her very first mission, racking up fifteen kills.

Kasen hit her comm frequency to the Rogues, “Heads up Rogues. We’re starting an orderly retreat and regroup. The fleet needs breathing room and its up to us to provide some relief. We’re to stick close to the Intrepid and Ackbar and give cover” She glanced at her screen as her R5 updated the situation, “Orders are to focus on interception on anything that gets close. Don’t go chasing anything, leave that to the A-Wings and E-Wings”

A chorus of acknowledgements answered her apart from one.

“Rogue Nine check in” Kasen ordered, but no answer came, “Rogue Ten, what is Nines status?”

“Nine is ok” Xarcce Huwla answered, “Looks like her comms are out again, she just gave me a thumbs up. She can receive, but cannot broadcast”

Seconds later, with a harsh crackling, Aren Lockhearts voice came on the line, thick with static and punctuated by random popping, “Sorry about that boss. My R2s trying to keep the connections intact, but it’s a bit finicky”

“Understood Nine” Kasen nodded, “Okay, people lets get in position”

---------------------------------------------

Sometimes when your hopes have all been shattered
And there's nowhere to turn
You wonder how you keep going
Think of all the things that really mattered
And the chances you've earned
The fire in your heart is growing
You can fly, if you try leaving the past behind
Heaven only knows what you might find

Dare - dare to believe you can survive
You hold the future in your hand
Dare - dare to keep all of your dreams alive
It's time to take a stand
And you can win, if you dare

Everybody's trying to break your spirit
Keeping you down
Seems like it's been forever
But there's another voice if you'll just hear it
Saying it's the last round
Looks like it's now or never
Out of the darkness you stumble into the light
Fighting for the things you know are right

Dare - dare to believe you can survive
The power is there at your command
Dare - dare to keep all of your dreams alive
It's time to take a stand
And you can win, if you dare

Dare - dare to believe you can survive
You hold the future in your hand
Dare - dare to keep all of your dreams alive
The power is there at your command

Dare - dare to keep all your love alive
Dare to be all you can be
Dare - 'cause there is a place where dreams survive
And it's calling you on to victory

Stan Bush – Dare.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKjNVVmLCGQ&feature=related

--------------------------------------------------------

Alpha Facility.
Nystera.

Force assisted leap carrying her high, Jenna avoided the grasping hand of the massive droid, the Vortex, the Stormbringer.

Her –and Jennir’s once he realised the machine was after him too- continued evasion of its attempts to grab them were frustrating the machine or more specifically the ancient life entombed inside. Jenna had decided that its attempts weren’t actually malicious; whatever had happened to it millennia ago had reduced the intelligence and mental capabilities to that of an inquisitive and ill-tempered child.

It merely wanted a closer look at them.

As she landed, it swept its broken arm towards her, it’s partially disconnected hand swung around, the half rotted artificial muscles stretching and pulling taut before snapping. The now separated hand smashed against the cavern wall, shattering rock and then tumbled lifelessly to the floor.

Jenna grimaced, she had to put this thing down, it was likely to kill her through sheer chance.

Reaching out with the force, Jenna grasped the severed hand and with a grunt of effort, sent it hurtling back at the machine. It struck it in the chest with tremendous force, shattering armour plates and sending the monstrosity tumbling back to fall on its back at the edge of the canyon that split the chamber.

Without hesitation, Jenna leapt onto the chest of the Stormbringer and with a triple swipe of her lightsaber sliced through the armor. A tug with the force and the section she’d cut tore out. The things good arm came up and tried to grab her, but a swipe of her lightsaber severed three of the claw like fingers and bought her a few more moments even as she felt the immense bulk starting to rock on the edge.

Turning her attention back to the hole she’d cut, Jenna felt her gorge rising. Encased within a sealed and transparent sphere and immersed in some sort of preservation fluid, an emaciated and shrivelled figure was curled in a foetal position, pierced by thousands of tubes and wires. It was recognisable only as humanoid, maybe even human, but beyond that discernable features were limited. Yet, Jenna knew it was female and she knew who it was, Norikah, the woman who’d built the Stormbringer and who’s life Jenna had experienced through the force.

Norikah –or what was left of her-stirred into life as the damage Jenna had inflicted cut off the systems keeping her in suspended animation fail and turned blindly towards Jenna, unable to see with eyes that had become useless millennia ago, but sensing she was there.

Jenna didn’t know how Norikah had remained alive so long, that fluid must be some sort of cryo preservation fluid. Probably frozen until the machine had awoken when Jennir’s people breached the chamber. Or perhaps there was technology at work her that was far beyond modern understanding.

Almost angrily the shrivelled and ancient being began pounding on the sides of the sphere in such a way that Jenna was sure it was actually trying to attack her. The pounding was so violent even in the thick fluid, that the creature was tearing it’s own flesh and snapping its own bones.

As pale pink, almost grey blood began leaking into the cryo fluid, Jenna gritted her teeth and showing mercy for the woman whose life she’d shared in dreams, drove her lightsaber blade down through the sphere and into the soft contents inside.

Fluid spurted out, splashing Jenna and hissing around the blade. The point of the lightsaber pierced Norikah’s chest and immolating what was left of her shrivelled heart. A few more twitches and the corpse slid off the blade and sank to the bottom side of the sphere.
Withdrawing her lightsaber, Jenna ignored the gunk that spurted from the sphere, then as the weight of the machine shifted, she leapt clear and –assisting with a shove from the force- watched it tumble over the edge and into the depths.

Stepping to the edge, Jenna watched it smash itself noisely against the sides as it fell before the darkness swallowed it.

She frowned, there was a tremendous amount of heat coming up from down there and a lot of steam. Was there a lava flow down there? One that encountered an underground water source?

Was a sigh, she let out a long breath, using the force like that had drained her a little, yet defeating something that had apparently wiped out life across a chunk of the galaxy at one time in history, that seemed almost anti-climatic. Too easy.

At the last moment, she remembered the other threat in the area and barely spun around and caught Jennir’s strike against her own blade.

The aged, former Jedi’s face was a mask of fury as he struck at her again and again.


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Location: England
Alpha Facility – Upper Levels.
Nystera.

Corran, Deven and Face made their way through the facility, Corran taking the lead with his lightsaber at the ready, Face and Deven sweeping their blaster rifles down side corridors.
They’d already taken down three patrols and scared off a lot of techs and bureaucrats, and they’d been expecting more trouble since. Corran and Deven were able to use their force senses to keep them clear of the larger concentrations of enemy bodies, but the way the force twisted and rippled in shadow on this world, clouded their abilities at times.

“What the blazes happened here?” Deven asked, opening one doorway and sweeping his blaster around the empty room beyond, “We saw this world as we came in…..well, before we started crashing…and even though life has returned to some degree, it’s clear something blasted this world a long time ago” He grimaced, “And the way the force feels here. It’s like a planet sized Sith tomb”

“You mean like Korriban?” Corran glanced over.

“No, not quite” Deven shook his head, “Korriban, the sense is primarily lots of malice, greed and arrogance. Here, it’s fear. Lots and lots of fear. Something terrible happened here”

“Agreed” Face nodded, “I don’t have this connection to things like you guys do. But even I knew what those scans were telling us. Do you think whatever Jennir and the Society are after is what did this?”

“Without a doubt” Corran replied, “We have to make sure they don’t………” He trailed off as they realised someone stood in the corridor ahead.

The man wore a carefully pressed and spotless morning suit. His shoes were polished so much they shone and were adorned with spats. A top hat was seated carefully upon his head and his stared at them through mirrored glasses.

“Who’s this joker” Face frowned.

“The Black Knight” Deven answered, “Jennir’s personal assassin. Tried to kill Sarah Channing on Korriban. Tried to grab Jenna on Bespin, nasty piece of work from what I was able to find out”

“Oh, that guy” Face grinned, “Didn’t Jaden kick him in the face on Bespin”

“Yes, Garik Loran” The Black Knight said smoothly, “I do owe your son a tremendous amount of pain for what he did to me. Of course, I am happy for you to take his share if you will indulge me. I have heard of your martial skills and would like to test myself against you”

“Don’t Face” Corran warned, “He’s trying to goad you”

“I know, but I’ll oblige him” Face smiled, “I’ll be little help against Jennir, besides I can take him”

Corran hesitated, “Ok, may the force be with you”

Deven gave Face a quick nod, “Watch him buddy, he’s fast” And then he and Corran headed off down a cross corridor.

Face turned his attention back to the suited man. The Black Knight was still standing there, emitting an aura of calm.

“No weapons?” Face asked throwing his rifle and blaster pistol and holster to one side and then throwing his concealed weapons to join them, though he held on to his concealed vibroblade.

The Black Knight nodded, dropping a blaster pistol and a wicked looking dual bladed vibro-dagger to the floor, “No weapons”

Shifting his body weight in anticipation, Face dropped into a Teras Kasi fighting stance and advanced on the Black Knight.

Still wearing his ridiculous top hat, his opponent matched Face’s fighting posture, though Face did notice that it was of an archaic form of Teras Kasi.
They circled each other for a few moments, taking stock of each other and of their environment.

Face struck first. A rapid series of lightning fast punches that the Black Knight deflected with his forearms to protect his face. Following up with a leaping roundhouse, he found the Black Knight was no longer there, his foot impacting on empty air and one top hat, minus wearer.

As he landed he was thrown on the defensive as the Black Knight unleashed a series of strikes at his venerable points. His eyes, his throat, his stomach, even his groin.

“Damn” Face thought, his hands stinging from where he’d blocked the strikes, “Deven was right, this guy is fast”

Twisting and ducking, he feinted a blow at the mans stomach and when the Black Knight moved to block, drove the palm of his hand into his opponents face. The Black Knight managed to twist with the blow, aborting much off its effect, but Face still felt the mans nose, glasses and possibly even a couple of teeth break.

Staggering back, the Black Knight stared at him in fury, his nose bleeding and already starting to swell. Pulling off the remains of his glasses and spitting out tooth fragments, he stared at Face.

“Point to you, my dear boy,” He said coldly, “Enjoy it, it’s the only one you’ll get”

In reply, Face grinned, “Bring it on”

---------------------------------------------

Coruscant System.

Luke glanced at his screens as he rolled his X-Wing back onto a sweeping course that would take him on an initial curve clear of the battle, but back onto a run straight back in.

His screens displayed the status of all four squadrons under his command. His sabres had suffered only one loss –Raynar Thul- who’d been forced EV following a turbolaser strike against his X-Wing. Raynar had been retrieved alive and unharmed.

Saba Sabatyne’s Wild Knightz were proving their skills well. So far the squadron had suffered no losses, but had inflicted a lot of damage against the Neo-Separatist fleet, claiming three cruisers and a lot of starfighters.

Octa Ramis’ Bravos had lost three pilots thus far, all of them fatal losses.

