Another world falls, the Zabrak thought bitterly. Out the bridge windows of the mighty Mon Calamari Star Cruiser, the debacle was clear for anyone with the slightest grasp of military tactics. Or anyone with eyes.
The New Republic had assembled three fleets to defend Coruscant, under the command of three of its greatest tacticians—Garm Bel Iblis and Traest Kre’fey as an anvil, Wedge Antilles as a hammer. The plan had been for Wedge’s fleet to drive the Yuuzhan Vong forward into the mighty defensive fleets under Bel Iblis and Kre’fey, trapping them in a pincer and destroying the enemy entirely.
The Yuuzhan Vong had countered with a screen of refugee ships, dividing the New Republic’s fleet between those willing to fire on their own people to save Coruscant, and those who thought such a Republic not worth saving. The choice had been denied to the General now looking out at the devastation, at the vast fleets and the stream of refugees trying to escape the fall of the galaxy’s capital world. Not that it would’ve been a choice. I would’ve ordered our people to open fire.
When the New Republic had asked for volunteers, Zabrak space had responded. The capital on Iridonia had sent most of its remaining capital ships to join Wedge Antilles’s Fleet Group Three, along with thousands of starfighters. It imperiled the Zabrak nation, certainly, but the General had argued forcefully in favor of sending reinforcements. The fall of the New Republic may very well mean the fall of the galaxy as a whole. The last war proved the Zabraks cannot hold all its enemies at bay by themselves. Only as part of the Republic do we stand a chance.
His emerald eyes were hard as he studied the battlefield. Not that there’s much of a Republic left now. Or much of a defense for Iridonia.
When the Yuuzhan Vong had invaded the galaxy two years previously, Zabrak space had possessed a hardened, if small, military. Three Mon Calamari Star Cruisers had formed the backbone of its fleet, aided by dozens of smaller vessels—frigates, light cruisers, corvettes. Starfighters comprised a much greater part of the Zabrak military; hard-learned lessons from the Galactic Civil War had proved their effectiveness and, just as importantly, their concealability. Should the worst happen, fighters could be hidden, stored away, and launched quickly from hidden hangars across a hundred worlds when called upon.
Unfortunately, the Yuuzhan Vong war had proven to be much more about heavy firepower and mighty warships than the effectiveness of starfighter combat. Even with every fighter from Zabrak space, I don’t think we could’ve held here, the General reluctantly concluded.
“General Sanshir,” the ensign at the comm board called. “Communications from the Fleet Group commander.”
“Put it through.”
A quarter-sized hologram of General Wedge Antilles shimmered to life on the holoprojector on the Star Cruiser’s bridge. “We’re going to hold as long as we can,” Antilles said evenly. “We can’t keep the Vong off Coruscant, but we’re going to buy our people as much time as we can.”
“Understood,” Halyn Sanshir said in a calm reply. “Iridonia will stand with you until you withdraw.” And even after, he added to himself.
“Glad to hear it,” Antilles replied grimly.
Halyn turned his head away from the holo of the fleet commander. “Tactical, please.”
A much larger hologram shimmered to life around them, with the warships of both sides oversized on the scale of the map of the system. “Antilles, where’s the Jedi wing?” Halyn asked as he studied the hologram.
“There,” a feminine voice said quietly behind him.
The general caught himself before he could start. He turned his head to see where the young redhead was pointing at the tactical display.
“Thank you,” he murmured, a bit unsettled. The human girl—he could hardly think of her as a woman, given her youth—had offered to join him aboard the warship. The brown robes and the lightsaber hanging from her belt left Halyn little doubt about what she was, and her advice had twice saved the Zabrak task force from ambushed by Yuuzhan Vong counter-strikes. I’d forgotten they can sense each other, Halyn thought.
The hologram of Antilles flickered for a moment as the man turned to face someone else, then turned back. “We’ve received word from Bel Iblis and Kre’fey that they’ve completed evacuating the ships they could. The Jedi wing will be joining us shortly; they’re retrieving one of their own. Then we’ll be jumping out-system.”
“The refugees?” Halyn asked. Even as the words spilled from his lips, he could see the cold logic Antilles’ decision. As the Yuuzhan Vong armada moved deeper into Coruscant’s orbit, the refugee traffic was strangling from a torrent to a trickle.
Antilles was silent.
The ensign at the comm board spoke up again. “General Sanshir, we have a transmission coming from a ship coming off the planet. Voice-only, no holo.”
“Put it through,” Halyn ordered.
There was immediately a crackle of static for a full second before a voice carried across the comm waves. “Senator Alari to any Zabrak forces left in the system, I need extraction. Repeat, I need extraction.”
Halyn closed his eyes. Dammit. “Senator Alari, this is General Sanshir. We’re still out here. I’ll be sending you a fighter escort now,” he called. “Sensors, do you have a lock on his location?”