The Knaves had suffered the worst losses. Consisting of non-jedi pilots, the squadron had been to close when the reactor of a Lucrehulk ruptured and blew the ship apart claiming half the squadrons fighters as collateral damage. The Knaves commander, Rigard Mnatl, had pulled the remnant of his squadron back to fly cover for the Ralroost.

The losses pained Luke, when he’d put out his call for pilots following the destruction of the shipyards at Fondor, he’d done his best to ensure those recruited for the squadrons were fully aware of what they risked and that they had the necessary training. Unfortunately, too many of his pilots had never flown a fighter in combat and were essentially receiving field training.

And some just weren’t managing to get up to speed fast enough.

He felt responsible for each of them and it reminded him of his days in the Rebel Alliance as ‘Commander Skywalker’.

“I wonder if this is how the Old Republics Jedi felt when they commanded the Clone Troopers during the Clone Wars” He thought silently, he sighed and hit his comm, “Sabres form on me” As the acknowledgements came in, he switched frequency, “Ralroost, this is Jedi Lead. Any luck on finding the droid control ship?”

Kre’fey’s voice came back, “Found you three” The Bothan growled, “You were right, they aren’t controlling them from Deegan’s command ship. We’ve got three ships at key locations in the enemies’ formation. All are broadcasting”

“Send the locations to me” Luke answered, “Can you lend us any heavy support to take them out?”

“Why?” Kre’fey laughed, “You’ve not needed support yet” Without waiting for a response, he continued, “I’m transferring Berserker and Crossbow Squadrons to your command. They should boost your firepower a bit”

“Thanks Admiral” Luke smiled. Berserker Squadron was a K-Wing squadron and Crossbow, a B-Wing unit, that would be more than enough to take down those ships.

“Okay, Sabres, Bravos, Wild Knightz, Berserkers and Crossbows” Luke hit his command frequency, “Form up at my location, we have three big targets to take out and we have to do it in quick succession. Here’s how we’ll play it”

-------------------------------

Gamma Facility.
Nystera.
Edge Of Wild Space.

The Security team gathered in the doorway into the hanger, taking cover behind the piles of debris that littered the area around torn opening.

The team leader glanced at the bodies and droid debris from the previous team and then waved four of the battle druids under his command to move into the hanger and towards the sleek, yet slightly battered vessel that sat in the hanger.

The druids moved forwards quickly, weapons and sensor units sweeping left to right as they took up positions deeper in the hanger.

Nodding, the team leader signalled the rest of his team forwards.

They’d covered half the distance when it all went to blazes.

He caught a flicker of light and one of his druids tumbled back with a hole cored through its chest.

“Sniper!” He shouted, “Find cover!”

The sniper fired two more times and two more druids fell. Then a pair of hidden e-webs opened up and began cutting down his men.

Then the sniper fired again and this time he fell.

-------------------

Myn Donos grimaced as the last of the security team fell. He hated that between him with his rifle and Rrovv and Void with the e-web tripods, they’d slaughtered the security team.

He understood the necessity. If Octavia couldn’t secure planetary orbit, then the Sacul was the Wraith’s only way off planet. But until Kai and Katrin could get the ship repaired and ready to fly, it was at risk. They had to prevent the enemy from taking the ship and that meant having to use surprise and overwhelming firepower to take them down quickly.

With a sigh, he checked the charge on his rifle and turned his sights back on the doorway.

------------------------------------------

Alpha Facility.

Lightsabers came together in a clash of light, both combatants fought hard, knowing this was it, their battle.

Dass Jennir, fallen Jedi of the Old Republic, head of the Society, leader of the force that had brought war to the galaxy once more. His anger great, the plans for which he’d plotted for decades on the edge of failure.

Jenna Tarn, Jedi, pilot, dutiful daughter. Sanity balanced on the precipice. Self control coming and going. The source of her problems before her.

Both had their own reasons for fighting. Reasons of vengeance and revenge. Jenna had destroyed the very thing Jennir had come to this world for, sending it tumbling deeper into the planets yawning darkness. Jennir was the one responsible for the young girls instability, the madness that threatened to overtake her. Years ago, he’d ordered surgery to be carried out on her, causing damage to key areas of her brain and her mind.

They both wanted the other dead.

It was a true ‘Two shall stand, one shall fall situation’

Batting aside one strike and then thrusting with her lightsabers second blade, Jenna forced Jennir to spin away in a dodge that was agile thanks to the powered exoskeleton that kept him mobile despite his age and his bodies weakness.

His response was to turn his spin into a twirling attack meant to bisect her. She turned the attack aside and then had to step back as he used the momentum of his block to try and drag her lightsaber out of line and leave her open for an attack.
Instead of trying to bring her lightsaber back across, she kicked out and was gratified to connect with his ribcage, eliciting a ‘whoof’ of breath and the crack of a rib.

Wincing against the pain, Jennir stared hatred at her, “I should have had you killed at Ison seven years ago” He snapped, “Instead, I had to be merciful and decide to just have your memory of that time erased”

“Shame you didn’t” Jenna snarled, “Maybe you wouldn’t have come all this way for nothing” She aimed a strike that slipped around his defences and almost clipped his arm.

Wary of her repeating the move, Jennir pulled his own weapon closer to guard, “I’ll admit I’ve made too many mistakes with you. I had too many chances to eliminate you that I wasted. But no more, this time I’ll rectify those mistakes”

“You can try” Jenna laughed, twirling and slamming her blade against Jennir’s with enough force to send him tumbling to the floor, “Somehow I don’t think you’ll get the chance” She raised her lightsaber high for a killing strike, “Killing you won’t heal my mind, but it’ll feel good”

She Before she could make the strike, a small stone shot out of the darkness and skipped off her head. Yelping in pain she automatically brought her blade down to ward off more stones and at that moment Jennir moved.

Rising up faster than she would have thought, the old man knocked aside her lightsaber and then twirling his wrist brought it up through her right arm, just above the elbow. The severed arm and the lightsaber still clutched in its grasp spun away and over the edge of the crevasse.

Jenna barely had time to register the loss of her arm through the shock and pain and then she was slammed aside as a stray armour plate from the Stormbringer struck her with bone breaking force.

As her body bounced bonelessly and bloodily to a tumbling stop twenty feet away, Jennir released his force grip on the armour plate and was disappointed to see it miss Jenna’s broken form.

A quick probe with the force told him that though her injuries were horrific, she was still alive, though just barely. Bones had been broken, organs ruptured and force knows how much more internal damage she’d suffered; yet she clung to life.

“Impressive” Jennir murmured. Clearly she was stronger than she looked to have not been killed by the impact.

“Better not leave things to chance” He said, raising his saber for the coup de grace.

To his surprise, another lightsaber –this one violet- blocked his strike mere feet from Tarn’s body, then it swept up and in a shower of sparks severed the control vanes of his exoskeleton where it ran down his left arm.

Stumbling to one side, his left arm uselessly weak, he turned to see his new opponent.

In shock and horror, Jaina Solo stared at the bloodied form of her friend and then turned her rage filled gaze on Jennir.

“Dass Jennir” Jaina said coldly, “You’ll pay for what you’ve done’

------------------------------------

Corran turned with concern as Deven staggered and clutched his arm as if in pain.

“Deven, what’s wrong?”

Worry evident on his face, Deven looked up, “It’s not me, it’s Jenna, I think……..” He grimaced and sagged further, moaning in pain.

Corran stepped forwards and grabbed Deven’s arms to keep him on his feet.

“What happened?” Corran asked.

Breathing ragged, shock and horror flickered across Deven’s face, “She’s hurt, Corran, merciful force, she’s hurt so bad”

-------------------------

Command Bridge.
Nobility Class Star Destroyer Ackbar.

Octavia –her broken arm now immobilised in a splint- grimaced as a single missile slipped through the defensive screen and detonated against the already ravaged hull.

Her force, the one she’d had go against the Merciful Hand, was retreating in good order and falling back to the umbrella of her main fleet.
So far, Hertzog had not pursued them with the Merciful Hand, though his starfighters and bombers continued to harass them.

“Damage report,” She demanded.

“Hull breach in sector three, decks eight and nine” The damage control officer reported, “Electrical fire in those areas. Fire suppression systems in operation”

With a nod, Octavia turned to Piggy, “Opinion?”

“Bad situation” The Gamorrean frowned at the once again functioning holo-tank displays, “Currently we do outnumber them, but our fleet took a lot of damage dealing with theirs and as of now, that big command ship vastly outguns us. You saw what it did to us with a single salvo”

“Yeah, I saw” Octavia grimaced, “Way I see it, we have three options. One, stand and fight. Two, Keep at range and whittle them down and hope for reinforcements. Or three, Retreat altogether”

“I concur,” Piggy nodded, “The first option though, WILL result in our destruction. The second, may result in our destruction, but we should be able to hold out for reinforcements’ He shrugged, his massive shoulders rippling with fat, “Running will give them chance to fortify this system against any return. Not to mention, it means abandoning the Wraiths”

“We stay then” Octavia scowled, “We’ll keep them engaged at range. Keep them honest, but stop them from focusing on us” She nodded, “Status of the remains of the enemy fleet?”

“Same as ours for the most part” Piggy answered, “Battered, depleted and unwilling to push the issue. We destroyed more of them though and the majority have fled out of range to the orbit of the fourth planet”

She sighed, “Just hope our reinforcements aren’t long in coming”

“Hyperspace event” Peri Hazen called from the sensor station.

“Ours or theirs” Octavia frowned as a dozen new icons appeared on the holotanks display.

“Unknown” Hazen replied, “IFF unknown. Twelve ships, starfighter class. Running them through the war book now”

“Chiss Claw Fighters” Piggy said as the image of a fighter appeared on a pop up display. With its familiar spherical TIE cockpit held in four sweeping, utterly alien fins, the Clawcraft was recognisably distinctive.

“It’s Vanguard Squadron” Hazen said almost unnecessarily as the Clawcraft dove in on the flanks of the enemy starfighter squadrons.

“Colonel Fel on the line” Vekker called.

“Colonel Fel” Octavia smiled, “I appreciate that you have confidence in your squadron, but I do hope that you aren’t the only reinforcements I’m getting”

“Never fear General” Fel laughed, “Prepare for a data burst, we need you to ensure you clear enough space”

“For what?” Octavia frowned as the data burst popped up on her screen. She was being asked to clear the space between the Ackbar and the Merciful Hand.

“Trust me General” Fel said, “It’ll be a hell of a show. T-Minus six minutes”

“Pull us back” Octavia ordered, “Pull back all our starfighter squadrons. I want all our ships clear of that area of space”

The minutes crawled by as Octavia’s fleet pulled back leaving a seven kilometre gap between the Ackbar and the Merciful Hand. Her starfighters had pulled back and were flying guard over her starships against the swarms of droid fighters that continued to attack.

Octavia didn’t really know what she was expecting to see when time ran out. A fleet arriving, some super weapon, she would later admit that she wasn’t expecting to see what she did.

“Hyperspace event” Hazen again called, “It’s a…..it’s a big one”

“Emperor’s Black Bones” Someone whispered.

The massive silver dagger of an Executor Class Star Destroyer stabbed into the system, cutting between the Ackbar and the Merciful Hand. It’s shields sparked with impacts as droid starfighters were smashed aside by the energy barriers.

Surprise no doubt kept the Merciful Hands gunners from firing on the new arrival for a handful of critical seconds. Seconds that the crew of the SSD weren’t going to waste.

Five thousand turbolaser and ion batteries and over two hundred missile launchers opened up on the Merciful Hand. It’s shields held up against the assault for a few moments before breaches began to appear.
By this point, the Hand’s gunners had started to return fire, but the newly arrived vessel was fresher and it’s defences and weaponry not depleted by several hours of battle, it’s shields held up and it’s weapons fired back in response.

“That’s not the Lusankya” Piggy murmured as a ribbon of fire erupted along the Merciful Hand’s midline.

“It’s not,” Octavia agreed, “Sensors, what does the IFF say?”

“Erm….IFF unknown, but ship identifies as the Warrior’s Hammer”

“That’s not a name I recognise” Octavia frowned.

“It’s not a registered or known vessel,” Piggy answered.

“Who in blazes can build a super Star Destroyer without the Republic knowing?” Octavia asked.

----------------------------

Command Bridge.
Devastator Class Star Dreadnaught Merciful Hand

Krin Hertzog gripped the edge of the console to steady himself, but was nearly thrown from his feet anyway as another massive upheaval shook his ship.

“Portside Hanger bay just went” Commander Whitmore murmured, “Full loads of fuel and ammo. About fifty-four tonnes worth. We’re lucky the Hand’s spine hasn’t cracked”

“There’s still time” Hertzog scowled, “Return fire” He ordered, then turned back to Whitmore, “Where the blazes did that ship come from?”

“I assume you mean specifically, where did they get it?” Whitmore shrugged as she stared at the sensor screens, “We know Deegan destroyed the Guardian at Coruscant and that the Lusankya is on the way there. We have all the other SSDs accounted for, they were destroyed or scrapped”

“Then someone was very wrong” Hertzog snapped, “The New Republic either found one or they built one”

The deck bucked again.

“We have to get out of here” Whitmore said, “If we stay we’ll be destroyed. If we hadn’t taken so much damage from Terah’s forces, we’d be able to fight on equal terms”

“Agreed,” Hertzog nodded, “Helm, get us out of here. Any course, make it fast”

The navigation officer looked aghast, “General, that last salvo wrecked our engines. We have limited sublight, but we’re not going anywhere”

The Merciful Hand began to tremble violently and as alarms began to drone throughout the bridge, Krin Hertzog gave what he suspected was his last order.

“Abandon ship,” He said softly.

---------------------------------

Octavia, Piggy and the crew of the Ackbar watched as the Merciful Hand began to come apart. Explosions centred on what had been a hanger bay and the engines began to spread out across the immense cylindrical ship.

Even from this distance they could see the Hand shuddering as the fires consumed it from within and without. Slipping into an almost lazy roll, the ship began to shed escape pods and shuttles.

An even bigger explosion cored the middle out of the Merciful hand, scattering debris that the SSD and even the Ackbar were forced to dispatch with turbolasers. One tendril of flicking flame reached out and destroyed several shuttles and escape pods. Others were scattered wildly, navigation systems fighting to regain some semblance of control.

As the Hand broke into two large sections surrounded by clouds of debris and smaller fragments, explosions and fire continued to feed hungrily on the once mighty ship.

“Droid fighters powering down” Peri Hazen said quietly.

“Control systems must have been aboard the Merciful Hand” Piggy nodded, “Makes things a little easier for us”

“Indeed” Octavia sighed, “Start rescue operations. I want every pod and shuttle retrieved”

“The shuttles may have hyperdrives,” Piggy pointed out.

“I want them” Octavia ordered, “Bring them in under the guys of our fighters if you have to. If the choice is to destroy them or let them escape, let them go. But don’t let them go easy”

“Looks like they have the same idea” Piggy said indicating the Warrior’s Hammer where it now sat in front of the Ackbar.

“Speaking of which” Octavia turned to Vekker at Communications, “Find me someone on that ship that can tell me what the force is going on”

A few minutes later, Vekker looked up, “Incoming call for you General. On the Holocomm”

“Good” Octavia turned to the holo communication station, “This is General Octavia Terah of the Ackbar, who am I speaking too?”

“General Terah” The image of a woman flickered into life above the projector, “We meet at last. I’ve heard quite a lot about you”

Octavia frowned, “All of it good I hope. But you still have me at a disadvantage”

“Forgive Me,” The woman said with a smile, “I’m Trinity Oslo-Tarn, Queen of Skye”

“Highness” Octavia nodded, “While I certainly appreciate the assistance, aren’t you a little far from Skye?”

“Indeed we are” Oslo-Tarn agreed, “But Gilad Pellaeon sent us a request for whatever forces we could spare to be sent here to assist you”

“I owe him my thanks, though I’m surprised that ‘what you could spare’ was a Super Star Destroyer” Octavia raised an eyebrow, “Especially one that isn’t a registered vessel”

Oslo-Tarn smirked, “The Warrior’s Hammer isn’t exactly a pleasure yacht, but I’ll be happy to explain once the situation here is resolved. I presume there are forces planet side?”

Octavia nodded, still suspicious, but not willing to turn down help, “A small commando team only. The Wraiths. I don’t want to put anymore troops down there until we know what Jennir is after”

“Jennir?” It was Oslo-Tarn’s turn to frown.

“Dass Jennir” Octavia answered, “Former Old Republic Jedi, turned dark, started this entire war to get at whatever is on that planet”

“I see” Oslo-Tarn glanced off to the side, possibly consulting with her ships commander, “Well, General Terah, you’re the one here with the best grasp of the situation. We’ll follow your recommendations”

“Thank you” Octavia nodded in surprise, “Until someone down there either sends us a request for assistance or a distress call, we’re holding orbit up here. As much as it pains me, right now, they’re on their own”

-------------------------------------------------------

Alpha Facility.
Upper Levels – Remains Investigation
Nystera.

Zane ‘Oddball’ Irelon kept his blaster pistol up as he entered the science lab. The work areas were empty, the lab techs and analysts having fled following his firefight with the two guards a few moments ago.

Well, almost all. As he turned to move further into the lab, one tech suddenly emerged from his hiding place and fled out the doorway at the opposite end of the room. He let the man go and then turned to move deeper into the lab.

A sound of something scuffing on the floor caught his ear and he spun around, bringing his blaster up and promptly found himself looking down the barrel of a blaster, his own blaster only an inch from Jaden’s nose.

“Am I glad to see you” Oddball laughed nervously as both lowered their weapons.

“Likewise” Jaden nodded, “Find anything good?”

Oddball indicated a pile of ancient, fossilised skulls, “Well, I found the Ships Skipper, First Mate, a professor and the rest”

“Anything useful” Jaden snorted.

“Not really” Oddball shrugged, “Looks like they’ve only brought a few smaller artefacts up”

“Means the big prize is still further down” Jaden nodded, “Which is where we’ll find Jenna and with luck Jaina too” A strange look flickered across his face.

“What’s wrong?” Oddball asked.

“I don’t know” Jaden frowned, “I’m getting flashes of pain and anger from somebody, but the dark side energy on this world is clouding things. Can’t get anything more than vague senses”

“Trouble?”

“Maybe” Jaden sighed, “Plus side, you’ll never guess who’s on planet?”

“Who?”

“My dad and the Wraiths” Jaden grinned, “And they brought a fleet with them”

-----------------------------

Alpha Facility.

Her anger still burning despite her attempts to clamp down on it, Jaina battered aside Jennir’s strike and then tried to move towards Jenna’s crumpled form.

Once again, a whirling piece of debris cut her off and Jennir was on the offensive again, forcing her to defend, keeping her away from her friend.

Jennir’s choice to battle her and prevent her attending her hurt –possibly dying- friend confused Jaina. He should be running, knowing that Jaina’s concern for Jenna would stop her from chasing him. Instead he was fighting her.

“Because he’s delaying me” She realised, “If Jenna dies, it’s a victory for him. She destroyed his big prize that he sacrificed so much for, for him its vengeance”

High block, low parry, then she spun around and brought her lightsaber around in a strike at his midsection. Jennir successfully deflected the blow, but Jaina continued the spin, pivoting on one foot and dropped low, her other foot scything though Jennir’s legs.

The aged jedi managed to leap above Jaina’s sweeping leg, but she still clipped his ankle turning his leap in an awkward flip. Jennir came down in a cloud of dirt, his exoskeleton striking sparks from the rocky floor.

Taking her chance while he was down, Jaina turned from him and ran to where Jenna still lay, a blood pool slowly expanding around her broken body.

“Oh, Jenna” Jaina whispered as she dropped to her knees next to her friend, the blood soaking into the legs of her jumpsuit, “Oh Jenna, what has he done to you?” She brushed Jenna’s hair from the girls face and almost wished she hadn’t.

The right side of her face was all but caved in. The cheekbone crushed and her jaw smashed. Her eye socket on that side was distended and distorted, but seemed intact which boded well for the eye.

The rest of her body wasn’t much better. Right arm gone above the elbow, left arm clearly broken, both legs shattered, rib cage misshapen and several ribs protruded from torn flesh.

Probing with the force, she saw that the internal damage was bad, very bad.

Yet, there was still a spark of life. Somehow Jenna was clinging on. Her breath was ragged and her chest still rose and fell in time with her breathing.

A scuff of leather boots on rock made her look up, her lightsaber coming up to defend her from Jennir’s strike.

Instead, she found herself looking at Corran Horn and Deven Tarn, both horrified by what they were seeing, Deven’s anguish coming strong through the force.

“She’s alive” Jaina said quickly, “But she’s a in bad state, I don’t know how to help her”

“Let me take it from here” Deven said, his voice thick with the pain of seeing his daughter like this. He dropped down on the opposite side of Jenna and began probing with the force, “Don’t give up on me Jenna, not now please”

Jaina rose and took a step back as Corran took her place, “I’ve some experience with healing techniques” The Corellian Master said, “We need to get her stabilised as best we can and then get her to a bacta tank as soon as possible”

Deven nodded, only barely hearing, “Jenna, I have to hope you can hear me, I won’t let you die. Don’t give up on us”

Unnoticed, Jaina slipped away, intent on settling things with Jennir.

-------------------------------------------

Gamma Facility.

Viqi Shesh ran. Even though her heart threatened to pound its way out of her chest, even though her lungs burnt with the exertion, even though her feet hurt from running barefoot, having dumped her impractically heeled shoes, she ran.

She had to get off planet. The New Republic was invading and they were unlikely to believe any explanation she gave for betraying the Republic. Likewise, she didn’t want to stay on planet and face Jenna Tarn’s wrath.

Fortunately, she knew there was a single person, hyperspace equipped skiff in the Gamma Hangers. One she had taken time to learn to fly….just in case.