“Redirect Scythe and Blade Squadrons to escort-and-intercept.” He kept his eyes closed. A squadron of X-wings and a squadron of B-wings, he decided, should be enough to get the Senator through whatever the Vong threw in his path. “Order the Cyclone into backup position to give them some heavy punch if the Vong decide to use something bigger than skips.” That would put the only other Mon Calamari cruiser in the Zabrak forces, a smaller MC40a-class, in backup position. “Let’s get our Senator home.”
There were cheers from the bridge as the two fighter squadrons rushed headlong towards the coralskipper swarms between the friendly forces and the fleeing Zabrak senator. The Cyclone, barely maneuvered past her larger sister, opened fire with its heavy turbolasers before the starfighter squadrons could clash. The mighty fire ripped holes in the coralskipper formation, the fighters unable to deal with the damage of cruiser-grade hits. Almost unopposed, the two Zabrak starfighter squadrons took advantage of the opening to rush past without slowing to engage.
Halyn felt his guts churn. All of war’s a gamble, he decided. Saving an old friend is worth one more. Then we get out of here ourselves.
He glanced over his shoulder at the young Jedi girl. “You’ll probably want to head to the hangar,” Halyn informed her. A glance at the tactical display indicated friendly Zabrak starfighter squadrons had formed up with the Senator’s ships, and were keeping the coralskippers successfully at bay. “We’ll be leaving shortly, miss…Varo, was it?”
“Adreia,” the girl offered with a smile. “Thank you, General.”
Halyn turned back to the battle as the Jedi departed his bridge. He felt a cold hand squeeze his heart as he saw the Yuuzhan Vong matalok closing on the squadrons. “Antilles?” he hissed. But a quick look at the tactical display showed that the fleet commander’s mighty Star Destroyer, the Mon Mothma, was engaged by several Yuuzhan Vong warships itself and could spare no attention.
His eyes narrowed. “Order both squadrons to arm proton torpedoes and lock on that Vong cruiser,” he said coolly.
“Sir, only a third of our fighters have ordinance left,” protested the starfighter coordinator, a Zabrak woman named Kryi Rinnet who’d fought under him during the Galactic Civil War. “And we didn’t have time to equip them with the new decoys.”
“Don’t question,” Halyn said, his voice cooling further. “The Vong are going to have something else to worry about in a moment.” He turned his eyes to the auxiliary boards installed at the back of the bridge. “Bring the generator to full power, and throw the cone straight over our friendly and the Vong.”
Recognition lit up in the eyes of several bridge members. Halyn ignored it all. “Time till ready?”
“Starboard guns,” Halyn ordered, “light up that Vong cruiser.”
At the distance separating them, the Star Cruiser’s weaponry couldn’t be able to penetrate the matalok’s void defenses. Generated by organic technology called dovin basals, the “voids” were miniaturized black holes that had proved effective at soaking up damage from the turbolasers and proton torpedoes alike.
As expected, the matalok’s defenses sprung to life in plenty of time to intercept the incoming fire, drinking it up greedily. That, too, was as the Zabrak General expected. But they’re not going to see this coming.
Halyn was fairly certain the mighty old Cathleen, veteran of the early Galactic Civil War, was the only ship of its kind retrofitted with gravity well projectors.
As the gravity well projector swept its cone across the matalok cruiser, Rinnet didn’t bother waiting for orders. “Fire, fire, fire,” she shouted into her own comm to the friendly starfighters.
Blue streaks of proton torpedoes flashed between the starfighters and the matalok. Its dovin basals, stunned by the abrupt appearance of a gravity well from a direction where the ship’s brain was certain no gravity well should be, couldn’t swing its defenses back into place before the warheads struck.
A heartbeat later, the squadrons of Zabrak starfighters and the Senator’s ship were all through the gap. “Shut down the generator,” Halyn ordered. He glanced at his tactical displays, saw the Republic fleets slowly withdrawing from the system. “Signal all our ships,” he said. “As soon as the Senator is aboard, we’re departing for Iridonia.”
Kelta Rose kept her throttle to the firewall, her X-wing tearing through space. Around her she could sense dozens of minds, coldly focused on their targets and their objectives. Far below, the Millennium Falcon raced upwards towards the friendly forces. Coralskippers were already descending towards the light freighter, and the Jedi wing was coming it an angle. Whether the Jedi would catch up in time would depend on Danni Quee.
The young woman’s voice was taut over the Jedi comm channel. “We’re ready to bring the jammer online,” she said, from an old Corellian Corvette, the Scarlet Sunrise. “Waiting for your orders, Hisser.”