If she could get to that skiff, get off planet and out of the system, then she had enough contacts that she could hide away and live comfortably the rest of her life. Yes, the power she craved would be out of her grasp, but she would be alive and she’d be free.

Turning up the corridor, she continued to run her plan through her mind. She could head for Anaxes; she had a significant amount of credits stashed there as well as a safehouse. It would be uncomfortable to travel that distance in that little Skiff, but perhaps she could make a stop at Naboo or Corellia on the way, find someone who could get her to Anaxes in more comfort for a few thousand credits.

She was so busy running and planning that she was past the torn and blasted corpses and the blown apart doors and into the hanger before she registered them.
As realisation sank in, she slowed to a stop and stood gazing in surprise at the ship that dominated the bay.

The Sacul.

In panic, she looked for the Skiff rather than picking the more sensible option of running back the way she’d come. She saw what was left of it, smashed and useless under a section of gantry that must have fallen when the Sacul blasted its way into the bay.

Turning, she started to head back out of the bay, but a laser bolt impacted against a rock close to her. Yelping in fright rather than pain she stumbled back and fell on her rump.

“Viqi Shesh” A voice shouted and she turned to see a man knelt on the upper hull of the Sacul, a blaster rifle aimed right at her, “Consider yourself under arrest. I’d advise you not to resist”

Before she could form any plan of escape or even think of something to say, a massive grey and black striped furred hand gripped her wrist -claws digging in slightly- and lifted her clean off the ground.

She found herself looking into the grinning face of a massive Togorian, his fangs bared almost hungrily. In panic, she lashed out with her free hand, but another clawed hand –this one so black that it seemed to absorb light- grabbed her hand before it connected and she found herself dangling, arms outstretched between the Togorian and a Defel.

“This dinner?” The Defal hissed, baring its fangs.

“Rrowv thinks she’s a bit scrawny” The Togorian growled, “But she’ll do for now”

“Shall we break the wish bone?” The Defel asked tugging on Viqi’s arm for emphasis.

“Good idea” The Togorian grinned, “Then we eat”

Viqi’s panic finally became more than she could handle and she fainted dead away.

--------------------------------

Katrin shook her head in mock disgust, “You guys are mean”

Neither Void nor Rrowv answered, but their bodies shook with amusement as Rrowv threw the unconscious woman over one massive shoulder.

“Throw her in the brig” Katrin laughed, “We’ll take her back with us”

As the two moved up the ramp with the Kuati woman, Donos’ head appeared over the lip of the Sacul’s hull, “You guys wouldn’t have eaten her would you? Really?”

Void and Rrowv exchanged a look, “No” Rrowv shook his head, “Don’t be silly” Then he turned and continued up the ramp.

As he disappeared inside the ship, his voice emerged again, “Rrowv not got a big enough oven” The Togorian deadpanned.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Command Bridge.
Sovereign Class Star Destroyer Myst Lynx.
Coruscant System.

Randolph Deegan grimaced as the Lucrehulk off the Myst Lynx’s port side detonated. Swarming around it and silhouetted against the explosion for a few moments were the clouds of starfighters that made up Luke Skywalker’s ‘Jedi Wing’

That Lucrehulk had been his last Droid Control Ship. Now, without central control every single droid fighter would shift to independent mode. Efficiency would drop considerably, there would be no coordination, and the battle was going to get messy.

He winced as his starfighter losses suddenly underwent an upshoot. For a brief few heartbeats, the droid brains had shifted into stand by mode once they lost the droid control signals. It had been only two seconds at most before they shifted over to their independent programs, but it had been long enough for almost eight entire wings to be lost, most of them flying straight through turbolaser fire and making no evasive manoeuvres at all.

The plan had been to occupy the Republics attention here for at least another day, two if possible. Now with half his capital ships stripped over fighter cover, that was looking very unlikely.

Oh well, perhaps it was time for the final act.

“Send signal to the fleet” He ordered, turning to the communications officer, “Initiate Burning Sky”

The Republic was going to get it’s victory, but he was going to make it a costly one.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 10, 2012 3:09 pm 
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Location: England
Apartment of Cal Omas.
512 Republica.
Coruscant.

Cal Omas –former Chief-Of-State- sighed as he stared out of the floor to ceiling window at the events outside.

The battle in orbit was barely visible at this range, only the flashes of weapons fire and the detonations of vessels discernable. Occasionally, the planetary shields rippled with light as something –a missile salvo or ship- impacted against them.

More visible were the starfighters that occasionally flashed past, mostly visible as ion trails in the skies over the Liberty District. Sometimes though, they were close enough that Omas was able to identify Vulture and Scarab droids duelling with X-Wings and A-Wings.

He’d been somewhat gratified to notice that a few minutes ago the droid fighters had lost all cohesion and had apparently shifted to some sort of independent mode. The beleaguered and outnumbered squadrons of the Planetary Defence Squadrons that had been struggling to hold back the clouds of descending droid fighters suddenly found themselves scything their way through the opposition.

Omas winced as one X-Wing was cut apart by one droid that managed to gain the upper hand. Trailing fire, the stricken fighter plunged out of the sky and smashed into one of Coruscant’s towering skyscrapers. The X-Wing smashed its way through several rooms before striking a solid support with enough force to compress the fighter, it’s fuel cells and it’s remaining torpedo load out into a space smaller than the ship itself.

The subsequent blast blew out almost the entire west side of the building on four floors. What had been two luxury apartments became burning rubble strewn across the local cityscape.

The chimes of his door sounded and pulled Omas from his examinations of the outside world. With another sigh he turned and moved to open the door, normally his Major-domo would have handled the door but he’d sent him away to the bunkers with the rest of his staff.

They’d refused to leave of course, but he’d insisted and they’d reluctantly done so. No reason they should risk their lives for his stubbornness he told them.

He expected it was either a member of his staff come to plead with him to go to the bunker or another reporter wanting to hear his opinion on the current senate events.

When he opened the door however, the smile that rose to his face was genuine.

“Leia!” He smiled in delight and surprise.

“Hello Cal” Leia said embracing him.

“It’s a pleasure to see you here, but why are you here?” Omas asked, “I’d have thought you’d have been up in the skies with your husband doing a little to help the cause”

“I would’ve been” Leia answered, “But something came up. And I should ask, why aren’t you down in the bunkers?”

“And hide like the other politicians?” Omas scowled as they came into the room and he closed the door behind them, “Too much pride I guess. Coruscant is under attack, I refuse to run and if I’m to die, I prefer to do so with pride and dignity”

“That may not be necessary” Leia smiled, she turned and indicated the young woman with her, “This is Lyn Kargin”

Omas frowned. He’d assumed the woman had been Leia’s daughter Jaina, but know he actually looked there was little resemblance, “Ok” He said simply.

“She came across some interesting information that puts a new bearing on your election loss” Leia said, “Including some interesting details about Kel’lya’s subsequent actions”

“His actions have been pretty clear” Omas said dryly.

“It’s his less than clear actions that are more interesting” Lyn cut in somewhat nervously.

“Perhaps you should start from the beginning” Omas smiled.

“Well” Lyn began, “I was actually sent here, under the guise of an analyst for the Senate Offices, to dig up information on whoever had been behind the kidnap attempt on the three Tarn children” Seeing Omas’ expression cloud over slightly, she quickly added, “Yes, I’m a spy”

“What did you find?” Omas kept his tone even.

“I managed to trace the kidnap plot back as far as the Kuati offices and was actually able to prove it wasn’t our original suspect, Vorsk Kel’lya” She shrugged, “Looks like Viqi Shesh was working her own angle on that one”

“She’s actually working for Neo-Seps” Omas pointed out.

“Yes, Princess Leia told me that when I came to her with the info, but at the time I didn’t know that myself. During my efforts to find any trace leading to Kel’lya before eventually eliminating him of involvement, I did discover an interesting data trail”

“How interesting?”

“Very” Lyn nodded, wincing slightly as the windows rattled in response to an explosion some miles away, “Someone had made an effort to delete the trail, overwriting large sections of data with useless information, but it was an amateurish job at best and I was able to recover the original data”

“So Kel’lya was involved?” Omas frowned.

“Not in the kidnapping, but he was involved in something” Lyn replied, “Essentially, he rigged the Chief-Of-State election. Lots of bribery involved”

“He bribed the Senate?” Omas was aghast, “Has the rot really spread that deep?”

Lyn shook her head, “No, not the Senate. But the techs who oversee the vote counting systems. More specifically, a few well-placed bribes got the entire oversight team replaced with his own hand picked people. After that it was a case of setting a virus into the computers that ensured that every three of five votes became one for Kel’lya. Enough to get a comfortable majority, but not too much that it was suspicious”

Leia smiled, “With the oversight team looking the other way, the otherwise obvious discrepancies between what a Senator voted and what their vote was actually registered as, went unnoticed”

“Smart” Omas scowled, trying to keep his anger in check, “But it makes a mockery of everything the Republic stands for. For him to….cheat….his way to the Chief-Of-States position cheapens it beyond belief” He smiled, “No wonder half his motions to the Senate go opposed, his supporters aren’t as numerous as we would have believed from the vote”

Leia glanced at Lyn, “Because of the way the information was obtained, we can’t go public with it. But we can use it unofficially to knock Kel’lya’s support from under him at the right time”

“After the war you mean?” Omas said.

“Yes” Leia agreed, “Kel’lya was correct when he said forcing a leadership change during the war would cause turmoil. But all he did was delay the vote of no confidence. We could ensure it succeeds in removing him”

Omas frowned, “I suggest pushing Gorak, the Gotal Senator as Chief-Of-State. He’s smart and will always do what’s best for the New Republic”

“Consider it done” Leia nodded, “A few words to the right people should arrange it”

Omas frowned and then smirked, “I thought you’d got out of politics, Leia”

Leia sighed, “Me too, Cal. Me too”

------------------------------------------------

Command Bridge.
Imperator Class Star Destroyer Chimera.

Gilad Pellaeon felt his pride swell as he watched the Star Destroyers Right To Rule and Rejuvenator stab deep into the enemy flanks.
Accompanying them was a force that reminded him of the old days of the Empire. Strike Cruisers, Lancer Frigates, Victory Star Destroyers and Dreadnaughts along with multiple squadrons of TIE Fighters. Granted, mixed in with the classic Imperial vessels were Mon Calamari Cruisers, Assault Frigates and X-Wings, A-Wings B-Wings and K-Wing Bombers, but still it was a stirring sight.

With the confusion that had thrown the droid fighters and ships off their stride due to the destruction of the Droid Control Ships, Pellaeon had spotted a weakness in the Neo-Separatist deployment and had sent his forces to exploit it.

The two Star Destroyers laid down long-range fire that hammered against the shields of the vessels that moved against them. The VicStars moved to support, using their missile launchers to sow heavy munitions against the targets. The smaller Dreadnaughts and Strike Cruisers used their speed to manoeuvre to where they could deliver firepower against weakened areas of the enemy ships shields.
The swift fighters looped around the larger ships targeting enemy starfighters, intercepting missiles, strafing weapon emplacements and shield generators and opening the way for the bombers to deliver their payloads.