Kelta gripped the fighter’s stick in one hand, her other poised over the switches for the X-wing’s s-foil actuators. Her displays showed two shadow bombs remaining from their re-arming, an hour previously, aboard the Mon Mothma. Her proton torpedo tubes were completely empty, but her lasers still had plenty of tibanna gas and her astromech was in good shape.
“On your mark, Control,” Saba Sebatyne spoke over the comm from the blastboat leading the Wild Knights.
“Do it, Sunrise,” Corran Horn immediately ordered from Jolly Man, the Jedi wing’s command and control ship.
Kelta squinted her eyes as she stared at the distant specks that were a lethal Yuuzhan Vong fighter squadron. For a long moment, nothing happened, and the Jedi Knight thought the jammer had failed. Almost anticlimactically, the coralskipper squadron lost its unity and dissolved into a confused mass.
“Lock S-foils and open fire,” Saba ordered over the comm.
The X-wing’s stabilizers were splitting open on Kelta’s ship before the first syllable had crossed the comm; Kelta had sensed the Barabel’s order before she had given it. Around her, the other X-wings of the Sabers and Wild Knights similarly locked in firing position. A half-second later, Kelta’s targeting computer lit up with the distant profile of a coralskipper still diving towards the Millennium Falcon. With the pure tone of a good lock in her ears, Kelta squeezed the trigger.
The starfighter’s cannons roared with energy, sending reddish-orange darts spearing towards the coralskipper. The targeting system, designed by Corran Horn, alternated the timing and precise angle of the shots. The first bolt drew a gravitic void to absorb it, while the other three bolts, firing a fraction of a second later, bent inward around the void to converge on the coralskipper and blast it into dust.
Kelta didn’t have time to target another skip; the rest flashed out of existence and were gone just as quickly as her own target. She smiled tightly as she saw the rising YT-1300 blaze through the now-open space, towards a distant Star Destroyer, the Jedi-friendly Errant Venture.
“Eclipse Wing,” Saba’s voice crackled, “return to the Errant Venture. It is time we take our hunt elzewere.”
Kelta dialed back to the comm channel for her personal shield trio—a surviving pilot from Kyp’s Dozen, which had been knocked out of the fight early on in the battle for Coruscant, and a fellow survivor from Shocker Squadron after the horrendous attack on the third yammosk. “Any word from Eclipse?” she asked her wingmates.
The pilot from the Dozen replied, “I just heard from Master Durron. The Vong tracked him and a half-dozen survivors back to Eclipse and found the base. The backup starfighters were enough to take down the frigate that followed them, but the Vong likely know the location of the base. Master Cilghal ordered the evacuation, and the base is pretty much abandoned now.”
The redheaded woman grimaced. Eclipse had been the Jedi stronghold, a place where the Jedi could strike from and research their enemies. Now it, like Coruscant itself, was fallen. There’s no safe haven for any of us, she thought with a touch of bitterness. Unless we can defeat the Vong—and today certainly wasn’t progress towards that—they’ll chase us and hunt us until there’s nowhere for us to escape to.
“Any idea where we’ll go from here?” the other Shocker pilot asked.
“No,” Kelta said quietly. “But I’d bet Master Skywalker will want to find someplace safe for the Jedi before we re-enter this fight.”
Across the fleet channel, a new voice spoke up. “General Antilles to the Jedi wing. Is Skywalker with you?”
The Millennium Falcon came back in reply a moment later. “Skywalker here.”
“The Third Fleet will be leaving the system shortly. Bel Iblis and Kre’fey are withdrawing right now. Would the Jedi care to join us?”
“Do you have a destination in mind?” Skywalker’s voice asked cautiously.
“A rendezvous, and we’ll make a decision from there about our destination and objectives.”
“Then yes, the Jedi wing will join you. Hisser, please escort the Sunrise out-system; I’m heading to the Mon Mothma now. We’ll meet you at the rendezvous point.”
“Of course, Master Farmboy,” Saba replied. “Wild Knights on point, Sabers on flank.” The remaining X-wings and blastboats of the Jedi wing spread out into an escort formation around Danni Quee’s battered old vessel, prepared to fight to keep any Yuuzhan Vong aggressors at bay.
“Red,” a voice said in Kelta’s ear. She started, then saw from her comm board that it was an incoming transmission routed through her astromech.
“Go ahead,” she said in reply, recognizing the voice of the Shockers’ leader, Rigard Matl.
“You have any shadow bombs left?”
“Yes, why?” Kelta frowned. Why is this over the private channel, and not the squad?
“Seems a shame to carry that ordinance to the rendezvous. Waste of fuel and the crew’s time if they loaded up weaponry that you didn’t bother using.”
“What are you getting at, Lead?” What is he talking about? It’s not like we never bring back our unused weapons or fuel. No sense using it just to use it.
“Rotate your X-wing so your starboard s-foils are towards Coruscant, and then check your four o’clock high.”