The vessels that had moved to oppose his force, a pair of Lucrehulks, a trio of Providence Destroyers and a number of smaller Corvettes and Cruisers seemed to stagger as they struggled to hold off the firepower devoted against them.
One of the Lucrehulks tried to retreat, but in doing so turned its weaker shields against the ships of Pellaeon’s command.
Sensing blood, the Right To Rule turned its full fury against the stricken ship. The Venerable old vessels heavy turbolaser batteries tore through the even older vessels shields and hammered into its hull. Moments later, it’s accompanying Strike Cruisers and Dreadnaughts joined in and added their firepower..

Secondary explosions blew chunks out of the hull as atmosphere ignited and power conduits ruptured. Mortally wounded, the Lucrehulk began to roll, it’s engines firing intermittently and it’s weapons going quiet.

With the Lucrehulk no longer posing a threat, the Right To Rule turned its weapons against the nearest of the Providences.

Quickly the Neo-Separatist flank began to collapse and Pellaeon’s ships began to push through the gap. A few swift orders and he sent additional ships through the enemy lines with the intention to widen the gap.

Pellaeon glanced at his screens and saw that Kre’Fey had done likewise, driving his forces deep into the Neo-Separatist lines. With Luke Skywalker’s Jedi wing dominating the left flank, the entire Neo-Separatist fleet was cut in two.

“Signal from Kraken” The Comm Officer called, “They in position and ready to make their micro-jump in system”

“Good” Pellaeon smiled, “Send them an invitation”

-----------------------------------------

Command Bridge.
Sovereign Class Star Destroyer Mist Lynx.

Randolph Deegan staggered as the Mist Lynx took another hit to its command tower. Scanning the screens he located the Skipray Blastboat that had led its squadron in its most recent strafing run and marked it as a target.

Depressingly he watched as the Jedi squadron broke formation and turned its weapons against the Vulture fighters that had turned in pursuit. The threat gone, the ships looped back around and reformed for a new run across his vessels midline.

His entire position was no longer tenable. Kre’fey and Pellaeon were making massive inroads into his fleet, all but bisecting his formation and cutting his force in two and the Jedi were wreaking havoc everywhere.

His orders had been to hold the Republics attention here at Coruscant and do as much damage as possible before going out in a blaze of glory. Yet, the damage inflicted against Coruscant itself was well shy of his objectives and he was well shy of the minimum time he had been ordered to hold.

Both he and the Prime Councillor when planning this battle had massively underestimated the Republic Navy’s response to the attack on Coruscant.
A situation not helped by the premature detonation of the device on Coruscant itself. The bombing wasn’t supposed to occur until Deegan’s fleet was in system and making its assault. As a result of the screw up by the ground team, the defenders had had sufficient forewarning of the attack and had been able to take some steps towards preparing.

Yes, he’d devastated the Second Fleet and The Coruscant Defence Forces and eliminated the Guardian, but he was still well short of the mission objectives.

However, he still had his last card to play.

“Sir” The comm officer shouted, “All units report situation ready. Waiting on your command to begin Operation Burning Sky”

“The command is given” Deegan said without hesitation and the officer relayed the order.

As one, the ships of his fleet that would take part in Operation Burning Sky broke contact –in some cases suffering further damage from the enemy that continued to pound on them- and began to push towards Coruscant itself.

The plan was simple. Provide the orbital defences with too many targets, push through the defensive shell and crash as many ships against the shields as possible. When the shields fell, the remaining vessels would aim to crash against Coruscant itself, even a vessel as small as a Corvette would devastate entire city blocks in a crash.

Nearly four hundred vessels would aim to turn Coruscant into an inferno.

The rest of his command would take up positions to delay the Republics response and prevent them intercepting the suicide runs until it was to late.

“New hyperspace contacts” The Sensor officers voice cut into Deegan’s thoughts, “Two Interdictor Class Star Destroyers taking up positions close to Coruscant”

Deegan stared at his screens. The two Interdictors had taken up a position that put them clear of his forces, but would…. a shudder ran through the deck….there it goes.

“Interdictors have powered up their gravity well generators,” His executive officer reported unnecessarily, “But why? Between Coruscant and its moons, the outer planets and the Republic fleet, our hyperspace exits are blocked”

“Somebody is being cute” Deegan nodded, “All they’ve done is change the gravity patterns in system, but to what purpose?”

The answer came to him the same instant that the massive dagger of the Super Star Destroyer Lusankya emerged from hyperspace and opened up with its full complement of weapons against the leading edge of his force.

Turbolaser fire and missile salvos chewed into the lead vessels. Even as the first ships broke or blew apart, other vessels began dropping from hyperspace in formation around the Lusankya. Strike Cruisers and Nebulon-B Frigates, Mon Calamari and Sorosuub built Dauntless Cruisers and multiple varieties of Star Destroyer. As the intensity of fire increased, Deegan’s entire attack line collapsed and suddenly the entire plan was coming apart.

The Lusankya and it’s attending ships –all of them fresh to the battle, undamaged and weapons fully charged- battered aside his force and slipped into a blockade position around Coruscant and presenting a barrier to his attack.

The forward line withered and collapsed under the intense fire and the forward push stalled. A significant number of his ships broke formation as they tried to respond to the sudden arrival of the Republic vessels, most simply ended up turning their flanks to the enemy and presenting a larger target.

“Instruct the fleet to break formation” Deegan ordered, “Abort Burning Sky and return free target operations. No point wasting ships trying to get past the Lusankya”

He frowned as he studied the screens. His sources had indicated that the Lusankya was still three days out. For them to be here now, meant that Ackbar –proving herself as daring as her famous uncle- had pushed her fleet through a shorter potentially more dangerous route.

He hoped that she’d lost some ships doing so, but for all intents and purposes the gamble had clearly paid off. His entire plan, already coming apart had no been completely stopped dead in its tracks.

He began to concoct a new plan, to try and fulfil his original objectives, when he was thrust from his thoughts as the deck bucked beneath him and almost sent him head first into the crew pit.

Steadying himself, he glanced out the viewport and caught a glimpse of a pair of Skipray Blastboats and a myriad of other starfighters flashing past, lasers firing at somewhere on the Mist Lynx’s hull.

“Somebody please deal with those Jedi” He shouted, “What’s the status on our reserve squadrons?”

“Ready to launch sir” His flight controller answered, “Fuelled up and armed, waiting your command”

“Launch them” Deegan ordered, “All of them”

------------------------------------------

Saba Sabatyne hissed in satisfaction as another of the Mist Lynxs turbolaser turrets came apart under the concentrated fire of the Wild Knightz. They might not have the pinpoint accuracy of the Sabres, but they made up for it in sheer firepower, delivering massive salvos against even the smallest of targets.

The Blastboat shuddered as a turbolaser bolt passed close enough to brush the shields, but do little more than nibble a little power off the shields. Ignoring the near miss, Saba looped the heavy starfighter around the Sovereign Star Destroyers hull and sighted something interesting enough to send a trill of hunter’s excitement through her scales.

“Wild Knightz” She hissed over the comms, “Thiz one haz sighted a target of opportunity, form on thiz one”

A chorus of acknowledgements answered her as the Wild Knightz motley collection of ships dropped into formation with her. Ahead the target lay before them, perfect for their special skills.

The hanger bay of the Mist Lynx.

As wide as the vessel itself, a Sovereign Class Destroyers hanger bay was potentially a dangerous risk to the ship itself, after all there was no meter thick armour plating to protect the bay opening.
The designers had attempted to minimize the risk by having the bay opening sunk into the hull much as it was on other Star Destroyer designs, but it was still a vulnerable opening into the ship. As an extra defence, the Sovereign utilized a dual shield system. Two separate shielding layers that dropped only during a launch and only for a short window of opportunity.

The shields combined with the difficult angle of attack was believed to be sufficient to protect the bay.

The designers had of course, failed to take into account an entire squadron of Jedi Knights.

“Wait for it” Saba ordered, allowing the force to guide her to the correct moment.

A squadron of Vulture druids came into view, emerging from the hanger bay. Her sensors and the force told her the moment the first shield dropped, “Ready”

The second layer of shielding started to fade.

“Fire!” Saba hissed, the oral command almost unnecessary as the others had already heard her command through the force.

The entire squadron mass fired their weapons in a single heartbeat. Skipray Blastboats, R41 Starchasers, Y-Wings, X-Wings, B-Wings and a single Sienar Missile Boat delivered a massive salvo of laser fire, concussion missiles, proton topedoes and cluster bombs.

The squadron of Vultures disappeared in a wave of flame and debris as the storm of destruction passed through the deactivated first shield and began impacting against the inner shields, which still hadn’t returned to full power.

“Fire and break!” Saba growled again and the Wild Knightz launched a second salvo before scattering away.

The deadly precise timing of the first strike had clearly caught the shield operators on the back foot. By the time the outer layer of hanger shielding had started to come back up, the second salvo was already impacting and tearing apart the inner shield and adding to the raging inferno therein.

Saba didn’t clearly see what happened, but she would later learn that the outer shields had trapped the raging inferno INSIDE the hanger bay. Almost seven squadrons of fighters and bombers along with stores of fuel and ammunition exploded and added to the firestorm that raged within.
Bulkheads ruptured and the flames hungrily consumed the available oxygen and ate into fuel lines and energy conduits, triggering dozens of secondary explosions.

Another weakness of the Sovereigns hanger placement was its proximity to the main engines. Only a few dozen bulkheads and compartments separated the hanger bay from the engineering sections and the powerful engines themselves.

The portside engines were momentarily eclipsed in a fireball that erupted from inside the Mist Lynx. As the fireball dissipated, the portside lower engine was gone, spread across the local area as debris and leaving a gaping wound in the engine block.

“Outer hanger shield is down” Woetun called out.

“Knightz” Saba hissed, “Turn and fire again”

In perfect synchronisation, the Wild Knightz pulled a rapid one-eighty and again fired at the Mist Lynx, their salvo now passing unhindered through the open hanger opening.
Flames and debris vomited back out of the hanger opening and the Mist Lynx visibly shuddered as large sections of its hull went dark and turbolasers that had been firing furiously at them quickly went silent.

“Nice shooting Wild Knightz” Saba’s comm crackled, “Could you use an assist?”

Saba glanced at her screens. Coming up behind the Knightz were two Star Destroyers –the Bifrost and the Heimdal. Behind the two Star Destroyers were numerous other Republic vessels that had stabbed deep into the Neo-Separatist formations to drive a wedge all the way to the Mist Lynx.

Saba bared her teeth in a hissing growl of appreciation, the heavier weapons of the Star Destroyers could do a lot more than even the massed fire of her squadron, “We would be honoured to have your assistance”

Seconds later, the heavy turbolaser batteries of the destroyers began to pound against the Mist Lynx. Some dissipating against the Sovereigns shields, but others hammered into the ragged hole that now marred the vessels belly.