Kelta rolled the X-wing in space and then followed Rigard’s instructions. It took a moment to spot what had grabbed Rigard’s attention.
Six freighters were trying to make a break for safety, a handful of New Republic starfighters doggedly trying to keep the Yuuzhan Vong coralskippers at bay. The fast and well-armed E-wings were holding their own against twice the number of coralskippers, but they were too tied up to see, let alone intercept, the Yuuzhan Vong corvette analog cutting across the freighters’ path.
The New Republic fleets were withdrawing, as were the Jedi. We can’t save everyone, Kelta told herself. But that doesn’t mean we can’t save them. “I see it,” she said tightly to Rigard. “Do you have a plan?”
“The Rep pilots can keep the skips off, but they’re going to need help with that bigger ship,” Rigard said quickly. “The wing is about to jump. Let them go, and we’ll swing back around to help the convoy get out. Once that’s done, we’ll rejoin the wing at the rendezvous point.”
Kelta bit her lip. Disobey orders and good sense and possibly get myself, one of a very small number of Jedi, and Rigard Matl, one of the best non-Jedi pilots I know, killed in a fight that won’t make any difference to the outcome of Coruscant…or let several hundred people die. Even as she watched, the corvette opened fire on the leading freighter, which was substantially faster than the rest and was trying to break for freedom. The scent of death wafted to her in the Force as the freighter was shattered to pieces by the Vong’s plasma weapons.
It was really no choice at all.
“Coordinates have been relayed to your astromechs,” Saba’s voice called across the channel. “Jumping in five, four, three…”
Kelta ignored the rest of the countdown. A heartbeat later, her friends and allies vanished into hyperspace, leaving herself and the X-wing of Rigard Matl still in Coruscant space. Rigard immediately swung around and accelerated back towards the freighters; Kelta fell into the pursuit position.
“Bucket, Red, what are you doing?” the voice of Corran Horn rang across the should-have-been-empty Jedi comm channel.
Kelta uncharacteristically swore. Of course. With all the battle damage our X-wings have taken, Saba would’ve ordered the least-damaged ship to stay behind to make sure everyone made the transition. And that would be Jolly Man, which we’ve kept out of combat as our coordinator.
Rigard Matl replied calmly before Kelta could speak. “Red’s having problem with her hyperdrive, Control.”
The only reply from Corran was a long-suffering sigh. “Roger, Bucket.”
Kelta swung into position behind Rigard as they closed rapidly on the five remaining freighters. The E-wings were putting up a ferocious fight, but the coralskippers were far more interested in tying up the New Republic pilots than killing them. With the E-wings unable to break way, the Vong’s corvette analog had clear and unobstructed access to destroy the freighters.
Rigard kept his s-foils locked in cruise position as they closed. Kelta followed suit, slipping directly into his aft and then nosing up just enough to see over the other pilot’s astromech. With her signature obscured in Rigard’s exhaust, she dumped her remaining shadow bombs into space. “Break,” she called.
Rigard responded immediately, swinging off to intercept the coralskippers. Kelta stayed directly behind him, her piloting on pure reflex as she concentrated on the shadow bombs closing with the corvette. With all the strength she could muster, she reached out with the Force and shoved the baradium-loaded weaponry straight into the corvette.
The Yuuzhan Vong vessel had not seen the X-wings as a threat; they had not assumed aggressive posturing, or fired a single laser or torpedo at it. As they had vectored off, the Vong had naturally believed they were attempting to aid the overmatched E-wings. And without the brilliant propellant trail of a proton torpedo, the warheads were very hard to see in the heat of battle.
The bombs detonated directly against the yorik coral hull of the corvette. In an eyeblink the vessel was reduced to so many pebbles, and the freighters were pouring on every iota of speed they could manage to escape.
The coralskippers turned their attention to destroying the freighters, but the arrival of two well-armed X-wings flown by veteran pilots had turned the battle in the E-wings’ favor. Two minutes later, it was over and the convoy was clear of the Yuuzhan Vong war fleet.
“Bucket, Red, are you ready to make your jump out?” Corran asked in a long-suffering voice.
“Roger, Control, it looks like my astromech finished patching up my hyperdrive,” Kelta replied with the tiny, undeniable smirk on her lips. “Thanks for watching my back, Bucket.”
She could imagine Rigard Matl’s return smirk in her mind’s eye. The former TIE pilot—hence his callsign—was not a man of many words, but he had disobeyed plenty of orders from superior officers in his time. Among the Jedi, Kelta figured, he didn’t even have to worry about court-martial for it. He also wouldn’t be sacrificing a promotion.
“Following you out,” came the comment from Jolly Man. Moments later, the last three Jedi ships in Coruscant space left a dying world behind them.