---------------------------------------------------------

Command Bridge.
Sovereign Class Star Destroyer.

Deegan staggered as another violent shudder ran through the Mist Lynx. The alarms were almost deafening and the only things worse than them were the status displays, which showed massive areas of the Mist Lynx as a deep vivid red.

Even as he watched, the shield indicators flickered and died.

With a sigh, he looked over at the damage control officer, “Overload or have we lost the generators?”

The DCO looked at him in panicked surprise, “Errrr…overload sir. It’ll take a few minutes for them to reset and come back online”

“Irrelevant” Deegan nodded, as a tremor shook the bridge, “We just lost the Shield Generators. What do we have left?”

Shocked by the relaxed attitude Deegan displayed, the DCO hesitated, “I….Sir, I don’t….”

“I gave you an order, Ensign” Deegan said coldly.

The young officer swallowed, “We don’t have much Sir. Shields are gone, hyperdrive is gone, engines are gone, fifty percent of our surface weaponry is gone. We’re dead”

“Agreed,” Deegan nodded, “Communications” He called to the comms officer, “Access the file labelled ‘Obsidian’ and initiate it”

“Yes sir” The officer nodded as she followed the order, then frowned in confusion, “Sir, I….er….we’re transmitting to all the ships in our fleet”

“I know” Deegan nodded.

The comms officer stared at him as if he’d turned into a wookie and started dancing, “Sir, I don’t understand” She froze as a signal came in on her headset, “Sir, several ships are reporting containment failure on their reactors”

“How many?” Deegan asked.

“Nine. At least fifteen more are reporting that their self destruct sequences have activated and they are unable to deactivate them. Their commanders are giving the order to evacuate”

“Pointless” Deegan shrugged, “Escape pods have been disabled and all hanger accesses have been locked down”

Confusion reigned supreme on her face and the faces of the junior officers, but then seeing the quiet confidence on the faces of the senior crew –the ones who had been with Deegan aboard the first Mist Lynx- the confusion was replaced with horror.

“Sir?” The comms officer stammered, “But they’ll die”

“Indeed they will” Deegan smiled, “And before anyone asks, their hyperdrives are also disabled, in some cases anyway. In a few cases, any attempt to jump to hyperspace will trigger a random and very destructive jump. Trust me, no one will leave this system alive”

“Does that include us?”

“It does” The helm officer, -Croan, one of the veterans- nodded, “You honestly thought this entire mission wasn’t a one way trip?” He laughed, “Well, it is. We came here to die and to inflict as much devastation on the Republic as possible”

The deck began to vibrate beneath Deegan’s feet.

It was time.

--------------------------------------

“Power surge aboard the Mist Lynx! Get clear, get clear!”

Saba barely heard the cry; she had already reacted to her danger sense and threw the Blastboat into a spinning dive away from the stricken Mist Lynx.
Around her, the rest of the Wild Knightz reacted with equal speed. The squadrons from the Bifrost and Heimdall were a little slower, but reacted with good speed.

The Bifrost also managed to pull away quickly, rolling over and powering away. The Heimdall however, moved to sluggishly.

“Heimdall here” The commander called, “We’re having problems with our engines, we……”

He never got to finish. At that moment, the Mist Lynx came apart in a violent explosion, tendrils of flames licking out to caress both the Heimdall and several of the fleeing starfighters. The fighters were obliterated or sent spinning out of control. The Heimdall weathered the destructive embrace well, though at the cost of its shields.

Then the Mist Lynx blew apart spectacularly as secondary explosions threw debris out in all directions. Only a single A-Wing off the Bifrost was lost this time, it’s engines already damaged in the initial explosion.
The Heimdall however, was hit by a massive fragment of the Mist Lynx’s hull. The weakened shields did nothing to stop the shattered chunk of starship and the debris slammed into the Star Destroyer, crushing the command tower and smashing it’s way through the hull.

Screams of terror and agony echoed across the channel with the Heimdall before cutting off abruptly and the force senses made Saba wince, but she kept a firm grip on the controls.

“Wild Knightz report in” She ordered.

A few moments later, her Knightz had reported in, battered but intact.

“Commence rescue procedures” She ordered, “Locate and mark escape pods for the rescue shuttles, find any survivors” She switched channels to the Ralroost, “Control, what happened?” She looked up and saw another enemy cruiser detonate, though this time there were no Republic vessels nearby, “What iz happening?”

It was Kre’fey who answered, “We don’t know, Master Sabatyne. Neo-Separatist vessels are reporting containment failures on their reactors. At least three have attempted jumps to hyperspace….with fatal results. I’m ordering all our vessels to pull back and maintain maximum firing ranges.”

Pellaeon’s voice joined across the channel, “We briefly detected a signal transmitted to all enemy vessels. In light of what’s happening, I presume it must have been a virus or command code of some sort”

“Any sign of escape pods?” Master Skywalker cut in.

“From the Heimdall, yes” Kre’fey answered, “From the Neo-Separatists ships, none. Considering that even with the droid controls, each ship has a few thousand crewers, we should be seeing something”

“Unless the same ‘program’ that’s causing the fatal mishaps has prevented any kind of evacuation” Skywalker suggested, “Which means that……”

“This entire battle was a suicide mission” Pellaeon said coldly, “It was meant to draw us here, to keep us occupied”

Saba cast a glimpse at Coruscant with it’s still burning scar of the Liberty District and at the burning wrecks of numerous ships. As she watched, a Munificent Cruiser tried to leap to hyperspace with fatal results, it’s hyperdrive core tearing itself clear of the cruiser and reducing it to scrap.

“And to do as much damage az pozzible” Saba hissed quietly.

------------------------------------------------

Alpha Facility – Upper Levels.
Nystera.
Edge Of Wild Space.

The world whirled around Face as he span through the air. It ended abruptly as he impacted with the lab table top, scattering test tubes and examination equipment.
Sliding across the counter in a spray of broken glass and smashed devices, he dropped off the other side of the counter and dropped off and onto the floor.

Ignoring the pain of what –at best- was a cracked rib and –at worst- was a broken one, he rose up on one knee and caught the Black Knights foot as he came across the table in a Tys-keri flying kick. Before gravity could drop the Black Night to the floor flowing the arrest of his forward momentum, Face gave the foot a twist with enough force to spin his opponent around.

As gravity did take over, the Knights face slammed against the counter as he dropped to the floor, his already broken nose taking more abuse.
Grunting in pain, the Knight dropped to the floor, but still managed to retain some semblance of sense to lash out with one leg, catching Face in the ribs with his foot.

He managed to twist with the blow, which aborted much of its effect as the foot glanced off his ribs.
Despite the pain he had to be in, the Black Knight regained his feet quickly and came at Face with a rapid one-two series of strikes. Face managed to block several, but one or two slipped through to stab at his injured rib.

Grunting in pain with each blow, Face grabbed the Knights hands locked them wrist to wrist then brought his knee up to crack two of his ribs. Despite the air, erupting from his lungs, the Knight twisted to minimize the effect of further knee strikes.

Instead of attempting another knee strike, Face released one of his opponents wrists and kicked his knee in the side and used the momentum of the Knights spin as he reacted in his knee collapsing to spin him around and wrap his forearm around the mans neck.

The Black Knight began to wheeze and struggle as Face tightened his hold, cutting off his airway. Shifting his arm, Face almost didn’t see the sudden movement and the accompanying flash of light as the Knights flailing arm suddenly stiffened and struck at his arm with the cruel looking vibroblade.

Face let out an involuntary yelp as the virboblade dug into the meaty part of his right arm, tearing into muscle and flesh. Releasing his opponent, he kicked him away and almost regretted it as the Knight held onto the vibroblade and yanked it free of his arm in a spray of blood.


Clutching his free hand to the torn flesh of his arm, Face was gratified to see that it didn’t look like an artery had been caught by the blade. It hurt enough that he was reasonably sure that the muscles had been damaged pretty badly, he was going to be fighting one handed for a while.

Looking around he tried to see where the Knight had gone and failed to find him.

“Sneaky little so and so, ain’t ya?” He shouted to the apparently empty room.

“You should be used to sneaky Mister Loran” The Black Night’s voice emerged from somewhere in the room, “You made a career on it, did you not?”

“Touche” Face grunted, trying to find his focus.

He closed his eyes and trusted what his other senses told him,

It wasn’t the force that Face sought; he was as force blind as a rock. He could never feel and sense and do what Corran and Deven could do, what his own son could do. But what he possessed was a finely tuned situational awareness, one that had kept him alive and allowed him to escape death many, many times.

His sense of smell picked up the tang of sweat, mostly his own and the scent of chemicals in the lab, much of it splashed on his own clothes. But he also caught an edge of the cologne that the Black Knight was wearing.

He was close.

Face heard the scuff of leather shoes on tiled floor at almost the same instant his skin tingled with the sensation of displaced air. Whirling on one foot, he came around and kicked out high with his other leg as the Black Knight leaped at him across the lab counter, his vibroblade held for a deadly strike.

Face kept his leg ramrod straight as his foot impacted the Knights stomach and folded him in two.
The Black Knight gave an agonised grunt of pain and Face was sure he heard bones crack. Withdrawing his leg his allowed the Knight to slump to the floor, where he lay moaning in pain, coughing up blood and with his lower body twisted unnaturally.

Kneeling next to the stricken man, Face pulled the vibroblade out of the injured mans hand as he made a feeble strike.

Grabbing a handful of the mans hair, Face turned his head so that he could see his pale, pain twisted face more clearly.

“I remember where I’ve seen you before” Face said after a moment, “Twenty years ago, I was assigned to help someone –a scientist, Romano Kir- defect from Imperial Space. When we got there, she was already dead, someone had got to her first” He lowered the Knights head to the floor and stood, “I remember seeing you following me and my team several times, but we never worked out who you were”

The Knight coughed wetly, “I had planned on adding some of your team to my tally” He said weakly, “But you left the world before I could make my move. A shame”

“Indeed” Face nodded, “You’d have been dead within a day if you’d tried”

“We’ll…..never….know” The Knight found enough strength to grin sadistically, then went limp, the life fading from his eyes.

It was strange, Face thought, how questions that one wasn’t even aware of could suddenly be answered at the end. With a sigh, he headed towards the exit of the lab and the corridor where he’d dropped his stuff.

Before he’d got halfway, Jaden and Oddball burst in through the doorway and nearly bowled him over.

“Hey, hey, nice to see you guys made it here okay” He said wearily, “Everything’s sorted here”

“Apparently” Jaden said, casting a glance at the corpse, “But we’ve got a problem”

“Another one?” Face rolled his eyes, “Define problem”

“Doomsday scenario kinda problem” Oddball said, “There’s some sort of energy buildup below us, massive power spikes. There’s a massive underground sea boiling right below our feet”

“Sithspit” We have to leave now” Face ran from the lab to his pile and stuff and found his comlink, “Corran, Deven, what’s your situation?”

Before he got an answer, Jaden dropped a hand onto his shoulder and pointed down the corridor as Oddball gasped in shock.

Corran and Deven were coming down the corridor towards them, both grim faced and cradled in Deven’s arms, her blood continuing to soak into his jumpsuit, was the unmoving and broken form of Jenna Tarn.

Then the first tremors began.

---------------------------------------------------------

Two Miles Below.

Dass Jennir panted for breath as he ran through the tunnels, his body too weak to sustain such a pace despite the exoskeleton, yet he was unwilling to slowdown.

He had to find a way off planet, start over, and begin to plan again.

Everything had been for naught. Decades of planning, the political deals, the killing, and the carnage brought to the galaxy. All. For. Nothing.

And all because of Jenna Tarn. She had destroyed his prize, the object he’d sacrificed everything for.

He saw now that he’d been too preoccupied with her. He should have never sought her as an apprentice and should have had her killed at Ison all those years ago.

Instead, he’d had her experimented on, pushing her onto a destructive path of vengeance against him. Under those circumstances, she’d have never joined him.

And now he had nothing.

The realisation hit him hard. He had no fleets are armies anymore, he’d had them sacrificed at Coruscant to keep the Republic looking away from this world and even then, the Republic had still come here.

He knew instinctively that the Merciful Hand was gone. The force was clear on that. And even if Deegan could save his fleet at Coruscant, his orders precluded such a thing. Jennir had offered Deegan his blaze of Glory and Deegan had taken it.

However, if Deegan had stuck to schedule, he was still one day away from initiating ‘Burning Skies’. There could be time to recall what was left of his fleet; IF Jennir could get off planet and to a holocom. That could give him a foundation for rebuilding.

But what of the political angle, he had no power base anymore. It would take a lot of time to rebuild.

And time he didn’t have. He had lived for just over a century now, he didn’t have much time left.

He needed a successor, he need………

He stopped his thoughts dead as he stumbled to an equally abrupt stop. Where was he?

The tunnels here looked less ‘made’ by tools and more like natural occurrences. And it was hot, hotter than it had been earlier, and the humidity too was getting heavy.

Leaning against a rocky outcrop, he struggled to get a breath. His aged body could no longer sustain such a pace as it had done in his youth.

A sound from back up the tunnel caught his attention and though, still breathing heavily, he decided it wasn’t wise to stay still long.

Moving quickly he fled further down the tunnel, but as he passed an opening to the side, he was sent flying forwards as his legs suddenly collapsed beneath him. His chest exploded in pain as he hit the hard, wet floor and with blood dripping from his torn lip, he rolled painfully onto his back.

He was astounded to see the reason his legs had failed him. Something or someone, had neatly severed the control vanes for the exoskeletons leg units, rendering it useless below the knees. He stared incredulously at the cauterised edges of the metal, who in blazes?

On cue, Jaina Solo stepped in to view, her anger and hate filled stare even more foreboding and sinister in the harsh light cast by her lightsaber.

Moving quicker than even he would have expected, Jennir snatched his own lightsaber from his belt, but Jaina was quicker kicking out with one foot and driving his arm against the rocks.
The exoskeleton whined momentarily as it tried to compensate, but Jaina’s kicked possessed enough force to override its efforts and shatter Jennir’s elbow.

Jennir screamed in pain as his lightsaber dropped from nerveless fingers and tumbled into a dark corner somewhere. He struggled to maintain focus as the Jedi woman brought her lightsaber down to point at his throat.

“Go ahead” He spat, “Kill me. It’s what I deserve”

“You’re right” Jaina said coldly, “It is what you deserve. For bringing war to the galaxy, for all the dead killed in your senseless war, I should kill you right here” She brought the lightsabers tip so close to his chin, he could feel the air being ionised around the blades edge, “More importantly, for everything you did to my friend. Her life that you so wilfully destroyed” Tears ran down her face, “For…for what you did to her today, I should kill you in the most excruciating way possible”

“Then do it” Jennir grimaced and closed his eyes to wait for the end. To his surprise, his sensed the blade being withdrawn.

“No” Jaina said, with obvious difficulty, “For everything my friend stood for, I’m not going to kill you” She reached for a pair stun cuffs she acquired somewhere, but as she stepped towards him the tunnel shook violently and somewhere further down a low rumble could be heard, that a second later was followed by a blast of heat and a wave of stinging steam.

“Jaina, Jaina!” A voice emerged from the comlink on her belt, “Where ever you are, get the hell out of there now! We have to get off planet. Jaden will guide you”

Without another word, Jaina fled back up the tunnel, leaving Jennir all alone.


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Command Bridge.
Nobility Class Star Destroyer Ackbar.

Octavia stretched as best her tired and battered body would allow. How long was it since she’d last slept? A day? Two?

With a sigh, she turned and sought out Piggy.

“Give me some good news Piggy,” She said, “What’s our sitrep?”

“Repairs are proceeding on schedule” Piggy responded without looking up, “Hull breaches have been patched and shields are at fifty percent efficiency. Remaining weapons are on standby and the damaged systems will be bypassed within two hours. We’ll only be at sixty percent of our full ability, but anything more will require time in a dry dock”

“We’ll make do” Octavia nodded, “The fleet?”

“Varying” Piggy shrugged, “About thirty percent are all full capability. Another forty percent are at half capability at best”

“And the rest?”

“Twenty percent of our fleet have suffered sufficient damage that I wouldn’t trust their hyperdrives for long jumps. I’m recommending they proceed to Sluis Van, making small jumps and as a single group. I’m dispatching the Star Destroyers Maverick and Crazy Horse as guards and sending additional Corvettes and starfighter squadrons to act as fleet herds” He sighed, “Of the remaining ten percent, most will need to be towed, but the rest including the Repulse and the Ostsol will have to be scuttled. Just too much damage, I’ve already cut orders for the crews to be transferred to other ships and anything useful salvaged”

Octavia smiled, “What would I do without you Piggy?”

“You’d manage the same” Piggy chuckled, “Just less efficiently”

She began to laugh, but Vekker’s voice cut across the bridge and caught her attention.

“I have the Sacul online,” The Quarren said.

“Finally” Octavia smiled, “Patch them through to my headset” Seeing Vekker’s nod, She thumbed the activation control, “Sacul, this is Ackbar. What’s your status?”

“Bruised, battered and sore” Katrin Halcyon’s voice came back, “Repairs are complete and we’ll be ready to leave as soon as everyone’s onboard. Estimate twelve minutes minimum before we can dust off”

“Understood Sacul” Octavia nodded, “Orbital situation is clear, we got by with a little help from some friends”

“Copy” Katrin answered, “We need you to do something for us in the meantime”

“Name it”

“Focus sensors on this planet, full scans” Katrin said apprehensively, “Something is happening down here, but our sensors are in no state to tell us anything”

“Consider it done. Wait one” Octavia turned to Peri Hazen, “Focus sensors on the planet, full scans, put it up on the holotank”

Obligingly the holographic sphere of a world crackled into life above the holotank projectors. The image looked no different from the view outside the viewport, but as the sensors acquired data, tags and information were added to the image.

“Earthquakes?” Piggy said, “Planet wide, this is not good”

“Agreed” Octavia frowned.

A new icon appeared on the holo, more accurately, it appeared within the image.

“Focus on that” Octavia ordered.

Piggy hit some commands and sliced away part of the image, turning it into cross section of the planet. In what appeared to be a massive underground ocean, the sensors had tagged a heat source, one that was rapidly heating the large body of water.

“What is that?” She asked.

“Unknown” Hazen replied, “Best match is a fusion reactor, about the size of a small city. It appears to be undergoing some sort of overload”

“Sithspit!” Octavia grimaced, “Sacul, did you get that?”

“We did. Eight minutes to dust off” Katrin answered, “How long do we have till something bad happens?”

Octavia winced as she looked at the data, “Seven minutes......ish”

-------------------------------------------------------

When the Rakata had stumbled across the world of Nashira thousands of years before, they had recognised something of what they had found there and realising that they had no way of controlling it, they had left it be.

But they were unwilling to leave a potential weapon lying around for a lesser race to use against them, but also unwilling to destroy it if there was a possibility to control it for their own purposes.

It had been the most simple of tomb traps. An entire ocean had been drained, its waters channelled into a series of painstakingly excavated caverns deep below the crust. What everyone had believed was a massive canyon was in fact, the remains of a dried up ocean.

When Dass Jennir’s engineers had blasted their way into the Stormbringers chamber, they had triggered the security system that by some feat of Rakatan engineering had like many of their devices still functioned. When no disable code was coming, the systems knew the intruders were not Rakata and their only connected security capability was brought online.

Deep below the planets surface, in the middle of a vast underground sea, a Rakatan fusion reactor was generating a level of heat found only at the core of stars. As it grew hotter, much of the sea was converted to steam and the rest driven in all directions by the incredible pressure.

An eons-old balance of geological forces was overturned.

The crust of the planet moved.

------------------------------------------------------------

Jennir moaned in pain as he pulled himself along with one arm, his useless broken arm dragging beside him.

The planet was coming apart; he had to get out of here.

Despite his injuries and the inability of his age weaken legs to support him without his exoskeleton; he’d managed to cover a lot of ground. His stomach and chest was raw and bleeding from dragging himself over the uneven stone and his fingers of his good hand were torn and nail less from clawing at the ground.

Up ahead though, he could see one of the portable lights his people had set up back in the main cavern where the Stormbringer had been.

His body burned with agony as he pulled himself into the cavern. He was surprised by how much it had changed, the chasm that split the chamber had widened immensely and massive stones had dislodged from the ceiling

Before he could drag himself towards the exit, the planet gave an even bigger heave and the rumbling became deafening as the planet quake shattered the last of the supports in the cavern and brought ten million tons of rock crashing down.

The roar of tortured rock continued long after it had cut off the mans single, sharp scream.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Gamma Facility.

Face stumbled as the floor gave another lurch below him. Though he stayed on his feet, he nearly went down anyway as Oddball tripped ahead of him.

Grabbing the younger man under the arms, Face hauled him to his feet, “C’mon kid, no time for naps”

Ahead of them, Corran pounded up the Sacul’s ramp, followed by Deven who had refused offers of help with Jenna and stubbornly carried her despite the earlier stumbled that had twisted his knee painfully.

“Everyone get aboard” Face shouted almost unnecessarily, “Jaden, you still in contact with Jaina?”

“Yeah” His son nodded and closed his eyes to focus, “She’s one floor below us and coming this way fast”

“Can’t be too soon” Face muttered, “Kai!” He slapped at the intercom and shouted, “Get us to ready to launch as soon as Solo’s boots hit the ramp”

“Already ready boss” Kai shot back, “Is it me or is it getting warmer?”

“For once” Face shouted, “It’s not you” Her turned to Jaden, “Tell her to hurry it up”

“She’s almost here”

Suddenly the ground gave a massive heave, throwing both Face and Jaden to the ramps decking. At first, Face thought his perspective was off; the floor appeared to be tilting.

Then he realised. It was. As loose debris began to slide away from the Sacul and towards the blown out doorway, Face scrambled for the intercom again.

“Kai” He called, “Repulsorlifts only. Drift us out of the bay, put us into a hover outside the opening”

“Roger Boss” Kai said grimly.

“We can’t leave Jaina” Jaden stared at his father.

“We’re not going to, but it won’t us any good to get killed waiting for her” Face said empathically.

As the Sacul slid backwards out of the torn hanger opening, they released that it wasn’t just the hanger deck tilting; it was the entire facility, slowly tilting over the abyss of the canyon.

“There” Jaden pointed as a lone figure charged into the bay and driven by a mix of adrenaline and the force ran up the increasingly steepening hanger bay floor. As Jaina closed to within a few feet of them, the facility broke clear of the cliffs and began to fall. Faced with her goal slipping from her grasp, Jaina found one final burst of strength and leaped the remaining distance.

Her leap wasn’t quite far enough to get her on the ramp, but it was enough to bring her within the reach of Face and Jaden, both grabbing a wrist each.

“Don’t let me go” Jaina gasped, seeing that Face had grabbed her with his injured arm.

“Wasn’t planning to” Jaden winked, then his eyes widened in shock as the ground itself crumbled away and suddenly the drop below Jaina was immense. Even as they watched, the overgrown slab of concrete that had once been a landing field crumbled over the edge and the ruins of the city began to topple.

“What?” Jaina demanded seeing his shock.

“You don’t want to know” Face grimaced and with a grunt they pulled Jaina onto the Sacul’s ramp. He hit the intercom, “Kai, get us out of here. Sacul close the ramp”

“Emperor’s Black Bones” Jaina gasped looking back out over the canyon, ”What is that?”

Face looked to where Jaina was pointing and his jaw dropped. A massive geyser of steam and water had erupted from the planets surface. It took him a moment to put it into perspective, and then he saw the trees at its base.

“Sithspit” Jaden exclaimed, “It’s gotta be two thousand meters high. Four hundred at the base”

“There’s another over there” Face nodded, then pointed again, “And another” He frowned, “Sacul, get this ramp closed”

“It is closed” Sacul answered.

“It clearly isn’t” Face snapped, “Run a diagnostic and get it shut”

“Sorry, Face” Sacul said apologetically, “Half my systems are still offline. Overriding”

The hatch clunked and began to close.

“Finally” Face muttered. He looked at Jaden and Jaina, “Get yourselves strapped in this is going to be a rough ride”

-----------------------------------------------------------

Command Bridge.
Nobility Class Star Destroyer Ackbar.

Octavia scowled as she watched the holo image of another three ships leap into hyperspace.

“Fleet status?” She glanced over her shoulder at Piggy.

“Eighty-nine percent of ships are now away” Piggy answered, “Remainder will be away within the next few minutes. Crews have been evacuated from the ships we can’t save and scuttle programs have been initiated” He frowned, “Captain Adama still insists he can save the Pegasus”

“Realistic prospect?” Octavia asked.

Piggy nodded, “With time, he could get the hyperdrive operational. I can have the Thunderjammer and the Sunstreaker take the Pegasus under tow and have them jump to the rendezvous”

“Do it” Octavia frowned, “Better we save it if we can” She looked over to Peri Hazen, “Planetary status?”

“Surface temperature climbing, just hit 100’c” Peri Hazen said tightly, “Oceans are boiling rapidly, cloud cover is becoming thick. Thicker than anything I’ve ever seen and this was already a cloudy world. Ah!”

“What?”

“Looks like the planetary vegetation just ignited from the heat, all of it. It’s a damned fireball down there. Atmosphere igniting…..now”

“And the Sacul?” Octavia held her breath.

“Cleared atmosphere in time” Vekker replied, “Just got word from them, they’ll rendezvous with the Warrior’s Hammer in three minutes”

“Good” Octavia nodded, she didn’t like the idea of having the Sacul land on what was still an unknown vessel, but Oslo-Tarn had pointed out that they were in better shape and their medical facilities not as taxed as the Ackbar.

She turned back to Piggy.

“Piggy” She moved to stand next to the Gamorean, “What the hell is happening down there?”

“Best guess” Piggy frowned, “This was a booby trap. Left in place by someone who decided to protect this world and whatever was down there. Destroy the world, you destroy the prize AND the intruders” He looked thoughtful for a moment, “I think the fusion reactor we detected was designed simply to start the build up. Once the fusion reaction reached a certain point, it became self-propagating, using minerals from the planet itself to maintain the reaction. By the time the reactor melted to slag, the point of no return had been passed and forgotten”

“So, what’s the end result?”

“Well, right now. There’s a miniature sun forming at that planets core, the fusion fire will eventually breach the core itself and add the incredible heat there to it’s own hellish fires” He paused for a moment, “We’re already seeing some of the results, the seas boiling away, vegetation burning, the atmosphere itself igniting and the crust itself shifting. The planet has already expanded 10% in the last five minutes”

Octavia turned to him with wide eyes, “It has?”

“Yes” Piggy nodded, “I estimate an expansion of about thirty to forty percent before the tolerances exceed their limits”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning we need to be out of here as soon as possible”

Grimacing Octavia turned to Vekker, “Get me Oslo-Tarn”

A second later, the face of Trinity Oslo-Tarn appeared above the holocomm projector, “Something you need General?” She said with that tenseness of someone who hadn’t been in such a situation for a long while and had just remembered how much they missed the feeling.

“The moment the Sacul is aboard, jump out to the rendezvous” Octavia said, “We’ll be right behind you”

Oslo-Tarn frowned, “You shouldn’t wait for us, the longer you delay the more you risk yourselves”

“I refuse to leave while people are still here. Until the Sacul is safe, I cannot leave in good conscience”

For a moment, Oslo-Tarn looked as if she was going to argue further, then she smiled, “I know. I’ve heard to many good things about you to think otherwise” She glanced to one side, “One minute and the Sacul will be in our bay” She sighed, “We’re all cutting it close judging by these readings”

“Keeps life exciting” Octavia deadpanned.

Oslo-Tarn laughed and smiled before cutting the connection.

“How’s the fleet Piggy?” Octavia turned back to her XO.

“Last five ships jumping now” He reported, “Just us, the Warrior’s Hammer and the dead”

Octavia felt a stab of guilt, she’d have preferred to recover the dead from the destroyed vessels and the dead pilots still drifting out there and take their remains back to their families, but there just wasn’t enough time.

“Emperor’s Black Bones” Laura Barnes whispered, “What is happening down there?”

Octavia looked to where Barnes was looking at the holoimage of the planet and her eyes widened to match the shock in the helm officer’s voice.

The entire world was no longer a perfect sphere, its shape now distorted and bulging. Clouds still shrouded the world, but they competed with massive fireballs that seemed to sweep across the world in waves scouring whatever remained. Lightning arced violently across the static charged clouds and as she watched, one arc reach out to caress the still drifting wreck of the Merciful Hand coring a massive hole in the hulk.
The world had also become shrouded in an asteroid field of sorts from debris that had been blasted free of the surface to cool in the depths of space and occasionally a tendril of fire licked up through the cloud cover in an attempt to escape the fiery hell.

Octavia shuddered and turned away when the rolling, writhing clouds seemed to form a screaming, agonised face.

“Sacul is aboard the Warrior” Vekker shouted, “And she’s away!”

“Get us out of here now” Octavia ordered, “Maximum speed”

Outside the viewports, the stars flickered and stretched to infinity and then the Ackbar leapt to the swirling whirlpools of hyperspace.
The Ackbar dropped out of hyperspace only a minute later, arriving a few hundred meters of the Warrior’s Hammer port flank.

“Rear view” Octavia ordered, “Full magnification. This may be one of the most impressive sights we’ll ever see and I don’t want to miss it”

---------------------------------------

Nystera had hung undisturbed in the void for over twenty thousand years; never yielding its secrets even long after the Infinite Empire had left the world. The Rakata had arrived seven thousand years before their own downfall, but despite the healing the planet had done over the prior millennia, they recognised that the world had been scoured by a power greater than they.

One they had never been unable to unravel the secrets of.

So, leaving a safeguard in place, they had left only to succumb to a contagion they themselves would create only a decade later.

While they had been there, the Rakata had done little investigation into those that had called the world home. They had combed the ruins of the cities for a brief time, seeking clues to the weapon that lay dormant below the surface. But their investigations had told them nothing of the people who lived there.

The soldiers who had lain down their lives to defend their home from a weapon their leaders had unleashed.

Those same leaders who cowered in their bunkers as the great weapon had had blasted it’s way through to them.

The civilians who ran every which way in terror, seeking shelter from the storm of death that had fallen on them. Unable to find even minor shelter they had hid in corners clutching family and friends to them, waiting for death.

The young man who had watched his lover turn herself in something twisted and unnatural and who organised a last ditch defence that tore the planets crust open, toppled the weapon into the depths and unleashed a planet cleansing firestorm that wiped out the last few pitiful survivors.

They had never bothered to learn about these things and now, thanks to the Rakatan belief in being the only superior race, no one ever would.


As the crew of the Ackbar and other ships stationed at the rendezvous watched, Nystera began its final death throes.

The cloud cover had long gone, evaporated into nothing by the intense heat emanating from the planet and dissipated into the deaths of space as the atmosphere burned away.
Massive tendrils of fire tore through the semi molten crust lashing out into the depths of space, spewing molten rock outwards from the dying world. One of the distorted bulges ruptured and spewed a glob of molten rock and fire across the entire system with enough force to obliterate a large portion of the systems next planet.
The planets rotation slowed to a halt and the world began shudder noticeably, the molten crust no longer flowing with the molten core.

More areas of the crust exploded outwards, spraying fire and molten rock in all directions. One large section of crust simply floated free, the planets gravity field no longer strong enough to do more than deform the section as it broke clear.

Then, with a flash of light that momentarily override visual sensors the last of the planets bonds shattered and the fiery, miniature sun that was growing at the heart of the world emerged in a shattering explosion that seeded the entire system with molten debris ranging from chunks no larger than a speeder bike to chunks the size of battle cruisers.

The heat scoured moon was obliterated in an instant, as were the nearest two planets. The wave of fire and molten rock reaching out like the firestorm that had burnt the planet to the bedrock.

No longer possessing sufficient mass to hold itself together, the new sun began to twist and writhe as it shed tendrils of fire to the void and the stronger embrace of the planets primary.

A massive globule of what had been the planets molten core drifted clear and slowly began a years long cooling process that could one day result in solid terrain once more, assuming neither the new sun nor the systems primary could claim it.

With insufficient resources within its depths to maintain its fusion reactions, the new sun would probably burn itself out within a thousand years or so. Chances are though, the system primary might success in pulling the smaller body into its embrace, and there was no real way to know yet.

At long last, the final remnant of an ancient conquerer and its secrets was gone.


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